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Many speeches are started with humorous language and many speeches are laden with jokes and humor. Is it true that humor is never translatable since humor is culture-bound? So, what do you do when you are interpreting humor? Are you silent at those moments? What should we really do? Particularly when we talk about the languages which are very apart from each other culturally, interpreting humor is a real burden. I would appreciate it if the experienced interpreters in this site could share their experiences. Warm Wishes

asked 22 Jan '14, 13:14

Mohamad%20Imanian-%20ISIC's gravatar image

Mohamad Iman...

edited 23 Jan '14, 04:32

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It is actually quite amazing to see how frequently humorous remarks or even jokes can indeed be interpreted. In order to pick the right tone of interpretation, it does help tremendously to identify the speaker's intention - albeit in a split second.

One of the best summaries of how to interpret jokes and what to watch out for may be found on YouTube. You will enjoy our colleague Matthew :

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answered 25 Jan '14, 19:41

AlmuteL's gravatar image


... I remember a colleague's reasoning that fun is fun, ie what most jokes attempt to ellicit is a smile if not a laugh, therefore he tended to use "Confucius, he said, wise man does not play leapfrog with unicorn"... irrespective of what the speaker had said ;-).

Lacking in boldness, I try my best to come up with an equivalent joke, if the original does not lend itself to translation, and always try to stay within the same "family", ie using colours if the speaker used them, birds if they were used, etc... because sometimes humour returns (with a vengeance) later in the same speech or even the next speaker, and if we've used a totally different reference we'll find it that more difficult to interpret the 2nd joke or to convey a reference to the 1st one.

Amongst our "urban myths" looms large a colleague once having said "the speaker said something funny which the interpreter is unfortunately unable to convey, but please be kind enough to laugh" or words to that effect :-).

PS you may care to look this up and there are more references to be found if you google "interpreting humour"

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answered 22 Jan '14, 14:45

msr's gravatar image


edited 22 Jan '14, 14:47

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question asked: 22 Jan '14, 13:14

question was seen: 4,849 times

last updated: 25 Jan '14, 19:41 is a community-driven website open to anyone with questions and/or answers about interpreting, i.e. spoken language translation

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