The Translator.

Volume 2, Number 2 (1996), 235-257

ISBN 1-900650-01-0

Translating Jokes for Dubbed Television Situation Comedies
PATRICK ZABALBEASCOA Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
Abstract. This paper examines Catalan and Spanish dubbed versions of English TV comedy series such as ‘Yes, Minister’, with special attention to wordplay as a particular instance of the more general problem of translating comedy for television. The objective is to show that producing foreign-language dubbed versions of audiovisual texts has enough in common with other types of translating assignments to be included within translation studies, as well as contribute to the area of quality asssessment and evaluation of translations by proposing that the criteria for judging a translation should be clear, flexible and realistic, and should take into account the translator’s limitations and working environment. The paper also proposes a classification of jokes, with further examples from translations of British situation comedy into Catalan, and it presents the concept of ‘stylebook’ as a helpful bridge between general statements about translation and specific contextualized translating assignments. Many people complain about the quality of existing translations or even consider them ‘a necessary evil’, occasionally to the point of openly campaigning against their very right to exist. Such negative evaluations often extend to the dubbing of foreign films and television productions. Where could these value judgements come from? Does the answer lie in the nature of language or should explanations be looked for beyond grammar and semantics? Every serious attempt at an unbiased assessment of the quality of a performance or activity involves the setting up of clear criteria; it is generally assumed that criteria are based, to a varying extent, on past experience and the achievements of other human beings in the same or comparable circumstances. It would therefore be relevant to ask how much dissatisfaction with translations is due to judgement deriving from criteria that are either highly demanding, if not altogether unrealistic, or simply different from those by which the translation was produced. In this light, expressions such as ‘untranslatable’ or ‘bad translation’ cannot be used meaningfully without specifying the criteria by which the item or text is regarded as untranslatable or badly translated. So, we would ought to say:

ISSN 1355-6509

© St Jerome Publishing, Manchester

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item or aspect X is untranslatable (or we could not have expected this item to have been translated much better) from language A into language B to fulfil purpose C in text D for recipient E and client or initiator F who have expectation G, with the translation task having to be performed by translator H under conditions I.

Each one of these nine factors or categories, from A to I, is a variable that is likely to have an impact on the assessment of the quality of a translation, or even on the assessment of the translatability of a given source-text, which is therefore not a value that is given once and for all. The nine factors are so variable, in fact, that although they are in the singular above there could be any number of subcategories or units in each category. Thus (for A and B) not all texts are monolingual and not many are single-purpose (for C). The same item may appear in different texts (D), and obviously there can be more than one recipient, client and translator (categories E, F and H, respectively), and more than one expectation in each case (G). Category I refers to a whole set of conditions that influence the translation process, materially and otherwise. Item X is meant to cover any segment or unit of a text – up to the entire text - as well as any suprasegmental or discursive aspects, i.e. aspects which have to do with the text’s overall structure and membership to a certain text type, genre or style. This kind of approach is adopted in the evaluation of human performance in many other areas, but it does not seem to have caught on in the appreciation and understanding of the translating activity by society at large. Even translation scholars have been slow to embrace it, despite work done in the context of descriptive translation studies1 and the growing importance of translator training in universities. Be that as it may, one reason translations are so often seen as being ‘bad’ could be that their consumers expect too much of them, or different consumers expect different things - therefore someone is bound to be unhappy with the result. However, I would also submit that an alternative explanation might be envisaged which would involve consumers expecting too little. Indeed, from the point of view of market forces, if there is no demand for ‘high-quality’ translations, it is less likely that they will be produced. Such a lack of demand may mean that there is no willingness to pay for or invest in ‘good’ translations, or it may reflect the fatalistic assumption that it is in the nature of translations to be ‘poorly written’ texts. The two reasons I have advanced - expecting too much, expecting too littleare not necessarily incompatible. The negative percetion of translation may have to be accounted for precisely by the contradiction that exists between the results that people expect or would like to receive, the difficulties involved in achieving those results, and the low social, professional and even intellectual status that the translator is given. In all of this it is important to be aware of the number of factors that are involved in determining the outcome of any translation activity. Such expressions as ‘the translation of wordplay’ may falsely lead one to assume that the problems of translating wordplay (and so too the

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standards by which it should be described or judged) are purely linguistic and can be reduced to questions of grammar, lexis or semantic structure. In fact, even though wordplay, and comedy in general, play a central role in my analysis, I will be attempting throughout to show how and why a broadening of perspective is necessary. 1. The cultural specificity of humour: an example from Yes, Minister Let me begin by considering an extract from the opening scene of The Challenge, an episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Minister. The fragment below is taken from a radio interview between Ludovic Kennedy (LK), the reporter, and James Hacker (JH), the Minister. The Catalan text is my own transcription of the dubbed version for the national Catalan broadcasting company:
LK: ... you are now Mr Town Hall as well as Mr Whitehall? JH: Well, it’s very flattering of you to put it that way... LK: It wasn´t me who put it that way, Mr Hacker, it was The Daily Mirror. I just wanted to confirm that you are now this country’s chief bureaucrat. ... figures I have here say that your Department’s staff has risen by 10%. JH: Certainly not. LK: Well, what figure do you have? JH: I believe the figure was much more like 9.97%. ... JH: Ah, it’s far too early to announce detailed proposals. After all, I’ve come here directly from Number Ten. LK: From Number 9.97 perhaps. LK:...ara dirigirà l’Administració Local i també l’Administració Central. JH: Bé, dit així resulta molt afalagador... LK: No sóc pas jo qui ho diu així, senyor Hacker, és el Daily Mirror. Però jo només volia confirmar si ara el cap de la burocràcia del país és vostè. (...) les xifres que tinc aquí indiquen que el personal del seu Ministeri ha augmentat un 10%. JH: No és pas veritat. LK: Doncs, quin és el tant per cent? J.H. Crec que aproximadament és un 9,97 %. ... JH: És massa aviat per plantejar propostes concretes. Pensi que he vingut aquí directament des del número deu. LK: Des del 9,97, vol dir.

What seems to be the norm, or priority, in the translation of this extract is a type of faithfulness to referential accuracy and to equivalence of content. Thus, the name of the newspaper is retained, the institutional meanings of

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the personifications in the reporter’s first question, and the numerals are kept intact as well. The consequence is that the humour of this exchange is more or less left to its own fate, which in this particular case is as much as saying that it simply does not seem to work. One may plausibly argue that the Catalan version does not work as a humorous text, among other things, because one assumes that the intended Catalan audience is incapable of grasping the full implications of the names The Daily Mirror (a popular Brtish tabloid) and Number Ten (the Prime Minister’s official residence at 10 Downing Street). But why didn’t the translator realize this? Perhaps s/he assumed that the Catalan audience could be expected to be familiar with these and other features of British cultural lore. Another explanation might be that the translator missed the joke and hence did not see that there was any problem in translating the terms the way they appeared. Or the translator may have considered, or may have been told, that proper nouns must be rendered in a certain manner regardless of context, function or other considerations. Or the translator may have realized perfectly well that the solution was not wholly satisfactory but was incapable of producing a better one through lack of time, incentive, tools or skill. The translator’s rendering of verbal humour (or indeed, of any other sourcetext feature) is bound to be influenced by such constraints, limitations, and prior choices as I have referred to and which also seem to be hinted at by the big if only at the beginning of the following quotation, in which Dirk Delabastita (1994:226-28) sums up Ronald Landheer’s (1991) and Michel Ballard’s (1991) optimisitc views on the possibility of successful pun translation:
The joint position of Landheer and Ballard ... can be recapitulated in three points. First ... they claim that excellent translation solutions can be found for many puns, if only the translators use to the full the linguistic resources and textual leeway available to them in recreating the pragmatic function of the original wordplay. Second, both authors contend that ultimately the text and not the isolated pun should be regarded as the unit of translation, which invalidates any conclusion based on the non-reproducibility of individual ambiguities taken out of their contextual setting ... Third, they feel that the translatability of wordplay should be represented as a cline … translatability is a function of particular textual properties and concrete linguistic or textual conditions rendering puns more or less translatable. ... the authors fail to conceptualize the heuristic problem of knowing when an ambiguity or pun is functional or intended and when it is not. ... (my emphasis)

The ‘if only’ in the above quote means that because of the difficulties involved in translating wordplay (and, again, many other aspects of translation) a translator needs time and a certain amount of skill and expertise to think up a satisfactory solution. What translators and trainees want to know is therefore

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what skills, methods, rules, or techniques can help them attain that objective, i.e. how to improve their performance. However, it might be the case that the answer to this last question is not – or not only – one which affects translators on an individual basis, but a more global one, in the sense that other people would have to intervene and provide the necessary support, even if the translator does have the final word (which is not very often the case in the dubbing process). This is what I would like to argue by complementing each of the points in the above quotation. First, if excellent solutions can be or have been found, the translator would benefit considerably from having relevant samples made available in some sort of collection, reference book or data base; the closer the examples to the task at hand, the better. Second, translators would need to know the full implications of regarding the whole text as the most important unit of translation and be able to exploit the context-dependent and purpose-oriented nature of translation; this requires that they u nderstand how and why there may be many different ways of translating the same source text. Third, different types of jokes and other items may require individual strategies and solutions, although the translator will try to find a common thread that will lend coherence and a clear sense of purpose to the target text. Basically, what this means is that a translator’s performance can improve if s/he has enough general and specific information with which to work and enough time and skill to use it to his or her full advantage. It also means that one of the most important factors in the translation of wordplay, of television comedy and many other texts is the kind of environment, both materially and institutionally, in which the translation process is carried out. Given this principle, the question of the translatability of verbal humour will tend to elude blanket assessments or universalistic claims. Let us consider, for exmple, the possibility of the source text’s humour being culture-specific, a feature often cited as a major obstacle to its successful translation and certainly one of the difficulties facing the translator of the above excerpt from Yes, Minister. According to Delia Chiaro (1992), in Italy an imported comedy series is only successful if the situation depicted is not too culture-specific. To illustrate this claim she reports that George and Mildred and Different Strokes, both serials dealing with middle-class life in general without drawing too much on specifically British allusions or stereotypes, became extremely successful in Italy, whereas Bless Me Father, which satirizes aspects of the Anglican Church, was far too culture-specific to amuse Roman Catholic Italy and was therefore relegated to off-peak viewing times on a small channel (ibid:6). Similarly, Chiaro goes on to say, John Cleese’s hotelier ( Fawlty Towers), members of the French resistance (’Allo, ’Allo), and typical British politicians and civil servants (Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister) are all figures belonging to British culture which are instantly recognized in their inflated parodied forms by home audiences, but outside the British

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Isles they do not necessarily strike the viewer as being comic in intent (Chiaro 1992:7). Even though the author gives no figures of these programme’s ratings abroad, we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Chiaro’s reports. It must be said, however, that her explanations leave the reader wondering about the importance of other factors. How can we know for sure that an Italian audience find characters of the French resistance more alien than characters depicting a middle-aged British couple? How successful were each of these programmes in Britain and how long did they run? How many times were they repeated and how well did each one of them sell abroad, for example in terms of profits and popularity? Who was responsible for each of the translated versions? What is the programming and dubbing policy in Italy? Why wouldn’t “Roman Catholic Italy” actually be interested in a series like Bless Me Father, which also features a Catholic priest trying to outdo his Anglican counterpart? In Catalonia - a basically Roman Catholic and Mediterranean society, if such labels can be used to mean anything, and where we might say that culture-specificity is a comparable problem to the Italian context - the fact is that Fawlty Towers, ’Allo, ’Allo, and Yes, Minister have all been shown and even repeated quite successfully several times, although they have never got into prime time on the network’s main channel. Indeed, it must be said that British situation comedy is never given prime time on the main Catalan channel, whereas American sit coms such as Roseanne or Mad About You (which are arguably just as culturespecific and difficult to translate) are given better slots. One of the few exceptions to this norm was The The Black Adder, a highly culture-specific series which parodically dramatizes certain episodes of the history of England. 2. The language of humour and parody: Walter Nash’s contribution Delia Chiaro points out that situation comedy rests very much on dramatic irony and people’s misfortunes, two ingredients that she finds ‘translatable’. I submit that many of the problems she associates with the extent of culture-specificity of humour may be linked to the concept of parody: after all, beyond the parodic dimension, the problems of culture-specificity are common to many other types of translation in fields as wide apart as history books, tourist guides, advertisements, literature and so on. It is in this light that Walter Nash’s book The Language of Humour (1985) offers some interesting insights into how one might deal with certain aspects of humour in translation, although the book is not on translation as such. Nash says that the test of good parody is not how closely it imitates or reproduces certain turns of phrase, but how convincingly it generates a style like that of the parodied author, producing the sort of phrases and sentences s/he might have produced. This raises “the question of how we recognize a parody or a parodic intention; for here, as in other forms of humour, laughter depends on some sort of framework of expectancy” (ibid:87-88). For Nash,

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even when the reader is not sure just what is being parodied, it may still be possible to recognize parodic intention. The parodist takes care as a rule to create notable discrepancies: both discrepancies of ‘fit’ between expression and content and discrepancies of style on the plane of expression itself. (ibid:88; my emphasis)

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We might expect the same to apply in the case of a dubbed version of a foreign audiovisual text. The two types of discrepancies mentioned by Nash could be illustrated by the use of formal register in the discussion of a trivial subject and the insertion of coloquial substandard words into a stylistically elevated text, respectively. The kind of dissecting of the language of humour that Nash performs throughout his book can be a very useful source of inspiration for the translator, since it enables us to look inside each joke, and even larger units, and understand how they were put together, the better to translate them:
Perception of stylistic discrepancy confirms [the reader’s] assumptions about the wayward content; what he has before him is either a piece of absurdly ill-judged writing, or an essay in buffoonery, probably of a parodic nature ... [H]umorous writing may have a parodic semblance without being a parody of anything in particular, and … we can hugely enjoy a text without being able to identify a specific parodic source. (ibid:89)

In the example from Yes, Minister in section 1, we might say that the main difference between the English source text and the Catalan version is that, although the content and the references are the same in both passages, it is very difficult to grasp the parodic nature of the translation. Mr Town Hall and Mr Whitehall are rendered flatly as “you are now in charge of local administration as well as national administration” and this results in making the next exchange between the Minister and his interviewer practically meaningless in the dubbed version. The humour relies on the audience’s understanding that the Minister thinks he is being flattered, whereupon the interviewer makes it painfully clear that that is far from being the case: the terms were actually coined by The Daily Mirror, a newspaper with a reputation for publishing stories of scandal and sensation where political figures and other celebreties are involved; this indicates, at least to an English audience, that the choice of words was meant to criticize the Minister’s accumulation of beaurocratic power. The Catalan rendering of Mr. Town Hall and Mr. Whitehall are neither flattering nor derogatory, and few Catalans may be expected to be familiar with the exact reference and connotation of The Daily Mirror. This causes bafflement and frustration and leaves viewers struggling to find something funny and parodic, because at least they have enough clues elsewhere to know that that is what they are supposed to be getting. Indeed, in situation comedy we are in

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“contexts [that] are carefully contrived for maximum effect” and the jokes are “clearly signalled” by canned laughter (Delabastita 1994:228). What Nash writes about parodies seems to apply particularly well to translation. He reminds us that
[t]he domain of parody is, to be sure, a large and varied one - so much so, that we inevitably come across texts that are not centrally parodic, in terms of a clearly definable model, but which wear parodic aura, and are full of echoes of half-remembered writings. They might be called pseudoparodies. (1985:99)

The television productions Yes, Minister and The Black Adder make ample use of pseudoparody. In translation, certain parodies of the source text might have to be turned into pseudoparodies when comic effect is a more important priority than enabling the audience to identify the parodied persons. For example, the parodies in The Black Adder of specific figures of British history will very likely be perceived by many foreign viewers as pseudoparodies or maybe even stereotypes: for example, where George III is parodied in the original, in the Catalan version the most that can be hoped for in the case of many viewers is that they recognize him as a (typical?) eighteenth-century king of England. The characters and events that appear in the series Yes, Minister have to do with politics and government, and the type of humour that is displayed is fairly subtle and light-hearted. So, if the translator, for whatever reason, cannot produce particularly skilful solutions for certain types of problems, there is a danger that the dubbed version may be received by the audience as a more bitter, humourless criticism of politicians, civil servants and their goings-on than may have been the intention of the English version. Walter Nash gives us more grounds on which to put into perspective the importance of factual accuracy in rendering the referential items of television comedy. According to him,
the comedian frequently shifts the ground of probability and subverts the rules of argument, and is able to do this very often with the help of parodic style. Parody accommodates and even excuses the mockery of logic; the unlikely circumstance is made acceptable by the amusing distortions of parodic expression. Parodic style and subverted logic together define one essential quality of comic narrative; the integrity of its artifice … leads us to consider it purely in its own terms, as something distanced from all that is involved in the word realism. This may appear to be a paradoxical conclusion, since humour and comedy often have reference to social institutions and interactions, and are therefore commonly supposed to be realistic. They may be truthful in their reflections on human nature, but realistic is seldom the word for their style and narrative method. At their funniest, their wisest, their most revelatory, they transcend realism

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and require us to acquiesce in the laws of the surreal. (ibid:102)

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If such a text can be considered on its own terms, then it should be the case that the same can be said of the translation of such a text, that is, insofar as it aims at being a comedy in its own right. If we now take another look at our sample text with this in mind, we may want to think of possible renderings into Catalan for the verbal jokes I have highlighted. Backtranslated into English, “Mr Town Hall as well as Mr Whitehall” might be rendered along the lines of “the country’s greatest beaurocrat”, where The Daily Mirror might become something like “the leader of the opposition” to make it clear that the phrase was certainly not meant to flatter. “I’ve come here directly from Number Ten” could be translated as “I’ve only had the job for ten hours” or something to that effect, since this joke seems to depend on the repetition of the numbers 10 and 9.97, the Minister’s excuse being that he has not had enough time to think of a policy to reduce beaurocracy. 3. A model of translation based on priorities and restrictions It is possible and, I would argue, fruitful to see translation as a matter of priorities and restrictions: the concept of priorities is used as a means of expressing the intended goals for a given translation task and the restrictions are the obstacles and problems that help to justify one’s choice of priorities and, ultimately, the solutions adopted in the translation. 3.1. Establishing Priorities Let us take as a starting point the hypothesis that there is, in principle, a completely open number of potential priorities and restrictions for the whole body of existing and future translations and that priorities and restrictions have to be identified anew for each task, which is not necessarily as time-consuming as it may sound. For the purpose of evaluation and criticism, we may arrange the set of priorities for a given translation on a vertical scale of importance, ranging from a top priority all the way down to very minor priorities. The reason for this is that part of our evaluation can be based on the consistency with which solutions are found to satisfy higher-order priorities first and foremost, and lower-order priorities only in those cases when all of the more important priorities have already been satisfied. Thus, a priority is also a restriction for all of the priorities that are below it. Faced with the problem of rendering a joke or a play on words, the first thing we need to know is the exact nature of the scale of priorities for the task at hand, and more precisely, which priorities are above and which are below humorous effect / laughter eliciting. The position (or presence) of any priority, including this one, on the hierarchical scale may be different for the source text and the translation, as I will attempt to show shortly. First, a few examples of

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the potential role of humour in a text in terms of the priority conventionally attributed to it: Top: for example TV comedy, joke-stories, one-liners Middle: happy-ending love or adventure stories, TV quiz shows Marginal: as pedagogical device in school, humour in Shakespeare’s tragedies Prohibited: certain moments of high drama, for example in a tragedy or a horror text In the last case, it is actually the very absenceof humour that can count as a priority. Let us consider the example of a politician giving basically the same speech in different languages on a tour of several countries. The speech may be of a serious nature in its basic intention, whether it be to win votes, to spread ideology, to raise funds, to improve diplomatic relations or whatever. However, the speech may include three or four jokes and puns. If the various versions of the speech are produced by translating an original ‘master copy’, each translator may want to bear in mind the following factors. Humour is not a top priority on a global level (i.e. for the whole text), although it may be used as an effective rhetorical device locally (i.e. in certain parts of the speech) for the purpose of building a particular image for the speaker, illustrating a point, providing an entertaining style, conforming to norms which require the presence of a few jokes in any public address, etc. Humour, therefore, may be a global priority of marginal importance for the text as a whole, and it will be dealt with in such a way as not to clash with other priorities of a higher order. It may even make sense not to translate the jokes at all, for example if the norms of the target audience exclude using humour for the same rhetorical purposes in similar conditions. However, if it is decided that it is desirable and therefore a priority for the target text to accommodate jokes, the original jokes will have to be rendered as jokes that actually work as such, which means that entirely different jokes may have to be substituted for the original ones. In this case we could say that humour in the text is locally a priority of a very high order. This ‘local’ reshuffling of the global priorities should be regarded as a more roundabout means of achieving the same goals for the text as a whole. A more subtle analysis than the basic typology just provided will often be called for. Thus, one must consider the possible functions of humour (escapist entertainment, social criticism, pedagogical device, moralizing intention), as well as the possible mental states and attitudes expressed by it. The latter remark refers to those aspects of humour that can be given labels such as bitter, cynical, provocative, ironic, hearty, or that manifest the speaker’s social views and behaviur, as in racist or sexist jokes. Typically, a broad distinction is often made between so-called harmless jokes and those which may cause offence. In the case of Yes, Minister, the possible functions of humour in its

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translation, regardless of its function in English, could include portraying some kind of stereotypical image of the British, or perhaps opening the viewers’ eyes to certain similar political practices that might be going on in the target audience’s country. Or due to the complex distribution of power between central and regional governments in Spain, the translator (or the person or institution that commissioned the translation) might wish the viewer to enjoy the humour of the text more by identifying the characters in the series with one government or the other. When trying to produce a situation comedy by means of translating situation comedy, humour and comic effect are obviously going to be priorities of a very high order for the translation of the text as a whole, even if there is some hidden motivation acting as top priority. In keeping with this, it would seem logical to judge the merit of a dubbed version on how funny the result is, rather than on how faithful it is on any other level. Even so, it should be acknowledged that translators for film and TV usually have a tricky balancing act to perform, the question being to what extent the verbal expression of the jokes can deviate from lip synchronization, accuracy of factual information, overall textual cohesion, or other such considerations in pursuit of the funniest solutions. There is no simple answer to this question; consider for example the problem of lip synchronization, i.e. the correspondence of audible speech with visible articulatory movements and body language in general. In fact, it would appear that there is a variable degree of tolerance for differences in synchronization from one audience to another (Rowe 1960:116; Vöge 1977:121-22), depending on factors such as habit and available technology. Tolerance of this nature can be regarded as a restriction: the greater the tolerance the weaker the force of exact synchronization as a restriction, and consequently, the wider the range of possible solutions and the greater the probability that one of the solutions will be ‘satisfactory’. Restrictions such as synchronization and language differences, then, are not stable but have varying degrees of force and can even be completely cancelled out at certain points of a given text, for example in the case of off-screen dialogue or narration. 3.2. Priorities for dubbing TV comedy A possible set of priorities for translating television situation comedy could be the following: do well in popularity ratings, be funny, aim for immediate response in the form pf entertainment and laughter, integrate the words of the translation with the other constituent parts of the audiovisual text, or use language and textual structures deemed appropriate to the channel of communication. Given the competitive nature of the modern media, achieving popularity and creating a faithful following are certain to be among the top priorities, with ‘popular’ entertainment programmes such as comedy shows less likely to be excused from this objective than, say, opera or open university productions.

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‘Funniness’ is fairly vague as a priority and needs to be made more explicit for each production, but it is sufficient to point out that funniness in the case of Yes, Minister, The Black Adder and other such programmes is a more important priority than teaching the Catalan audience aspects of British institutions and historical events. It will therefore be important to know whether the Catalan audience is likely to laugh at the behaviour of foreign politicians or at events and goings-on that seem to mirror the way things are at home. Is the programme funnier or less funny precisely because the Minister is British, and not Spanish or Catalan? To illustrate the importance of this point, it is worth looking at the way Fawlty Towers was dubbed into Catalan. This series describes daily life in an English hotel run by the hopelessly inefficient Mr Fawlty, played by John Cleese. A member of the hotel staff, called Manuel, is short, dark, with a big moustache, and portrayed as being quite stupid. He is from Barcelona in the English version. In the Catalan version he comes from Jalisco, Mexico. For the British producers, Barcelona is symbolic of any city in Spain and Manuel is meant to show some of the basic features of the British stereotype of what a Spaniard is like; however, many Catalans do not perceive themselves as being prototypically Spanish, apart from the fact that most Catalans do not have Spanish as their mother tongue. Because the original stereotype would not work in this particular case (although it probably would in a German version, for example), it was decided that the character could not be from Barcelona. As it might have been offensive to other Spaniards if the character’s birthplace had been switched to Madrid or Seville, it was ‘safely’ moved to Mexico, and hence the comedy could still function as a comedy. The same principle may be demonstrated by the case of a Japanese humorous programme translated into Spanish as Humor Amarillo: the Spanish dubbed text turned out to invlove a radical rewriting of the original script. The programme’s comedy is not framed in a fictional setting but shows people competing in a contest of endurance and skill and going through all kinds of different obstacle courses. The object of the game is not to win but to act the fool and make everyone laugh. The dubbed version for Tele 5, one of the privately owned Spanish television channels, was based on a completely different script with new jokes and showing no attempt whatever to achieve equivalence at the level of information content; also, there was absolutely no regard for lip synchronization. Producing equivalence at the level of funniness and entertainment was apparently the overriding consideration. This was sought by allowing the comic effect of the picture to work on its own, as well as by means of a funny script that intersected loosely with the pictures in the form of a very subjective and fanciful running commentary of what can be seen on the screen, with many playful allusions to well-known people and events in Spain as well as to the stereotypical Spanish views of Japan and the Japanese. Much of the humour was indeed derived from either jokes about Spanish politicians and current affairs in Spain or fairly racist jokes that probably would have been quite offensive in Japan; for instance the title of the Spanish version was

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Humor Amarillo, i.e. ‘Yellow Humour’, a reference to the Asian-type skin colour. In this case it was decided that a straight translation would not have beeen as funny as the strategy finally adopted. I therefore submit that the merits of this dubbed version could hardly be evaluated according to the same criteria as most other dubbings, since its goals, or priorities, were completely different. 3.3. Equivalence: essential yet variable We have just seen two kinds of labels which can be tagged onto each individual priority, or put differently, two scales on which to place each priority, namely the vertical scale of importance and the local/global scale to indicate which parts of a text are affected by certain priorities. The concept of equivalence can be seen as a third means of describing priorities. Thus, each priority can have one of the following properties: ‘equivalence’ (i.e. it is a priority for the translation to be equivalent to the original in a certain respect and to a certain extent), ‘non-equivalence’ (i.e. it is a priority for the translation not to show a certain kind or degree of equivalence), or ‘equivalence not regarded’. In the last case, the priority solely concerns the acceptability of the target text and therefore has no direct bearing on the equivalent or non-equivalent rendering of source-text features; it will in fact, orrule any lower priorities that do concern the transfer operation per se and may in this way, depending on the actual circumstances, result in equivalence or non-equivalence as a kind of byproduct. As I have suggested, in the three cases equivalence is a variable not only in terms of degree, ranging as it may from ‘absolute identity’ to ‘slight resemblance’, but also in terms of the various textual and functional levels that may be distinguished in the analysis and the priorities to which the conept of equivalence may be assigned. Translating comedy in order to produce comedy entails that intended comic effect is a priority that is both very high on the scale of importance and a global one, i.e. relevant to the text as a whole. It is moreoever an equivalence priority, requiring near-absolute identity. The insistence on the word ‘intended’ means that equivalence is here seen as a characteristic of an intention to be funny, regardless of the final outcome. What matters in this case is the perception of the source text’s humour as a basis for the decision to make the translation a humorous text. The translation can then be judged according to exactly how funny it is in its own right. From this perspective, there is little point in comparing source and target texts in terms of the exact amount and type of humour they contain; if anything, it would be desirable for the translation to be even funnier than the source text. Of course, this is not to say that comedy would have to be translated as comedy at all times. If a translator or perhaps his/her client wished to eliminate this aspect from the translation, for whatever reason, we might say that ‘avoiding comic effect’ is a non-equivalence priority for the translation of a humorous source text. This particular possibility does not seem very likely for

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dubbing TV situation comedy in foreign languages. However, there are cases of source texts of a serious nature having been turned into comic parody or farce in the dubbing process. A typical example of this is the technique of ‘dubbing’ famous people (often politicians) in order to make them say something that is manifestly totally different from what they were actually saying; this kind of manipulation is sometimes done for advertising or for satirical purposes, and it does not always onvolve ‘translation’. If a priority such as ‘avoid sexist language’ were included as a norm or rule in all TV productions in a given cultural situation, then it would have to appear in all translated versions of foreign TV comedy, regardless of its importance in the source texts. This would be an example of equivalence not regarded. Even so, it may be important to know whether such a situation happens to produce equivalence or non-equivalence. After all, even though a translation may reflect any number of non-equivalence priorities, it will also have to satisfy certain equivalence priorities, i.e. at least those which in the given target culture are seen as necessary for a text to qualify as a genuine version of the original. From this angle a translation can be judged separately on the following aspects: first, how easily one can identify a clear set of priorities; second, how well each priority was met by the solutions provided; third, which criteria governed the actual choice of priorities and where the criteria originated. This last aspect would include an assessment of the plausibility and originality of the priorities. 4. The translator as a restriction Recurrent restrictions facing the translator of situation comedy may include differences in background knowledge of the original and prospective audiences; differences in cultural and moral values, customs and traditions; differences in conventional themes and techniques of joke-telling; the translator’s professional context; timing and lip-synchronization, verbal humour depending strictly on features of the source language and/or the visual context which defies manipulation, and so on. Exactly why and how these factors are restrictive is quite variable. In addition, we might regard the translator as being not only a key agent in the production of translations, but also an extra restriction in that same process. After all, the perfect translator does no exist any more than the perfect translation does, and the translator is obviously a variable that will to a large extent determine the outcome of the whole operation. Incidentally, this implies that translations can be judged according to the ability not only of the translator, but also of whoever assigned the task to him or her in the first place. If the translator and his/her context are variables and restrictions, it makes sense to consider ways of reducing their restrictive force. In order to do this, it is necessary to know what factors can be changed to improve performance. In what follows, I would like to formulate four suggestions to that end. These suggestions concern specialization, recognition,

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teamwork and adequate tools. First, the problems that emerged in the translation quoted earlier from The Challenge (the episode from Yes, Minister) might be due to the fact that the translator was applying norms, strategies and solution-types that are better suited to other types of translation; or s/he may have fallen back on some general pattern of behaviour that is trusted to work for all kinds of assignments. Greater specialization may be the asnwer to this difficulty: the more specialized one is, the less one needs to resort to possibly ineffective blanket strategies. In the case of television comedy, this would require considerable familiarity with translating for the screen, as well as the type of knowledge that Nash (1985) provides with respect to the language of humour, the mechanisms of jokes and how they can be classified, adapted and recontextualized for specific purposes. Second, more recognition of the translator may also make a difference. All too often translators use a ‘minimalist’ strategy rather than providing the ‘best’ solution because they think that the best solution is open to criticism from one’s employer, client, or audience, and is therefore too risky; the insipid translation in the aforementioned example is probably a case in point. Such a defensive strategy would consist in resorting to a solution that the translator could always defend with claims such as, “that is what it says in the original”. It is frequently the case that translators do not have the last word on their work, unlike many other professionals. The example from Fawlty Towers, where a character’s birthplace was changed from Barcelona all the way to Mexico was not the result of a decision taken by the translator. Likewise, the translation of film titles, some of which are quite outlandish in Spanish, is hardly ever left to the people who translate the rest of the film. For such radical departures from the original the translator needs permission - or imposition - from someone of greater authority. In the context of dubbing, which requires technicians, dubbing actors, a director and a producer, the translators are usually among the poorest paid and least kindly regarded, with unrealistic deadlines and economic necessity forcing them to work under extreme time pressure and to compromise the quality of their work. Translators are in this sense just as much victims of the myth of translation as ‘a necessary evil’ as the end-users of their work. The other points outlined in this list of recommendations are in some way related to this issue, and along similar lines Delia Chiaro (1992: 85) remarks:
It would appear that translators are often afraid of moving away from the text and replacing an untranslatable joke with another one which would work in the target language, even if it is completely different from the original.

My third suggestion would be to encourage teamwork. For the case of dubbing, the translator will as a rule benefit from help and advice from

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native-speaker informants and experts in script writing. Long series that are translated by more than one person also require that each translator be aware of what the others are doing. On a different level, the quality of dubbed versions may be improved if translators are allowed to be present and to provide their expert opinion in all stages of the dubbing process. This is important insofar as solutions need to integrate the verbal and nonverbal elements (e.g. intonation, voice quality, sighs, hesitations, special effects), making the performance a vital element to the success of dubbings. This requires good acting and directing as well as adequate technical support. Much depends also on the casting. Economic, professional, and labour constraints are often such that too small a number of voices have to do too many parts in a variety of productions, leading to predictability, saturation and disruption of dramatic illusion, and certainly accounting for part of the public’s negative reactions. Finally, translators would have to be aided by adequate materials, which might include general and specialized reference books, computerized databases, single-purpose word-processors and other electronic translation tools. An essential part of the translator’s reference material should be a specialized in-house stylebook, which could include all the information that the employer or firm can anticipate that the translator will need to know and use, including glossaries, television policies and translational norms, spelling out the priorities and restrictions for each type of case, along with a considerable number of practical examples of problems and strategies. 5. Stylebook: the link between theory and practice? A translation solution-type, (i.e. technique or procedure), may be seen as widely applicable or even universally valid, but tis use may also be subject to certain limitations having to do with genres, functions and so on. Hence the need for scholars to study the potential usefulness of translating techniques in a variety of situations, including the dubbing of television comedy. In this way empirical research can help professionals as well as critics and teachers of translation become more aware of the wide range of standards of acceptability and of possible solutions to certain problems; this wide range reflects the endless possible configurations of priorities and restricitons in which translators may find themselves involved. Similarly, courses designed for training translators of audiovisual texts need to show future professionals what kinds of techniques are effective or less appropriate in specific types of texts and environments. This again demonstrates how translators can benefit from specialization. In the case of comedy, specialized translators would be familiar with the mechanics and features of joke-production and discover specific translation techniques for translating verbal humour or for finding substitutes or other forms compensation for them. Types of solutions or translation techniques that may be specifically indicated for dubbing television comedy could include various forms of compensation

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that draw on the multimedial nature of television to complement purely verbal solutions, through, for example, funny voices or intonations, and also jokesubstitutions within the restrictions of timing, lip-synchronicity and textual cohesion. Professional translators frequently lack the time, and sometimes even the necessary training, to go through a number of theoretical books and statements and then process that information in order to make it meaningful and useful in their daily practice. Much of the theoretical literature is not meant to be applied directly, whereas the translator will often need to know more specific facts about the task at hand than any theory could possibly deliver. I would suggest that the gap between the scholar’s statements and the practitioner’s needs can be bridged by producing detailed stylesheets or stylebooks, which should contain all the necessary information for specific tasks, but also take on board the findings and recommendations of theoretical, descriptive and applied translation studies. For television comedy dubbing, a stylebook would need to include, among other things, a guide to the most useful reference materials which provide access to the national styles and traditions of humour in the relevant pair of cultures. It could also include its own collection of samples of actual translations of television comedy, recommended ones and otherwise. It could even have some sort of scheme or classification of jokes, puns, oneliners and other forms of humour to make the translator more aware of their presence and offer some guidance regarding their use. 6. Classifying jokes from the translator’s perspective Among other potentially useful classifications of jokes, one could be made according to the way jokes lend themselves to translation and the sorts of translation solution-types associated with each of them. The following six types of jokes are proposed by way of illustration, with examples from The Challenge and its Catalan dubbed version. The international joke is a funny story or one-liner where the restrictive force of the language and cultural differences is greatly reduced insofar as the comic effect does not depend on either language-specific wordplay or familiarity with unknown specific aspects the source culture. Of course, what counts as an international joke for one target culture may cause serious transfer difficulties for another; safer, therefore, to refer to specific pairs of languages and cultures, especially in the context of a single-purpose stylebook, an use the term binational joke. This would be an example:
ST: A Minister with two ideas. I can’t remember when we last had one of those. TT: Un Ministre amb dues idees. No recordo qui va ser l’últim que vam tenir. (Gloss: A Minister with two ideas. I can’t remember the last one we had.)

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With national-culture-and-institutions jokes there is a need to adapt national, cultural or institutional references of the original to retain the humorous effect for a foreign audience. Thus, in the fragment quoted earlier from Yes, Minister we have:
ST: It wasn’t me who put it that way, it was The Daily Mirror. TT: No sóc pas jo qui ho diu això, és el Daily Mirror. (Gloss: I am not the one who says that, it is The Daily Mirror.)

The joke is lost if the background knowledge required to appreciate it cannot be expected of the target audience. I would therefore suggest the following alternative:
TT: L’expressió no és meva sinó del líder de l’oposició (Gloss: I did not coin the phrase, it was the Leader of the Opposition).

Later in the same exchange the Minister explains that he has just come from seeing the Prime Minister; he uses the common expression Number Ten for the Prime Minister’s official residence. This gives the interviewer Ludovic Kennedy the chance for a retort (“From number 9.97 perhaps”) to pay the Minister back for just having corrected his figure of a 10% increase in Departmental staff (“the figure was much more like 9.97%”). The Catalan version is a translation of the meaning of the words, but few Catalan viewers can be expected to be quick enough to identify “el número deu” (number ten) with the Prime Minister, and many would probably never make the association without being told. The audience would probably have appreciated a less literal but more entertaining version. A solution that would account for the priorities of comprehensibility, laughter-eliciting and conversational coherence could be the following:
JH: És massa aviat per anunciar propostes detallades. Tot just fa deu hores que m’han donat aquesta responsabilitat. LK: O potser només 9,97? (Gloss: JH: It is too early to announce detailed proposals. I was only given the job ten hours ago. LK: Or just 9.97, perhaps?)

By national-sense-of-humour joke I mean certain joke-types and jokethemes that are apparently more popular in some countries or communities than in others and constitute a kind of tradition or intertextual frame of understanding. For example, some communities like to make fun of themselves, whereas others do not and prefer to laugh at somebody else’s expense. Local preferences of this kind may depend on culture, religion or historical and political connections with neighbouring nations. This category of jokes still needs a lot of research and is probably the most controversial. Even if found to have

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no ‘objective’ justification, it might still be useful from the point of view of the audience’s (or the translator’s) perception of such things as a national or collective sense of humour. Most Catalans tend to have a high, positive opinion of themselves, collectively, as a nation, especially within the context of the Iberian Peninsula. It is difficult to find examples of how this can affect the translation of a series like Yes, Minister, but we have seen a clear example in the dubbing of the series Fawlty Towers. In the original, the character Manuel, from Barcelona, is a silly clown who is incapable of stringing two correct words of English to save his life; he is constantly being excused for his strange behaviour with the pseudo-logical explanation that “well, he is from Barcelona”. Significantly, Manuel’s birthplace is moved to Mexico in the Catalan translation. Language-dependent jokes depend on features of natural language for their effect, such as polysemy (a word or phrase has more than one meaning, e.g. fox meaning both an animal and a sly person), homophony (different words or phrases sound alike, e.g. hair and hare), zeugma (one word is made to refer to two or more other words, but has to be differentlly understood in the different contexts, e.g. went in she went to the States and bankrupt). From the referential or cultural perspective such jokes might otherwise be fairly ‘international’, and it must be said that they may on occasion be translated more or less literally when the two languages are very closely related. However, very often radical substitutions or other major shifts are required, depending of course on the priorities for the task at hand. The series Yes, Minister does not play very heavily on this sort of humour, but here is one example; the Minister is talking about why people go into politics:
ST:...the other half are in it for what they can get out of it. TT: i els altres només procuren omplir-se les butxaques. (Gloss: ... and the others are just trying to line their pockets.)

The meaning of the sentence is accurately rendered in the Catalan version, but the humorous effect is lost. The original playfully contrasts the idomatic expressions be in [politics] and get [things, profit] out of [a political career] on the basis of the opposition in/out and supports the joke by the proper timing and intonation in its delivery. In Catalan the sentence sounds more like a blunt, humourless criticism. Under visual jokes we could discriminate between humour derived solely from what one sees on the screen and the kind of joke that may seem entirely visual but is really the visually coded version of a linguistic joke, as in a rebus (i.e. a newspaper-style hieroglyphic puzzle). The second type is therefore language-dependent; an example would be the image of a button, not representing the word button but meaning ‘be quiet’ from the idiom button (up) your lip. When jokes depend on an interplay of verbal and non-verbal

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elements, the translator’s leeway is usually restricted to finding some form of compensation in the words s/he chooses, so that at least they will fit in with the same non-verbal sounds and pictures, which cannot usually be altered because of either normative restrictions or technological limitations. It is worth mentioning that further scientific progress in the field of digital image-processing may soon solve the technological side of this problem (leaving the legal impediments to be attended to by specialists of copyright legislation). Thus, in the not-so-distant future foreign versions of films or television productions may involve not only dubbing or subtitling, but digital manipulation of the picture as well. This possibility sheds new light on the question of lip synchronization and indeed on that of the appropriate visual contexts needed to trigger some intended jokes. The complex joke, finally, combines any two or more of the abovementioned types of joke. The following example combines culture-specific with languagespecific features; the Catalan translation is my personal attempt at showing one type of solution for this kind of joke:
ST: They call him ‘Pilgrim’, because every time he takes her out he makes a little progress. TT: Li diuen ‘Tirantlo’ perquè quan es lliga una noia sempre dóna en el Blanc. (Gloss: They call him ‘Tirantlo’ beacause whenever he chats up a girl he always makes his mark.)

The English joke alludes to John Buynan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a famous late-seventeenth-century Christian allegory full of profound religious sentiment, in the rather more wordly context of gossip and amorous conquest. My translation calls to mind Tirant lo Blanch, a fifteenth-century story about the adventures of a medieval knight; literally, this title means ‘Tirant the White (Knight)’, but the Catalan joke plays on the similarity of Blanch (‘white’) and blanc (‘bull’s eye’). Even though this translation substitutes a new allusion and a new pun for the Englsih ones, it explicitly seeks to retain some of the features of the original. Thus, the equivalence priorities for this particular translation were: first, producing comic effect by means of a one-liner; second, playing linguistically on the title of a famous work of literature that is several centuries old; third, telling a short story about a man’s nickname coming from his relationship with the women he takes out; finally, placing the punch-word at the end of the joke. There was a non-equivalence priority, too: the famous work of literature must belong to the Catalan, not the English literary tradition. I can imagine that this kind of approach will often prove successful in translating comedy for television, but that is of course not to say that as a translation procedure it automatically applies to all types of texts and translation assignments. Indeed, as I have already suggested, more research is needed to establish the correlations between translation problems, their various possible

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solutions, and their likely effect and success in the many possible configurations of factors in which they might have to function. 7. Concluding remarks Success in translating jokes for television comedy is not only a matter of language and language differences, although these are very important and must be explored more fully. Translating humour or any other kind of programme for television is also a profession, and its results can surely be improved by introducing better working conditions and a more professional attitude. This is an area of translation that is directly relevant to enormous audiences and therefore deserves more attention both from television networks and scholars. Specialized stylesheets may be a very helpful means of facilitating and professionalizing the translation of television programmes. The Catalan network has produced numerous stylesheets for their translators, but almost all of the information they provide are guidelines regarding the correct usage of language. I submit that this type of stylesheet would benefit greatly from taking into account the numerous insights of books such as Walter Nash’s The Language of Humour. Finally, it is also important to bear in mind that just as there are many different strategies within the process of translation, translation itself is just another strategy that is open to anyone wishing to adapt a foreign programme to a different audience. Thus, the dubbed version of the Humor Amarillo programme referred to in section 3.2. above did not resort to translation in the strict sense of that term. In fact, in the case of two other popular British comedy programmes, the Mr Bean series and the Benny Hill show, translation is hardly necessary, as both rely heavily on mime and visual gags and are actually reminiscent of silent-film productions. However, in one memorable sketch from Mr Bean, although no actual words are uttered, there is a series of mumblings that are distinctly recognizable to the English audience as being parodic of a church sermon, purely on the basis of rhythm and intonation. These mumbling sounds were not ‘translated’ or changed in any other way for the Catalan audience and were consequently no longer readily recognizable the way they were for their home audience. Sometimes a translator will be incapable of finding a rendering that can be called funny. Chiaro (1992:85) points to one of the problems this may lead to:
If it were not for the canned laughter many jokes and humorous quips occurring in foreign versions of imported American comedies could easily pass by unnoticed. Despite signals which indicate that someone has just said something funny, it is not always the case that the audience is going to be amused by the translated quip.

If something is not funny, the canned laughter alone is not usually going to

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make it funny: rather it will make the viewer feel that something is seriously wrong with the programme, either in its original version or in the translation. One possible strategy would be to admit defeat and cut out the background laughter, a solution seldom resorted to, but a perfect illustration the importance of fully integrating the translation of the script into with the whole dubbing process. PATRICK ZABALBEASCOA Facultat de Traducció i Interpretació, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, La Rambla 30-32, 08002 Barcelona, Spain. patrick.zabalbeascoa@trad.upf.es Note
1. By descriptive studies I am referring to all non-prescriptive, non-specula tive writings and research concerning translation, and not exclusively to the authors who coined the term ‘Descriptive Translation Studies’ (James Holmes and Gideon Toury) and scholars most directly influenced by them.

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Lynn, Jonathan and Antony Jay (1984) The Complete Yes, Minister. The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister by the Right Hon. James Hacker MP, London: BBC Books. Nash, Walter (1985) The Language of Humour: Style and Technique in comic Discourse, London & New York: Longman. Nedergaard-Larsen, Birgit (1993): ‘Culture-bound Problems in Subtitling’, Perspectives. Studies in Translatology, 2: 207-241. Newmark, Peter (1988) A Textbook of Translation, London: Prentice Hall. Nida, Eugene A. (1964) Towards a Science of Translating, Leyden: E.J. Brill. Nord, Christianne. (1991) Text Analysis in Translation, Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi. Rabadán, Rosa (1994) ‘Traducción, Función, Adaptación’, in Aspectos de la Traducción Inglés / Español. Segundo Curso Superior de Traducción, Valladolid: I.C.E., Universidad de Valladolid. Toury, Gideon (1995) Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Vöge, Hans (1997) ‘The Translation of Films: Sub-titling versus Dubbing’, Babel 23(3): 120-125. Zabalbeascoa, Patrick (1994a): ‘Factors In Dubbing Television Comedy’, Perspectives. Studies in Translatology, 1: 89-100. ----------- (1994b): ‘Awareness in Translation’, Language Awareness 3(3/4): 161-75. ----------- (1995): ‘Levels of Prescriptiveness in Translation’, in ian Mason and Christine Pagnoulle (eds) Cross Words. Issues and Debates in Literary and Non-Literary Translating, Liège: L3-Liège Language and Literature (University of Liège), 41-49.

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