Humour Translation: with Examples from the Big Bang Theory

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This paper shows different kinds of humour, what strategies people use to translate it and the challenges that are caused by them. I will use the US-sitcom The Big Bang Theory to demonstrate the different types of humour used in the translations of the English, German and Turkish version. The show gives a great variety of different humour types. The purpose of the study is to show that humour is challenging, not only because it is culture specific. There are many factors that makes a joke a joke. The translator has to pay attention to all of them, otherwise the humour could lose meaning. My main aim is to explain the word plays, culture specific jokes, uses of idioms, namely the creativity of the translators in the different versions of the show. Additionally, in the first part of the paper, I will be explaining the types of humour, the definition of it by different people, strategies of it and all the challenges translators have to face with. My methodology for this paper was to review diverse material on humour, translation and subtitling. For the second part of my study, I watched an episode of the show in three languages, kept notes while watching it and compared them in the end. The paper seeks to answer the question: What makes humour translation so difficult? I hope this study will inform all interested translators and sitcom lover about challenges people have to face until the translation reach them.

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The Big Bang Theory is an American sitcom (situational comedy), created by Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre. With over 280 episodes in 12 seasons, published since 2007, it is one the most popular TV series in the world. According to the IMDb Most Popular TV Shows chart, The Big Bang Theory is on place 8 in May 2019. The show consists of mostly 22 minutes long episodes, about 20 episodes in one season. To start with the definition of sitcom, situational comedy is a genre in which repetitive characters shows the audience some humorous events from their fictive lives, in daily environments such as home, workplace and so forth. In the case of The Big Bang Theory, the repetitive characters are a group of geeky and introvert scientists, in the main cast Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper whose lives changed with the impression of their new, attractive neighbour Penny. Throughout the seasons, the daily life full of science of the trio is performed in a brilliantly way, filled with comedy elements. The sitcom mostly includes themes as science fiction culture, religion, racism, but also general topics like social life and politics. The humour in the show is mostly based on sarcasm, the use of puns and references to the modern American culture. Although the humour about scientific situations is not as much challenging as the American culture part, it is still a challenge to transfer the meaning of the puns into a different language, which the part of the study will show. To understand the comparison of the translations better, I would like to give a little background to the characters:

Penny: A waitress with the hope to become an artist. Also, she is the neighbour of Leonard and Sheldon. The show based on the contrast of the “Blondie” Penny and the scientist Leonard and Sheldon.

Sheldon: A prodigy, who got his PhD at the age of 16. Besides being clever, he is quite obsessive and introverted.

Leonard: An experimental scientist on physics, with a very high IQ level. Besides his academic life, he is just a normal geek, who loves comics, online and role-playing games. He is in some parts of the sitcom in relationship with Penny.

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