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Is David Sedaris Funny in Greek?

In World Literature Today‘s March 2014 issue, Myrsini Gana contributes an excellent article on the idea of translating humor, through her experience with translating David Sedaris’s work. “Humor is a big deal,” she writes. “It’s not a question of knowing the words; there’s a whole world behind it. Every country’s—and in consequence every language’s—take on humor reveals its deeper character, is idiosyncratic, and operates well within a “closed circle.” Seen like this, a whole country can be like a group of friends—they have their own codes, their own jokes—and outsiders are just that: they don’t get it.”

“I could fill pages with examples explaining in detail how every instance calls for a different line of thought and a different solution. I wish I could say that every solution I have chosen is the optimal one, but there is no universal rule to dictate a translator’s decisions. That’s why no two translators will ever come up with the exact same translation.”

Also included in this section is a brief interview with David Sedaris: “It’s one thing to translate a joke, and another to translate timing, which is hwere a lot of my laughs come from. It’s especially difficult when the sentence structure is so very different in German, for instance, when the verb comes at the end of the sentence. In my last collection, one of the laughs was based on the way people in Toronto say “about.” The joke didn’t make sense in German, so the translator focused on another word in the sentence—”kiosk”—and moved my Canadian to French-speaking Quebec. It was a brilliant save, but nothing could salvage the ending of another essay. The laugh is based on the phrases ‘your trash’ and ‘you’re trash,’ and I don’t imagine it will work in anything but English.”

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