Humor translation: a case study on the loss of humorous loads in SpongeBob SquarePants




humor, audiovisual translation, dubbing, Chinese, English


Audiovisual translation of humor has long been a challenge faced by translators. It is inevitable for translators to remove or reduce some of the humorous effect in the target language despite their endeavor to preserve the humor elements. This qualitative study aimed to investigate the reasons behind the loss of humor in translation of the humorous scenes from an American comedy cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants. Sperber and Wilson (1986)’s Relevance theory and Chaume (2004)’s Constraints of Dubbing framework were adopted in this study. The analysis was carried out by comparing the Zabalbeascoa (1993; 1996)’s humorous loads in each identified scenes in English and the Chinese dubbed version. The findings indicated that community and institution, community sense of humor and linguistic elements are prone to be lost in this type of translation not merely due to the linguistic and cultural asymmetry but also because of the synchronization constraints of dubbing. It was found that the substitution strategy which preserved the humor effect became ineffective because the new humorous elements recreated by the translator may not be synchronized with the actor’s lip movements, actions and length of utterance displayed on screen. Despite the unavoidable loss of the untranslatable elements, the maximum preservation of visual and non-marked elements which can be deciphered by the target audience without making unnecessary efforts compensates for the loss, contributing to the popularity and success of this comedy product in the target language and culture.


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