Categories
Translations

How to translate: Puns part 2

Around two weeks ago, I wrote a post on translating puns, mainly focusing on the different categories and some strategies you can use while translating puns. That post was mentioned and used as a source by Nicholas Rossis here, and his post was reblogged multiple times. So, I’ve decided to elaborate on pun translation a bit more, and show some more strategies you can use. I will follow up on this with more posts, showing a pun that has been translated from Japanese to English and explaining the strategies used by the translators.

I will be using the following acronyms in this post:
ST: Source Text, the original text in its original language, and
TT: Target Text, the translated text.

Once again, I will make use of Dirk Delabastita’s work, which differentiates between significant or intended wordplay and non-significant or unintended wordplay. Unintended wordplay is, according to him, best omitted from the target text to prevent the text from looking clumsy, but intended wordplay and puns should be preserved in the translation.
These are the strategies he mentions, and the ones I will use when analyzing puns in upcoming posts:
• Pun → Pun translation,
• Pun → Non-pun translation,
• Pun → Zero translation,
• Pun → Related rhetoric,
• ST pun = TT pun,
• Non-pun → Pun translation,
• Zero → Pun translation, and
• Miscellaneous editorial techniques.

Pun → Pun translation involves replacing the ST pun with another pun in the TT in the same setting, but with different linguistic structure and wordplay. Pun → Non-pun translation involves translating the pun in a way that keeps one of the ambiguous meanings and discards the other.

Pun → Zero translation cannot be called a translation, since the part of the ST containing the pun is completely removed from the TT.

Pun → Related rhetoric is not a true translation, but the usage of another form of wordplay, like alliteration or metaphors, in the same setting as the pun. This still keeps some form of wordplay intact, albeit not as a pun.

ST pun = TT pun is a reproduction of the same pun, barely changed or edited. This can be possible because the SL and TL are very similar, as in the example he gives of the Disney movie The Aristocats. Due to the similarity of Dutch and English, the movie title The Aristocats
can simply be transcribed to Dutch as De Aristokatten. This is the most direct of the translation
options, but not possible in every case. If a pun uses loanwords from the language you are translating to, you might also be able to use this translation strategy.

Non-pun → Pun and Zero → Pun translations do not directly involve translating puns, but they create puns in the TT where there are none in the ST, possibly as a way to compensate for removing a pun earlier in the text. Miscellaneous editorial techniques that can beapplied are using footnotes and comments to explain that there was a pun in the ST and why it was omitted.

Using these translation strategies as a guideline, I believe that there is an appropriate translation for almost any pun, and I will show how these strategies are employed by translators in my next few posts. I wrote about pun translation from Japanese to English for my BA thesis, so I will be using the sources and examples I researched for that as a basis for the posts. I hope you’re all looking forward to it as much as I do! And in the meantime, if you want to practice translating puns, go to the Pun Generator and try translating those puns!

Sources

Delabastita, Dirk, and André Lefevere. 1996. Wordplay and Translation: Special Issue, Dedicated to the Memory of André Lefevere (1945-1996). Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Categories
Translations

How to translate: Puns

Puns have always intrigued me. The idea of using similar or identical words to create a humorous sentence based on the way it’s interpreted is something I have always wanted to learn more about, as well as the factors that make up a pun. Making puns has become a sort of game for me. If I’m in a light-hearted conversation or playing a game with my friends, I try to make puns regularly in different languages, depending on the friends I’m with. If I’m with friends who speak Dutch and English, I’ll make puns using Dutch and English. If I’m with friends who also speak Japanese, I’ll pun in Japanese as well. I believe that being able to pun and use wordplay in a language is proof of your skill in and knowledge of that language. After all, for a pun to work, you need to create some sort of ambiguity; a situation that can be interpreted in multiple ways. A good example of this is “The first scientists who studied for were mistified.” This pun works because of ambiguity on multiple levels, which I will explain more about later.

Puns can be divided into four categories of ambiguity, according to Dirk Delabastita (1996). These categories are homonymy, homophony, homography, and paronymy, each of which is better suited to different forms of communication.

CategoryDefinitionExample
Homo-nymyA pun where a word
with multiple meanings
is used to give multiple
meanings at once.
A hard-boiled egg in the morning
is hard to beat.
Homo-phonyA pun using two words
that sound identical, but
have different spellings.
‘Mine is a long and a sad tale! said the
Mouse, turning to Alice, and sighing.
‘It is a long tail, certainly,’ said Alice, looking
down with wonder at the Mouse’s tail; ‘but why
do you call it sad?’
Homo-graphyA pun using a word with
multiple meanings, but
different pronunciations
for those meanings
You can tune a guitar, but you
can’t tuna fish. Unless you play
bass.
Paro-nymyA pun using two words with
similar, but not
identical spellings and
pronunciations.
A skunk fell into a river
and stank to the bottom

Translating puns can cause several difficulties because most puns are specific to their own language. A pun that works in Dutch most likely won’t work in English and the other way around. Exceptions to this are puns using loanwords from the language you’re translating to, but realistically, you won’t see many of those.
When translating puns, there are a lot of factors to keep in mind. We need to know where the ambiguity lies and how it’s used in the source language. We also need to keep the topic of the dialogue or text in mind, as a pun about bananas in a text about monkeys makes sense, but a pun about bananas in a text about fish won’t work at all. Thirdly, we can’t use overly complicated puns. A pun should add humour to a sentence, without becoming the focal point of said sentence. This means that the puns need to be easy to understand and make sense to the reader. Like every translation, we need to keep in mind what we’re translating for. If it’s a book, we can use more words to get our pun across, but in the case of subtitling, we have a limited amount of time and space to make the pun. The most important factor is also the most straight-forward one: Don’t try too hard. If you can use a pun in the translation without too much effort, that’s great! If you can’t, don’t worry about it. Sometimes the situation just doesn’t work with a pun in your translation, so then just leave it out, or compensate by adding a small pun later in the translation.

Pun translation is, to me, one of the most difficult parts of translating media, but it’s also the most fun part. There are only a few other situations in which you get to go so deep into the language, and you’re guaranteed to learn something new every time. Next week I’ll show some pun translations from Japanese to English and discuss them using the things I’ve explained today, so look forward to that!

Sources

Delabastita, Dirk, and André Lefevere. 1996. Wordplay and Translation: Special Issue, Dedicated to the Memory of André Lefevere (1945-1996). Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’\s Adventures in Wonderland