Taking humour seriously


Humour is an inevitable part of our life, so we should treat it seriously and I am not kidding! It is not true that you can only make a joke when you meet face-to-face as currently humour appears in online communities – especially in online discussions about a specialized technical topic. So, let’s check how to tell a joke without offending others.

80501911-ac4a-46a1-8d14-82453b787013_463x347Joke? I’m in!

The practical knowledge of how to use humour in an appropriate way is the key to achieving success – particularly when you attempt to socialise at a new job and try to raise your own status and gain popularity in a new environment. If you want to present yourself as being a clever person, you need to crack jokes, but pay attention to what you are saying! Theories of humour are divided into three groups: superiority, release or relief and incongruity. The first one aimed at evaluating feelings of self-worth whereas the second attempts to evoke emotions. The last one is based on surprising juxtaposition of feelings or ideas. All you need is to avoid the superiority jokes which are namely regarded as aggressive or even hostile ones, as often the idea is to mock a certain group of people. Many national stereotypes are derived from such hostile jokes which are incongruous.

Humour from a linguistic point of view and in electronic communication

If you start to analyse the specific language of jokes, you realize that it includes figurative forms of language and conveys multiple meanings. Hyperbole (exaggeration), idioms, indirect request, understatement (implicit comparison), irony, sarcasm, simile (explicit comparison), rhetorical questions are all used in order to tell a joke. As an interlocutor you can also use paralinguistic cues to make a joke, like assuming a posture or facial expression which is impossible when you participate in the online discussion. For instance, in electronic communication one of the most used things is emoticons that stand for the meaning of your mood. Users also put a lot of abbreviations, vocalization and punctuation marks to make communication easier and faster.

Untranslatability in translation humour

Even if you agree with Raj Bhaduri that “Sense of humour is the most valuable elixir of life”, this doesn’t go for translators and interpreters who encounter numerous problem with translation of humour. Grasping the sense of humour and transferring it to the audience is often seen as the biggest challenge for interpreters who need to confront their own implicit knowledge (both cultural and linguistic aspects) to make the joke funny for the audience. The more multicultural and multinational the public you have, the bigger the chance that you make a serious failure, like: offending a group of people or even worst – breaking some taboos. Unfortunately, translation of humour is one of the most visible parts of your interpreting which others can immediately see. Notice that the audience will react the spontaneous laughing or smiling when they listen to your joke, so you will see quickly the result of your interpretation. Moreover, the particular problem with humour arises on knowledge of cultural differences which reflects on what and whom you are allowed to make a joke about and which topics you need to avoid to not be regarded as a racist and so on. When it comes to translating a joke, you need to determine if the joke is worth translating or maybe it is safer and better (also for the speaker) to avoid telling a joke or transform a joke to leave the public with culturally adequate humour. Some scholars also mention problems with linguistic denotation and connotation as a concept in the source language has a different “lectal” value than its equivalent in the target language. Additionally, you can distinguish a lot of varieties of languages, like: dialects, idiolects and sociolects, which also make translation more challenging. Indeed, you can find some metalinguistic problems, as wordplays and puns which are often perceived as untranslatable. Translators are also responsible for comprehension of humour, which is based on a specific reality or concept which stems from using a certain language. So, the best advice for both translators and interpreters is to think twice before you decide it to tell a joke to the audience.

Watch this video:


The use of humor in online discussions about a specialized technical topic

“Humour in translation”, Jeroen Vandaele (University of Oslo)

Written by Aleksandra Święcicka. Journalist, web editor and social media expert. Communication Trainee at TermCoord