The translatability of accent humour:

Canadian English in How I Met Your Mother

By Kwiryna Proczkowska (University of Wrocław, Poland)

Abstract

American sitcoms often use different varieties of English as a source of humour. They frequently exoticise non-American-English speakers and treat their accent as bizarre and incomprehensible. This is also the case in How I Met Your Mother. One of the main characters in this series is Robin Scherbatsky, a Canadian journalist. Using examples derived from How I Met Your Mother, this paper takes as its subject Canadian-themed jokes as depicted in the original dialogues and their official TV translations into German (dubbing) and Polish (voice over). This is a unilateral analysis based on a parallel corpus with English as the source language and German and Polish as target languages. The aim is to see whether the meaning and/or function of these elements were/was preserved in the translations and what techniques were used in order to render humour in this series.

Keywords: sitcom, audiovisual translation, humour translation, Canadian English, diphthong raising

©inTRAlinea & Kwiryna Proczkowska (2020).
"The translatability of accent humour: Canadian English in How I Met Your Mother"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia IV
Edited by: Klaus Geyer & Margherita Dore
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2463

1. Introduction

The aim of this article is to present a translation case study devoted to occurrences of Canadian English in the US-American sitcom How I Met Your Mother that aired for nine years (2005–2014) on CBS and had a wide appeal among millions of viewers all over the world. The Canadian variety of English is used mainly for comedic purposes, and to a lesser extent, for characterisation. Canadian references are a recurring theme since one of the main characters, Robin Scherbatsky, is of Canadian origin. The instances of Canadian English were collected in a multilingual parallel corpus and juxtaposed with their official TV translations into German (dubbing) and Polish (voice over). The analysis consists of a comparison of the source and target fragments with the aim of establishing whether the original accent-related joke has been rendered in any way in the target languages.

2. Sitcom as a TV genre and a text genre

Before proceeding to the analysis of specific examples, I would like to present a general overview of what a sitcom as a TV genre and a text genre is.

Sitcoms are TV comedy shows that have some distinct characteristics, the most important of which is of course the central role of humour. Mintz (1985: 115) lists also such features as:

  • the relative short duration of episodes (the episodes last approximately 30 minutes);
  • limited number of recurring characters and sets (each week same people appear at the same location);
  • finiteness of the episodes (the problem depicted in one episode is not usually continued in the following ones);
  • and circular nature of the episodes as well as their happy ending (the aim of the episode is to resolve a given problem and restore the order).

Many people perceive sitcoms as quite simple, transparent and unchanging, but as media studies researcher Brett Mills (2009: 5, 44) emphasises, this is actually a misconception. In reality, many factors have to come together in order for sitcoms to be familiar and fresh for the viewers at the same time. Since sitcoms use neither very complicated plots nor multitude of characters, their scripts need to be wordy and witty but also very precise. Sitcom scriptwriters pay particular attention to the rhythm of the speech which can be ruined by one superfluous word (Smith 1999: 19; Blake 2014: 30). They also take speech sounds into account because these influence the humour of a given utterance as well (Smith 1999: 66–67; Sedita 2006: 17).

As has already been mentioned, sitcoms do not feature many characters. What is more, they make use of archetypes (cf. Mintz 1985; Smith 1999; Blake 2005; Sedita 2006; Butsch 2008). This way the viewers get an impression that they know the characters from the very beginning. Authors of handbooks for sitcom scriptwriters emphasise that the characters that they create have to seem familiar and a little bit quirky at the same time, and that they have to speak in a natural way (Blake 2005: 29, 52, 96).[1] In order to achieve that, scriptwriters let their characters speak in a dialect, sociolect or an idiolect. And sometimes they introduce a foreigner into their show as a means of reflecting the diversity of the society and creating comedy (cf. Smith 1999: 67).

3. Exoticisation of non-American-English native speakers

There are many instances in which sitcom scriptwriters included a foreigner among the recurring characters. One could list here Fez (unknown origin) from That ‘70s Show, Raj (Indian) from The Big Bang Theory, or three characters from 2 Broke Girls, namely Han (Korean), Sophie (Polish) and Oleg (Ukrainian). Sometimes the writers introduce new foreign characters so that they can create some jokes at the expense of their accent, language or simply their heritage. For instance, Two and a Half Men included a Polish woman in the episode Zejdź z moich włosów, couple episodes of Friends feature Paolo from Italy, and for a short moment, there was Gael from Argentina in How I Met Your Mother.

However, in American sitcoms they also have a tendency to involve non-American-English native speakers and make them seem rather exotic. For example, there is Daphne from Manchester, England, in Frasier, Emily from London, England, in Friends, and, as anticipated in the introduction, Robin from Vancouver, Canada, in How I Met Your Mother. Those characters are depicted as different from the US ensemble and they often become an object of mockery. Sometimes their ‘exoticness’ is reflected in their clothing, sometimes in their behaviour, and sometimes in their speech.

This analysis is devoted to the case of How I Met Your Mother and the jokes made at the expense of Robin Scherbatsky, a news anchor from Vancouver.

4. Canadian English as L3

Canadian English vocabulary and pronunciation embedded in the US-American English in How I Met Your Mother contribute to the multilingualism of the audiovisual source text and can be perceived in terms of L3 theory proposed by Corrius and Zabalbeascoa (2011). The term ‘third language’[2] used by these researchers is understood quite liberally since it encompasses not only natural and invented languages but also different varieties and some linguistic stylisations that are supposed to be regarded as languages (Corrius and Zabalbeascoa 2011: 115). Canadian English as L3 is, thus, a language variation that is inserted into the script for a particular purpose. It could also be considered a “pseudo-variation” since it “merely displays one or two stereotypical traits” (Corrius and Zabalbeascoa 2011: 115) which will be discussed below. Corrius and Zabalbeascoa (2011: 126) list several translation techniques for coping with L3 instances in audiovisual translation, including deleting, and repeating L3, substituting L3 with the target language, and substituting L3 with language other than the source and target languages.

Moreover, Corrius and Zabalbeascoa (2011: 123) emphasise that the presence of L3 may serve, for example, comedic purposes. This is a very important remark that needs to be considered here. As already stated, How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom, and Canadian accent is used as a source of humour. L3 seems, hence, to be “a means rather than a goal in itself” (Corrius and Zabalbeascoa 2011: 123), and the translators should bear that in mind. Sitcoms are, above all, comedy shows.

5. Canadian English in How I Met Your Mother

The use of Canadian English is a recurring theme in How I Met Your Mother that can be noticed in all seasons. The jokes feature Canadian pronunciation, mostly the pronunciation of the diphthong ou /əʊ/, a discourse marker eh added at the end of sentences, and some Canadian vocabulary like hoser, mountie, garburator, and loonie. Hence, they could be divided into three categories: jokes on the level of phonetics, jokes on the level of syntax, and jokes on the level of lexis. Some utterances could also be considered complex jokes because they exploit more than one from the listed phenomena. In order not to make this analysis overtly lengthy nor superficial, I will focus in detail on phonetic jokes disregarding for the time being the comedic use of the discourse eh and lexical Canadianisms.

6. Corpus analysis

The parallel corpus presented below consists of ten Canadian-related phonetic jokes that have appeared in How I Met Your Mother through the years. For each joke, there are two tables provided. One features source text, German translation, and its retranslation into English. The other depicts source text, Polish translation, and its retranslation into English. In each case, the reference to Canadian pronunciation (in the original) and an appropriate target-language counterpart are written in bold type.

When it comes to phonetic jokes, How I Met Your Mother makes references most of all to the so-called Canadian raising which influences diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ before voiceless consonants (Hamilton 1997). In this sitcom, the Canadian pronunciation of the diphthong /aʊ/ is used as a source of comedy, mostly in the word out (pronounced /əʊt/), but there are also some instances in which the said diphthong appears in words about and house. Interestingly enough, in most episodes Robin says those words in an American accent. She uses the /əʊ/ sound only when the given utterance is meant as a Canadian-related joke and in some parts of flashbacks showing her in her youth, but in the latter case it is not used consistently. For example, in the episode 2×09 Slap Bet, Robin sings an original song with following lyrics:

I know, how about [əˈbəʊt] I sing you a song! […] Put on your jelly bracelets and your cool graffiti coat. At the mall, having fun is what it's all about [əˈbəʊt]. […] There's this boy I like. […] I hope he asks me out [aʊt]. […]

Both instances of the word about were pronounced in a Canadian accent, but it is not so for the word out.

Translators used following translation techniques to cope with this type of joke:

  • replacing a phonetic joke in L3 with a cultural joke in target language (L2);
  • replacing a phonetic joke in L3 with a neutral paraphrase in L2;
  • omitting the phonetic joke in L3 altogether;
  • replacing a phonetic joke in L3 with a colloquial paraphrase in L2;
  • and replacing a phonetic joke in L3 with a pun in L2.

Below you can see examples taken from the original show and its translations. The first one stems from the ninth episode of the first season (1×09) entitled Belly Full of Turkey. It introduces Canadian diphthong raising as a source of comedy for the first time.

1×09 Belly Full of Turkey[3]

Source language (SL) – English

Target language (TL) – German (dubbing)

Gloss

ROBIN: I'm Canadian, remember? We celebrate Thanksgiving in October.

TED: Oh, right, I forgot you guys are weird. You pronounce the word out, *oat*.

R: Ich bin aus Kanada, wie du weißt. Wir feiern schon im Oktober.

T: Oh, hab‘ ich vergessen. Ihr Leutchen seid komisch und im Fernsehen läuft bei euch nur Eishockey.

R: I’m from Canada, as you know. We celebrate already in October.

T: Oh, I forgot. You people are weird and there’s nothing but hockey on your TV.

Table 1. 1×09 Belly Full of Turkey – German version

In Table 1, it can be noticed that German translators decided to replace the original accent-related joke with a cultural reference to ice hockey. Hockey is one of Canada’s symbols and this theme emerges quite often in the source text. Robin is a fan of Vancouver Canucks and Wayne Gretzky. She is attracted to hockey players and she wears a hockey player costume for Halloween at one point (episode 7×08). Consequently, the translation fits in the context of the entire series perfectly. It reflects Ted’s mockery as well.

1×09 Belly Full of Turkey

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

ROBIN: I'm Canadian, remember? We celebrate Thanksgiving in October.

TED: Oh, right, I forgot you guys are weird. You pronounce the word out, *oat*.

R: W Kanadzie świętujemy w październiku.

 

T: Zapomniałem… I gadacie z takim śmiesznym akcentem.

 

R: In Canada, we celebrate in October.

 

T: I forgot… You also talk in a funny accent.

Table 2. 1×09 Belly Full of Turkey – Polish version

In the Polish version, a neutral paraphrase is used. Instead of giving an example of ‘weird’ pronunciation, the translator decided to simply state Ted's opinion on this subject. The colloquial verb gadacie ‘you (PL) talk’ could be considered slightly derogatory in this context, the neutral equivalent being mówicie (cf. Doroszewski 1969).

Also in the second example depicting Barney's description of Canadian pornography, the reference to accent is missing from both translations.

2×09 Slap Bet

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

BARNEY: If I have to sit through one more flat-chested Nova Scotian riding a Mountie on the back of a Zamboni, I'll go *oat* of my mind.

B: Wenn ich mir noch eine flachbrüstige, rothaarige Halbfranzösin ansehen muss, die einen Eishockeyspieler mit Ahornsirup einreibt, verliere ich den Verstand.

B: If I have to watch one more flat-chested, ginger half-French girl who is rubbing maple syrup on a hockey player, I’ll lose my mind.

Table 3. 2×09 Slap Bet (1) – German version

As far as the German version is concerned, the phrase flat-chested Nova Scotian was changed in an interesting way. First of all, it was expanded by adding the adjective rothaarig ‘ginger’ which is probably attributable to some stereotypical perception of Canadian appearance. Second, the term Nova Scotian, naming an inhabitant of a particular Canadian province, was replaced by the noun Halbfranzösin ‘half-French woman’, indicating another common mockery theme in How I Met Your Mother, namely Canadian bilingualism. The lexemes mountie and Zamboni are also not represented in the translation. A reference to ice hockey has been made, though, by introducing the word Eishockeyspieler ‘ice hockey player’. This time, the translators decided to allude to a product characteristic for Canadian market, which is the maple syrup. Worth noting is also the fact that the originally very explicit sexual joke was substituted with a milder one in the German version.

2×09 Slap Bet

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

BARNEY: If I have to sit through one more flat-chested Nova Scotian riding a Mountie on the back of a Zamboni, I'll go *oat* of my mind.

B: Znowu będę oglądał deskowate panienki szalejące w górskich chatach. [no translation]

 

B: Once again I’ll be watching flat-chested girls going crazy in mountain cabins. [no translation]

 

Table 4. 2×09 Slap Bet (1) – Polish version

In the Polish rendition, the last part of the sentence was omitted altogether. The references to the Canadian province and police as well as to a machine used at ice rinks are also absent from the translation. However, a geographical allusion to mountainous regions of Canada was introduced into the target text by means of the phrase w górskich chatach ‘in mountain cabins’. Furthermore, instead of the term Nova Scotians, the derogatory colloquial noun panienki ‘girls’ was used. Along the same lines as in Table 3, the general undertone was softened here as well. Were it not for the entire context in which Barney discusses Canadian pornography, the verb szaleć ‘to go crazy’ would have an entirely different connotation.

The episode 2×09 Slap Bet features also a song discussed shortly at the beginning of this section. The following sentence introduces this song:

2×09 Slap Bet

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

ROBIN: I know, how *aboat* I sing you a song!

R: Ich weiß wie, ich werde für Sie ein Lied singen.

R: I know how: I’ll sing you a song.

Table 5. 2×09 Slap Bet (2) – German version

2×09 Slap Bet

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

ROBIN: I know, how *aboat* I sing you a song!

R: Już wiem, zaśpiewam Panu piosenkę.

R: I know, I’ll sing you a song.

Table 6. 2×09 Slap Bet (2) – Polish version

As one can see, Table 5 and 6 depict neutral paraphrases both in German and Polish. There is no reference to Canadian culture in this short statement in either target language. This utterance comes from the very first in series of flashbacks showing Robin’s music career in Canada. Since in this scene the entire joke has a highly amusing visual part (music video starring Robin) as well as musical component (Robin singing a song), omission of the linguistic reference does not influence the comedic purpose of this fragment. This omission is also not that clearly recognisable because canned laughter follows five seconds later when the surprised expression of Robin’s friends can be seen.

Similarly to the first example, the next one turns again to the subject of Canadian Thanksgiving.

3×09 Slapsgiving

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

BARNEY: Did you just say Canadian Thanksgiving was and I'm quoting, ‘the real Thanksgiving’? What do Canadians even have to celebrate *aboat*?

 

B: Hast du gerade gesagt, das kanadische Thanksgiving ist, und ich zitiere, „das echte Thanksgiving“? Bitte sag uns doch, was haben Kanadier an diesem Tag überhaupt zu feiern.

B: Did you just say that the Canadian Thanksgiving is, and I’m quoting, ‘the real Thanksgiving’? Please tell us what Canadians even have to celebrate on this day.

Table 7. 3×09 Slapsgiving – German version

3×09 Slapsgiving

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

BARNEY: Did you just say Canadian Thanksgiving was and I'm quoting, ‘the real Thanksgiving’? What do Canadians even have to celebrate *aboat*?

B: Twierdzisz, że kanadyjskie święto dziękczynienia jest tym prawdziwym? Co takiego świętują Kanadyjczycy?

B: You’re saying that the Canadian Thanksgiving is the real one? What do Canadians celebrate?

Table 8. 3×09 Slapsgiving – Polish version

Also in the case of Table 7 and 8, the original utterance was deprived of reference to Canadian accent in German and Polish versions. The denotative meaning is here the same in both renditions. The mockery is still present in the German translation. However, Barney’s attitude is not really rendered in Polish. Unfortunately, in the Polish version the visual channel was not really taken into consideration either since Barney is making a quotation-mark gesture to ridicule the phrasing the real Thanksgiving. This is not reflected in the target text.

Next example appears at the end of series of Canadian-themed sexual innuendos addressed to Robin. The source text is based on the same joke as previous examples: the pronunciation of the word out.

3×16 Sandcastles in the Sand

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

MARSHALL: Wait, wait, wait. Did he…? I think I'm out.

TED: Yeah, I'm also *oat*. Okay, now I'm really out.

M: Wartet, wartet, wartet… hat er… ich bin raus.

 

T: Ich war gar nicht erst drin. Ich bin auch raus.

M: Wait, wait, wait… Did he… I’m out.

 

T: I haven’t even been in. I’m also out.

Table 9. 3×16 Sandcastles in the Sand – German version

The German translators tried to replace the original joke with a different pun using the antonymous pair of (colloquiual) adverbs drin – raus ‘inside – outside’ which can also be understood as a sexual insinuation and which fits in the context perfectly.

3×16 Sandcastles in the Sand

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

MARSHALL: Wait, wait, wait. Did he…? I think I'm out.

TED: Yeah, I'm also *oat*. Okay, now I'm really out.

M: A może… Chyba nic więcej nie wymyślę.

 

T: Ja też. Nic nie przychodzi mi do głowy.

M: Maybe… I won’t think of anything else.

 

T: Me neither. Nothing comes to my mind.

Table 10. 3×16 Sandcastles in the Sand – Polish version

As for the Polish version, the joke has once more been neutralised. It is important to underline that in this scene the visual context does not create humorous effect on its own. The actors are sitting in the booth in a bar and nobody is making any funny gestures. In a voiced-over version one can still hear the canned laughter. It is, thus, a clear signal for the target-language viewers that a joke has been omitted.

Example presented in Table 11 and 12 is intriguing. In this scene Robin pretends to be from Minnesota, but she accidently pronounces the phrase get out in a Canadian accent which is instantly noticed by the bartender.

4×11 Little Minnesota

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

ROBIN: You think I'm trying to steal your bar? Get *oat*.

BARTENDER: ‘Get *oat*’? Are you Canadian?

R: Du hast also den Eindruck, ich versuche dir deine Bar zu klauen? Heiliger Ahorn!

B: Wieso Ahorn? Bist du Kanadierin?

R: So you think I’m trying to steal your bar? Holy maple tree!

B: How come ‘maple tree’? Are you Canadian?

Table 11. 4×11 Little Minnesota (1) – German version

The German translator decided to use a cultural joke instead of the original one by making again a reference to the maple tree. In this context, it works perfectly and makes the translation undoubtedly funny.

4×11 Little Minnesota

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

ROBIN: You think I'm trying to steal your bar? Get *oat*.

BARTENDER: ‘Get *oat*’? Are you Canadian?

R: Naprawdę tak myślisz? Chyba cię pogięło.

B: Pogięło? A ty co, z Kanady?

R: You really think so? You’re out of your mind.

B: Out of your mind? And you are what, from Canada?

Table 12. 4×11 Little Minnesota (1) – Polish version

The Polish translator resorted to the use of colloquialism. Chyba cię pogięło could be loosely translated as ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’ or ‘you’re out of your mind’. However, it does not lead to the assumption that the person saying these words is Canadian. The bartender’s conclusion is, hence, quite surprising in the Polish rendition. The set up and the punchline of this joke are clearly not coherent.

The analysed episode 4×11 Little Minnesota features one more instance of Canadian English:

4×11 Little Minnesota

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

CANADIAN: Well, sorry there. Didn’t see ya. Are you okay?

ROBIN: I’m fine.

CANADIAN: Okay, sorry *aboat* that. Have a donut on the *hoase*.

ROBIN: Thanks.

CANADIAN: OK.

MARSHALL: OK, you bumped into him, and he apologized and gave you a donut on the *hoase*.

C: Entschuldigung, ich habe dich nicht gesehen. Und wie geht’s?

R: Mir geht’s gut.

C: OK, tut mir wirklich leid. Ein Donut für dich, geht aufs Haus.

R: Danke.

C: Gern geschehen.

M: OK, du bist auf ihn daraufgefallen, er hat sich dafür entschuldigt und dir anschließend einen Donut spendiert?

C: Sorry, I didn’t see you. How are you?

R: I’m good.

C: Ok, I’m really sorry. Here’s a donut for you, on the house.

R: Thanks.

C: You’re welcome.

M: OK, you bumped into him, he apologized for that and gave you a free donut afterwards?

Table 13. 4×11 Little Minnesota (2) – German version

4×11 Little Minnesota

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

CANADIAN: Well, sorry there. Didn’t see ya. Are you okay?

ROBIN: I’m fine.

CANADIAN: Okay, sorry *aboat* that. Have a donut on the *hoase*.

ROBIN: Thanks.

CANADIAN: OK.

MARSHALL: OK, you bumped into him, and he apologized and gave you a donut on the *hoase*.

C: Przepraszam, wszystko w porządku?

R: Tak.

C: [no translation] Może pączek na koszt firmy?

R: Dzięki.

M: Wpadłaś na niego, a on przeprosił i dał pączka?

C: I’m sorry. Are you alright?

R: Yes.

C: [no translation] Do you maybe want a donut on the house?

R: Thanks.

M: You bumped into him, and he apologized and gave you a donut?

Table 14. 4×11 Little Minnesota (2) – Polish version

In this passage, there are two words with the diphthong /aʊ/, namely about and house. Both of these words are uttered by a Canadian man and the word house is later repeated by Marshall, one of the main characters, who tries to imitate the Canadian accent. Again in this case, neutral paraphrases were inserted in the translations, both in German and in Polish. The exaggerated politeness of Canadians and their fondness for donuts are also a common theme in How I Met Your Mother. For this reason, this dialogue can be considered funny in the target languages as well. Nevertheless, the reference to Canadian pronunciation has not been rendered in either translation.

The utterance presented in Table 15 and 16 is a different phonetic joke. This time Barney is in Canada speaking to some local people and he makes the word joke sound French by replacing the sound /dʒ/ with /ʒ/. As noted earlier, the bilingualism of Canadian people is also repeatedly indicated in the discussed series.

5×05 Dual Citizenship

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

BARNEY: Number one: get real money. Don't know what board game this came from, but it's a *joke* [ʒəʊk].

B: Nummer 1: Druckt echtes Geld, Freunde. Ich weiß nicht, welchem Brettspiel ihr das hier entnommen habt, aber das ist echt zum Lachen.

B: Number 1: Print real money, friends. I don’t know which board game you took it from, but it’s a real joke.

Table 15. 5×05 Dual Citizenship – German version

This time, the German translators paraphrased the source text and did not provide a joke in the target language. The denotative meaning was slightly modified, though, by adding an adverb echt ‘really’. As a result, Barney’s disdain is strongly emphasised.

5×05 Dual Citizenship

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

BARNEY: Number one: get real money. Don't know what board game this came from, but it's a *joke* [ʒəʊk].

B: Załatwcie sobie prawdziwe pieniądze. Te są z jakiejś gry… dla dzieci.

B: Get real money. This comes from some game… for children.

Table 16. 5×05 Dual Citizenship – Polish version

The Polish translator, on the other hand, tried to underline how ridiculous Canadian money is for Barney by adding the prepositional phrase dla dzieci ‘for children’ to the word game meaning ‘game for children’. However, the punchline does not really create a humorous effect. Neither does it require a dramatic pause since the collocation ‘game for children’ is standard and not really surprising. It seems that the expansion of this noun phrase does not necessarily improve the entire joke.

The last examples from the episode 8×15 P.S. I Love You are based once more on the pronunciation of the word about. This time, Barney, who does not want to admit that he is a quarter Canadian, is talking first to Robin’s Canadian ex-boyfriend and then to Alan Thicke, a Canadian actor who stars as himself in How I Met Your Mother. Both times he accidently pronounces the word about in a Canadian accent. It is a sort of slip of the tongue[4] and Barney corrects himself instantly.

8×15 P.S. I Love You

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

BARNEY: No. I'm not Canadian. Not even a quarter Canadian on my father's side. Shut up. We're not talking *aboat* me… about me.

B: Nein, ich bin kein Kanadier. Nicht mal ein Viertel Kanadier väterlicherseits. Halt ja die Klappe. Wir reden nicht von mir oder über mich.

B: No, I’m not Canadian. Not even a quarter Canadian on my father’s side. Shut up. We’re not talking of me or about me.

Table 17. 8×15 P.S. I Love You (1) – German version

8×15 P.S. I Love You

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

BARNEY: No. I'm not Canadian. Not even a quarter Canadian on my father's side. Shut up. We're not talking *aboat* me… about me.

B: Nie jestem Kanadyjczykiem. Nawet w jednej czwartej ze strony ojca. Milcz. Nie rozmawiamy o mnie.

B: I’m not Canadian. Not even a quarter on my father's side. Shut up. We’re not talking about me.

Table 18. 8×15 P.S. I Love You (1) – Polish version

8×15 P.S. I Love You

SL – English

TL – German (dubbing)

Gloss

ALAN THICKE: What? That song's not about me.

BARNEY: Then who is it *aboat*… about. Damn it.

AT: Der Song handelt nicht von mir.

B: Und von wem handelt er denn, ich meine „dann“, verdammt!

AT: That song is not about me.

B: So who is it about than, I mean then, shit!

Table 19. 8×15 P.S. I Love You (2) – German version

8×15 P.S. I Love You

SL – English

TL – Polish (voice over)

Gloss

ALAN THICKE: What? That song's not about me.

BARNEY: Then who is it *aboat*… about. Damn it.

AT: Ta piosenka nie jest o mnie.

B: To o kim?

AT: That song is not about me.

B: About whom then?

Table 20. 8×15 P.S. I Love You (2) – Polish version

The Polish version (Table 18 and 20) omits the joke in both fragments. Neutral paraphrases are provided for Barney’s utterances. Both prepositions are used correctly and there is no trace of the slip of the tongue in the target language.

As for the German translation, it creates an impression that Barney is not sure how to speak grammatically correct. In Table 17, there are two possible prepositions that collocate with the verb reden ‘to speak’, and Barney cannot decide which one to use. Table 19 shows a different kind of a slip of the tongue. In this rendition, Barney confuses two really similar words denn and dann (both translated as ‘then’ into English). Both utterances reflect Barney’s confusion quite well. Of course, the target-language slips of the tongue evoke different connotations than the original. There is no reference to Barney’s Canadian roots. His befuddlement could be connected to his jealousy of his fiancée, Robin. The joke, although different, is still humorous in the translation.

7. Conclusions

The presented analysis has shown that Canadian English is not only means to introduce multilingualism into the original dialogues in How I Met You Mother, but is, above all, a source of comedy. Moreover, it is rather striking that not all instances of humour were rendered in the German and Polish translations. Many humorous fragments were paraphrased in a neutral way (see for example Table 2, 3, 5, 6, 10) or omitted altogether (see for example Table 4, 14, 18, 20). In some cases, it can be justified by the fact that the said fragment was just a part of a bigger joke and that the rest of the conversation or its visual context compensated for the loss in the translation (see for example Table 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 14). In others, the target viewers are simply deprived of the opportunity to laugh more (see for example Table 10, 18, 20).

Judging by the lack of any reference to Canadian English, one can say that the actual accent-related character of the original jokes was perceived as untranslatable by the translators. The reason for that is probably lacking linguistic stereotypes about Canadians both in Poland and in Germany. Some of the phonetic jokes have, however, been replaced by cultural jokes making use of other types of stereotypes, for example by referring to Canadian symbols (see Table 11), appearance (see Table 3), hobbies (see Table 1), language knowledge (see Table 3), local products (see Table 3), and landscape (see Table 4).

Clearly, there are no instances of L3 in the target texts. For the most part, L3 was replaced by the target language (L3 → L2). This applies to cultural jokes, puns as well as neutral and colloquial paraphrases. In the one remaining technique which consisted in omitting the joke, L3 was deleted altogether (L3 → Ø).

However, it seems that forfeiting the original character of the joke was not the one and only solution. Taking into consideration Canadian bilingualism, which is also a target of jokes in the analysed series, one could insert into translation some characteristic phonetic traits of French. For instance, in the example from the episode 5×05 (see Table 15), one could use the word joke pronounced as /ʒəʊk/ also in the German version. It is an Anglicism recognised in the German language. In the same example in the Polish rendition (see Table 16), one could translate English joke literally as żart and replace the Polish sound /r/ with the French /ʁ/.

Another solution could be derived in analogy to the sitcom ‘Allo! ‘Allo! which has famously “used a special technique which consisted in representing different languages (mainly French and German) without forsaking the English language other than by including some single words from the represented languages”[5] (Zabalbeascoa 2014: 29; translation K.P.). One could, thus, add some words pronounced in an unusual way into the translation, as was done, very successfully, in the case of the British show and its translations.

Alternatively, the translators could try depicting e. g. Canadian raising with the help of target-language vocabulary featuring similar sounds, such as the noun auto both in Polish and in German, or the interjection au (German) / aua (Polish) ‘ouch’. Such comments as cited in Table 1 and 2 (You pronounce the word X, *this way*) would be a clear indication also for target-language viewers that they are subjected to accent-related joke.

It is important to note three things. First, sitcoms are comedy series whose primary task is to make the viewers laugh.[6] Second, Canadian-related jokes are a recurring theme in How I Met Your Mother that can be considered one of the characteristics of the show. Translators should aim at preserving both of these distinctive features in their target texts in some way. However, the examples from the corpus clearly showed that this was not done consistently in the analysed translations. Third, sitcoms make use of canned laughter that is a clear indication of potentially humorous character of a given utterance/conversation. Omitting a joke and preserving the original laugh track[7] sends a signal to the target viewers that the translation is not adequate.

The figure below indicates the distribution of the translation techniques implemented by the Polish and German translators. It illustrates 11 techniques because each part of the example depicted in Tables 13 and 14 is accounted for separately.

Figure 1. Techniques used to render phonetic jokes in How I Met Your Mother

It is rather evident that only the German translators tried to substitute the original joke with a different joke in the target language. In that rendition, there are two cultural jokes and three puns. However, all the other cases were paraphrased. In the Polish version, there seem to be no jokes created by the translators. One could assume that the colloquial paraphrase was meant as a joke, but the set up and the punchline are not coherent making this passage more surprising than funny (see Table 12). As it was already said, many of the discussed fragments are part of bigger jokes which means that the comedic character of the sitcom is not entirely lost in the translation. Nevertheless, the number of individual jokes decreases in the target-language versions.

When it comes to the Canadian references, they were rendered in three out of ten cases in the German translation, and partially only once in the Polish text. It seems that this theme was, unfortunately, disregarded to the target viewers’ disadvantage.

References

Baños Piñero, Rocío, and Frederic Chaume (2009) “Prefabricated orality: a challenge in audiovisual translation”, inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia,
URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/Prefabricated_Orality (accessed 11 October 2017).

Blake, Marc (2014) How to be a Sitcom Writer: Secrets from the Inside, Luton, Andrews UK Limited.

Butsch, Richard. (2008) “Five Decades and Three Hundred Sitcoms about Class and Gender” in Thinking Outside the Box: A Contemporary Television Genre Reader, Gary R. Edgerton and Brian G. Rose (eds), Lexington, The University of Kentucky: 111-35.

Chiaro, Delia (1992) The Language of Jokes: Analysing Verbal Play, London/New York, Routledge.

Corrius, Montse, and Patrick Zabalbeascoa (2011) “Language variation in source texts and their translations: The case of L3 in film translation”, Target International Journal of Translation Studies, 23(1): 113-30.

Deutsche Synchronkartei (no data). URL: https://www.synchronkartei.de/serie/12406 (accessed 11 May 2017).

Dore, Margherita (2008) The Audiovisual Translation of Humour: Dubbing the First Series of the TV Comedy Programme Friends into Italian. URL: http://tiny.cc/fe18hz (accessed 7 October 2017).

Doroszewski, Witold (ed) (1969) Słownik języka polskiego. URL: https://sjp.pwn.pl/doroszewski/gadac;5429144.html (accessed 18 October 2017).

Forever Dreaming (no data). URL: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org (accessed 11 May 2017).

Hamilton, Sandra (1997) Canadianisms and their treatment in dictionaries. URL: http://www.dico.uottawa.ca/theses/hamilton/hamilton2.htm (accessed 13 May 2017).

How I Met Your Mother (no data). URL: http://himym.co (accessed 29 October 2017).

Mills, Brett (2009) The Sitcom, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

Mintz, Lawrence E. (1985) “Situation Comedy” in TV Genres: A Handbook and Reference Guide, Brian G. Rose (ed.), Westport/London, Greenwood Press: 105-129.

Mittell, Jason (2004) Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture, New York and London, Routledge.

Quaglio, Paulo (2009) Television dialogue: The sitcom Friends vs. natural conversation. Studies in corpus linguistics Vol. 36. Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Sedita, Scott (2006) The Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to Sitcom Acting and Writing, Los Angeles, Atides Publishing.

Smith, Evan S. (1999) Writing Television Sitcoms, New York, Perigee Books.

Zabalbeascoa, Patrick (1994) “Factors in dubbing television comedy”, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 2 (1): 89-99.

---- (2014) “La combinación de lenguas como mecanismo de humor y problema de traducción audiovisual” in Translating Humour in Audiovisual Texts, Gian Luigi De Rosa, Francesca Bianchi, Antonella De Laurentiis, Elisa Perego (eds), Bern, Peter Lang: 25-47.

Audiovisual materials

Episode

Original script

German version

Polish version

1×09 Belly Full of Turkey

Chris Miller and Phil Lord

Christian Langhagen,

Norbert Steinke

Elżbieta Gałązka-Salamon

2×09 Slap Bet

Kourtney Kang

Jacek Mikina

3×09 Slapsgiving

Matt Kuhn

3×16 Sandcastles in the Sand

Kourtney Kang

4×11 Little Minnesota

Chuck Tatham

Błażej Grzegorz Kubacki

5×05 Dual Citizenship

Jacek Mikina

6×09 Glitter

Kourtney Kang

Błażej Grzegorz Kubacki

7×08 The Slutty Pumpkin Returns

Tami Sagher

Błażej Kubacki

8×15 P.S. I Love You

Carter Bays & Craig Thomas

[no data]

Notes

[1] The language of sitcoms and its pretended ‘naturalness’ are discussed for example by Baños Piñero and Chaume (2009) as well as Quaglio (2009).

[2] The term ‘third language’ in this sense should not be confused with the one used in the foreign language teaching.

[3] The names of the authors of original scripts and translations are listed at the end of this paper. The transcripts of the original dialogues were taken from the website http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org (accessed 11 May 2017). Their formatting and wording may have been modified. The names of the original script authors were taken from the website http://himym.co (accessed 29 October 2017). The names of the German translators were taken from the website https://www.synchronkartei.de/serie/12406 (accessed 11 May 2017). The names of the Polish translators were read out at the end of the episode by the voice-over speaker.

[4] For an interesting description of slips of the tongue as a source of comedy cf. Chiaro (1992: 17-24).

[5] ‘[…] ’Allo ’Allo utiliza una técnica especial que consiste en representar diversos idiomas (francés y alemán, principalmente) sin salirse del inglés más que para incluir alguna palabra aislada de los idiomas representados.’ (Zabalbeascoa 2014: 29).

[6] The role of humour in comedies is discussed, among others, by Zabalbeascoa (1994: 95), Mittell (2004: 8), and Mills (2009: 49).

[7] Sometimes translators delete the laugh track for various reasons, cf. e.g. Dore (2008: 100-102).

About the author(s)

PhD candidate at the University of Wrocław, Poland. Graduate in German and English studies. She is currently finishing her dissertation on translation of American sitcoms as a genre. Her research interest include humour translation and audiovisual translation. She is also teaching the use of CAT tools to BA and MA students at the Institute of German Studies, University of Wrocław.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Kwiryna Proczkowska (2020).
"The translatability of accent humour: Canadian English in How I Met Your Mother"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia IV
Edited by: Klaus Geyer & Margherita Dore
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2463

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