Translation Strategies and Techniques in Audiovisual Translation of Humour: Analysis of "Shrek 2" and "Ice Age"

Thesis (M.A.), 2011

70 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents


1. Theoretical part
1.1. Humour – its definition and classification
1.2. Humour translation
1.2.1. Definition of humour translation
1.2.2. Untranslatability
1.2.3. Shifts of meaning
1.2.4. Humour translation and theory
1.2.5. Translation strategies and techniques in humour translation
1.3. Audiovisual translation
1.3.1. Definition of audiovisual translation
1.3.2. Subtitling
1.3.3. Dubbing
1.3.4. Translation or adaptation

2. Analytical part
2.1. Shrek 2 and Ice Age as humorous films
2.2. Translation techniques and strategies used in Shrek 2 and Ice Age
2.3. Language of film characters creating humorous effect
2.4. Skopos and the choice of translation strategy and technique



Films under discussion

Streszczenie w języku polskim


Humour translation is an extremely difficult process which causes translators many problems. Rendering humour into a different language becomes even more complicated when the translator translates film dialogues for the purpose of dubbing or subtitling.

The aim of this thesis is to analyse translation strategies and techniques applied in the process of humour translation in dubbing and subtitling. The analysis is based on two animated films: Shrek 2 and Ice Age. In the thesis the original version of film dialogues is compared with its dubbed and subtitled versions in Polish. The material for the study comes from DVD releases.

The thesis is divided into two chapters. In the first chapter the concept of humour is explained and humour translation is described. In this chapter I also provide definitions of translation strategy and translation technique, explain the difference between these two concepts and describe possible translation strategies and techniques in humour translation. In the second part of the first chapter the specificity of audiovisual translation is discussed, and subtitling and dubbing are described as two different translation methods.

The second chapter offers a comparison between the Polish dubbed and subtitled dialogue versions. In this chapter I describe translation strategies and techniques used by the translators and compare the humorous effect evoked by them with the humorous effect of the original dialogues.

1. Theoretical part

1.1. Humour – its definition and classification

Humour was always present in our lives and almost everyone knows what ‘humour’ is. However, providing a specific definition of this phenomenon is rather difficult. The Collins English Dictionary provides the following definition of humour: “1. the quality of being funny, 2. the ability to appreciate or express things that are humorous, a sense of humour, 3. situations, speech, or writings that are humorous, 4. a state of mind, mood”.

Various definitions of humour have been presented by different scholars, and each of these definitions concentrated on a different aspect. Vandaele notices that there are three distinct approaches towards humour. Some researchers focus on humorous stimulus, others on the response, and a third group of scholars takes into account both stimulus and response (2002: 153). In his study of humour and translation Vandaele emphasizes that: “Humour is used in everyday parlance to refer simultaneously to an effect and its (con)textual causes, an occurrence so normal(ize) that we don’t even notice it” (2002: 153).

In the words of Vandaele: “humour as a meaning effect has an undeniable, exteriorized manifestation.” This manifestation can be understood as laughter or smile (2002: 150). For the purpose of this study humour will be defined as a humorous effect evoked by words and humour translation will be regarded as a way of achieving the humorous effect in a target recipient of translation (TR).

Various classifications of humour exist. Vandaele, for example, takes into account a communicator of humour and a humour intention and distinguishes between a comic situation, unintended humour, intended humour and unachieved humour (2002: 159-160). However, for the purpose of this study, a general classification of humour into verbal and visual and a more detailed classification of Zabalbeascoa (1996) will be adopted.

Verbal humour produces a humorous effect by the use of words. A pun, a riddle or a joke is one of the most popular forms of verbal humour. Visual humour, on the contrary, concentrates on what the addressee can see. It utilizes situational humour in order to achieve a humorous effect. Situational humour is based on a situation that is comical. One type of situational humour is a practical joke i.e. a joke that involves physical action, not words. Visual humour is often used in comedy films or farces. Some types of humour, e.g. irony, parody, satire and allusion, can be understood as both verbal and visual.

What should be emphasized here is that every type of humour evokes a different effect on its recipient because it influences the recipient in a different way and uses different mechanisms in order to achieve a humorous effect. For instance, irony has a different influence and effect on the recipient than satire. As Vandaele says:

“[…] humour should also be subdivided into more specific types, each with its own tangible (‘perlocutionary’) effect, its own types of laughter (or even other reactions) – rather than being treated as some undefinable, mystic category […]” (2002: 155).

This can be significant for translators since the way of translating a given humorous text depends on the type of humour involved.

Zabalbeascoa (1996) provides a more detailed classification of audiovisual humour, distinguishing between: international or bi-national jokes, jokes referring to a national culture or institution, jokes reflecting a community’s sense of humour, language-dependent jokes, visual jokes and complex jokes. Díaz Cintas and Remael note that this typology constitutes an extension of Raphaelson-West’s (1989) differentiation between linguistic, cultural and universal jokes (Díaz Cintas and Remael 2007: 217). International or bi-national jokes are not connected with any language-specific or culture-specific aspects. They are based on some referent which is a part of the source culture (SC) but since this referent is internationally known, the joke can be easily recognized and appreciated by the TR. On the other hand, jokes referring to a national culture or institution are based on culture-specific allusions which are not widely recognized and may be unknown in the target culture (TC). Jokes reflecting a community’s sense of humour are strictly connected with the sense of humour typical of a certain nationality. There are different objects of jokes in different countries, for example in Poland people laugh at jokes about Russians and Germans, while in the United States of America Poles are the objects of jokes. Language-dependent jokes, for instance wordplays, are built on certain features of language. The definition of visual jokes is similar to the definition of visual humour given above. This type of jokes relies on information that is conveyed visually. They are rather universal and since they are based on visual images, they are not of concern to translators. Complex jokes constitute a combination of two or more aforementioned jokes, e.g. a joke combining visual information and a culture-bound allusion (Díaz Cintas and Remael 2007: 217-228).

1.2. Humour translation

1.2.1. Definition of humour translation

The translation of humour is one of the most difficult types of translation. Owing to its complexity, not everyone is able to work in this field. A good translator of humour must have not only excellent linguistic skills, but also a good sense of humour in order to recognise a particular joke in the source text (ST). In words of Chiaro:

“[...] the reproduction of VEH into another language depends on a number of variables mainly regarding the translator’s personality which range from whether or not they generally have a good sense of humor to the mood they are in while translating” (2005: 135).

However, Vandaele (2002) emphasizes that even if a translator is able to recognise and appreciate a joke in the ST, he or she might be unable to reproduce it in the target text (TT). Sense of humour is thus not sufficient to produce a good humorous text:

“Individuals may be very sensitive to humour but unable to produce it successfully; translators may experience its compelling effect on themselves and others (laughter) but feel unable to reproduce it. Thus, there are indeed good reasons to think of humour (re)production as talent-oriented, not learnable” (Vandaele 2002: 150).

Additionally, due to cultural and linguistic dissimilarities between the source language (SL) and the target language (TL), even the most talented translators may find it extremely difficult to translate certain types of humour. According to Díaz Cintas and Remael: “Humour does not function in isolation. It is not only rooted in its co-text (the dialogue sequence or scene/sequence in which it occurs, for instance), but also in socio-cultural, linguistic and even personal contexts” (2007: 214). That makes humour translation an extremely sophisticated process. Not only must a translator have an excellent knowledge of the source and target language, but he or she also has to know the source and target culture to a considerable degree. This is essential in order to notice a given joke in the ST and to be able to transfer it into the TL. However, even if a translator has this knowledge, he/she often realizes that cultural and linguistic differences between language communities may still constitute a serious challenge. Rendering culturally bound allusions or puns based on a play of words into the TL is very complicated. In many cases translators find it impossible to transfer a given joke into the TT and must find a way to deal with such a situation. Vandaele says that the problem of humour untranslatability arises because a gap between recipients from various cultural systems exists and it manifests itself in different objects of jokes (2002: 163-165).

1.2.2. Untranslatability

As mentioned above, dissimilarities between the SL and the TL may result in untranslatability which is a serious translational problem. Chiaro highlights that:

“The translation of Verbally Expressed Humour (VEH) concerns one of the most complex types of language to translate owing to the fact it needs to come to terms with the very tenets of translation theory, those of equivalence and (un)translatability (2005: 135).”

Catford (1965) describes linguistic and cultural untranslatability. According to him, linguistic untranslatability arises when “there is no lexical or syntactical substitute in the TL for a SL item.” Whereas cultural untranslatability is a consequence of “the absence in the TL culture of a relevant situation feature for the SL text” (qtd. in Bassnet 1992: 32). Other researcher who distinguishes between two kinds of untranslatability is Popovič (1970). He describes two different situations – two different types of untranslatability. The first one is “A situation in which the linguistic elements of the original cannot be replaced adequately in structural, linear, functional or semantic terms in consequence of a lack of denotation or connotation.” The second one is: “A situation where the relation between the creative subject and its linguistic expression in the original does not find an adequate linguistic expression in the translation” (qtd. in Bassnet 1992: 34). In this study the classification provided by Catford will be applied.

1.2.3. Shifts of meaning

In the case when translators face the problem of humour untranslatability, they may have no other option than to introduce shifts of meaning in a certain fragment of the ST. The term ‘shift’ denotes a change that may occur between the ST and the TT in the process of translation (Bakker, Koster and Van Leuven-Zwart 2000: 226). Popovič gives the following definition of translation shifts: “all that appears as new with respect to the original, or fails to appear where it might have been expected […]” (1970: 79). Introducing bigger or smaller modifications of the TT is a common practice in humour translation due to linguistic and cultural dissimilarities described above. Shifts of meaning in humour translation are a manifestation of dynamic equivalence:

“Translation shifts are frequently involved in humour transfer due to various difficulties connected with it. In order to maintain a humorous effect, translators have to adapt a certain joke to the reality of a target culture, and accordingly, they have to modify the source text” (Bruździak 2009: 39).

Different classifications of translation shifts exist, however in this study attention will be focused on the distinction between obligatory and optional shifts. Obligatory shifts are strictly related to divergences that exist between two linguistic systems, while optional shifts are the result of ideological, stylistic or cultural reasons. Two approaches concerning shifts of meaning exist: negative and positive. The representatives of the negative approach regard shifts as unnecessary transformations of a ST and state that they should be avoided. On the contrary, the representatives of the positive approach consider shifts necessary changes that help to deal with systemic dissimilarities (Bakker, Koster and Van Leuven-Zwart 2000: 226-230).

1.2.4. Humour translation and theory Formal and dynamic equivalence

Nida distinguishes two different types of equivalence: formal and dynamic. In the case of formal equivalence the message conveyed by the ST should be in the centre of the translator’s attention. The message of the TT should be as similar to the ST message as it is possible. The translator should look for the closest possible equivalent of the SL linguistic item. In the case of dynamic equivalence the effect evoked in the recipient of the translation is crucial. Nida emphasizes that the translated text should have a similar influence on the TR as the ST has on the source recipient (SR) (2004: 161-165).

When a translator encounters cultural or linguistic untranslatability, in the majority of cases using a formal equivalence is the best solution. Concentrating on the impact that a translated text would have on the TR is a good approach in humour translation. This is because translation of humour should result in achieving a humorous effect on the TR as similar to the humorous effect evoked in the SR as possible. Skopos theory

Skopos theory was developed by Vermeer (1986). This scholar perceives translation as a particular variety of an action, namely translational action. Vermeer emphasized that every action has an aim, some kind of purpose, and consequently every translation must have an aim. He calls the aim of translation a skopos. The skopos of translation is assigned by means of commission and if it is necessary it is adjusted by the translator. A commission is: “[…] an instruction given by oneself[1] or by someone else, to carry out a given action – here: to translate” (Vermeer 2004: 235). According to Vermeer every translation is based on a commission and has a certain skopos. In the case when a commissioner does not provide the translator with detailed information about the skopos, the translation has an implied skopos.

Vermeer puts emphasis on the fact that the ST is oriented towards the SC, whereas the TT towards the TC. For this reason the ST and the TT may differ considerably. In the words of Vermeer: “[…] every text has a given goal, function or intention, and also an assumed set of addressees […]” (2004: 233). He coins the term translatum which is a target text resulting from translation. The translatum can have the same function as the source text or different one, however in both situations the translated text is target culture oriented. A translator is perceived by Vermeer as an expert. Being an expert, he/she must decide what role a ST plays in his/her translational action. The translator must be aware of the effect his/her translation will have in the TC and must be able to explain why he/she has chosen to act in a particular way, although it was possible to act otherwise. This means that the choice of a certain translation strategy must be deliberate: “What the skopos states is that one must translate, consciously and consistently, in accordance with some principle respecting the target text” (Vermeer 2004: 234). Translators’s Invisibility

Venuti introduces the concept of the translator’s invisibility. He describes the situation in the United Kingdom and in the United States and emphasizes that it is transparency of translation that matters most in translation quality assessment:

“A translated text, whether prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, is judged acceptable by most publishers, reviewers and readers when it reads fluently, when the absence of any linguistic or stylistic peculiarities makes it seem transparent, giving the appearance that it reflects the foreign writer’s personality or intention or the essential meaning of the foreign text – the appearance, in other words, that the translation is not in fact a translation, but the ‘original’” (2008: 1)

He says that the aim of translator’s work is to make his or her work invisible to the TR and this goal is achieved when the translated text is perceived as fluent. At the same time Venuti stresses that translators’ aspiration to make their work invisible and consequently make the translated text look as an original text is not good in the case of all texts. However, he draws our attention to the fact that this is what the target recipients expect from a TT (Venuti 2008: 1-5). The translator’s invisibility is a very important aspect in humour translation and it will be discussed more thoroughly in the second chapter.

1.2.5. Translation strategies and techniques in humour translation Difference between translation strategies and translation techniques

Chesterman points out that various terms are used in order to refer to translation strategy and that many distinct classifications of a strategy exist. Some scholars refer to translation strategies using such terms as: methods, procedures or operations, and they often focus on completely different kinds of textual procedures (2005: 18). In this study translation strategy and translation technique will be understood in accordance with the definition provided by Chesterman (2005) and Molina and Hurtado Albir (2002).

Translation strategy will be considered as a certain general approach towards a given translated text or towards each translational problem within this text separately. Chesterman proposes the following definition of translation strategy: “[...] a plan that is implemented in a given context.” and he notices that: “Strategies are formulated and implemented for many kinds of problems at different phases in the translation process [...]” (2005: 26). In the words of Molina and Hurtado Albir:

“Techniques describe the result obtained and can be used to classify different types of translation solutions. Strategies are related to the mechanism used by translators throughout the whole translation process to find a solution to the problems they find” (2002: 507).

They emphasize that translation techniques affect the micro-units of text and the results of translation, while translation strategies affect the process of translation. Thus, domestication and foreignisation will be regarded as translation strategies, whereas a particular way of translating given jokes will be referred to as a translation technique. Possible translation techniques

“Whereas the daily grind of translating last wills and testaments or contracts may largely be rule-governed, there are kinds of translation which allow for greater freedom of choice, where paradigms are larger, choices from among their members less restrained, and the variety of applicable translation procedures greater” (Bogucki 2004: 122).

Humour translation is one kind of the above-described kinds of translation. There exist numerous translation strategies, which can be adopted by a translator in order to deal with a translation problem. In this study the translation strategies and techniques that are most frequent in audiovisual translation of humour will be analysed.

The easiest humour translation technique is literal translation. It is also called direct or word for word translation and it is adopted when no translational problems occur. Literal translation is useful for example in the case of easily translatable bi-national jokes when it is possible to apply direct TL equivalents and retain the humorous effect of the joke at the same time. However, it must be emphasized here that it is very rarely used.

Paraphrasing is applied by translators of humour more often, especially if there are no culture or language-specific items in the ST. This translation technique preserves the meaning of the ST, but the meaning is conveyed by using different words in the TL.

However, in humour translation using direct equivalents is often impossible. When such a situation occurs, the translator has to choose other techniques. Chiaro[2] describes three translation techniques which according to her are most frequently used in the translation of Verbally Expressed Humour (VEH). The first one is substitution of VEH in SL with an example of VEH in the TL. The second is replacement of the VEH in the SL with an idiomatic expression in the TL. It is a good solution when the object of a joke is clearly visible on screen and the translator cannot just substitute a joke for a completely different one. The third technique differentiated by Chiaro is replacement of the VEH in the SL with an example of compensatory VEH elsewhere in the TT (2005: 200).

The first technique described by Chiaro is substitution i.e. replacement of a joke from the SL with a different one which will be comprehensible and amusing for the TC addressee. In the majority of cases the reasons for the application of this translation technique are cultural differences. According to Attardo substitution is not translation at the semantic level but in spite of this it can be successful as long as it helps to achieve the humorous effect expected by the TR (2002: 189).

Omission is a translation technique which is similar to the third strategy distinguished by Chiaro. It is especially useful in the case of the most sophisticated translational problems when the translator has to deal with the untranslatability of a joke. Omission is often followed by compensation[3], namely compensating for the loss of a joke that was not translated into TT by introducing verbally expressed humour in a different fragment of the TT. According to Gottlieb loss in translation, in this situation the loss of a joke, can arise as a consequence of language-specific and media-specific constraints, as well as human constraints. Language specific constraints are related to untranslatable elements present in the ST which fail to have linguistic counterparts in the TL. Media-specific constraints are strictly connected with the form of language transfer e.g. dubbing or subtitling. Human constraints result from limited time left to the translator or from the translator’s lack of talent, interest or experience (1997: 216). Other constraints that often cause loss of humour in translation are culture-specific constraints resulting from cultural dissimilarities (Bruździak 2009: 6).


[1] By the translator himself/herself.

[2] Chiaro uses the term ’strategy’.

[3] According to Chesterman compensation is not a translation strategy but “a possible motivation for a strategy”. However, Molina and Hurtado Albir classify it as a translation technique and such classification will be adopted in this thesis.

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Translation Strategies and Techniques in Audiovisual Translation of Humour: Analysis of "Shrek 2" and "Ice Age"
University of Gdansk  (Institute of English)
Translation studies
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translation, strategies, techniques, audiovisual, humour, analysis, shrek
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Ewelina Bruździak (Author), 2011, Translation Strategies and Techniques in Audiovisual Translation of Humour: Analysis of "Shrek 2" and "Ice Age", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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