Korean translation of video clips – academic aspects of humour

Humour, Korean translation and video translation are three fields of Korean translation study which have favoured different peaks of academic interest and epistemological development throughout the times. Both Humour Studies and Video Translation Studies are flourishing and challenging research interests within the broader scope of translation. Given that, Korean translation carried out in the visual field accounts for an increasingly large proportion of translation activity, and because of the hybrid and multidisciplinary nature of this field of research, one could almost speak of the existence of a new discipline within Translation Studies: Visual Translation Studies.

The primary purpose of this article is to contribute to the analysis of video translation of humour. Although video humour is the product of the interdependence of both visual and verbal elements, particular attention will be paid to linguistic exchanges in the subtitling of the feature film Bridget Jones’s Diary into Korean language, as released on DVD. One of the main objectives of the present work is to investigate the strategies implemented by Korean translators when having to subtitle humour on the screen.

In order to structure and organise the line of thought of this reflection, two subdivisions of analysis are put forward:

(1) the specificity of humour studies: a brief account;

(2) translating video humour: the search for relevance and equivalence.


I focus essentially on the second for the purpose of this work and, when pertinent, a brief account of the results of a short questionnaire given to Korean professional subtitlers is presented.
The questionnaire consisted of three open questions:

(1) Is there any special treatment in the allocation of comedy films among video professional Korean translators?

(2) How would you describe the ideal translator of visual comedy/humour?

(3) Can you point out the major difficulty (technical, linguistic, cultural . . .) when translating comedy and humour?


The questionnaire was distributed by email to 25 subtitling professionals and although only eight replies were received, these reflected a large agreement on all fronts in Korean translation.

Both humour and video translation have been the object of several revisions concerning their origins, conceptualisation, purpose, methodology and development as fields of study. Research into humour is not recent. In her seminal book, Chiaro states that ‘studies on humour and what makes people laugh are countless’. Indeed, throughout the centuries humour has been studied from innumerable perspectives: medical, anthropological, sociological, psychological, philosophical, historical, educational, linguistic, and so on. As a result, it is not surprising that a myriad of theories and approaches have emerged, justifying the use of the plural (theories of humour) instead of the singular form (a theory of humour).

Nowadays, the theories of humour are commonly divided into three broad families: the cognitive, the social and the psychoanalytical. While the cognitive family of humour deals with incongruity or contrast issues, the social family includes phenomena like hostility, aggression, superiority, triumph, derision and disparagement.

Finally, the psychoanalytical family of humour in Korean translation is concerned with release, sublimation, liberation and economy (mental energy) problems, and is related to the discharge of psychic energy which would instead be used to repress psychic activity.

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