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Translating "Funny"

Almost eight years ago, when we married and Pascal first moved to the States, he spoke only a little bit of basic English. His training had consisted of elementary school lessons and a six-week introductory course during a vacation in Fort Lauderdale (poor, Pascal - long gone are the years when he got more than six weeks vacation per year!). While Pascal waited for his work authorization and green card, he enrolled in a language program in New York. In Fort Lauderdale, his classmates were primarily Haitians and Cubans, but in Manhattan, the population at his English-as-a-second-language school was mostly Japanese and Chinese. Pascal has a great sense of humor, and he loves to joke around. He was frustrated in the beginning because without the vocabulary, his English jokes were pretty rudimentary. Still, he couldn't help trying to inject his exchanges with humor. Perhaps because of his classmates' influence his early jokes had a strong Asian flair:

Pascal out in public, trying to excuse his lack of vocabulary:

"I'm sorry, I don't speak English very well, but I do speak Japanese and Chinese." (Usually followed by hilariously fake Asian-sounding babble).

Pascal, receiving a compliment on his improving English: 
Compliment-Giver:  "Wow! Your English is really getting better!"

Pascal (deadpan):  "That's nothing. You should hear my Japanese."

Sometimes people understood that he was trying to be funny, and sometimes Pascal's jokes were completely lost in translation (or a lack thereof). Regardless, he always had me laughing.

Now that Pascal's command of the language is so strong, just about everyone is familiar with his unique brand of humor. These days, he makes everybody laugh, not just me. Sometimes, I'm astonished by the words and phrases he knows:

The other day, while joking with a male friend, he said:  "Stop being such a sissy!"
Later, I asked him where he learned the word 'sissy'. 
He deadpanned: "From your father."
That's Pascal and that's his humor.

Since we're both fluent in two languages, we know what a victory it is to make a successful joke in your second language, and often, we can't help but laugh at our own funnies. There's so much cultural and linguistic nuance involved. To give you an idea of how difficult this skill is, here is a Garfield comic strip translated from English into Chinese and back into English again by the Google translation program.

Visit Blogscoped for more "Garfield Lost in Translation"...

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