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5. An analysis of some humour-inducing elements in Reality Bites and the translation strategies used

In this chapter, I shall analyse how humour has been translated in two versions of the film Reality Bites, both with Finnish subtitles. These versions are the existing video version (both rental and retail) translated by Timo Porri (later referred to as TP) and the version made for the satellite movie channel FilmNet by Arja Meski (AM). Timo Porri first subtitled the film for the cinema, but I have not used that version here; instead, I have looked at the slightly modified TP version broadcast by MTV3 in January 1998 (*TP) and consulted one version of the film subtitled into Swedish and one dubbed into German to illustrate cultural and other variations in norms. I will discuss the global translation strategies used in TP and AM in section 5.3. to see if they could be characterised as SL-oriented or TL-oriented. In sections 5.4.-5.5., I will analyse the strategies used with different kinds of humour. I am interested in seeing what are the similarities and differences between the two Finnish versions and what kind of assumptions could be made on the norms influencing Finnish subtitlings.

Before proceeding with the analysis, I shall explore the Generation X phenomenon and discuss how the humour in Reality Bites could be defined in order to assess what kind of problems it might pose from the viewpoint of translation.

5.1. The Generation X phenomenon

On its release in 1994, Reality Bites was seen, and advertised, as the signature movie for the so-called Generation X. The term became widely known in 1991, when Douglas Coupland published a book titled Generation X. Even if the term originally appeared in a 1965 self-help manual for young adults (Brinkley 1994), it was the book by Coupland that loaded the concept with the connotations that have later on been attached to it.

The concept of Generation X stereotypically refers to the descendants of the baby boomers born after the World War II. While their parents let their hair grow, protested against the war in Vietnam and saw Woodstock but then sold their ideals in the midst of economic growth and consumerism in the 1980's, Generation X-ers born between 1964-1974 do not seek to change the world but to fulfil themselves. Raised by the media and becoming of age in a period of recession, Generation X-ers do not harbour any hopes of a Brave New World where diligence is rewarded; instead, a college diploma at its best yields a McJob. As one of the protagonists in Reality Bites says, Generation X-ers "take pleasure in the details". In Coupland's book, too, a group of young adults searches for meaning in their lives outside traditional middle-class values.

At this point it is necessary to sketch in more detail the cultural setting Reality Bites and its humour belong to. Sarah Dunn, herself a 20-something university graduate, offers an interesting glimpse of the whole Generation X phenomenon in The Official Slacker Handbook published in 1994. Her definition of what she calls "the slack sensibility" includes e.g. the following aspects: "conscious non-participation", "rejection of consumerism", and "contempt for corporate America" (Dunn 1994:6). The days of an archetypal slacker, preferably living in Austin, Texas, "ground zero of the slack zeitgeist" (Dunn 1994:67), are spent hanging around in warehouses and cafés pondering metaphysical dilemmas and smoking unfiltered Camels, watching sitcoms and re-runs on TV or, alternately, dialling 1-800 numbers. Having left behind college - safe because there "the student loan people don't pester you to death" (Dunn 1994:19) and parents still send some money - a slacker enters the outside world overqualified, at best with the prospect of finding a job where they are "compensated for showing up periodically" (Dunn 1994:22), yet dreaming of becoming a "lead vocalist" or a "Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist" (Dunn 1994:25). Still, one can always get fired for having "time to lean, not to clean" (Dunn 1994:28). When parents complain that Generation X has no work ethic, they are unaware of the fact that the only way of rebelling against the establishment left for slackers is "stealing things from work" (Dunn 1994:27).

Looking at Dunn's book, one notices that the concept of Generation X is used with a certain irony, with a sense of ironic detachment. Characterising a heterogeneous and individualistic generation in homogeneous and collective terms, Dunn seems to realise that there exists a certain paradox in what she says: when using the media concept of Generation X in connection with themselves, Generation X-ers simultaneously have to distance themselves from it. In other words, they have to mark in their speech that the marketing strategy used in connection with them is artificial. When admitting to being part of Generation X, they have to deny it at the same time. This means that the meaning of the concept of Generation X is not free from conflict nor is its use neutral among those it usually refers to.

Bill Salzmann (1995) looks at how the whole Generation X ideology took shape in his interesting essay titled "Reality Bites, So Buy a Big Gulp!", distinguishing between two so-called media waves in it. While the early definitions of Generation X comprised basically all of the 40 million Americans born between 1964 and 1974, it soon turned out that the concept was too wide and it had to be narrowed. Salzmann writes that in the narrower sense Generation X-ers are predominantly white, highly educated, and upper middle-class. They mainly live in coastal towns, and their biggest problem seems to be that their college diplomas do not automatically guarantee them dream jobs as they did for their parents.

Salzmann also writes that in late 1993 the concept of Generation X had already become a cliché. By then the media no longer tried to analyse the concept as such but to create a consumer identity for its target group. In other words, it tried to identify Generation X primarily as consumers. Accordingly, Salzmann argues that what was characteristic of the second media wave of Generation X phenomenon was the assumption that Generation X was a homogeneous group in terms of its consumption patterns and that the definition of Generation X was already known to its target group. Therefore, Generation X-ers could be approached during this second wave indirectly by using certain codes and symbols already established during the first wave.

Reality Bites is, in Salzmann's opinion, an excellent example of this second media wave. According to him, to understand the film it is not enough to belong to Generation X in the narrow sense of the concept. Reality Bites also requires a media-literate audience who are familiar with the ideological references to "seventies pop-culture and hyper-commodified foods" (Salzmann 1995) in the film; in other words, an audience that identify themselves as Generation X-ers. The film employs a language known to Generation X, "the language of product placements, 'hip' consumerism, and music videos" and thus creates "an alternative consumerist ideology for the Generation X".

As flawless as Salzmann's analysis appears, it relies on the assumption that the target group of Reality Bites, i.e. Generation X, not only recognise themselves in the movie but also approve of the view the movie gives of them. That it should be so is by no means clear judging by the reaction the film got from the contemporary audience. Various Internet sources show that Reality Bites, advertised both in the US and Finland as a "comedy of love in the 90's", opened in 1994 to rather mixed reviews. While Joan Ellis (1994) described it as "an appealing slice of contemporary despair", Michael John Legeros (1994) dismissed it as "completely conventional". Some argued that Reality Bites, with a script by the 23-year-old newcomer Helen Childress, manages to "encapsulate an era" (Howe 1994), whereas others accused it of selling out and trivialising its subject matter. What most people seemed to agree on, however, was that Reality Bites was very funny as a comedy. It appeared that most of the 20-something audience the film was particularly aimed at could relate to its depiction of "post-collegiate malaise" (Kempley 1994); still, as the Washington Post critic Desson Howe (1994) put it, Reality Bites was "perfectly understandable [--] to anyone who speaks humor".

5.2. Humour in Reality Bites

The protagonist of Reality Bites is the 20-something Lelaina (Winona Ryder), who has just graduated from college and who is struggling to carve her own niche in modern American society. She has a part-time job as an assistant in a morning talk show while filming a documentary on her friends: the college dropout Troy (Ethan Hawke), who sports a goatee and plays and sings in a band called Hey That's My Bike; the cynical man-eater Vickie (Janeane Garofalo), who works as a manager at The Gap and whose room is full of 70's kitsch; and the shy Sammy (Steve Zahn), who is waiting for the right moment to come out of the closet. Messing things up is the yuppie-type Michael (Ben Stiller), an executive working for In Your Face TV (described in the film as "like MTV but with an edge"), who Lelaina starts dating.

At the beginning of the film, Lelaina gives a valediction, where she, on behalf of her class, breaks away from the baby boom generation, saying:

According to the Generation X ideology and Reality Bites, even counterculture has been harnessed to the market forces, so one can only rebel by not identifying with anything or anyone. Irony has, therefore, become a central means of rebellion.

Reality Bites is firmly anchored in Generation X both linguistically and visually. The term "Generation X" is never mentioned in the film, but the word "slack" is; and much of the humour in the film relies on the recognisability of the language used by its characters, on the associations it raises in its audience. For example, Scott Renshaw (1994) argues that the best thing about Reality Bites is "details and the individual laughs of recognition they provide" (emphasis added), continuing: "I will admit to participating in a group sing-along of 'Conjunction Junction' like these characters, and to playing games based on sit-com episodes." On the other hand, Rose Martel (1994) wrote:

The linguistic recognisability of Reality Bites is complemented by the visual one. Some of the things highlighted in The Official Slacker Handbook by Dunn that are either mentioned or visualised, or both, in the film are The Gap (clothes chain), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Being and Time, Dial-a-Psychic, and Columbia Record and Tape Company, to name but a few. In other words, there are both linguistic and visual codes and symbols in Reality Bites that the American audience will immediately recognise.

Even if Reality Bites is set in a distinctly American milieu, the growing globalisation of youth culture, or rather the worldwide predomination of American popular culture, means that the way of life depicted in the film is more or less familiar to the Finnish audience. Hundreds of Finnish secondary school students spend a year studying in the United States; and American TV programmes, films, and music are distributed across the world. Still, what Finnish viewers probably do not appreciate is that Reality Bites is, at least for the American audience, quintessentially a Generation X movie. Even if it is true that Reality Bites may quite legitimately function for the Finnish audience in a different way than it did for the American one, it is equally true that the latter tapped especially to its semblance of reality. In that sense, there does exist a certain gap between American and Finnish youth cultures (see Laurian 1992:124).

To sum up, Reality Bites could be characterised as a humorous text, in that its humour is not merely at the level of individual jokes. It does have its share of one-liners, but in addition there are more subtle forms of humour, such as irony. One could say that much of the humorousness in Reality Bites derives from its creating a pastiche recognisable to the American target audience. Sari Luhtanen, who has translated e.g. The Simpsons for MTV3, probably hit the target when remarking that (Helsingin Sanomat 17.7.1992, translated by SJ):

The script of Reality Bites is a mixture of contemporary youth jargon, some more classic examples of wordplay, and references to things and people, which means that the challenges Reality Bites poses to translators have to do with both intralinguistic and extralinguistic reasons. In the former group there is the kind of humour where the effect derives from language-related elements, such as slang, wordplay, and allusive humour; whereas in the latter group humour is created by means of culture-related elements. These two groups are presented in the following table:

-Generation X catchphrases and slang
-indirect allusions:
advertisements, Shakespeare, other
-wordplay, puns, phrases
-direct cultural references to:
TV programmes
other cultural staples

I shall analyse intralinguistic humour in Reality Bites in section 5.4. and extralinguistic humour in section 5.5.

5.3. Global translation strategies in two Finnish versions of Reality Bites

Lörscher (1991:76) defines a translation strategy as "a potentially conscious procedure for the solution of a problem which an individual is faced with when translating a text segment from one language into another" (emphasis added). He draws a careful distinction between a problem and a task, in that solving a problem requires innovative thinking on the part of the translator, whereas solving a task is merely an exercise in reproductive thinking. While this distinction may not always hold methodologically or in translational practice, it is useful in noting that not all text segments are equal in terms of translating them. I would argue that translating humour in television qualifies as a translation problem, since we are dealing with a culturally bound element in a contextually bound medium, which does not necessarily work in the TL environment. Choosing a translation strategy, then, involves a decision-making process where various factors come into play.

The strategies employed by translators in terms of a SL-TL continuum can be roughly divided into three categories. I have presented them in the table below:




Exoticisation is here what Toury (1995:56) called "adherence to source norms", retaining culturally specific elements in the ST or slightly modifying them; whereas naturalisation means adapting the ST to target culture norms. The choice between the two constitutes an initial norm (Toury 1995). Between these two extremes there is the middle-ground covered by neutralisation, i.e. choosing a culturally neutral solution. However, drawing exact boundaries between the three categories is difficult. In addition to these three categories there is also the option of omission, i.e. deleting a culturally specific element altogether.

The global translation strategies used in TP and AM differ from each other to some extent. While TP shifts towards neutralisation and occasionally even naturalisation on the SL-TL continuum, AM's approach is more consistently SL-oriented or culturally neutral. However, looking at the subtitlings at the level of individual solutions, one notices that there is a great deal of variation. It seems, therefore, that the idea of the whole text being the most important unit of translation cannot be corroborated on the basis of findings from these two subtitlings.

When analysing the translation strategies chosen by the two subtitlers of Reality Bites, I have used a subtitle, i.e. the amount of text seen on the screen at one time, as the logical unit of translation. The object of my analysis is often part of one subtitle or it may occasionally extend over two or more subtitles. However, I think that at a conceptual level it is reasonable to regard a subtitle as a unit of translation. After all, the division into subtitles is the initial choice made by the subtitler, or in the case of subtitlings made on the basis of pivot translations, one made by the timecuer. It can be argued that ideally a subtitle is an independent whole, or at least a semi-independent one. Nevertheless, in conceptual terms it is a unit that is separated from the speech flow, and more or less self-contained in terms of a viewer processing it. It is interesting to notice in Finnish cinemas that the audience often react to, say, a joke in a subtitle not immediately after having read the subtitle but after the amount of speech flow corresponding to the subtitle has been completed. In a way, the TL audience feel they don't have a "licence" to laugh before the SL audience do.

5.4. Intralinguistic humour

5.4.1. Generation X jargon

Calling this subgroup of intralinguistic humour "Generation X jargon" is actually misleading, since that gives the impression of it being a neat, compact category. Instead, it is a very heterogeneous collection of linguistic material that situational comedies, in general, are made of: one-liners, witticisms, quick repartees. Still, what makes it a subgroup in its own right is that the humour in it revolves in one way or another around Generation X concerns: their concepts, catchphrases, and ideology; their post-college life, or echoes of student years; their attitudes towards work or the state of joblessness. There are, however, two things that one needs to bear in mind. Firstly, part of the material in this subgroup is hardly culture-specific at a cognitive level but may characterise most Western societies; at a linguistic level, however, there are differences between, say, the American and Finnish educational systems. Secondly, with this subgroup it is particularly hard to estimate the extent to which humour relies on the visual context.

One of the key concepts of the Generation X movement is slack and its derivative slacker, and the former appears in Reality Bites:

(1): [LELAINA:] Vickie, he will turn this place into a den of slack.

TP: [LELAINA:] Vickie, hän tekee tästä löysyyden pesän[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Vickie, hän tekee tästä velttoilun pesän[ . ]

The problem with slack is that it does not seem to have any direct equivalent in Finnish; therefore, literal translations, such as those chosen by TP and AM, function differently compared to the original expression, because they cannot count on similar associations. The Swedish solution is of particular interest in this respect:

SWE: Han gör lägenheten till ett slackers-näste.

Here the Swedish version has the English word slacker, which is probably more widely known than slack. Yet, the fact that the translator has decided to use an English expression indicates that he presumes that the Swedish audience know it. This kind of exoticisation strategy also presupposes a relatively high degree of toleration of Anglisms in Swedish.

One of the stereotypical activities of a slacker is time suckage, as in example (2) below:

(2): [TROY:] What the hell is your problem?

[LELAINA:] I have to work around here and unfortunately, Troy, you are a master at the art of time suckage.

[TROY:] Oh well, I'm sorry, Miss poster girl for the Workers' Party, but until I get that toehold in the burger industry, I've got a little time to suck.

TP: [TROY:] Mikä sua rassaa?

[LELAINA:] Minun pitää tehdä töitä[,] ja ikävä kyllä sinä olet ajan tappamisen mestari[ . ]

[TROY:] Valitan, työväenpuolueen julistetyttö[,] mutta kunnes murtaudun purilaisalalle, voin tappaa aikaa[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] Mikä sua vaivaa?

[LELAINA:] Satun käymään töissä, ja sinä olet mestari lorvimaan[ . ]

[TROY:] Anteeksi, Miss työväenpuolue[ . ] Ennen kuin saan leipäni pikabaarihommista, on aikaa lorvia[ . ]

Both TP and AM have used idiomatic and colloquial Finnish expressions; they speak of "killing time" and "idling away", respectively. Lelaina's reply also has an element of wordplay in it, since a master at the art of time suckage sounds like a mock-degree, yet in Finnish there is no such ambiguity, maisteri and mestari being separate words.

Troy speaks ironically about getting that toehold in the burger industry, and the two Finnish versions follow on similar lines: TP talks about "breaking into" the burger industry and AM about "earning one's bread in the snack bar business". The German version interestingly modifies an idiom:

GER: die ewigen Arbeitsjagdgründe eingehen...

The idiom in question is the German counterpart of "the happy hunting grounds", or, in other words, it is an euphemism for "dying". The modification makes the expression at once more concrete and gives it a 20-something twist.

While not exclusively a Generation X concept, the word loser encapsulates much of the post-baby boom society, i.e. the life as Generation X-ers know it. The word, which does have its Finnish slang counterpart in luuseri, is used in Reality Bites in an innovative context, as can be seen below in example (3):

(3): [LELAINA:] And whether you know it or not, you're on the inside track to Loserville, USA.

TP: [LELAINA:] Muussa tapauksessa päädyt Nyhrälään[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Muuten olet armotta alamäessä[ . ]

Here we find also an element of wordplay, as the word loser has been made part of an imaginary place-name by attaching the ending -ville to it. TP has used the same kind of idea in his translation, adding the -lä ending to the verb nyhrätä [fiddle around]. AM, on the other hand, has paraphrased the original expression as muuten olet armotta alamäessä [otherwise it will be all downhill for you], which has alliteration.

One of the features of the Generation X phenomenon is that it is constantly cutting loose from the set of values of the generation preceding it, yet it is reluctant to call itself a generation:

(4): [LELAINA:] ...why we aren't interested in the counterculture that they invented? As if we did not see them disembowel their revolution for a pair of running shoes.

TP: [LELAINA:] Miksei heidän valtakulttuurinsa kiinnosta? Emmekö nähneet heidän vaihtavan vallankumoustaan lenkkitossuihin?

AM: [LELAINA:] Miksei heidän valtakulttuurinsa kiinnosta[ . ] Silti he itse pettivät ihanteensa parista lenkkareita[ . ]

Example (4) illustrates the kind of ambivalence that Generation X-ers show towards the revolutionary ideals of the 60's that have gone sour: they disassociate themselves from the mainstream, but also counterculture has been marred. Interestingly, both TP and AM have chosen to translate the counterculture that they invented as heidän valtakulttuurinsa [their mainstream culture]. The opposite expression is more compact than a minimum change solution would have been as well as less conflicting in that the relation between baby boomers and X-ers is here reduced to one between mainstream and countercultures.

The early 90's saw the rise of real(-life) programming, in other words filming real people in their homes and fitting their lives into the format of a television serial. One of these was The Real World broadcast by MTV. The title of Reality Bites already suggests that real things are a recurring motif in the film, as can be seen below:

(5a): [MICHAEL:] It's a special night, because, as you know, we're entering into a new phase here in the channel: real programming.

TP: [MICHAEL:] Tämä on erikoinen ilta. Aloitamme uuden vaiheen: oikeat ohjelmat[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] No niin. Tämä on tärkeä ilta[ . ] Aloitamme uuden vaiheen: oikeat ohjelmat[ . ]


(5b): [LELAINA'S FATHER:] I'm not gonna sit here and listen again to some strange ethical argument about a damn car. It's got four wheels and it runs well. And, little girl, after you've been in the real world for a while, you're gonna appreciate that car.

TP: [LELAINAN ISÄ:] En aio kuunnella eettisiä löpinöitä jostain hiton autosta[ . ] Siinä on neljä pyörää ja se kulkee. Tosimaailmassa arvostat sitä autoa[ . ]

AM: [LELAINAN ISÄ:] En aio kuunnella eettisiä höpinöitä yhdestä autosta[ . ] Se kulkee hyvin. Ja tosielämässä osaat antaa sille arvoa[ . ]


(5c): [MICHAEL:] I wish I could be like him, I mean I wish I could live off creeds and mottoes and all that shit, all right? But I'm in the real world, okay?

TP: [MICHAEL:] Voisinpa olla kuten hän! Elää uskosta[ . ] Mutta elän todellisessa maailmassa[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] Olisinpa Troy[ . ] Latelisin pelkkiä sitaatteja[ . ] Mutta minä elän tosimaailmassa[ . ]


(5d): [TROY:] I might do mean things and hurt you and I might run away without your permission and you might hate me forever, and I know that scares the shit out of you because I'm the only real thing you have.

TP: [TROY:] Voin loukata tai häipyä, ja ehkä vihaat minua[,] ja se kauhistuttaa sinua koska olen ainoa todellinen asia elämässäsi[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] Ehkä loukkaan sinua[,] ja häivyn ja sinä vihaat minua[ . ] Ja sitä sinä pelkäät, koska sinulla on vain minut[ . ]

Real has been translated either as todellinen or tosi in examples (5b), (5c), and (5d), but in the real programming example we find instead oikeat ohjelmat. The concept does not have an established Finnish translation, and the two translators may have felt that an explicitation on the lines of tosielämään perustuvat ohjelmat is too long. The word oikea may have been chosen also because it alliterates with the word ohjelma.

Reality Bites also draws humour from student life. The school system in the United States differs considerably from that in Finland. It is true that a large number of young Finns spend a year in the United States as exchange students, gaining first-hand experience of American schools. Therefore, the concepts as such are not foreign but they do not necessarily have any apt equivalent in Finnish:

(6a): [LELAINA:] I'm not a valedictorian but I play one on TV.

TP: [LELAINA:] En ole paras oppilas, näyttelen vain[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Esitin parasta oppilasta[ . ]


(6b): [LELAINA'S MOTHER:] Why don't you get a job at Burgerama? They'll hire you. My Lord, I saw on the TV they had this little retarded boy work in the cash register.

[LELAINA:] Because I'm not retarded, mom. I was valedictorian in my university.

[LELAINA'S STEPFATHER:] Well, you don't have to put that down in your application.

TP: [LELAINAN ÄITI:] Pääset varmasti purilaispaikkaan[ . ] Näin TV:stä, että niillä oli kehitysvammainen poika kassassa[ . ]

[LELAINA:] En ole kehitysvammainen, äiti. Olin luokkani paras[ . ]

[LELAINAN ISÄPUOLI:] Ei sitä tarvitse laittaa hakemukseen[ . ]

AM: [LELAINAN ÄITI:] Pääset varmasti Burgeramaan[ . ] Näin tv:stä että niillä oli kassassa heikkolahjainen poika[ . ]

[LELAINA:] En ole heikkolahjainen. Olin vuoden paras oppilas[ . ]

[LELAINAN ISÄPUOLI:] Älä pane sitä hakemuksiin[ . ]

A valedictorian is the head of the class who gives a speech on behalf of the students in a graduation ceremony. Finnish does have the word priimus, yet both TP and AM have preferred to use the explanatory expression (luokkani/vuoden) paras oppilas. On the other hand, the following example, (7), shows that there are some constants in both Finnish and American students' lives:

(7): [VICKIE:] My favorite part about graduating now will be dodging my student loan officer for the rest of my life.

TP: [VICKIE:] Parasta koulun päättymisessä? Välttelen opintolainapankkia loppuikäni[ . ]

AM: [VICKIE:] Hauskinta tulee olemaan se miten pääsen maksamasta opintolainoja[ . ]

TP and AM have had different approaches to translating culturally specific items connected with education. TP has translated fellow graduates as ylioppilastoverit, AM as opiskelutoverit; and when the original version speaks about a graduation present, we find lakkiaislahja in TP and valmistumislahja in AM. In other words, TP has used terms belonging to the Finnish system, though he has also, perhaps unwittingly, made the protagonists secondary school students; AM, on the other hand, has used culturally neutral terms. However, neither of them is systematic in their approach, since TP has translated college as koulu (neutralisation) and AM has left it untranslated (exoticisation).

Work-related humour in Reality Bites does not present linguistic difficulties, as can be seen in examples (8) and (9) below:

(8): [LELAINA'S FATHER:] I'll tell you the problem with your generation: you don't have any work ethic.

TP: [LELAINAN ISÄ:] Sinun sukupolvellasi ei ole työmoraalia[ . ]

AM: [LELAINAN ISÄ:] Ikäpolvellasi ei ole työmoraalia[ . ]


(9): [LELAINA:] I was this close to selling fruit at intersections.

TP: [LELAINA:] Olin jo menossa myymään hedelmiä risteykseen[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Olin jo alkaa myydä hedelmiä[ . ]

Both translations are more concise than the original version, but otherwise the changes are only minimal.

To sum up, the linguistic material in this subgroup is quite diverse. The Generation X concepts in examples (1) and (2) do not have Finnish equivalents in the sense that Generation X is an American phenomenon and a literal or minimum change strategy cannot convey these cultural associations. In the Loserville example, (3), TP has used a similar technique as the original and AM has used an alliterative paraphrase. Examples (4) and (5) show that the space constraints of AVT, among other reasons, can influence the choices made by subtitlers. Terminology related to work is less culture-specific than that related to education, where TP has mostly used TL concepts and AM culturally neutral concepts.

5.4.2. Wordplay

Wordplay, or punning, was defined by Delabastita (1996:128) broadly as "textual phenomena" contrasting "linguistic structures with different meanings on the basis of their formal similarity" (emphasis original). For the purposes of a more fine-grained typology, puns can be further divided into such categories as homonymy, homophony, homography, and paronymy according to the type and degree of similarity (Delabastita 1996:128). However, labelling can be problematic, since we are dealing with a multi-faceted and complex phenomenon, which sometimes defies easy categorisation. The same applies to translation; and discussions on the untranslatability of humour have often centred around the various forms of wordplay.

Also in Reality Bites wordplay comes in various guises. Example (1) below represents one of the most classical forms of punning, that is paronymy:

(1): [TROY:] You know the punishment for premature evacuation?

TP: [TROY:] Tiedäthän rangaistuksen ennenaikaisesta evakuoinnista?

AM: [TROY:] Tiedät rangaistuksen kun häippäsee kesken[ . ]

Troy utters the line above to Lelaina, whom he secretly fancies, when she goes out with Michael for the first time. The humour arises from the phonetic and formal resemblance of the word evacuation to ejaculation, and this resemblance is further accentuated by the adjective premature.

The two Finnish subtitlers have handled the evacuation example quite differently. TP has used the minimum change strategy, which is likely to puzzle most of the audience; the Finnish term for ejaculation is siemensyöksy. Therefore, it is very improbable that the Finnish audience should link evakuointi with siemensyöksy on the basis of the word ennenaikainen alone, unless they are able to make the connection through English and grasp the sexual overtone of the original wordplay. AM has interpreted the latter part of the example in the sense that it is not allowed to leave early on a date, suppressing the sexual overtone. Delabastita (1996:135) suggests that occasionally translators feel it is "safer to play the punning down" and that untranslatability may be used as "the foolproof pretext for toning down the sexual content of the passage" either for personal reasons or target culture considerations. While this sounds reasonable enough, I would think that Finnish norms would not require holding back sexual innuendos; the more logical explanation in this case is that the translators have been unaware of the wordplay in the first place. The Swedish version has, interestingly, made the humour more explicit but omitted wordplay:

SWE: Vad är straffet för för tidig sädesavgång?

Another example of partial paronymy as the source of humour is seen below:

(2): ["TROY" IN THE TELEVISION SERIES:] I'm Audi 5000.

TP: [TELEVISIOSARJAN "TROY":] Mä häippään[ . ]

AM: [TELEVISIOSARJAN "TROY":] Olen Audi 5000[ . ]

The rap expression is based on the pronunciation of the word Audi resembling that of outta [here]. According to the online Napolean's Rap Dictionary, this "farewell bidding" first evolved to "I'm Audi" and then to "5000" "after the Audi 5000 car, which got recalled and is a rare sight nowadays". However, whereas in the evacuation example such clues as the word premature may help those Finnish viewers who know English get the joke, Audi 5000 is less transparent. AM's literal rendering is, in a sense, awkward and most viewers are likely to end up baffled when they see the subtitle, because it does not seem to connect with anything that has been said before. Some viewers might actually link it to earlier discussions of BMW's; yet, this does not facilitate processing the joke.

Example (3) below relies on polysemy, i.e. it plays on the two possible meanings of the word cheesy:

(3): [LELAINA:] He's so cheesy I can't watch him without crackers.

TP: [LELAINA:] On niin lipevä että etoo[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] On niin mauton että ällöttää[ . ]

Lelaina refers here to her boss, a slick talk show host, but what makes the remark humorous is the latter part of the sentence: the word crackers evokes the less obvious meaning of cheesy, that is "full of cheese", "cheese-like". TP and AM have resolved the problem similarly in the sense that the humour in their translations is more at the level of individual words than in surprising associations.

Winona later revenges herself on her smarmy boss by rewriting his cuecards in a live broadcast:

(4): [GRANT:] Being a total prick... pear...

TP: [GRANT:] Koska olen täysi molo... täysi molo... --tovin cocktail...

AM: [GRANT:] Koska olen mäntti... pää[...]

Lelaina's boss tries to save the situation by improvising and continuing the sentence, though the reaction of the audience makes it clear that the harm has already been done. The joke actually has two climaxes: firstly, when Grant is tricked into saying an obscene word; and secondly, when he tries to correct his mistake. TP's solution is rather clever in that it employs the same technique as the original joke and does it quite convincingly. AM has left out the latter part of the joke, so the success of her solution relies more on situational or contextual factors.

The Generation X-ers in Reality Bites also engage in conscious wordplay, as in examples (5) and (6) below:

( 5): [VICKIE:] Don't Bogart that can, man.

[TROY:] Are you retarded?

[VICKIE:] No, I'm rhyming.

TP: [VICKIE:] Savut sulle, jämät mulle[ . ]

[TROY:] Oletko jälkeenjäänyt?

[VICKIE:] Riimittelen vaan[ . ]

AM: [VICKIE:] Jätä jämä, jäbä[ . ]

[TROY:] Änkytätkö?

[VICKIE:] Leikin sanoilla[ . ]


(6): [VICKIE:] Evian is naive spelled backwards.

TP: [VICKIE:] "Evian" on "naive" toisinpäin[ . ]

AM: [VICKIE:] "Evian" on takaperin "naive"[ . ]

In example (5) TP has followed the original example in retaining the rhyming, yet I would like to suggest that his solution has a particularly Finnish twist to it. The X sulle, Y mulle [X to you, Y to me] type pattern may bring to mind a certain line belonging to Finnish Palm Sunday traditions. AM's solution jätä jämä, jäbä [give me a swig, dude] cleverly combines alliteration and assonance. She has changed the technique of wordplay, which is reflected in the latter part of the example: Troy asks Vickie if she stutters, and Vickie replies that she is just playing with words.

Example (6) illustrates well the contextual constraints inherent in AVT; here negative visual feedback is partial, because even though a bottle of Evian is seen and pointed at, in theory there exists the option of inventing a totally different joke based on Evian. Still, both TP and AM have decided to translate the example literally. This may have been motivated by several reasons: they may have thought that naive is sufficiently close to its Finnish counterpart naiivi, or that Finnish viewers know enough English to understand the wordplay; or else they may have felt that there is negative audial feedback which does not justify making any drastic changes. Then there is the possibility that, as Gottlieb (1994b:267) put it, "the subtitler is simply lured by the original phrasing".

In the following example wordplay has been omitted on account of an earlier decision made by the translators:

(7): [MICHAEL:] Hang on, 'cause this is gonna change the face of In Your Face.

TP: [MICHAEL:] Se tulee muuttamaan Häirikkö-TV:n kasvot[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] Se muuttaa kanavamme kasvot[ . ]

TP has translated the name of this MTV-like music channel as Häirikkö-TV, whereas AM has left it untranslated; in example (7), though, she only speaks of a kanava [channel].

Other instances of wordplay in Reality Bites are based on surprising associations. Lelaina and Michael have the following in-depth discussion on their first date:

(8): [LELAINA:] Are you religious?

[MICHAEL:] Um. I guess... I guess I'm a non-practising Jew.

[LELAINA:] Hey, I'm a non-practising virgin.

TP: [LELAINA:] Oletko uskonnollinen?

[MICHAEL:] Olen kai... epäaktiivinen juutalainen[ . ]

[LELAINA:] Ja minä epäaktiivinen neitsyt[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Oletko uskovainen?

[MICHAEL:] Olen kai en-harras juutalainen[ . ]

[LELAINA:] Ja minä en-harras neitsyt[ . ]

The word non-practising is somewhat problematic for Finnish translators, since it does not seem to have any easy equivalent in Finnish. This also shows in the solutions made by both TP and AM in the sense that both contain some semantic aspect of the original expression. In other cases choosing the Finnish expression is more straightforward, as in example (9):

(9): [LELAINA:] I thought the ad said that this was a job for a production assistant.

[MAN:] Yes, and you'll be assisting me in the production of video tapes. You're gonna make copies for me. Many copies.

[LELAINA:] Is this... is this like a pirate operation?

[MAN:] Do I look like a pirate to you?

TP: [LELAINA:] Ettekö hakeneet tuotantoapulaista?

[MIES:] Kyllä, avustaisit minua videonauhojen tuotannossa[ . ] Tekisit kopioita. Paljon kopioita[ . ]

[LELAINA:] Onko tämä piraattijuttuja?

[MIES:] Näytänkö minä piraatilta?

AM: [LELAINA:] Tehän haitte tuotantoavustajaa[ . ]

[MIES:] Niin, avustat minua videofilmien tuotannossa[ . ] Teet minulle kopioita. Paljon kopioita[ . ]

[LELAINA:] Onko tämä piraattitoimintaa?

[MIES:] Näytänkö minä piraatilta?

Fired from her previous job, Lelaina uncovers first-hand the semantics of job descriptions, when a promising opportunity turns out to be something sleazier instead. However, the correspondence between Finnish and English is not one-to-one, which is reflected in the *TP version:

*TP: [MIES:] Näytänkö minä merirosvolta?

Even malapropism, i.e. "using polysyllabic words incorrectly" according to the definition used in The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (1991:523), is a form of wordplay, and Michael's inarticulateness and his fumbling and groping for words is a constant source of amusement in Reality Bites, as in example (10):

(10a): [MICHAEL:] Excuse me if somebody doesn't know the secret handshake with you.

[TROY:] There's no secret handshake. There's an IQ prerequisite, but there's no secret handshake.

TP: [MICHAEL:] Valitan etten tunne salaista käsimerkkiä[ . ]

[TROY:] Ei ole mitään salaista käsimerkkiä. Ainoastaan älykkyysvaatimus[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] En ehkä osaa käsitellä sinua[ . ]

[TROY:] Ei sitä vaaditakaan. Vain vähimmäis-ÄO, ei muuta[ . ]


(10b:) [MICHAEL:] We are not... like... intelligence quotations.

TP: [MICHAEL:] Emme ole... älykkyysosamääriä[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] Ei mitään... älykkyysosamääriä[ . ]

What makes the scene funny is that Michael believes that IQ stands for intelligence quotations. Both TP and AM have ignored this, so Michael's apologising gestural language does not have its verbal counterpart in the two Finnish versions.

As we have seen above, TP and AM have had a variety of approaches to wordplay. Being a very language-specific element, wordplay has often been simply omitted and other techniques used instead. In examples (1) and (2), where wordplay is based on similarities in pronunciation, the translators have used either a paraphrase or a literal translation strategy. The reasons behind choosing a literal translation strategy are manifold: translators may have missed wordplay, as AM in example (2), or, possibly, TP in example (1); or they may have assumed that the viewers will get the joke through English, as in example (6); or wordplay has been more at the level of associations, as in examples (8) and (9). TP has used creatively the same technique as the original in example (4); and AM has used other rhetorical devices, notably alliteration and assonance, in example (5).

5.4.3. Allusions

An allusion is, in the broad sense of the concept, defined in The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (1991:29) as "an implicit reference, perhaps to another work of literature or art, to a person or an event". Various other definitions have been proposed, but most of them seem to agree on the indirectness of allusions as a rhetorical device.

However, the definition above seems too all-embracing for this study, which is why I prefer to focus on one type of allusions, that defined by Leppihalme (1996a:200) as elements involving "some modification of a frame" (emphasis original). Leppihalme has studied allusions and allusive humour as well as how they have been translated into Finnish on several occasions (1994, 1996a, 1997). She defines a frame as "a combination of words that is accepted in the language community as an example of preformed linguistic material (1997:41). Such frames include "idioms, proverbs, catchphrases and allusions to various sources" and they can be modified, for the purposes of humour, either linguistically or situationally (Leppihalme 1996a:200).

The allusions used in Reality Bites are predominantly connected with audiovisual culture, that is television, commercials and films. If we assume that Reality Bites reaches its American target audience of 20-somethings fed with the media, we may equally assume that they will recognise allusive humour in the form of allusions to advertisement jingles and tap to it. This is, indeed, what is suggested in various Internet reviews of the film.

When translating allusions to commercials, arguably a very culture-specific type of humour, both TP and AM have, in a way, neutralised them, yet their approaches have been somewhat different in example (1) below:

(1): [VICKIE:] It's cool, Troy, you can stay. Welcome to the Maxi Pad.

[SAMMY:] Yeah, with the new dry-weave it actually pulls moisture away from you.

TP: [VICKIE:] Voit jäädä, Troy. Tervetuloa kimppakämppään[ . ]

[SAMMY:] Jossa elämä on pelkkää pämppää[ . ]

AM: [VICKIE:] Käy taloksi, Troy. Tervetuloa kimppakämppään[ . ]

[SAMMY:] Jossa on hyvää seuraa ja kaikki mukavuudet[ . ]

The original version plays with the word pad and its two meanings, one associated with a flat and the other one with a sanitary towel, and Sammy responds to this with what sounds like a real jingle, or, alternatively, an imitated one. Both TP and AM have kept the former association and translated Maxi Pad as kimppakämppä, which contains both alliteration and assonance. It is difficult to say when the Finnish expression was originally coined, but judging by the fact that both translators have used it, it must have been current at the time, and it still is. However, it is the latter part of the example that is of particular interest, in that TP continues in a similar vein with the expression pelkkää pämppää, which both alliterates and rhymes with kämppä. The expression toys with the idea of sharing a flat, putting it rather bluntly that alcohol is consumed there in large quantities. I would like to suggest that TP has naturalised the humour in Finnish by replacing implicit allusive humour with explicit alcohol-related humour and thus rewriting the humour in the TL. Besides, the fact that the two translators have compensated the loss of allusive wordplay with other rhetorical devices possibly indicates that allusive humour is, generally speaking, less common in Finnish than it is in English (Leppihalme 1996a:212) and that Finnish therefore tends to employ other humour-inducing techniques. In other words, both the source and the techniques of humour are different in the TP example.

Troy's responses in examples (2) and (3) below are also from TV advertisements:

(2): [LELAINA:] Aren't you excited, Troy?

[TROY:] I'm bursting with fruit flavor.

TP: [LELAINA:] Troy, etkö ole innostunut?

[TROY:] Hihkun riemusta[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Tyytyväinen, Troy?

[TROY:] Halkeamaisillani[ . ]


(3): [LELAINA:] I've finally figured out what your problems are.

[TROY:] What's that? I'm not a Pepper?

TP: [LELAINA:] Keksin lopulta mikä ongelmasi on.

[TROY:] Etten ole pirtsakka?

AM: [LELAINA:] Nyt tajuan ongelmasi, Dyer.

[TROY:] Etten ole pyrkyri?

In example (2), both TP and AM have translated the allusions by using neutral, yet idiomatic expressions in Finnish, but it may be that the solutions work just as well in the visual context; therefore, the interplay between what is said and what is seen accentuates the sarcasm in Troy's response. The same applies also to example (3). It is interesting to notice that in the Swedish version Troy's response in example (2) has been translated literally (Jag är proppfull av fruktsmak), whereas in example (3) it has been omitted altogether.

Allusions to literature, too, can be found in Reality Bites. Examples (4) and (5) below allude to works that are either in the curriculum of American schools or otherwise familiar in the English-speaking world:

(4): [TROY:] Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent.

TP: [TROY:] Haloo. Soitit tyytymättömyyden talveemme[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] Haloo. Tyytymättömyyden talvemme[ . ]


(5): [MICHAEL:] I know why the caged bird sings.


TP/AM: [MICHAEL:] Tiedän miksi häkkilintu laulaa.

[LELAINA:] Miksi?

Example (4) contains a well-known quote from the beginning of Shakespeare's play King Richard III [Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York...], which has been translated into Finnish by Paavo Cajander:

The winter of our discontent allusion is a good example of a frame (see Leppihalme 1996a:200) that is linguistically unmodified but has been modified situationally. In other words, the humorousness of the situation arises from a kind of bathos effect: Troy answers the telephone by using a lofty Shakespeare quote. The two Finnish subtitlers have used the minimum change or literal translation strategy, possibly because they have missed the allusion in the first place. Still, even if they had recognised the literary source and used the Cajander translation, the scene and the humour in it might have been equally baffling for the Finnish audience. After all, Shakespeare is not taught in Finnish schools, and apart from such examples as "to be or not to be", quotes from his plays are marginally known. Leppihalme (1996a:212) suggests that the few frames used in allusions found in Finnish journalism tend to have a popular culture-related origin rather than a literary one. Leppihalme (1994) has used the term "culture bump" in connection with translated allusions that puzzle TL readers because of their cultural specificity. This is undoubtedly to some extent true of example (5), denoting the title of a novel that practically all American schoolchildren read at some point of their school years. The humour derives from Michael trying to convince Lelaina he is not a yuppie; however, his attempt seems misplaced and he is forced to admit to having quit school before they got that far.

Turning briefly back to the Shakespeare allusion, it is interesting to note that the German translator has adopted a completely different approach, as can be seen below:

GER: Hallo? Katholisches Männerbad.

In a sense, dubbing "allows" the translator to rewrite the humour in German without being found out and to replace an obscure literary quote with a joke relying on a strong homosexual sub-text. What is sophisticated in the original version has become something more straightforward in the German one. Barbe (1996:262-263) discusses the cultural aspects of dubbing humour into German, in particular, giving examples of German versions of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and one episode of the US sitcom The Golden Girls. She argues that in both cases dubbing translators have taken considerable liberties, adding extra lines and generally making humour more explicit. She suggests that this is due to the fact that the translators "feel that the picture is not enough" and that they want to "make sure the viewers 'get it'" (1996:263). Therefore, Laurian's (1992:122) suggestion that "the notion of the implicit is fundamental in humor" may not ring quite true, since it does not allow for cultural preferences.

Although allusive wordplay relies on the audience recognising it in the first place, it can be argued that recognition is not always necessary for appreciating the humour in it. Such is the case in the following example, (6):

(6): [TROY:] Is there a frog in your throat or are you just glad to see me?

TP: [TROY:] Sammakko kurkussa, vai ilahduitko minusta?

AM: [TROY:] Nielitkö sammakon vai ilahduitko, kun tulin?

The original version is a nod towards a famous quote from a Mae West film from the 1930's ("Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?"). Instead, the following example, (7), which alludes to a famous line by President Clinton might be recognisable at least to some members of the Finnish audience as well, since it was widely reported in the Finnish press at the time:

(7): [LELAINA:] You guys better not be inhaling.

TP: [LELAINA:] Paras olla vetämättä henkeen[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Älkää vetäkö henkeen[ . ]

On the other hand, what may be more difficult to capture in a translation is irony in allusions. In example (8) below Lelaina has just heard that Troy has been fired from his umpteenth job and will share a flat with her and Vickie until he finds another job:

(8): [LELAINA:] That's the American Dream of the 90's. It can take years.

TP: [LELAINA:] Uusi amerikkalainen unelma. Se voi viedä vuosia[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Toiveajattelua. Se vie vuosia[ . ]

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1984:30) defines the American Dream as "a phrase epitomising [--] American way of life at its best". TP has translated it using the minimum change strategy, whereas AM has made it both neutral and more explicit. AM's solution, i.e. toiveajattelua [wishful thinking], is also very short in comparison with the literal rendering. While the specific constraints of AVT as such do not dictate the choice of a particular translation strategy, they may indirectly favour some strategies over others. I would hesitate to suggest that AM's choice has been prompted by the demands of AVT, but it is one plausible explanation.

To sum up, a majority of allusions in Reality Bites have been translated either by using a literal translation strategy or a paraphrase. The latter strategy has been applied in examples (1), (2) and (3), which contain allusions to very culture-specific commercials. The Maxi Pad example, (1), interestingly contains other rhetorical devices, namely alliteration and assonance, probably to compensate the loss of allusive wordplay. The literal translation strategies in examples (4), (5), (6) and (7) may have been prompted by various reasons: the subtitlers may have assumed that humour comes across in context, even if the viewers did not recognise the source of the allusion; or that the viewers will recognise it; or they may have missed the allusion themselves. TP has rewritten the latter part of example (1) for the Finnish audience, and AM has used an explicit paraphrase in example (8).

5.5. Extralinguistic humour

Much of the humour in Reality Bites derives from its being embedded in American popular culture and from its protagonists' and audience's attitudes, sometimes ambivalent and often ironic, towards cultural items and icons and consumerism in general. Extralinguistic humour is, indeed, what is defined in Coupland's Generation X (1991:165) as obscurism, i.e.:

Again, extralinguistic humour requires an audience that recognise it in the first place and, to a lesser extent, practice it. Communicating the connotative load associated with some of those cultural items is by no means an easy task.

Some of the cultural items referred to in Reality Bites have become well established in Finland, and they have been rendered in both TP and AM either by retaining the proper nouns intact or using the established Finnish equivalent. Examples of these are Teräsmies/Superman, Apinoiden planeetta/Planet of the Apes (films); Melrose Place (television series); Peter Frampton and Marky Mark (music); and Snickers (chocolate bar). Sometimes the cultural item in question may be less familiar in Finland, as in example (1) below:

(1): [LELAINA:] Just don't understand why things can't just go back to normal at the end of the half-hour like in "The Brady Bunch" or something.

TP: [LELAINA:] Minä en vain ymmärrä... miksei kaikki voi olla hyvin aina lopussa, kuten vaikka The Brady Bunchissa[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] En vaan käsitä miksei puolituntisen jälkeen kaikki palaa ennalleen vaikka niinku The Brady Bunchissa[ . ]

Both TP and AM have retained the reference to a famous 60's sitcom, possibly believing that the context in a way fills in the cultural gap. Still, translators cannot be certain about what the audience know. It may be that they are themselves not always aware of the reference, even if it is a direct one, which may be the case with TP's solution in example (2):

(2a): [TROY:] As you can see, I have the occasional run-in with an anti-Hey-That's-My-Biker and to those people I say nobody... nobody can eat 50 eggs.

TP: [TROY:] Kuten näette, taistelen joskus Hey That's My Bikin herjaajia vastaan[ . ] Niille ihmisille sanon, ettei kukaan voi syödä 50 kananmunaa[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] Kuten huomaatte, voi tulla kränää bändin herjaajien kanssa[ . ] Niille tyypeille sanon: ei kukaan... Ei kukaan syö 50 munaa[ . ]


(2b): [MICHAEL:] The stuff that you... It's really... It's really great stuff. Really, that whole... that whole thing about 'nobody can eat all the eggs'... That was... surreal.

[TROY:] I was quoting Cool Hand Luke.

TP: [MICHAEL:] Loistavaa kamaa. Sekin kun sanoit ettei kukaan voi syödä kaikkia munia. Todella...

[TROY:] Siteerasin Cool Hand Lukea[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] Mahtavaa kamaa. Esimerkiksi "kukaan voi syödä kaikkia munia", hieno kohta[ . ]

[TROY:] Siteerasin Lannistumatonta Lukea[ . ]

Cool Hand Luke is a Paul Newman film made in 1967 and quite famous for the one-take scene where he eats 50 eggs. For those who are familiar with the film it is also an in-joke, since Cool Hand Luke starred Joe Don Baker, who plays Lelaina's father in the film. The film was shown in Finland with the title Lannistumaton Luke, which AM has used. Even so, it can be assumed that not all 20-somethings in Finland know it.

Coca Cola, or Coke, is, on the other hand, undoubtedly one of the most famous American cultural staples. Both TP and AM have translated Coke by using its colloquial Finnish equivalent, as can be seen below in example (3a):

(3a): [LELAINA:] Well, I know this sound cornball, but I'd like to somehow make a difference in people's lives.

[TROY:] And I... I would like to buy them all Coke.

TP: [LELAINA:] Kuulostaa nyyhkyltä, mutta... haluaisin muuttaa ihmisten elämää[ . ]

[TROY:] Ja mä haluaisin ostaa kaikille kokiksen[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Tää kuulostaa kornilta[ . ] Haluaisin merkitä ihmisille jotain[ . ]

[TROY:] Haluaisin tarjota kaikille kokikset[ . ]


(3b): [TROY:] She's had too many Diet Cokes today.

TP: [TROY:] On juonut liikaa kevytkokiksia.

AM: [TROY:] Juonut liian monta dieettikolaa[ . ]

Also in example (3b) TP has used the current Finnish equivalent, whereas AM's dieettikola has an unidiomatic, 'translated' feel to it. The kokis-type colloquialisms are also found elsewhere in the two Finnish versions of Reality Bites. Whereas the original version speaks neutrally about BMW's, both TP and AM have occasionally opted for the colloquial Bemari, as in example (4) below:

(4): [LELAINA:] And they wonder why those of us in our 20's refuse to work an 80-hour week just so we can afford to buy their BMW's?

TP: [LELAINA:] Ihmetellään miksi kieltäydymme 80 tunnin työviikosta jolloin olisi varaa Bemariin[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] He kysyvät miksi me emme tee 80 tunnin työviikkoa ja osta heidän Bemareitaan[ . ]

In the same vein, the rather un-hip Michael speaks about Nykki in the TP version, which some might regard as a misplaced solution. I would like to suggest that the kokis-type solution illustrates a kind of compensatory TL approach in the sense that the film is thus brought closer to the TL audience. After all, from the TL audience's point of view there are many culturally opaque elements in the original version, i.e. linguistic elements that in all probability are foreign to most of the TL audience. Neutralising such elements in the translation means that the TL version may, in a way, feel less authentic, a cultural no-man's-land. I would argue that the kokis-type solution is an attempt to give the translation back some of its cultural specificity by highlighting such elements that have been established also in the target culture.

In some cases TP and AM have had similar approaches to cultural items; we find solutions such as suklaamurot/Cocoa Puffs, postilevyfirma/Columbia Record and Tape Company, Meediopalvelu/Dial-a-Psychic, palvelunumero/1-900 number, and kirjalyhennelmät/Cliffs Notes. Here the two subtitlers have used the neutralisation (and explicitation) strategy. In other cases TP has used the neutralisation strategy, whereas AM has kept the original linguistic element intact, using the exoticisation strategy, like below in examples (5) and (6):

(5): [LELAINA'S MOTHER:] Why don't you get a job at Burgerama? They'll hire you.

TP: [LELAINAN ÄITI:] Pääset varmasti purilaispaikkaan.

AM: [LELAINAN ÄITI:] Pääset varmasti Burgeramaan.


(6): [MICHAEL:] I think that your documentary would be perfect for In Your Face. Forget it... You were probably thinking more... like PBS or something.

TP: [MICHAEL:] Dokumenttisi sopisi loistavasti meille[ . ] Mutta odotat kai ei-kaupallista kanavaa[ . ]

AM: [MICHAEL:] Dokumenttisi sopisi In Your Faceen[ . ] Ei sitten. Ajattelit ehkä ennemmin PBS:ää[ . ]

Though TP generally seems to prefer neutralisation, his approach is not systematic, as can be seen in the following two examples:

(7): [TROY:] They've found that Nutrasweet causes you to grow a third eye?

TP: [TROY:] Huomattiinko että Nutrasweet kasvattaa kolmannen silmän?

AM: [TROY:] Makeutusaineista saa kolmannen silmän[ . ]


(8): [LELAINA:] The most profound and important invention of my lifetime: Big Gulp.

TP: [LELAINA:] Kaikkein syvällisin, tärkein keksintö elämässäni on Big Gulp[ . ]

AM: [LELAINA:] Aikani suurin ja tärkein keksintö[:] Jättimuki[ . ]

AM's solution in example (8), i.e. Jättimuki, is interesting in that it resembles the one in the Swedish version:

SWE: Den största och viktigaste uppfinning som gjorts i min livstid: Jättemuggen

It may be that AM's translation is a pivot translation based on the Swedish one. This is plausible considering that FilmNet translations into Finnish were earlier made in Sweden on the basis of Swedish translations (Carina Engström, personal communication).

The following example, (9), shows how a reference that is culturally obscure to the TL audience has been handled in the two Finnish versions. Lelaina expresses her doubts about Troy moving in, but he assures her that:

(9): [TROY:] It's not like Mr. Roper's gonna burst in.

TP: [TROY:] En ui liiveihin[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] En käy päälle[ . ]

Troy refers here to the role that actor Norman Fell played in the late 70's sitcom Three's Company, a "grumpy, vaguely homophobic apartment owner Stanley Roper" who was "more obsessed with tenant Jack Tripper's sex life than his own" (Ryan 1998). The sitcom had a cult following in the Generation X audience, and the actor became known simply as "Mr. Roper" (Ryan 1998).

Troy's reply can be interpreted in two ways: it may mean that Lelaina doesn't have to fear she will be getting into trouble with her landlord, or that she doesn't have to fear that Troy will start prying into her life. Both TP and AM have had a similar approach to the direct reference in example (9): both of them have omitted the name and made the possible sexual undercurrent more explicit, but the expression used by TP, uida liiveihin [get into someone's pants], is more colloquial.

The TP version is interesting in that it occasionally enters the territory of naturalisation, as in example (10) below:

(10): [TROY:] I'll probably be working at Whole Foods you know, playing warehouses and hanging around places like the Radio Shack screaming that I used to know you and you'll be in the lights and all beautiful and shit.

[LELAINA:] Oh, Troy, no no no no no, that would never happen. They'd never hire you at Whole Foods.

TP: [TROY:] Olen varmaan töissä Elannossa, soitan varastoissa ja kiljun että tunsin sinut, ja sinä loistat valoissa[ . ]

[LELAINA:] Ei siinä niin käy. Ei sinua otettaisi Elantoon[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] Olen duunissa luultavasti Whole Foodsissa ja soitan tavarataloissa ja kehuskelen että tunsin sinut. Ja sinä säteilet parrasvaloissa[ . ]

[LELAINA:] Siitä ei ikinä tule totta[ . ] Et ikinä saa duunia Whole Foodsista[ . ]

Here the two Finnish subtitlers have adopted two opposite strategies on the SL-TL continuum. The pragmatic equivalent chosen by TP, i.e. Whole Foods translated as Elanto, seems to violate the ideal of invisibility of the translation as well as the principle of "referential accuracy" mentioned by Zabalbeascoa (1996:237); after all, Finnish viewers do know that Elanto is part of the Finnish cultural framework. TP has applied here the naturalisation strategy, using it as a kind of surprise element, but he has probably been aware of the strategy being controversial, since in the *TP version Elanto has been replaced by the more neutral alehalli. Interestingly, Timo Porri says in a recent interview in Katso that "translations seen on television are my last word" (Häkkinen and Itkonen 1999). While TP has adapted the SL concept to the TL system, AM has kept the SL concept intact. The Swedish version has also left Whole Foods as such, whereas the German dubbing has naturalised it (Naturkostladen).

Another interesting example of a marked difference between TP and AM is seen below in example (11):

(11): [TROY:] What 'Hey, That's My Bike' would like to do as a band is travel the countryside like Woody Guthrie.

[SAMMY:] Or Richard Simmons. You know, how in his commercials he surprises people jogging.

TP: [TROY:] Hey That's My Bike haluaisi bändinä kiertää maata, kuten Woody Guthrie[ . ]

[SAMMY:] Tai lottovoittaja jonka "pitäs kiertää mualimoo"[ . ]

AM: [TROY:] Hey That's My Bike haluaisi bändinä kiertää maata kuin Woody Guthrie[ . ]

[SAMMY:] Tai Richard Simmons joka yllättää kansaa kuntolenkillä[ . ]

AM has in a way further exoticised the humour for the Finnish audience by leaving out the reference to commercials and, therefore, the translation is left hanging in the air. It is very unlikely that the Finnish audience would recognise the reference even if it this reference were made more explicit. Commercials are in this respect still very culture-specific despite the increasing globalisation in the field. TP has adopted the opposite approach, replacing the reference to an American commercial by another one to a well-known Finnish commercial and retaining the idea of touring. The Finnish commercial in question was widely seen around the time Reality Bites opened in Finland, so the TL audience must have been familiar with it. Again, naturalisation here seemingly infringes norms as regards the invisibility of the translation, as the TL audience undoubtedly know the commercial in question is Finnish. Still, whereas in *TP the Whole Foods translation has been neutralised, the naturalisation of the Richard Simmons one has been retained. The reason may be that proper nouns reveal the cultural specificity of a text more easily than other linguistic elements. Though commercials are very much products of their own time, the lottovoittaja commercial still seems to be current in language use, in that it appeared in a slightly different form in an interview in Helsingin Sanomat on 2 August 1998 ("Olemme nähneet [--] 'mualimaa'.").

As we have seen, the approaches TP and AM have had to translating extralinguistic humour show some differences, but one clear guideline is whether a given cultural item is familiar in Finland or not. In the former case, both have had a tendency of either retaining the SL item or using its Finnish equivalent, when such an equivalent exists. In the latter case, however, there is more variation. Both TP and AM have often used the neutralisation (and explicitation) strategy, yet some culture-specific items show vacillation: TP has neutralised and AM retained the item in examples (5) and (6), but in examples (7) and (8) it is vice versa. Retaining the SL item in this case is possibly motivated by the desire not to strip the translation of its cultural specificity. This is true also of such colloquial solutions as kokis, Bemari, and Nykki, even if the approach here is TL-oriented. TP's naturalised solutions in examples (10) and (11) are very interesting and possibly controversial attempts to break norms for the purposes of humour.

5.6. Discussing the findings

In the two previous sections I have looked at intralinguistic and extralinguistic humour in Reality Bites and what kind of strategies the Finnish subtitlers have used in translating them. There are both similarities and differences in their approaches, and the results raise a wide variety of questions as to the norms behind Finnish subtitlings.

As regards similarities in the two Finnish versions, we find that both have used a literal or minimum change strategy in most cases involving intralinguistic humour, whether we are dealing with Generation X jargon, wordplay, or allusions. With Generation X jargon, it is probably a default strategy, as the linguistic difficulties it entails are largely negligible apart from some cultural connotations. With wordplay and allusions, it may indicate that translators have thought that a literal translation strategy functions adequately for the TL audience or that they may have missed them in the first place. Paraphrases, on the other hand, show awareness of the linguistic specificity of wordplay and allusions and they often come with added rhetorical devices, namely alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. They are also a way of bringing the translation closer to target culture preferences. With extralinguistic humour, both translators have had a tendency of assessing whether the SL element is known to the TL audience or whether it makes sense in context and acting accordingly, yet the solutions they have adopted are sometimes different.

As to differences, the two Finnish versions show obvious dissimilarities at the level of individual words and structures, but what is striking in terms of actual translation strategies is that TP has used the naturalisation strategy twice. It is a surprising move, since the film has both audial and visual cues pointing towards the source culture. Indeed, the strategy may have been chosen precisely because it passes for humour, even if it invites the viewers, as it were, to suspend their disbelief. However, TP has neutralised one of the two controversial solutions in the version shown on television.

What kind of conclusions can we make regarding the norms in Finnish subtitlings on the basis of these findings? Judging from evidence such as this it is extremely difficult to assess the stringency of norms, i.e. whether certain patterns of behaviour on the part of the translator are due to personal taste and/or skill or target culture norms or something in between. This is largely due to the fact that placing the findings in a wider cultural context would require information on actual translational practice, not only information filtered through extratextual sources. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the general norms influencing AVT in Finland have not been systematically studied on the basis of textual sources. In other words, we would need a general framework, and to establish that we would need a larger corpus of Finnish subtitlings than the one I have used here. Besides, such a framework is necessary for establishing the norms behind the strategies in translating humour, in particular. Without it comparing norms of humour to general norms is bound to be extremely hard.

Despite the difficulties outlined above, one can approach the issue by reflecting on what the subtitlers strive to achieve, on one hand, and what the audience expect to get, on the other. I would like to suggest that a partial answer to both questions is adequacy and acceptability as humour. In practice it often means adjusting the source text to the needs of the target-language audience, when translators feel that a SL-oriented rendering, i.e. using a literal or minimum change strategy, cannot communicate the humour of the original. It can also mean breaking the invisibility, readability, and faithfulness to the source text often associated with subtitlings for the purposes of humour.

It could be argued that all AVT occupies an intermediary space between SL and TL cultures; after all, even if a subtitling were deprived of all SL-specific features, images and sounds would still disclose its origin. On the other hand, some features in the visual and audial context of the film may call for adhering to SL norms. Translating humour in television may differ from translating other kinds of linguistic material in television, because it leaves room for moving away from the original, stretching the boundaries of reality.

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