Have you ever translated jokes?
Thread poster: RafaLee

Local time: 17:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Feb 16, 2004

Have you ever translated jokes? If you have, what kind of problem did you face in translating jokes?


Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:55
Spanish to English
Yes, I had to translate an American Comic! Feb 18, 2004

I don't want to offend any sensibilities out there but I've never even found these comics funny, but I was given a job donkeys years ago of translating a comic into Spanish. (I know, very uncool, but I didn't know then what I know today). The job came with a list of forbidden words, as they sell the comic in every country in the Spanish speaking world. Then I had to measure the speech-bubbles with a special speech bubble measurer, and try to think up jokes in Spanish, because most of the jokes in the English version were based on puns which were totally untranslatable.
It took my two weeks to do and the pay was appalling. When I finally delivered it, I said to someone, oh I expect I'll get faster at this, and he said no, that's the time it takes everyone. So I took my money and ran.
Sorry to be anecdotal, maybe you want some advice and I'm afraid my failure shows that I'm not the person for that.


Eva Gustavsson  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:55
English to Swedish
+ ...
Satire Feb 18, 2004

I have translated some satire on what happens in society nowadays, short texts on half a page. It is not really jokes, but sometimes they may contain a joke. The difficulty is to find something that is similar or some corresponding Swedish event that might be used. The good thing with it is that you don't have to be as true to the original as you have to be translating manuals and agreements. It is actually fun to make up something of your own.

Good luck


Haluk Levent Aka (X)
Local time: 10:55
Japanese to Turkish
+ ...
That's a though one Feb 18, 2004

I did translate many jokes, mostly little johnny jokes in to Turkish as part of a volunteer project for one my friend's weekly. Good thing I got to choose them. Cultural differences as well as language specificities (puns etc) make joke translation a more difficult task.

I'd suggest forget puns and do not take the assignment until you read it entirely and decide that the job done would actually be funny. Otherwise 1) Joke translations will take too much time, 2) They will not be funny anyway -and may make you look like a less skilled translator.

RafaLee wrote:

Have you ever translated jokes? If you have, what kind of problem did you face in translating jokes?


Alex Jones
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:55
Japanese to English
+ ...
A joke Feb 19, 2004

Jokes are usually not funny cross-culturally.

You can either replace the joke with one in the target language, or attempt to translate the original. The choice depends on the readership. Generally academics will want to know the original joke, and people reading for entertainment will just want a funny joke.


Katherine Zei  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:55
Italian to English
+ ...
As an aside... Feb 19, 2004

Italian translators translating sit-coms or movies often just translate a joke literally if they aren't able to find any analogies in Italian, so often I find myself the only person in a movie theatre laughing at a joke that doesn't make sense in Italian, but does if translated directly into English.

Sometimes I'll hear another person laugh, and will look around to see who the other straniero is...

Once I managed to translate a ten-minute excerpt of a Benigni dialog into English, but it was so political that the only people that "got" it were fellow Italian > English translators... not much point in that, but good exercise nonetheless! And fun!


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:55
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Yes, its possible Feb 21, 2004

In fact most jokes have been translated all the time. Once I collected popular Finnisch jokes and translated them into German. You will find them on the net: search for "Finnlandwitze".
Translating jokes is part of the work for videotexting of tv-serials. It can be very demanding, I guess.


Richard Benham  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:55
German to English
+ ...
Monkey magic Feb 1, 2005

I remember the TV series "Monkey" from my adolescence. There were quite a few jokes in that which could not have been "faithful" translations from the original Japanese, but fit in very well. For example, a character tells Monkey off for being disrespectful in the presence of two kings, and replies that he too is a king, adding that you could say "We three kings of Orient are". Or when he's about to be beheaded, and tells is companions "It is a far far better thing I do than *you* have ever done" (cf Dickens's "A Tale of Tow Cities").

On another note, I have been told jokes in French about the Swiss, and translated them to non-French-speaking friends and relations, only to be told "That's not a Swiss joke; that's an Irish joke!" So it all depends.


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