Editing Internet Texts/Introduction to the translation of puns

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

The aim of the project is to be an introduction to the translation of puns, primarily from Polish to English and the other way around. It is designed with university students and would-be translators in mind. Students receive a theoretical overview of the field – starting from the definition of the pun, the typology of puns and pun translation strategies, and a brief discussion on the subject of the untranslatability of puns. Most of the theoretical part of the project is be based on the work of Dirk Delabastita. Next, students are given examples of translated puns from various media, in order to demonstrate how puns can be translated, as well as to illustrate the restrictions on translation connected to a work’s chosen medium. Finally, students are asked to test their translation skills and render a set of puns from English into their chosen language

Theory[edit | edit source]

Familiarizing yourself with the theoretical chapter is by no means compulsory (after all, translation is all about hands-on experience), but it is highly recommended. I believe understanding how puns operate on a theoretical level goes a long way to becoming adept at translating them, and I find the topic very interesting in its own right, and I tried to present it in a succinct manner. But, again, it's completely up to you. If theory does not interest you in any way, feel free to skip this part.

Definition[edit | edit source]

Many attempts to define the pun have ben made over the years. Going into extreme detail would be counterproductive for this kind of project, but still, providing some definition in order to get you to know how puns work should be helpful. I will use the definition given by Dirk Delabastita, a Belgian translation scholar, whose work proved instrumental in my own research:

Wordplay is the general name for the various textual phenomena in which structural features of the language(s) used are exploited in order to bring about a communicatively significant confrontation of two (or more) linguistic structures

with more or less similar forms and more or less different meanings.

To put in layman's terms: In order for something to be a pun, it needs to be a construction clashing several meanings and/or forms against one another creating a (usually, but not necessarily) comedic effect.

Typology of puns[edit | edit source]

The following is the typology of puns created by Dirk Delabastita, with the addition of puns based on idioms, taken from Andrejs Veisbergs due to their popularity in various kinds of media and everyday use.

Homonymous puns[edit | edit source]

Homonymous puns are based on both identical spelling and identical pronunciations of words with different meanings.

Paronymic puns[edit | edit source]

Paronymic puns are based on a similarity in both spelling and pronunciation.

Homophonous puns[edit | edit source]

This kind of pun is created when the punning words have different spelling, but identical pronunciation.

Homographic puns[edit | edit source]

Homographic puns are created when words with the same spelling, but different pronunciations are contrasted.

Puns based on idiomatic expressions[edit | edit source]

This type of pun is based on the modification of fixed expressions. According to Andrejs Veisbergs, the modification can be structural or semantic REFERENCE GOES HERE. In the case of structural modification, the structure of the idiom is changed, which shifts the meaning - words are either modified, added, omitted or substituted. In semantic modification, the structure is not changed, and it is the context of the idiom that creates the punning quality, usually by making the pun literal.

Tanslating puns -- strategies[edit | edit source]

The following is a list of translation strategies as enumerated by Delabastita. All the comments come from the theoretical part of my thesis.

PUN → PUN: the source text pun is translated by a target language pun, which may possibly be significantly different from the original pun in terms of their linguistic basis, formal construction, semantic structure, textual effect and/or contextual setting.

PUN → NON-PUN: the pun is rendered by a non-punning phrase which may salvage both senses of the pun (in a non-punning conjunction, that is) or select one of the senses at the cost of sacrificing another.

PUN → RELATED RHETORICAL DEVICE: the pun is replaced by some pun-related rhetorical device (repetition, alliteration, rhyme, referential vagueness, irony, poetic metaphor, paradox, etc.) which aims to recapture the effects of the source-text pun.

PUN → ZERO: the portion of the text containing the pun is omitted.

PUN S.T. = PUN T.T.: the translator reproduces the source-text pun and possibly its immediate environment in its original formulation, i.e. without actually ‘translating’ it.

NON-PUN → PUN: the translator introduces a pun in textual positions where the original does not have a pun, by way of compensation to make up for source-text puns lost elsewhere (or for some other reason).

ZERO → PUN: totally new textual material is added to the text, containing a pun and having no apparent precedent or justification in the source text except as a compensatory device.

EDITORIAL TECHNIQUES: explanatory footnotes, the ‘anthological’ presentation of different, supposedly complementary solutions to one and the same source-text problem etc.

As you can see, this is not exactly a guide on how to translate puns, but rather a look on how puns tend to be translated. If there's any advice to give when it comes to actual translation lies in the PUN → PUN part: the pun in your target language does not have to be similar (not to mention the same) as the one in the source language. The primary objective in pun translation is, simply, to roproduce the punning efect in some way. In other words, don't feel tied to what the original says, unless you absolutely have to (here we come to perhaps the most imporant point when it comes to theorizing about translation: it is absolutely impossible to construct a universal, foolproof way of actually translating. Every ranslation has its own needs and intuition must be excersised at all times). So, have some fun with puns!

Puns vs. ambiguous statements[edit | edit source]

Ambiguity, that is, having more senses than one, is central to punning. However, not all ambigous statements can be considered puns. In order for something to be a pun, it needs to have been intended as such by the author. This can make identifying puns tricky, as we have to determine, whether or not the author actually wanted for something to be a pun, or whether a pun-like ambigous statement is merely a coincidence.

Puns: untranslatable?[edit | edit source]

The subject of the untranslatability of puns comes up a fair amount in scholarly texts on the subject. And, indeed, sometimes a pun may prove to be "untranslatable" - but only if we consider translation to be a very thankless task based on applying simple, literal, denominative meanings. However, that is clearly not the case. As mentioned above, the goal in the translation of puns is to produce a pun (and by that I mean any pun) in the target language. This may sometimes require a significant reworking on the context surrounding the pun, or the creation of a completely new pun, only tangientially related to the original, or maybe even compensation, where we add a pun elswhere in the text, where there was none initially. The point is, translating puns is notoriously tricky, but it can be done.

The only instances - in my reckoning, anyway - when we can speak of untranslatability are visual puns, where there is no textual side to be modified and there can be no translation anyway, and puns that, while they do posess a textual side, rely very heavily on its relation to the image, as the context in these situations is very firmly set. In these cases, the translator may indeed have to throw in the towel with regards to preserving the punning quality of the text, but not necessarily the humour. Here, some of the more obscure strategies described by Dirk Delabastita may come in handy, such as replacing the pun with a related rhetorical device. Creativity is key.

Puns in translation -- examples[edit | edit source]

Example 1 My neighbor is in the Guinness World Records. He has had 44 concussions. He lives very close to me. 
A stone’s throw away, in fact.

Mój sąsiad jest w Księdze Rekordów Guinessa. 44 razy dostał wstrząśnienia mózgu. Mieszka bardzo niedaleko mnie. Właściwie to o rzut kamieniem.

Example 2 ‘Yessir, but I fights ‘em, fights ‘em, sir. A bath, sir? From wimmin? Oggling at my trumpet-and-skittles? I call that shameless! Everyone knows soap kills the natural effulgences, sir! Oh, sir! They’re holdin’ me pris’ner, sir! They gived me a trouserectomy, sir!’

Mogę, sir, ale walczę z nimi, sir. Bronię się. Kąpać mnie, sir? I to kobiety! Które się gapią na moją trąbkę i bile! Uważam, że to bezwstyd, sir! Wszyscy wiedzą, że mydło zabija naturalne emisje, sir! Och, sir! Och, sir! Trzymają mnie tu w niewoli, sir! I jeszcze zrobili mi spodnioktomię!

Example 3

Nie da oczom zagrać sobie na nosie ten, który...

Exercises[edit | edit source]

Now that we've gone through some examples of translated puns, it's time for you to try. Remember: in the case of puns, wit trumps all!

Exercise 1 The following is taken from Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, and referrs to on eof the clakcs towers (imagine a telegraph line, except ran by people akin to modern coders) the story largely revolves around:

Now Tower 181 did maintenance on the fly or not at all, just like all the others, but it was still, proverbially, a good tower to man. Mostly man, anyway. Back down on the plains it was a standing joke that 181 was staffed by vampires and werewolves. In fact, like a lot of towers, it was often manned by kids

Exercise 2

Exercise 3

Exercise 4

Look for a pun (or puns, sky's the limit!) in a book, comic, movie, or just the Internet, and try your hand at it! Recognising puns is an important step in the translation of puns, and so you should always b on the lookout.