The Translator. Volume 8, Number 2 (2002), 149-172
Introduction (Re-)Constructing Humour: Meanings and Means JEROEN VANDAELE1 University of Leuven (CETRA) & VLEKHO-Brussels In his magnificent essay ‘To Follow a Rule’, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor writes, elaborating on Wittgenstein, that “[a]s opposed to being the primary locus of understanding, representations prove to be nothing more than islands in the vast sea of our unformulated practical grasp on the world” (1992:173). Our unformulated, intuitive understanding of humour is a case in point. Even though humo(u)r studies increasingly appears to be a theoryinformed, well-established academic discipline, the ‘sea of humour’ to be sailed remains vast.2 At the same time, ordinary people do paddle, bathe and swim, so to speak; they make and have fun. One specific group of such people, translators of humour, prove Taylor’s point to the full. In understanding and reproducing humour, they skilfully exhibit the ordinary practical grasp of humour. Whereas the immense practical act of translation itself is also increasingly being theorized in what has come to be known as translation studies – see Baker (1998) for an introduction to this field – the combined object of humour translation must have seemed until now so vast, disorientating and dangerous an ocean that few academic efforts were made to theorize the processes, agents, contexts and products involved. Many contributions are no more than intelligent or not so intelligent ad hoc reflections by swimmers who lack an overview, not by cartographers with tentative maps in need of completion.
I am extremely grateful to Dirk Delabastita, Mona Baker and Nathalie Masy for their generous support. Thanks also to Katrijn Hillewaere for her critical reading of this introduction from the point of view of accessibility. This special issue has benefited considerably from the poignant insights of Dirk Delabastita , Carol Maier, Ian Mason, Christiane Nord, Anthony Pym, Douglas Robinson, Miriam Shlesinger, Lawrence Venuti and Judy Wakabayashi, as well as Salvatore Attardo, Geert Brône, Jan Baetens, Koen Du Pont, Aleka Lianeri, Vassilis Saroglou, Kate Sturge, Harish Trivedi, Fred Van Besien, Willy Vande Walle and Mary Wardle. Many thanks to them all. 2 For example, journals such as HUMOR, Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor, Humoresques, Australasian Journal of Comedy, Studies in American Humor, Studies in Contemporary Satire, the Mouton Humor Series, specialized scholarly institutions such as the International Society for Humor Studies, conferences, mailing lists, and the regular exchange of bibliographies.
The dearth of serious work on humour translation in translation studies suggests that humour translation is qualitatively different from ‘other types’ of translation and, consequently, one cannot write about humour translation in the same way one writes about other types of translation. Both practiceoriented texts (‘How to translate?’) and cultural and linguistic analyses (‘What do translations mean in a particular context?’) provide plenty of evidence that it is. Non-practice-oriented, cultural and linguistic analyses do not present translators with the challenge of reproduction (and the threat of failed reproduction), but the sheer difficulty of humour as a concept may discourage translation researchers. From a practice-oriented perspective, four elements stand out. First, humour as a meaning effect has an undeniable, exteriorized manifestation (call it laughter or smiling for now), whereas the ‘meaning’ of other texts is sometimes ‘less compelling’ in terms of perception. Second, sophisticated research has confirmed the intuition that the comprehension of humour (and its appreciation) and humour production are two distinct skills (see the review of Ruch 1998 in this volume). Individuals may be very sensitive to humour but unable to produce it successfully; translators may experience its compelling effect on themselves and others (laughter) but feel unable to reproduce it. Thus, there are indeed good reasons to think of humour (re)production as talent-related, not learnable (hence not teachable) enough to be profitable, unlike, say, the skill of writing business letters, journalistic articles, academic papers, etc. (which also involve talent but are not evaluated in such drastically binary and overt terms as ‘fun or no fun’). Third, also related to a translator’s sense of humour, the appreciation of humour varies individually, which means that a translator may recognize an instance as (supposedly) comic but not really find it funny, and therefore be confronted with the personal dilemma of ‘translating a bad joke’ or going for a ‘real’ funny effect. Fourth, the rhetorical effect of humour on translators may be so overwhelming that it blurs the specifics of its creation; strong emotions may hinder analytic rationalization. It follows that the present volume cannot hope to offer straightforward tools that teach translators how to reproduce humour. However, the conceptual complexity of humour can be analyzed and appreciated; moreover, its analysis may help scholars and trainers alike (a) to see structures in effects that are fuzzy but still bear strong (meanings), (b) to understand the ways in which these effects are encoded in language (means), and finally to compare source and target texts with respect to (a) and (b). 1. How humour translation may (not) be studied: defining humour for translation The title of this volume, Translating Humour, may seem more transparent than it actually is. Many writings on humour translation lack a definition or description of humour, especially in relation to its ‘translation’. What does it
mean to say that one translates humour? If a translator were put in the position of a translation trainer or scholar who had to explain what translators do when they translate, what kind of work translation precisely is, then the transitive use of translating something may offer a solution by bringing the description to the level of examples (the so-called ‘ostensive’ approach to concept explanation). Now, this ‘something’ has to be articulated if it is to count as a minimally abstract solution (that is, if we accept that a minimal theory is more than a mere juxtaposition of examples). It goes without saying that ‘humour’ in general is not articulated in the sense of a conventionally coded linguistic unit per se, a semantic meaning attached to lexicalized linguistic forms (words, phrases, etc.). Although I have not yet turned to the problem of defining humour, it is fairly safe to say that current humour scholars would not agree that humour automatically ‘comes with’ signifiers, although some words or phrases are conventionally labelled as ‘humorous’ – or ‘ironic’, ‘obsolete’, ‘euphemistic’ , ‘pompous’, or ‘slang’ in dictionaries. At a higher language level (involving syntax), humour is not necessarily a consequence of merely the ‘literal’ meaning of sentences (or, to use the more technical term, their propositional content). This does not imply, of course, that the specifics of language in humour cannot be studied; they are indeed studied in all essays of this volume. What it does suggest however is that humour as a translation equivalent/unit needs to be defined more adequately. 1.1 Humour as a cognitive effect Following ‘functional’, ‘dynamic’ or ‘pragmatic’ theories, translational equivalence can be conceived in cognitive, mental, ‘intentional’ terms, as a relationship between two texts (source and target) capable of producing ‘the same or a similar effect’, as a result of the translator reconstructing the ST’s intention and recoding it in the TT for the same intended effect. For our purposes, it would seem that humour can indeed be readily recast as a humorous effect and, hence, translating humour would come down to achieving the ‘same humorous effect’. This approach is very appealing both to our ‘common sense’ and to important research areas in the humanities. First, in folk psychology, such a concept of humour translation may seem evident, since everybody knows ‘the humour feeling’.3 Translators, for instance, may just want to compare 3
Throughout this introduction, ‘humour feeling’ generically stands for any sort of ‘positive feeling’ or response to a (relatively) successful instance of humour, where ‘positive’ means that the instance of humour is indeed somehow acknowledged; this does not exclude ‘aggressive’ humour. Following Paul McGhee, Ruch (1993a) dismissed the term ‘humour response’ as inadequate because the response can also be created by tickling or nitrous oxide. Rather than using ‘amusement’ or ‘mirth’, which do not coincide exactly with the typical response, Ruch opted for ‘exhilaration’, a word he redefined in technical
the feelings that source and target texts provoke, and a cognitive approach thus sounds very much attuned to the translation of humour. Second, even though research in the humanities can profit from highly formalized conceptualization and quantification, Jerome Bruner, a founding father of cognitive science, rhetorically asks whether ‘plausible interpretations’ are not often preferable to computer-like explanatory models, which would “[force] us to artificialize what we are studying to a point almost beyond recognition as representative of human life?” (1990:xiii) For humour, he might have asked how humanists would want to study this phenomenon without mentioning intentions and effects? Bruner’s question revolves around the much-debated issue of whether ‘intentionality’ (consciousness – which includes types of intentions in the usual, daily sense, but also the sorts of attention that someone can pay to something) is an acceptable scientific term. In more ordinary language: Is Folk Psychology, as Bruner writes, i.e. the way ordinary people explain what other people say and do through concepts such as a person’s ‘intentional states’ (beliefs, desires, etc.), an acceptable point of departure for proper scholarly research? In their 1990 Inference and Logic, the cognitive scientists Manktelow and Over point out that many academic paradigms, among them pragmatics, fruitfully apply folk psychology (also called ‘belief/desire psychology’): “Grice’s maxims, for instance, can be used to explain and predict how people will understand each other by rationally inferring beliefs and desires from utterances” (1990:162). The essays in the present volume explicitly or implicitly subscribe to folk psychology, intentionality and mental states as explanatory devices, but they offer scholarly advancements vis-àvis existing literature on humour translation in that they maintain the difference between ad hoc folk-psychological talk and proper analysis for consistent theory building of folk psychology in translation. Some humour researchers are able to conceptualize intentional states to such an extent that quantification and qualitative richness of categories no longer exclude each other. The difficult setting of conference interpreting did not prevent Pavlicek and Pöchhacker from achieving this (quantifying humour perception by interpreters according to situation, function and language). Very rigorous ‘quantifying’ approaches are reflected in the work of Antonopoulou (a cognitive explanation of quantified humour reactions), Pelsmaekers and Van Besien (quantification of humour and irony), and Attardo (a model based on large-scale quantification of humour reactions). Vandaele and Delabastita do not reject intentionality, but they prioritize qualitative descriptions of cultural phenomena. The essay by Eco (translated terms (.i.e. through a cluster of behavioural, physiological and emotional parameters). I suggest using ‘humour feeling’ as an alternative to ‘humour response’ because it sounds less technical and emphasizes the typical response as caused by humour, not tickling or nitrous oxide.
by Wardle) is an exercise in ‘reading Queneau’s thoughts’, as when Eco/ Wardle write that “Queneau uses rhetorical devices for comic effect but also plays the comedian with rhetoric”; quantification is clearly not an issue here. Muhawi and Merrill do not need to resort to quantification either; they might even reject it. They go beyond any strict categorization of intentionality, devoting part of their analysis precisely to arguing for the qualitative (cultural, symbolic) relevance of their objects of study. 1.2 Verbal humour: linguistic causes, cognitive effects So far I have argued for intentional approaches to humour merely by appealing to intuitive understandings of humour. It is also necessary, however, to point out the problematic aspects of such folk-psychological talk on humour and to see whether less intuitive approaches solve problems, or at least some problems. I will first consider several aspects of humour that are often left implicit and then proceed to show why they should be central to the debate on humour translation. When confronted with the question ‘What is humour?’, a layman may think of the actual moment of fun (something’s “quality of being funny”, in Collins) or “the situations, speech, or writings that are thought to be humorous”, also in Collins). Humour is used in everyday parlance to refer simultaneously to an effect and its (con)textual causes, an occurrence so normal(ized) that we don’t even notice it. This is a trivial issue for ordinary understanding but an annoying and confusing one in the scholarly debate on humour, as we will now see. The ordinary, two-edged concept of humour is so strong that it has never ceased to confuse humour scholars and challenge a scholarly definition of humour. As Latta (1998) claims and illustrates, some research areas focus on stimulus (‘What sort of a stimulus is the humorous stimulus?’), others on response (‘What is typical of a humour feeling?’), and still other researchers take both into account (‘What is typical of a humour feeling, what sort of a stimulus is the humorous stimulus, and how are the two related?’). Focusing on all aspects has driven some desperate scholars (e.g. Escarpit 1991) to give up on any attempt at defining humour – for how could we accurately describe all and only those clusters of physiological states and perceived causes that, together, define humour as opposed to other feelings or emotions? Other researchers (e.g. Kerbrat-Orecchioni 1981) defend a definition of humour in terms of effect: humour is whatever has a humorous effect. When a person laughs, smiles or has a more general experience of humour (the humour feeling), we have humour. Whatever that humour feeling is, it undeniably forms part of our practical grasp of the world, and procedures have been developed to report it (see Ruch 1993b, 1998). Stimulus-oriented researchers may object to this minimalist stance, saying that it is prone to subjectivism and therefore heavily ‘underdetermines’ humour (i.e.
it is too broad a criterion): anything laughed at becomes humorous, even atrocities, a subject that some warped minds do find humorous. Also, by this definition, intended but misunderstood humour would not really be humour, even if one is talking about a Monty Python sketch or any other event or behaviour clearly meant to be funny. Researchers like Kerbrat-Orecchioni, who focus on actually decoded meaning (1998:308-311), might reply as follows: if no one has ever laughed at Monty Python, then Monty Python is not humorous, and the case of the warped mind is possibly interesting but marginal, something we are far from understanding; we need first to get a grip on humour among normal individuals.Translation scholars and translators, to name one group, may naturally relate to this definition in terms of effect. It offers a provisional way out of the vicious circle into which disciplines may fall with their objects of study (do they study or construct the object? Or both?). The safest place to break that circle for humour is the point at which effect, with its ‘realist’ appeal, becomes tangible (in the form of laughter, for instance). But this is only a start. Although for ‘object detection’ translators may adhere to the minimal ‘single’ operational definition of humour, they must ultimately return to and account for humour’s ‘causal relations’: (1) what is it that caused the humour effect and (2) what further effects does humour itself cause. Answers to these two questions may vary, and with them the specific meaning of humorous instances. With respect to question (1), the cognitive philosopher Robert M. Gordon convincingly argues that any emotion “is arousal plus attribution” (1994:101; italics in original): a person has an emotion when he or she experiences physiological arousal and attributes it to a mentally constructed cause. Accordingly, anxiety and hilarity both involve arousal but they are interpreted differently and are, thus, different emotions. Similarly, I would hypothesize that there can be subtle differences in the general feeling of humour, depending on the specifics of its perceived (‘constructed’) causes. Humour based on wordplay may have ‘silly’ or ‘witty’ undertones, slapstick may strike some people as ‘simplistic’, nonsense talk in an unfamiliar environment may be slightly frightening, etc. As for question (2), Gordon attributes further ‘causal depth’ to emotions, by which he means that “in human beings certain states are apt to cause certain other states” (1994:13; italics in original). Again, humour seems to fit the description, since we all know that while the way humour makes us feel may be thought of as an emotional state, it may also cause further feelings. Humour may for instance be inoffensive (or ‘non-tendentious’), it may serve rhetorical purposes (by creating other emotional states like ‘goodwill’, ‘cheerfulness’, etc.) or it may be recognized but unappreciated (where other emotional states like ‘disappointment’ or ‘disgust’ are possible outcomes). In short, the meaning of humour is not necessarily reducible to just a spe-
cific state of positive arousal but may be multiplied by both its causes and specific further effects. Thus, terms such as humorous feeling, emotion or effect are misleading because they seem self-sufficient. To say that a message is humorous is to provide no more thorough an analysis than to acknowledge the ‘serious’ nature of someone else’s message. It is generally accepted that the spectrum of serious texts contains an infinite number of subgenres, all of which have different purposes and effects. Serious texts may be informative, emotional, instructive, persuasive, etc. However, what is evident for serious texts may not seem so obvious in the case of humorous texts. As explained above, one could easily think that humour is the very effect of a text – especially since our working definition may be readily reduced to just that – while in fact its humour may be as general a characteristic as a serious text’s seriousness. But humour should also be subdivided into more specific types, each with its own tangible (‘perlocutionary’) effects, its own types of laughter (or even other reactions) – rather than being treated as some undefinable, mystic category, possibly subject to different types of Volksgeist. Satire, for instance, can be defined as humour with a further critical effect and caused, for example, by an exaggerated imitation of social norms. Similarly, parody can be seen as humour with an equally sharp edge but is provoked, for instance, by an exaggerated imitation of aesthetic norms. Schmidt-Hidding’s semantic field of ‘humour’ (1963:48), in its simplified version by Attardo (1994:7), situates concepts like ‘pun’, ‘bon mot’, ‘satire’, ‘irony’, ‘nonsense’, ‘joke’, ‘comic’, ‘tease’, ‘whim’ and ‘practical joke’ within the boundaries of a square delimited by ‘wit’, ‘ridicule’, ‘humour’ and ‘fun’. It illustrates that ‘humour’ (which current humour studies uses as the umbrella concept) is not necessarily a monolithic, perlocutionary effect in its own right. Translators and translation scholars should not be afraid to accept the minimal definition of humour (in terms of effect), but neither should they take this definition as an excuse to leave the instance of humour unanalyzed because they consider it either self-evident or unanalyzable within any framework. Further understanding of what a particular instance of humour means may be achieved a posteriori; we should ‘look back’ to its causes, both linguistic and otherwise, and ‘look ahead’ to its future, intended and unintended effects, so as to broaden and refine the meaning of humour. This stance is feasible in the case of researchers, but for translators in the field, especially simultaneous interpreters, it may be more difficult to adopt. And yet, practitioners may explicitly evaluate their own intuitive reproductions. This is precisely what Eco, Muhawi and Merrill do with their translations of Queneau’s Exercices de style, anonymous Arabic jokes and Detha’s ‘Dovari Joon’, respectively: they explore the humorous effects (of nonsense, aggression, play, etc.), study their textual causes, and try to place their reproduction efforts in perspective. With the benefit of hindsight, Delabastita,
Vandaele and Antonopoulou relate historical translation practices to immediate effects (e.g. ‘less funny’ or ‘differently funny’), causes (e.g. ideological, linguistic or repertorial) and further consequences (e.g. a generally different perception of a message). Pavlicek and Pöchhacker are confronted with the daunting task of foreseeing the larger possibilities of a truly interactive causal chain. Attardo makes strong suggestions for the translation of texts with primarily humorous intention and effect (rather than with a hidden agenda, i.e. further meaning effects). Pelsmaekers and Van Besien point at textual and contextual causes of irony, and at various humorous effects and functions. 2. Frameworks To summarize, then, the operational definition of humour is ‘single’, which could but may not lead researchers and translators to forget that its conceptual structure is ‘double’ (what causes humour and the humorous effect), and that its meaning is potentially ‘multiple’ (further effects of the humorous effect). What frameworks may account for this complex semiotic situation? Which theories will help scholars and translator trainers alike to see humour’s ‘shape’ and ‘structures’, in order to eventually compare ST and TT humour? In his essay, Delabastita reminds us that translators tend to be very alert to the ‘functions’ of ST items, and this is where I propose to start. 2.1 On the interpretation of humour: perceived incongruity and superiority Throughout the centuries, the two most general concepts used in humour research, as ways to characterize humour, have been incongruity and superiority. Each concept has its advocates, but we need to examine them carefully because they have each stood for many different things (Keith-Spiegel 1972, Raskin 1985, MacHovec 1988, Attardo 1994). I present them here in what I consider their most workable definitions. In terms of cause/effect, (humour as) perceived incongruity is defined here as a (humorous) effect caused by a departure from normal cognitive schemes. In ordinary language, superiority (as in ‘a feeling of superiority’) clearly relates to the effect of humour. Advocates of the incongruity theory often stress that all humour is essentially playful, that aggression in humour is not really, or not necessarily, aggression (see the review of Davies 1998 in this volume). Conversely, the superiority theorist Gruner challenges that argument by offering to trace aggression in any instance of humour that people might wish to present to him, and by arguing that the sort of play involved in humour is highly competitive. In a less monadic scenario, we could go for two types of humour, where the incongruity-superiority pair seems to imply a crucial initial distinction between playful, incongruous ‘humour per se’ (as an innocent goal) and ‘rhetorical humour’ as a means for achieving a differ-
ent (possibly aggressive) goal. Still, I am not happy with this arrangement, and I suggest broadening the meaning of ‘superiority’ to include in it any (anti)social effect, intention or cause that humour may have, either interpersonal and socially visible, or ‘private’ but with reference to the social world: superiority feelings in any possible ordinary sense of the word, self-esteem, feelings of intelligence, a sense of inferiority, stupidity, aggression, hostility, derision, disparagement, deprecation, in- and out-group feelings, solidarity, stereotyping and cueing (as safe common ground or as discriminatory devices), antipathy, pressure and relief/release, threat and safety, good mood as a safety precondition, etc. The minimal intellectual processing cost of broadening superiority as suggested is far outweighed by the benefits, since (a) we can clearly keep the two basic concepts, albeit in a modified version, and (b) incongruity and redefined superiority are more closely and revealingly interwoven than is indicated when one simply contrasts ‘humour per se’ with ‘rhetorical humour’ (although this is not a minor distinction; for Freud the opposition between ‘innocent’ and ‘tendentious’ jokes is crucial). Indeed, although most advocates of superiority theories have argued against incongruity, a broad category of superiority can easily be related to incongruity in many different ways. If we define superiority as any possible social effect of a social meaning of humour (from overtly aggressive effects to fairly harmless and private feelings of arousal) – which is what advocates of superiority theories must do if they want to demonstrate the presence of superiority in all instances of humour – then superiority can be said to relate to incongruity in the following ways (based on Vandaele 2002a): in terms of superiority, (1) incongruity can be seen as abnormality (inferiority). Most acts of incongruity can be assigned to a social product and/or agent. Incongruities are therefore not merely cognitive but they also constitute products and agents as deviant and not well adapted, in other words inferior; (2) ironic incongruity is controlled abnormality as a sign of superiority. Strangely enough, it appears that an ironist may overtly commit incongruities as a sign of superiority, not inferiority; (3) incongruity can in most cases be resolved and overcome (as the so-called ‘Incongruity-Resolution Theories’ argue; see the review of Latta 1998 in this volume), thus creating superiority. The ability to understand humour is commonly accepted as an important index of intelligence. Each time we laugh at humour, we demonstrate our wit to our peers and diminish the social pressure they may exercise on us; (4) paradoxically, some incongruities are conventionalized (socialized) as humorous. Prototypical humour feelings are spontaneous but humour can be conventionally forced via cues, the right preliminary conditions or humorous stereotypes that are supposedly funny per se. In Attardo’s multi-level General Theory of Verbal Humour, varieties of incongruity are present on at least two levels: most explicitly in the parameter that has come to be known as ‘Script Opposition’ (e.g. sexual vs.
non-sexual interpretations of a punch line), but also within ‘Logical Mechanisms’ (e.g. role reversals, figure-ground reversals, exaggeration, ignoring the obvious). Superiority in a narrow, aggressive sense is represented by the optional ‘Target’ parameter. In the more general sense outlined above (including problem solving, stereotyping, socialization, etc.), the superiority concept is scattered over all six parameters. The reason for this diffusive presence of superiority is simple: the theory takes incongruity to be a far more crucial humour concept than superiority, as opposed to main advocates of superiority theories (e.g. Gruner 1978, 1997). However, whatever stance a particular theory takes in relation to humour is less important than the fact that all concepts and frameworks may help raise awareness of various aspects of humour among translation scholars. For example, in her analysis of Raymond Chandler’s literary witticisms, Antonopoulou draws on Attardo’s theory but adds, among other things, a component of (socio)linguistic problem solving, thus showing that the Theory’s ‘Language parameter’ can, if necessary, be explicitly related to more social, broadly superiority-related issues. As such, in-group language can be a means of recognition and/or exclusion among narrators, readers and characters. Superiority in the broad sense may indeed be more crucial than the General Theory of Verbal Humour might suggest. Take the case of irony. Interestingly, in Attardo’s survey of reasons for using irony (2001:120-22), one finds such words as ‘solidarity’, ‘negative judgment’, ‘mental dexterity’, ‘superiority’, ‘evaluation’, ‘criticism’, ‘praise’, ‘politeness’, ‘aggressive behavior’, ‘powerful rhetorical tool’, ‘retractability’ (i.e. the fact that the speaker may claim a ‘non-committal attitude’ toward what he or she says), ‘detachment’ and ‘humor’. This confirms that humour may sometimes be seen as a characteristic of irony and vice versa. In a case study on Blackadder, Pelsmaekers and Van Besien show that almost half of the protagonist’s turns are humorous (taking the series’ canned laughter as a yardstick), that roughly one quarter of his humorous turns can be said to be ironic (using a sophisticated incongruity-based working definition of irony), and that most of his ironic turns are not particularly benevolent. In their descriptions of (humorous) irony, the authors thus explicitly refer to notions of incongruity and superiority. And it is no coincidence that Pavlicek and Pöchhacker confirm, in their ‘real-life’ pilot study on humour interpreting, that “a joke is the best way to win the audience’s favour and attention”, that humour may reduce stress and “boost a working group’s morale”, or, conversely, that it may be “a weapon” or “a shield”. In short, an initial step for translation studies to distance itself from any monolithic thinking about the meaning of humour (and toward its potentially ‘multiple’ effects) is to develop an insight in two major building blocks: incongruity and superiority, without neglecting the latter concept. As Ruch remarks with acuity, “trait concepts [in personality research] are blind for the
negative sides of humor” (1998:10). The understanding of humour, and especially of sense of humour, he says, is still influenced by a tradition of “humanistic psychologists” and by the fact that “we perceive sense of humor as high in social desirability” and “we hesitate to study sense of humor in the context of any negative attribute” (ibid.). While complementing incongruity with superiority is one step in the right direction, these two concepts alone are not sufficient in any description of humour. The receiver may interpret ‘incongruous’ elements as ‘rejectable’, ‘ridiculous’, ‘meaningless’, ‘incredible’, ‘disappointing’, ‘humorous’, ‘dangerous’, ‘insulting’, etc. while ‘superiority’-enhancing elements may lead to non-humorous feelings such as ‘straight aggression’ or ‘euphoria’. Both concepts should be complemented by notions related to specific elements of the communicative context, e.g. existence of a sender or assumed knowledge by/about sender and receiver. A first basic situational category is discussed below. 2.2 On the interpretation of emotions: intentionality (consciousness) We have seen that a feeling of humour, like any emotion, is an effect that can be described as arousal and attribution of arousal to a cause. Now, “for attribution theory, there is one prime classification: an attribution may be internal or external”; a classification that has a “strong intuitive appeal” (Hewstone & Antaki 1993:119; italics in original). This allows us to draw a possibly important distinction between two types of humour feelings: a humour feeling as caused by (probably) intended acts (internal attribution) as opposed to situational humour, where the perceived humour of some event is attributed to external, non-intentional causes. Some have termed the communicative variant ‘humour’, and the non-communicative one ‘the comic’. As mentioned above, contemporary Anglo-Saxon humour studies (and this author) use humour as an umbrella term, comic being a merely stylistic synonym. Whatever the terminology, at least two initial questions seem relevant: is there a communicator and, if so, is there an apparent humour intention and/or effect? These questions lead to four possible situations: (a) when there is obviously no communicator (hence no possible intention), we are dealing with a comic situation which may be incongruous (e.g. a funny shape in the clouds) or both incongruous and superiority-related (an embarrassing situation); (b) when there is an obvious communicator, no possible intention, but a humorous effect, we have unintended humour, which may have many effects on the sender (from feelings of inferiority to sudden understanding of the incongruity); (c) when there is an obvious communicator, there is an obvious humorous intention and a humorous effect, we have intended humour, even though the intended humour may differ from the humour effect; (d) when there is an obvious communicator, there is an obvious humorous
intention but no humorous effect, we have unachieved humour, again with all sorts of further emotional implications. As Hewstone & Antaki point out, the internal-external distinction is “not so clear-cut as it first appears” (1993:119). This is not necessarily to say that a hearer can never be ontologically certain to have correctly and truthfully inferred a speaker’s intention, since one could reasonably counterargue from a cognitive point of view that only the hearer’s strength of belief matters. Rather, working from this same point of view, the hearer may be unable to decide whether to attribute perceived spoken humour to someone’s intentions or attribute it to ‘reality’ (the ‘unintentional’) that played a trick on that someone, as in a lapsus. Pavlicek and Pöchhacker report that, according to one conference interpreter, listeners indeed “often laugh about unintentional humour”, which may make others quite curious and therefore still be communicatively relevant. Eco points out how – in a semiotic perspective where everything (form and meaning) holds – Queneau’s absolute flouting of basic formal language rules (such as the order of letters or words) may still generate meaning in seemingly absolute linguistic chaos (incongruity-(re)solutionsuperiority). In such cases, it is hard to tell whether any particular reader’s understanding was part of Queneau’s original set-up/intention. I will return to this issue in section 2.4. Translators and interpreters may find themselves in all of these situations and may need to evaluate the various attributions of emotions. According to the type of situation and communication, the attributions may be considered more or less important. Pragmatics provides various frameworks for examining the specific functioning of verbal (and related non-verbal) communication in rather common communicative situations (where I would consider a conference more common than Queneau’s Exercices de style). 2.3 On the pragmatic use and interpretation of language: speech acts Pragmatics is a discipline that tries to describe ‘what apparently happens’ (e.g. how humans apparently think, speak, act and, we may add, bring across or understand intended humour) by referring to coherent, partly theorized categories of intentionality/consciousness. In terms of communicated humour, pragmatics systematically relates meaning effects to the inference of intentional states from verbal (and accompanying non-verbal) behaviour. The strongest asset of pragmatics in the discussion of ‘humour translation’ is the distinction that it makes between illocution and perlocution, in ordinary words, the speaker’s intention (intended meaning) and the message’s factual effect on the hearer. This allows us to focus on the core problem in the description of humour identified above: the intention-effect distinction. In pragmatic terms, the minimal definition of humour plays on the purely perlocutionary level of factual effect: the hearer/reader experiences the hu-
mour feeling. But pragmatics does more than envelop ordinary concepts in difficult terminology. The discipline can connect speech acts with specific principles of intention (Grice), and indirectly with principles of humour (incongruity, superiority and their respective subcategories). Combined with Grice’s Cooperative Principle (1989), the illocution/perlocution distinction goes a long way to explain why precisely a message may be intended as humorous and be perceived as such or differently (situations c and d above). Grice explains how speakers and hearers in normal conversation assume communication to be truthful, informative, relevant and transparent. For instance, it is well known that the evaluation of a communicator’s illocution/intention is a decisive factor in distinguishing between a lie, a joke and an error (Kerbrat-Orecchioni 1998:316-17). A comment to your boss on the phone to the effect that you are “working very hard” when you are in fact just taking a nap can be overtly/intentionally cued and received as a joke. Furthermore, incongruity and superiority interact with (un/)intentionality (illocution/ perlocution) thus giving rise to various kinds of effects, humorous and other (situations c and d above). When Frank Drebin, the notoriously stupid police officer from the American comedy The Naked Gun, tries to talk passers-by into believing that “there is nothing to see here” while a missile factory is exploding behind his back, he unintentionally becomes the target of his own preposterously funny lie. The virtual passer-by who would echo that “indeed, there is nothing to see there” intentionally targets Drebin. A less overt lie (e.g. the same remark uttered by a serious officer in a less visible situation) would amount to a real lie and not be funny if not detected. All the articles in this volume focus on the category of largely intended humour, where a communicator’s intended meanings, as reconstructed from his or her verbal and non-verbal behaviour, causes the receiver to perceive humour intention and to evaluate it spontaneously or artificially (through unavoidable physiological smiling/laughter, ‘played’ non-physiological smiling/laughter, or any other sign like anger, silence, etc.). Blackadder is obviously cued as non-serious comedy, as are, to a certain extent, Shakespeare’s Henry V (discussed by Delabastita) and Billy Wilder’s The Apartment and Some Like It Hot (Vandaele). The jokes discussed by Muhawi are formally cued as jokes, i.e. as short humorous narratives. Chandler’s narrator and his Marlovian wisecracks cannot be taken literally (Antonopoulou), nor can Queneau’s narrator (Eco). Christi Merrill makes a strong argument for taking the narrator of an Indian tale seriously, but not too seriously. Finally, and more importantly for translation studies, there are perlocutions of humour: it is evident that Eco, for instance, in his role of translator, had to construct Queneau’s intention on the basis of the effects it created on him and/or other readers. Now, if ‘fidelity of intention’ is ‘fidelity of effect’, wouldn’t it be more honest to describe effects of rhetorical devices than to describe Queneau’s probable intent?
2.4 On the discursive use and interpretation of language: distance, context, ethics Pragmatics, with its focus on (comic) intention and effect, is a useful paradigm for the study of humour, but it may be said to undervalue a crucial element, which I suggest calling ‘distance’ – distance of many kinds and varieties. Readers familiar with deconstruction, for instance, might ask whether the pragmatic view of communication is not naively positive or contextrestricting? In pragmatics, ‘context’ often assumes that a speaker’s intentions are perceptible and relatable to Grice’s Cooperative Principle. If this turns out to be erroneous, the consequences are potentially major: humour can be a way of expressing disengagement with what one states (‘retractability’) but it may also cause (both comic and serious) feelings of superiority/ inferiority. What, indeed, if ‘nonsensical disengagement’ is intended but ‘aggression’ is perceived instead? In terms of the accusation of being ‘naively positive’, Grice’s Cooperative Principle indeed portrays pragmatics as a rather ‘positive’, ‘optimistic’ paradigm that seems to take interpersonal cooperative behaviour as the standard mode – a stance discussed by Attardo (1997), who accurately saw that Grice indifferently used his idea of cooperation in locutionary or perlocutionary terms, i.e. as ‘literal’ cooperation or ‘real’ cooperation. Attardo’s Perlocutionary Cooperative Principle boils down to “be[ing] a good Samaritan” (1997:766): when asked for ‘the next gas station’, one points to ‘the next open gas station’ (ibid.:771). Taking the bona fide mode as the standard does not, however, imply naive optimism. On the contrary, it takes humour explanation one step further. Most of us are likely to smile a bit at the gas station example. As a third party (reader, spectator), we are confronted with an incongruity on the level of perlocutionary cooperativeness (A sending B to a gas station when A knows it is closed). We can partially resolve the incongruity (A is literally cooperative) and, depending on our attitudes toward A and B, we may entertain superiority feelings. You may have noticed that I surreptitiously introduced in the last sentence a concept that received more culture-sensitive attention in frameworks other than pragmatics: the attitude of the third party. Attitude, as an eminent contextual phenomenon, refers to the second criticism of pragmatics: does pragmatics entertain too restrictive a notion of context? Like other contextual features, attitude is often narrowed down to discrete labels in pragmatics and psycholinguistics (‘positive’, ‘negative’, etc.), while it tends to be treated as far more complex in cultural studies, deconstruction, etc. More than being a ‘who’s right or wrong’ question, the issue is one of interests and of adjusting such concepts as ‘attitude’ and ‘context’ to specific objects of study. On the one hand, many pragmaticians may prefer to work on conceptual refinements for the description of communication mechanisms within smaller contexts, and hence may feel more at ease with ‘workable’
definitions. On the other hand, translation-oriented scholars who, much like semioticians, work on multilingual objects, are unavoidably confronted with the limitations of those very same workable concepts. In ‘Unlimited Semiosis and Drift’, Eco defends deconstruction (viz. Derrida) against pragmatics (viz. Searle) as follows: When [Derrida] says that the concept of communication cannot be reduced to the idea of transport of a unified meaning, that the notion of literal meaning is problematic, that the current concept of context risks being inadequate; when he stresses, in a text, the absence of the sender, of the addressee, and of the referent and explores all the possibilities of a nonunivocal interpretability of it; when he reminds us that every sign can be cited and in so doing can break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable – in these and many other cases he says things that no semiotician can disregard. (1994:36, italics in original)
Since translation is ‘at least’ citation (i.e. without counting the change of code), one could argue that no translation scholar can ignore Derrida’s message. Kathleen Davis makes just that argument in Deconstruction and Translation, where she uses Derrida to explain that it is impossible to maintain the speaker’s intention as a ‘totalitarian’ interpretation device (2001: 53-66): once you have uttered something you can only try very hard to retain control over it. Even scholars who do not believe in the tenets of deconstruction cannot but admit that a growing distance implies less control of meaning; consequently, the degree of interactivity of a communicative situation is crucial; that distance between sender and receiver is not only material in nature but often also cultural, social, institutional, attitudinal, etc. In short, the absolute matching of a sender’s ‘real’ intention and the translator’s inferred (reconstructed) intention is, to say the least, hindered by a number of factors. Muhawi points out that jokes may be considered an ‘authorless’, folkloric genre, and yet they cross borders, acquire meaning from context and are sometimes censored or given new meanings. Merrill explains that Indian storytelling is not author-minded but rather version-centered. The narrator and implied author of the tale she studies has a highly ambiguous status, and it would be very difficult to capture his intentions with certainty. As Pelsmaekers and Van Besien suggest, some of Blackadder’s irony may be funny for different reasons in different cultures due to different background knowledge (and as we have seen, humour with different causes is different humour, even if the immediate effect – laughter – is comparable). Delabastita demonstrates the effects of attitude and knowledge differences through time and across nations. Even Shakespeare, the canonized of the canonized, has no control over target effects.
Even assuming that a translator would be able to grasp the intended meaning, Davis problematizes, again with Derrida, the very possibility of “intend[ing] to convey a certain meaning and then formulat[ing] this meaning in speech or writing”, for that would presume “that the meaning precedes the language event” whereas “meaning is the effect of language, and therefore cannot precede it any more than it can be extracted from it” (2001:53, italics in original). While such observations are important, if only as a counterbalance to an uncritical focus on the speaker’s intention, many translators and translation scholars would obviously argue that it is possible to predict meaning effects, with greater or lesser accuracy. Otherwise, indeed, the type of selfcensorship exerted by Francoist translators, as discussed in Vandaele, would be difficult to imagine. The very same Francoist case points at another possible shift away from speaker’s intention, toward intentio lectoris. Evidently, there also exists something like reader’s intention. One does not have to be a poststructuralist to acknowledge that the hearer may have a different (more or less conscious) agenda from the speaker’s. For descriptive purposes, think of Toury’s claim that “translations are facts of target cultures” (1995:29). For prescriptive ones, think of how an interpreter may choose not to translate a potentially dangerous joke. Analogously, pragmatics may be said to underplay the unconscious. Some would say that speakers don’t always ‘know’ what they intend to say, even if they think or claim they do (psychoanalysis); this is no longer ‘intention’ in the sense that pragmatics would accept it. It is a frightening thought because it would mean that our quotable (‘citational’) utterances are always subject to psychoanalysis. The thought is also frightening because the psychoanalytic aspect of a speaker’s intention is usually closer to perlocution than to illocution: we forget about control over intentions, change our ordinary attitude, allow the psychoanalyst not only to listen but also to seek and tell us hidden meaning effects on him or her. But we can never exclude the possibility that our jokes may be analyzed the way Freud did in his famous book (see Sturge’s review of Freud’s classic). It is precisely what Muhawi’s compelling Lacanian analyses of castration jokes do. Also out of the sender’s reach are those humour effects ‘to be translated’ which depend structurally on specific languages and codes. Literature on humour translation seems to suggest the following ways in which specific meanings are attached to specific codes (see Vandaele 2001:35-38): (1) ‘the force of reality’: different languages create different concepts for different realities (if a culture doesn’t know some type of tree, it may not have a word for it); (2) ‘the conceptual freedom of language’: different languages create different concepts for the same reality (think of the different colour systems); (3) ‘sociolinguistic force’: different languages attach different connotations to similar denotations (how would you translate les écolos in
English?); (4) ‘metalingual force’: different languages adopt different ways of joining various realities in one form (e.g. wordplay). Attardo calls humorous texts that highlight language ‘non-casual’, suggests they are not a priori ‘absolutely’ (i.e. completely) translatable and accordingly relaxes his criterion of translational equivalence to similar effect. The ‘script’ concept that he introduces, i.e. a large internalized structured chunk of information about an entity (e.g. routines, things), is what matters in humour (de)coding and, more specifically, the way in which some micro- or macroscripts are opposed in jokes (‘soft-loud’ or ‘normal-abnormal’). In fact, scripts include all four code-specific language forms mentioned above. Since script oppositions are the most important parameter for joke similarity, the ‘loud’ script of an unknown concept might conceivably be replaced by a ‘loud’ script of a known one, unknown ‘abnormal’ sociolinguistically loaded scripts may be substituted by known ‘abnormal’ ones, etc. Metalingual humour becomes the only case for which equivalent effect is potentially difficult, as different scripts need to be brought together in one linguistic form. Arguing from within translation studies, Antonopoulou demonstrates that the metalingual issue may be more complex. First, a literary text is not a joke; jokes within literary texts may be important in themselves, and at the same time their content may be functional in the whole plot. Second, she shows how pervasive ‘the idiomatic’ is and, hence, how much more humour than currently thought may be termed ‘metalingual’. By stressing ‘encoding idioms’ instead of the usual ‘decoding idioms’, she shows that constructions that appear to be very similar may manifest crucial differences for humour purposes. Her findings are inspirational for theoretical translation studies (should we not rethink the category of metalingual texts and humour’s ‘absolute’ translatability?), for the didactics of translation (not more but sharper attention to idiomaticity is needed), and for humour studies (careful translation analysis as a heuristic tool for any characterization of humour as ‘metalingual’, ‘linguistic’, ‘verbal’, etc.). It is clear from the above that: we may not always be able to grasp the sender’s intentions; we may have our own (conscious or unconscious) agenda while grasping intentions; many other contextual elements play a role in the interpretation process; original contexts may be absent; new contexts may emerge continuously; the humorous function of a text may be combined with other textual functions. This means that a translator of humour has to make decisions. Should we think, then, of an ethics of humour translation? Given the complexity of humour’s meaning it is practically impossible, within the confines of this introduction, to say anything sensible about the ethical implications of its production or reproduction. Some exploratory observations, however, should serve as points of discussion for a future and fuller treatment. Translation is potentially a highly ethical activity, as is (bona fide) communication. I would hesitate to say the same about humour. Summarizing
Pym (2001), it seems that ethics in translation is concerned with the following issues: respect for a source text’s meaning, the commitment to represent a client, the acknowledgement of the Other, as well as respect for divergent opinions on what is considered a good translation in different locations. Humour too can be a very positive force, but it is potentially also a strong rhetorical device not too concerned with ethics: it is easy enough to think of incongruity as an unethical element, and ‘superiority’ is self-explanatory in this sense. Humour may very effectively serve further causes or have ulterior motives, which clearly raises important ethical issues; at the same time, this can be emotionally so compelling that it leaves no room for any serious, explicit, ethical discussion. Because of the wide-ranging effects of humour (both positive-cognitivecreative and negative-aggressive-destructive), an ethics of humour translation may mean very different things to different people, as several articles in this volume indicate. Pavlicek and Pöchhacker suggest that censoring humour may be considered ethical. Can we not read in their last example that censorship of aggressive humour is not necessarily a bad thing in a diplomatic environment? Attardo says that some scripts may exist but not be available for humour, for instance because they are absolute taboo. He suggests that taboo elements be replaced by others, preserving as many elements as possible in his metric, and therefore implies that he only discusses those humorous texts which have humour per se as their primary function. But censoring humour may also be considered very unethical. Vandaele suggests that the Francoist censorship of humour was ‘a bad thing’, both for the humour and its message. Fundamentally, these different stances seem to suggest that no ethical rules can be attached to humour translation as such but, rather, only to the functions of humour. Some may think we should come, at least, to an ethical consensus on fictional-humour translation (in the sense that we should not censor it). This is what Von Stackelberg’s question and answer seem to imply: “Should the translator be allowed to make us laugh at his own ideas rather than at those of the author? We do not think so” (1988:11-12). Queneau’s ludic texts and poetics, an extreme case of socially detached literature, can serve as an example. Some of the comic effects of Queneau’s ‘metaplastic’ (formal) transformations accumulate, are impossible for the translator to ‘measure’ and certainly to create and distribute in the ‘same’ way and at the same pace in another language. Eco de facto disagrees with Von Stackelberg when he decides to make the ‘infinite semiosis’ in the Exercices relatively controllable by bringing the effect back to well-argued rules of a game he plays rather freely. Many a reader will laugh at Eco’s imitation of D’Annunzio, which was not originally part of Queneau’s text. But what should we think when play becomes foul, or literary humour serves or creates tendentious meanings?
2.5 Means: some building blocks of humour Humour can be theorized in many different ways. A broad form-meaning distinction can be applied to specific results of humour theories. While some concepts theorize the semantic principles of humour, or grasp the functions of the comic, others may focus on the way humour is formally encoded, mediated, or generically embedded (to name but a few, partly overlapping, paths of investigation). All resulting concepts are potential ‘building blocks’ for the translator and translation scholar, ‘means’ for them to grasp the forms and meanings of humour. (1) On basic concepts of humour. One may try to coin terms for the various meanings of humour that have been addressed above. Consequently, the articles in this volume use, develop, specify, reject, replace, or create concepts like incongruity or superiority. ‘Incongruity’ is formalized by Attardo into Script Oppositions (with local antonymy) and Logical Mechanisms; by Pelsmaekers and Van Besien into locutionary and illocutionary incongruity for the purpose of irony detection; in Vandaele, the rhetorical strength of incongruity is put to the test and a genre- and text-rhetoric of humour is created; Antonopoulou considers incongruous language use in relation to encoding idioms and processing effort; Eco presents the contiguity of texts in one and the same collection as a meaning principle that confers meaning on particular texts with absolute linguistic incongruity, chaos and apparent nonsense; Delabastita discusses the ‘defunctionalization of language’ and the perceived ‘shallowness’ that supposedly turns ‘comedy’ into ‘farce’; (in)appropriateness is a crucial concept applied in Muhawi’s analysis; similar categories of incongruity are articulated in Merrill’s analysis: multiple ambiguity, playful irony, nonsense, genre crossing, medium crossing, register switching, and comic revitalization of dead metaphors. ‘Superiority’, as the social dimension of humour, is largely present in Pavlicek and Pöchhacker, who consider the communicative functions in conference settings of self-irony, aggression, parody, sarcasm and wordplay. Pelsmaekers and Van Besien consider the social functions of irony. Merrill prefers to consider playful irony and nonsense framing as one way out of the postcolonial translator’s ‘double bind’. The target concept appears in all articles: Attardo claims that targets are, ultimately, always human; Pelsmaekers and Van Besien differentiate between secondary and primary targets, and between various sorts of irony (e.g. deadpan irony); Vandaele argues that attitude towards targets and not necessarily degree of aggression determines humour appreciation and its perceived subversiveness; Delabastita comments on the ideological/satirical implications of national stereotypes, sociolinguistic connotations (stage dialects, gendered language), knowledge deficiency
in characters, the politics of the linguistic blunder; Eco sees Queneau’s ‘challenge’ for a solution as a humorous element. (2) Codifications of humour. Although it is true that there is no recipe for humour, that the comic often springs from a creative semantic process induced by any possible signifier, patterns and signs with comic potential do exist. In this volume, some ‘conventionalized humour devices’ emerge, both text-immanent and cultural: humour repertoires (Antonopoulou), comic accumulatio (Eco), humorous character and plot (Pelsmaekers and Van Besien, Delabastita, Vandaele), canned laughter (Pelsmaekers and Van Besien), echoing (Vandaele, Pelsmaekers and Van Besien) stacks, strands (Attardo’s terminology in Antonopoulou), Joke Situations, Narrative Strategies (Attardo), ethnic slur (Muhawi), frequency of humour as a function of situation and language (in Pavlicek and Pöchhacker), willing suspension of disbelief (Delabastita), and anxiety as a folkloristic universal (Muhawi). As a matter of fact, the study of all sorts of humour (conventionalized or not) may lead to many other (ir)regularities of form/code: ‘jab lines’ (Attardo, Antonopoulou), the fuzzy linguistic-situational humour distinction, semiotic humour, the limited possibilities of wordplay in Italian (Eco), ironic markers, inference triggers, three types of ironic cues, marked forms, ironic hedges, ironic intensifiers (Pelsmaekers and Van Besien), register switching, crucial puns, (Merrill, among others), diglossia, homographs in Arabic, the emergent quality of performance (Muhawi), sexual connotations (in many articles), politeness formulae (in many articles), and metajokes (in Muhawi). (3) Interaction of humour with media codes. The materiality of the sign cannot be stressed enough when it comes to humour translation. Different media generate different impressions or, as Chandler puts it, “[b]reaking up a relationship by fax is likely to be regarded in a different light from breaking up in a face-to-face situation” (2002:53). A conference is not a detective novel and is not a film comedy, in terms of mediation. The audiovisual co-presence of source-language and target-language audience may be highly relevant in conference interpreting, as Pavlicek and Pöchhacker point out. Or, as Wilson (1986) argues against others, the novelistic narrator is more automatically identified and present as a speaker than the traditional filmic one. As a result, film audiences seem to apply internalized speech act theory basically to characters’ speech in the mimetic story only, while modern prose readers always have to interpret novelistic speech as a speech act of potentially both the character in the story and the narrator of the story (based on Vandaele 2002b). (4) Interaction of humour with generic codes. Different genres generate different schemes of normality to be transgressed, where genre can be
understood in a very broad sense of a text type with a minimal tradition, both fictional and non-fictional. “We react to a given sentence in distinct ways that vary with genre: ‘There was a knock at the door’ puzzles, frightens, thrills, or titillates not in itself but through its generic matrix. In literary as in non-literary discourse, communal procedures are paramount” (Petrey 1990:76). A text is never just a text but will activate more specific conventions, as the following examples indicate: a conference talk (Pavlicek and Pöchhacker), a real-life joke (Muhawi), comedy (Vandaele, Pelsmaekers and Van Besien), a history play (Delabastita), a playful literary text (Eco, Merrill), a detective novel (Antonopoulou), a joke in a large sense (Attardo). As Ryan writes, about the difference between fictional (‘embedding’) and non-fictional (‘embedded’) genres, “[i]f fiction can embed discourse belonging to any genre, the fictional realization of a genre will always differ to some extent from its natural realization” and the demands of both “contracts” interfere and “require some sort of compromise” (1981:524). This is illustrated by Delabastita’s discussion of the modalities of mimetic compromise and his use of Sternberg’s insights into such “referentially-oriented genres” as fiction and drama (most importantly ‘vehicular matching’ and the ‘homogenizing convention’). While stressing the importance of genre(s) is not new, close scrutiny of humorous texts often reveals how subtle generic mechanisms actually are. 3. Conclusion As theoretically valuable as these articles may be, are they a useful practical complement to the translator’s intuition? To quote the mission of The Translator, do they “share a common concern for translation as a profession and translation studies as a discipline”? At the decoding stage, as a translation trainer of university translation students (who do not major in linguistics or literary theory), I often find it quite feasible to present complex taxonomies or concepts as workable ‘points of attention’, possibly formulated as questions: Is there a target? Is it an obvious target? Is there an alternative target? How crucial is the pun in your text? Is there an echo? What type of schemes or scripts does it echo, e.g. broadly social or particular aesthetic ones? On which logical mechanism does the joke hinge? And so on. Such questions may gradually lead to a more complex framework. In terms of re-encoding, I indicated at the outset that a sensitive decoder of humour is not necessarily an inspired or talented reproducer of it. Still, these theoretical contributions may help students and professional translators alike to evaluate their translations after reproduction. The scholarly idea of working toward an articulated framework of humour may result in practiceoriented tools for a sharpened analytic awareness of ST meanings and an explicit basis for the comparison, justification or evaluation of TTs. Future
scholars of comparative and translation studies may want to test, elaborate, improve, reject or add concepts, in general or for specific purposes in specific locations. For the latter purpose, we should welcome a compilation of studies like Laurian & Szende (2001), with its focus on the repertorial, culture-specific side, even though in his review of that book Davies criticizes the fact that Barthes, Lévi-Strauss or Freud “are often referred to as sources of authority” as a “poor substitute” for “extensive empirical work written in English” (this volume). Whatever concepts are used, translationoriented case studies should continue to be carried out and cannot simply be replaced by a comparative knowledge of source and target, since the comparison of source and target ‘competence’ models of humour cannot always predict the performance of a translation’s humour. Humour moves in mysterious but traceable ways. JEROEN VANDAELE VLEKHO, Koningsstraat 336, 1030 Brussel, Belgium. [email protected] References Attardo, Salvatore (1994) Linguistic Theories of Humour, Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ------ (1997) ‘Locutionary and Perlocutionary Cooperation: The Perlocutionary Cooperative Principle’, Journal of Pragmatics 27: 753-79. ------ (2001) Humorous Texts: A Semantic And Pragmatic Analysis, Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. Baker, Mona (ed) (1998) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, London & New York: Routledge. Bruner, Jerome (1990) Acts of Meaning, Cambridge (MA) & London: Harvard University Press. Chandler, Daniel (2002) Semiotics. The Basics, London & New York: Routledge. Collins English Dictionary. Electronic version 1.0 (1992), HarperCollins: Glasgow. Davis, Kathleen (2001) Deconstruction and Translation, Manchester: St. Jerome. Eco, Umberto (1994) The Limits of Interpretation, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Escarpit, Robert (1991) L’humour, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Gordon, Robert M. (1994) The Structure of Emotions. Investigations in Cognitive Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Grice, H. Paul (1989) Studies in the Way of Words, London: Harvard University Press. Gruner, Charles R. (1978) Understanding Laughter: The Workings of Wit and Humor, Chicago: Nelson-Hall. Gruner, Charles R. (1997) The Game of Humor: A Comprehensive Theory of Why We Laugh, New Brunswick (NJ): Transaction Publishers.
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