The Translatability of Postmodern Culture Allusions in Comedy TV Shows

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Samah Dawud AbdAllah Jazmawi

This study tackles the problem of translating popular culture allusions in comedy TV shows from English into Arabic. The purpose of this study is to provide the subtitler/translator with practical solutions that help to successfully maintain the Source Text’s humorous and allusive impacts. Additionally, it sheds light on the importance of matching the Target Language subtitles with the non-verbal acts of the actors on the screen as well as meeting subtitling norms and conventions. The data for the study were collected from various episodes of the three comic shows “Friends”, “The Flintstones” and “The Simpsons”. The shows were chosen due to their richness in popular culture references such as parodied historical, social and religious figures, quotes and place. They would also allow for a comparison between translation strategies for allusions in cartoons and those targeting adults. The selected translations were examined for their effectiveness and appropriateness in the Target Culture. On the other hand, the study provides alternative suggested Target Language subtitles selected in accordance with the potential translation strategies for allusions and subtitles as proposed by Nord (1990) and Gambier (2001), cited in Ruokonen (2010), Leppihalme (1997) and Newmark (1988). Data collection also involved online resources and film databases in order to clarify the Source Text references’ intended meanings and connotations. Besides, this study borrows Leppihalme’s (1997) allusions’ classification and translation strategies. The study has divided allusions into four main forms including proper allusive names, key-phrase (KP) allusions, stereotyped allusions and historical allusions. It has been found that transliteration and literal translation of popular culture allusions are highly rated in the Target Language, the thing that resulted in inevitable losses of the Source Text’s impacts. The loss is caused by the lack of familiarity on the part of the target Arab viewers with such references’ connotations and cultural meanings. However, following the appropriate translation methods will help minimize the loss of the humorous impact and convey the allusive intended meaning. The study emphasized that the Target Language translator should be knowledgeable, competent and responsible. Above all, comprehensive research should be implemented by the subtitler in order to reach the parodied references’ cultural and contextual values. The study has concluded that the most appropriate translation strategies for popular culture allusions are extra allusive guidance, explication, reduction and simplification. These have succeeded in preserving the original impact and ensuring the target Arab viewers’ enjoyment. Nonetheless, in some cases, the loss of the humorous effect was inevitable due to the cultural gap between the two languages.

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