Thursday, June 01, 2006

Virginia Woolf on Translating Humor

In "The Common Reader," Virginia Woolf wrote that "humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue."

As I said in the last post, translating humor is difficult, but apparently Ms. Woolf was not hopeful about a translator's ability to accomplish this hard task.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a translator and I have to say I don't agree at all with Virginia Woolf. Translating humor may be hard, especially when it involves plays on words, but it CAN be done. It just depends on the competence and ingenuity of the translator.

B.J. Epstein said...

I agree with you, of course. It may not be possible to use the exact same kind of humor in the exact same places as in the source text, but the translator can find a way to recreate the humor in the target language.
If you'd like to share, what are some of your strategies for dealing with this?

Best wishes,
BJ

gül said...

I agree with you both. I came across with her saying (proposition) that "the humour is the first one of major gifts to perish in foreign tongue" and it caught me in surprise. How on earth an author in her capacity could say such a thing? I've recently translated a comprehensive research on humour into Turkish and I didn't have any problem in translation of jokes, irony, satire and wits and frankly I wouldn't expect any translator who mastered both language to have problem in translation of humour except for some local-specific jokes.

gül said...

I agree with you both. I came across with her saying (proposition) that "the humour is the first one of major gifts to perish in foreign tongue" and it caught me in surprise. How on earth an author in her capacity could say such a thing? I've recently translated a comprehensive research on humour into Turkish and I didn't have any problem in translation of jokes, irony, satire and wits and frankly I wouldn't expect any translator who mastered both language to have problem in translation of humour except for some local-specific jokes.