Translation: Not between Words, But between Cultures

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Olga Robak IV KMT
The Analysis of Translator’s dilemmas concerning the translation of „Friends”

According to Agnieszka Szarkowska “translation does not take place between words but rather between cultures.” I totally agree with this statement, which, in my opinion can be applied especially to translating cultural idioms. Rewriting them word by word just changing the language, which we can come across very often, preserves idiom’s literal meaning but makes it loose the metaphorical one. That is why we should rather look for the most accurate equivalent in the target language or at least try to convey the same message in some non-idiomatic expression. One the other hand, some critics ,Carlo Marzocchi being one of them, say that we should rather use other translation methods like loan, calque or explanation instead of looking for equivalent, which they find most controversial. Marzocchi states that “replacing idioms with natural-sounding equivalents in the target language deprives our listeners and colleagues of meaningful cultural information.” Although what he says is true, his approach is very source culture centered – his biggest interest is in transferring cultural elements without considering the fact that they may be not understood by the target audience. Anna Jankowska wrote that although “it is very often said that humor does not travel well […] it is enough to turn on the TV or to go to the cinema to realize that […] humor does travel across linguistic and cultural barriers.” In many cases this is true; it is enough to look at the Polish translation of “Shrek” to observe that the same jokes can be transferred from one language to another. Unfortunately, there is a lot of examples of very clumsy humor translations or of their total omission. Especially word plays tend to be blunted or completely left out. Katia Spanakaki describes different ways of dealing with puns like, for example, looking for a similar pun in a target language, using “a non-punning phrase which may retain all the initial senses […] or a non-punning phrase which renders only one of the pertinent senses,” changing it into a “related rhetorical device,” or, in case when we decide to omit it, providing a footnote explaining why a given pun was left out. I will present numerous instances of idiom and word play translations in three episodes from season 9 of Friends TV series: The One with the Pediatrician, The One with the Sharks and The One with Phoebe’s Birthday. In my opinion, to write a good translation, and by good I mean the one which transfers as much of the original meaning as possible, and at the same time is understandable and, in case of jokes, funny for the target audience; the interpreter very often needs to make some sacrifices concerning cultural aspects. Elisa Armellino writes that “in translation of subtitles one of the main goals to achieve is clarity, since they must be easily and quickly understood by the audience (which also has to follow the image sequence on the screen). Thus, what slows down the pace of reading because of the need to be 'deciphered' is felt as annoying.” [emphasis mine] The same thing concerns voice over – the translator has to adjust the length of the of the translation to the time during which a given character actually speaks. In this essay I would like to describe some examples of pun and idiom translations, which in my opinion can be very satisfactory for the target audience. I will also try to improve or clarify some less fortunate interpretations. II. CASE STUDY – FRIENDS TV SERIES

In the first episode (The One with the Pediatrician), the problem appears with the introduction of surnames carrying either double meaning or a pun. The translation of the name “Wiener” into “Siusiak” covers only one of the word’s original meanings, since the word “wiener” means a “thin, red-brown sausage” but can be used also as a slang word for a penis. That is why I would suggest a name...
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