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Can Humor be Translated?

There are many magazines with funny jokes, books that describe amusing situations, videos and movies where it is inevitable to let out a few laughs. Everyone loves to laugh and enjoy that intense moment of glee. And it is only natural to want to share these funny creations with others.

Now, it is very tempting to believe that a humorous text can be translated to any language easily, and that the humor will produce the same effect in other cultures. Humor is something universal, is it not? If something is funny, everyone should laugh all the same, regardless of the language it’s expressed in. But, actually, the translations of jokes and amusing stories are a great challenge for translators. It turns out, the job is not a simple translation, but a challenging localization.

There are different reasons why a funny text can lose a bit its charm when translated. It may fail miserably, or, in the worst case, it may even offend the reader. The reason is that many jokes are based on puns or rhymes, things that tend to disappear in a translation. Many translators find the task impossible. Humor is also laden with sociocultural themes belonging to a specific region. An obvious example would be that whereas in some countries, certain animals are venerated as deities, in others, these animals are consumed for sustenance. Think kittens in the US versus kittens in remote areas of Guangxi. This is what it means to localize, it is understanding the concept of a joke, but adapting it to a different culture, in order to achieve an effect as similar as possible to the original text. Surely we have to change wording, characters, and settings in a story and perhaps remove or replace some bits of a joke. It is therefore imperative we give the linguists license to refit the texts when translating them, in order to make people from diverse places laugh.

Of course, there are also cases in which a text has a kind of translatable humor requiring no changes, but, in general, you have to be prepared to let many stories and jokes undergo a small metamorphosis, so they can be funny in others countries.

For questions regarding this matter and to obtain a free quote, please contact our Trusted Translations team, who will be able to advise you quickly and professionally.