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Translating irony into Arabic -who's having the last laugh? Dubbing Monsters Inc.: Egyptian vernacular vs. modern standard Arabic

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Monsters Inc., an animated feature film produced by Pixar Animation Studios in 2001, received significant recognition worldwide. The film was nominated in 2002 for the ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards by the Box Office Films. Two dubbed versions of the film were later released with Arabic translations using Egyptian Vernacular, a spoken dialect, and Modern Standard Arabic, used primarily in formal, written communications. This study examines humor in translation and irony as humor which represents a common technique in "Pixar plotting". The research investigates the strategies, types, and categories of irony as humor within the translations and the success of those translations at accurately transmitting the humorous meaning. Aimed towards exploring the problems of translating irony across languages and cultures, this research examines the shifts in translations between the two Arabic language versions, using an interdisciplinary theoretical approach encompassing humor studies, audiovisual translation studies, and descriptive translation studies. Furthermore, the research adopts Muecke's (1978) classification of irony markers to categorize and identify the strategies used in translating irony as humor. The study finds that the two different versions of Arabic utilize similar strategies at certain times and divergent ones at others.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2019.7.4.yahiaoui
European Journal of
Humour Research 7 (4) 32–46
www.europeanjournalofhumour.org
Translating irony into Arabic who’s having the last
laugh? Dubbing Monsters Inc.: Egyptian vernacular vs.
modern standard Arabic
Rashid Yahiaoui
Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha/Qatar
ryahiaoui@hbku.edu.qa
Basema Alqumboz
Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha/Qatar
b.abualqumboz1002@education.qa
Ashraf Fattah
Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha/Qatar
afattah@hbku.edu.qa
Amer Al Adwan
Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha/Qatar
aadwan@hbku.edu.qa
Abstract
Monsters Inc., an animated feature film produced by Pixar Animation Studios in 2001, received
significant recognition worldwide. The film was nominated in 2002 for the ASCAP Film and
Television Music Awards by the Box Office Films. Two dubbed versions of the film were later released
with Arabic translations using Egyptian Vernacular, a spoken dialect, and Modern Standard Arabic,
used primarily in formal, written communications. This study examines humor in translation and
irony as humor which represents a common technique in “Pixar plotting”. The research investigates
the strategies, types, and categories of irony as humor within the translations and the success of those
translations at accurately transmitting the humorous meaning. Aimed towards exploring the
problems of translating irony across languages and cultures, this research examines the shifts in
translations between the two Arabic language versions, using an interdisciplinary theoretical
approach encompassing humor studies, audiovisual translation studies, and descriptive translation
studies. Furthermore, the research adopts Muecke’s (1978) classification of irony markers to
categorize and identify the strategies used in translating irony as humor. The study finds that the two
different versions of Arabic utilize similar strategies at certain times and divergent ones at others.
European Journal of Humour Research 7 (4)
Open-access journal | www.europeanjournalofhumour.org 33
They include explication, substitution, omission or addition, in translating irony as humor, with each
strategy succeeding or failing at varied levels of meaning transmission. The research suggests that
translators’ creativity, or lack thereof, and the language variant used are primarily responsible for
the success or failure of transmitting irony as humor for dubbing into Arabic.
Keywords: Audiovisual translation; dubbing; humor translation; irony; MSA; Arabic vernacular
1. Background
For the purpose of this research, Monsters Inc. was used as a case study to investigate the translation
of irony from English into Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Egyptian vernacular (EV). Monsters
Inc. was released in 2001 by Disney Pictures as an animated feature film, produced and created by
Pixar Animation Studios. It was a film franchise that proved to be a success among children of all
ages around the world. In the year of its release, Monsters Inc. was dubbed into the Egyptian
vernacular (EV) and enjoyed similar success in international markets. Twelve years later, in 2013,
Monsters Inc. was dubbed again, this time into MSA. As one of the most used languages in the world,
MSA offered Disney an opportunity to serve the entire Arab world market. However, despite
Disney’s desire to be more language-inclusive, the MSA-dubbed film received overwhelmingly
negative reviews. The less-than-stellar critical responses claimed that the film failed to convey the
sense of humor into the MSA version, as compared to the EV one (Monsters Inc. Facebook n.p.).
This study investigates the rendering of irony as humor in Monsters Inc. into Arabic, by
contrasting two dubbed versions in EV and MSA. The research explores both Target Texts (TTs) in
transcript format to identify examples of irony, in order to determine if they were rendered effectively
or lost in translation. Qualitative and quantitative evidence of the translation differences between EV
and MSA versions is sought to better understand how irony as humor often fails to translate across
heterogeneous languages and cultures. (Turek 2010: 560).
2. Introduction
Burman (2016: 88) speaks fondly of translation as “an amazing feat” requiring “an amazing ability
to move between two profoundly different languages”. His love of translation grew out of an early
understanding of the great difficulty involved in relocating one particular intention of meaning
through a largely cumbersome process into an entirely different system of meaning (ibid.). Burman
considers the process of translation to be “paradoxical to its core,as it is an “attempt to say the same
thing but in entirely different words” (ibid.: 92). He asserts that in order to render an adequate and
acceptable translation, the process of translation must occur by way of a “profound embrace of
another language and culture,” with all of its “generic conventions, institutional imperatives, or
unspoken cultural taboos” (ibid.: 91-92). To this end, translators undertake the painstaking task of
enabling the transmission of ideas from one state of thinking to another. This task is even more
challenging when dealing with irony as humor.
Muecke (1978: 366) suggests that “[irony] is something to be savoured, not merely solved”.
Here, Muecke (ibid.) seems to agree with Burman’s (2016) view on translation as an ironical task,
which derives pleasure in its output rather than itself. Just like other types of humor, irony depends
entirely upon individual wit and the ability to quickly perceive the entirety of a situation. In
transferring irony across languages and cultures, reconstructing ironic meaning requires significant
effort and care to preserve the metacommunicative function; that is, the commentary which occurs
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between the situation and a larger context. By itself, irony as humor serves as both a comment within
the dialogue and a comment upon the act or situation of dialogue itself. Like Burman (2016), who
asserts the cumbersome nature of translation, Muecke (1978) prescribes an altogether laissez-faire
approach that is less process-oriented and more results-based. In other words, Muecke (ibid.) seems
to agree with Burman that translation is a difficult process, with linguistic and cultural barriers being
its most common hindrances. However, it is also conceivable to resolve issues of equivalence by
resorting to creativity and transcreation. Due to the difficulty of conveying meaning from language
to language, scholars like Vandaele (2002), Chiaro (2008), and Von Stackelberg (1988) agree that
some linguistic deviation will be observed in all translations.
3. Translating humor
Simply put, the primary aim of any translation is to convey the meaning of a text in another language.
In this process, there are many factors to determine which aspect(s) of meaning can or should be
preserved in translation, which largely depends on the text itself, especially its categorized genre. One
helpful guide to understanding the genre of media to be translated incorporates Zabalbeascoa’s (1996:
243) “vertical scale of importance”. In this scale, there are four prioritizing possibilities for attempting
to create the most accurate translation: top, middle, marginal, and prohibited. Top priorities must be
achieved at all costs, while prohibited priorities should not appear in the text at all. Within this range,
translators have the freedom to determine which instances will be given the greatest care. In the case
of humorous discourse, importance is attached to humorous effect, to ensure that humor is conveyed.
As such, humor would be one of the examples of a top priority in comedy films. This means that
humor in comedies is to be viewed as a goal in itself, and that conveying it must be achieved to attain
successful reconstruction (Zabalbeascoa 2005: 201-202). With regard to translating comical writing,
Von Stackelberg (1988: 10) differentiates between the two polar opposites: belles infidèles
[beautiful unfaithful] and “ugly faithfulness”. He states that instead of resorting to old, outdated,
incompatible criteria, translators should seek to gain balance through “equivalence” vs. “acceptance”
(ibid.). This results in a great deal of attention being paid to the receiver of the text or the audience.
A successful translation, then, is not necessarily the literal transmittance of meaning, but one
which achieves equivalent effect; in this regard, carrying over amusement related to humor. When
watching a comedy, audiences expect to be amused. This is a fair justification for resorting to
functional equivalences in translation, even though, at times, this entails a linguistic or cultural
deviation through departure from the ST (Chiaro 2009). As with poetry, formal equivalence, or formal
correspondence, is sacrificed for the sake of dynamic equivalence, or functional equivalence. This
sacrifice tends to result in successful rendering of humorous intent. While some features of humor
will always, undoubtedly, be lost in translation, Chiaro (2008) emphasizes that translating humor
involves some compensation when dealing with linguistic and cultural problems. Achieving
functional equivalence results, to varying degrees, in an adapted translation and leads inevitably to
what Venuti (1995) calls a domesticated version of the original, essentially an example of target
orientation. It is worth mentioning that maintaining the comical aspect of humorous texts does not
grant the translator the freedom to clarify what is left intentionally vague by the original author or to
improve on it. Whichever translation strategy adopted for rendering a humorous text, it is important
to take the genre into account to ensure that “comical writing remains comical writing in translation
just as a tragic text must remain tragic” (Von Stackelberg 1988: 12-13). This is an important aspect
to emphasize as the successful rendering of humor should not supersede the functional integrity of
the original text and the purpose of translation.
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3.1. Irony as humor
The concept of irony is quite an elusive one, as it intertwines with other areas of humor, such as satire
and sarcasm. The classic definition views irony as saying something while meaning the opposite;
therefore, it is incumbent on the receiver to interpret appropriately the attitudinal intention of the
speaker for the irony to be carried successfully. This disparity between what is perceived and what is
real propels the most common definitions of irony as a humorous tool. For instance, according to the
Oxford English Dictionary, irony is “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that
normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect”. This definition addresses
the verbal aspect of irony, which is merely one component of irony as humor. There are many
classifications of irony. The New Princeton Online Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics identifies
seven types: classical, romantic, tragic, cosmic, verbal, dramatic, and poetic irony. The most common
distinction, nevertheless, is usually made between three types: verbal, situational, and dramatic. The
three types are usually distinguished by the fact that a) verbal irony operates on the level of words
which are used intentionally to serve an ironical purpose, b) dramatic irony takes place when the
audience is made aware of things the character is not, and c) situational irony occurs when there is a
discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens (Kreuz and Roberts
1993). It is the verbal irony, where meaning is concealed, that presents the most significant challenges
for translators, but it can still be translated “provided that the relevant words have straight one-to-one
TL equivalents, and the SL and TL readerships have similar cultural and educational backgrounds”
(Newmark 1993: 132). Essentially, the greater lexical equivalence the TL and the SL share, the more
likely irony as humor will translate across languages. Consequently, this will determine what
strategies to employ.
3.2. Irony in audiovisual context
Irony in filmic and audiovisual contexts presents similar characteristics to any literary and non-
literary contexts; however, in the former, the visual and acoustic channels are the main conduit of
irony. According to Delabastita (1989: 199), there are four variables in which irony can be expressed:
1) Visual presentation - verbal signs, i.e. irony has a visual component which presents a verbal
element (writing on shots for example).
2) Visual presentation - nonverbal signs, i.e. irony is dependent on visual elements only.
3) Acoustic presentation - verbal signs, i.e. irony is based on verbal expressions.
4) Acoustic presentation - non-verbal signs, i.e. irony is carried through non-verbal elements;
however, it is perceptible via auditory channel (noises, diegetic sounds, music etc.).
What is worth noting is that, despite the density of the dialogue (verbal elements), it is the situational
irony that is most prevalent in Monsters Inc. This type of irony, as Kierkegaard (1966: 271-272)
argues, is “not present in nature for one who is too natural and too naïve, but only exhibits itself for
one who is himself ironically developed… To become conscious of this requires a consciousness
which is itself ironical”. This suggests that the receiver/audience has to possess a sense of irony in
order to perceive situational irony.
In audiovisual translation, especially subtitling and dubbing, transferring irony is even more
challenging given that translators need to abide by certain linguistic and technical constraints
(Spanakaki 2007). In dubbing humor into Persian, for instance, Jabbari and Ravizi (2012) argue that
no single specific strategy is employed by translators, nor is one suggested for translation. However,
the analysis of various dubbed ironies into Persian reveals that translators adopted three main
strategies: literal translation, omission and free translation. Jabbari and Ravizi also point out that the
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analysis of ten American animations dubbed into Persian revealed that the number of humorous
instances increased in the target text, and consequently offered the target audience a successful and
more humorous version of the original. This is certainly not the case in the subtitling of various humor
devices identified in the American sitcom Two and a Half Men into Arabic. Al-Adwan and Yahiaoui
(2018: 98) argue that humor is often lost or manipulated, pointing out that “there is often a clash
between the Arabic subtitles displayed on-screen and canned laughter in the background, as well as
the facial expressions of the characters that are usually used to trigger and signal humorous instances”.
Scouring the literature of studies on translating humor into Arabic yields meagre results. To the
best of our knowledge, no previous studies have shown that MSA is more successful than EV in
communicating the intended humour triggered by various types of irony, especially in the genre of
animated shows. Furthermore, no contrastive analysis comparing dubbing and subtitling of this genre
has been conducted in Arabic. The current study argues, based on the analysis, that EV has been more
fluid in terms of transferring the linguistic and humorous aspects of the original dialogue. This claim
is further supported by Abomoati (2018), who examines the strategies used in dubbing humour in the
American series Fuller House into EV. In her analysis of various instances of language-based and
reference-based humour, she asserts that “a dialect would be better than the formal language variety
for successfully translating the humorous effect” (ibid.: 7). In a similar study that examined the Arabic
subtitling of satire in the American series Seinfeld, Alharthi points out that Arab subtitlers faced
difficulties translating most of the culture-based satire. He further argues that subtitling these
instances into MSA “was a problematic issue, forcing the subtitler to retain all cultural references in
the target text (TT) without any modifications, resulting in humourless subtitles” (ibid.: 22).
3.3. Irony markers
In addition to the types of irony, various scholars have identified many different types of irony
markers that a comedian or ironist can use to form jokes or humorous situations. This study is mainly
concerned with manifest codified markers. As such, this research will identify instances of irony
based on the markers recognized by Muecke (1969) who provided another triplicate classification.
Based on his classification, a situation is ironical if contradiction is set up between text and context,
text and co-text, or text and text. The first is based on shared knowledge between the addresser and
addressee. The second relies on verbal context to oppose two parts of the text. The third is based on
linguistic features of the text itself. Markers in the third category which will be the focus of this
research are classified into kinesic, graphic, phonic, lexical, and discourse markers. Kinesic relates to
gestures. Graphic relates to physical representations. Phonic relates to the use of sounds, tones, or
words. Lexical relates to the use of advanced diction. And discourse markers relate to the use of
interrupters or verbal intonations as nonverbal communications.
4. Monsters Inc.
Monsters Inc. is set in a fictional world based on the irrational, childish fear that monsters are hiding
inside our closets or under our beds. Every child has developed a fear of monsters, usually from
monsters seen on screen. These invisible creatures are just waiting for us to go asleep in order to enter
our rooms and scare us to death. In the film, there are two worlds: Monstropolis, the world where the
monsters live, and the human world, the place where human beings live. The two worlds are separated
by portals represented by closet doors in the children’s rooms. Meanwhile, Monsters Incorporated is
a utility company in Monstropolis that provides energy to the entire city by collecting children’s
screams. Monsters of all shapes and sizes emerge at night from children’s closets to scare them and
collect their screams in canisters to power the monster city. This feature of the plot adds in the element
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of real-world business and economic infrastructures. According to the company’s scare record, a
character named Sullivan is the top scarer, and Mike, a secondary character, is his assistant. The plot
of the film starts rising when Randall, Sullivan’s rival, tries to break the record by cheating and
attempting to gain unauthorized overtime. Accidently, Sullivan discovers the closet door, and upon
opening it to explore it further, permits a human child to enter the monster world. Unfortunately,
Sullivan seems incapable of putting the child, a toddler girl who calls him Kitty, back through the
door without being discovered by other scarers. So, he is forced to kidnap the little girl and hide her
until he can return her safely into her designated closet door portal. The rest of the film is centered
on the different ideas Sullivan and Mike devise to return the little girl they call Boo to the human
world. Of course, the trio are thwarted at every turn and face a perceived total loss of their objective.
Nevertheless, the movie ends successfully with Sullivan managing to return Boo to her home whilst
defeating his unexpected nemesis.
It should be stated that the most significant irony of Monsters Inc. is embedded in the very
concept of Monstropolis and Monsters Incorporated: the monsters are afraid of children! Despite
working in a job deemed hazardous and requiring a fierce ability to inspire fear, the monsters possess
an exaggerated fear of children which belies their role as scarers. Even mere contact with a child’s
toys causes a hysterical frenzy amongst the monsters.
5. Data analysis
Twenty instances of irony were identified in the film. However, in order to prevent an oversaturation
of examples within the research, the excerpts selected for analysis reflect various types of irony and
irony markers. To preserve the sequential flow of the plot, necessary for understanding, the
chronological order of the examples is maintained based on the order of their appearance in the film.
Additionally, all English transcripts were retrieved from the film’s screenplay. The time codes are
based on those shown in the original film version.
Table 1. Example 1
Time: (2:36)
Context: A dragon-like monster, Flint, is evaluating Bile’s performance and explaining the mistake he
has made during the simulation.
Type of Irony: verbal and situational
Irony marker: text to text, text to co-text, kinesic (facial gestures)
Source Text:
Flint: Alright, Mr… Bile, is it?
Bile: Uh, my friends call me Phlegm.
Flint: Uh huh, Mr. Bile, can you tell me what you did wrong?
Bile: I fell down?
Flint: No, no, before that! Can anyone tell me Mr. Bile’s big mistake? Anyone? Let’s take a look at the
tape. Here we go. Right… there! See? The door. You left it wide open.
Target text (EV)
Back translation


Flit: Your name is Open Door, is it?
Fathi: Uh, my friends call me the
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

  
Opener.
Flit: Uh huh, Knower, can you tell me what you
did wrong?
Fathi: I fell?
Flit: No, no, before that! Does anyone know Mr.
Open Door’s mistake? Let’s replay the tape. Here,
where, where, where, right there! See? The door.
You left it open.
Target text (MSA)
Back translation
 





Flint: Alright, your name is Mr… Bile, is it?
Bile: My friends call me Peace.
Flint: Mr. Bile, can you tell me what you did
wrong?
Bile: When I fell?
Flint: No, no, before that! Does anyone know what
Mr. Bile did wrong? Anyone?
Let’s take a look at the film. Let’s see… now,
right… there! Where, where? See?
You left it open.
The film opens with an image of a little boy lying in bed as his parents’ footsteps fade away
down the hall. A monster, Bile, then sneaks into the room from the closet ready to scare the child.
But when the child gets up screaming, Bile takes fright and hurriedly steps back from the bed, tripping
over a football and a skateboard before landing painfully and comically on his backside and a bunch
of jacks on the floor. With Bile thus failing to scare the child, and ending up looking more scared
than the child, the whole scene is revealed to be a simulation lesson where beginner monsters are
tested for their scare tactics. This situational irony of a cowardly, clumsy, naïve-looking monster
getting scared by the screams of a child he is meant to scare is comically accentuated by the
incongruity of the character’s name, Bile (implying anger, bitterness and irritability), and his naive
remark, “My friends call me Phlegm” (reflecting his calm temperament). This ironic contrast
between what occurred and what was expected to occur is much more pronounced in the EV version
thanks to the strategy of transcreating names or “chunking sideways”, to use Chiaro’s (2009) term,
i.e. replacing one cultural term with another that is neither more general nor more specific. Thus, Bile
is given the relevant culturally appropriate proper noun Fathi (literally concerned/to do with
opening) or the nickname Fath Albab (literally opening the door), which brings the overall
situational irony into further relief by creating another humorous opposition between a character’s
name (opening doors) and its expected behavior in the situation (closing doors).
In contrast, the MSA version opts for transliterating English names, an “overt” translation
strategy in accordance with House (1981) that neither seeks to capture the ironic humorous contrast
between “Bile” and “Phlegm”, nor enhance the involved situational irony. As an exception to this
strategy, the MSA translator sought to provide a semantically relevant Arabic counterpart for
“Phlegm”, namely Salam (peace), which may reflect a comparable temperament but fails to bring out
any contrast with the transliterated equivalent of “Bile”. Thus, while proper nouns contribute to the
constructed ironic situation in both the ST and the EV versions, they are neutralized in the MSA
version, thereby detracting from the intended humorous effect.
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Both EV and MSA versions successfully mimic the incongruity of the character’s voice, which
betokens naivety, obtuseness and diffidence, thereby enhancing the situational irony.
Table 2. Example 2
Time: (3:51)
Context: Mr. Waternoose, CEO of Monsters Inc., steps from the shadows and talks to the rookies.
Type of Irony: situational
Irony marker: Kinesic (sleep), phonic (snoring), linguistic (repetition, strong adjectives, over
dissimulation).
Source Text:
Waternoose: Our city is counting on you to collect screams. […] Yes, it’s dangerous work, and that’s
why I need you to be at your best. I need Scarers who are confident.
Tenacious. Tough! Intimidating! I need Scarers like… like… James P. Sullivan!
Target text (EV)
Back translation
  
Father of Spider: I need scarers who are brave,
wide-awake, tough, reliable. I need real scarer
like Shalabi Sullivan.
Target text (MSA)
Back translation
 
I need scarers who are confident, tenacious, like…
like... like.. James B.
Sullivan.
In this second example, Mr. Waternoose lists four essential qualities of ideal scarers, i.e. “confident,
tenacious, tough and intimidating”, which he claims to be epitomized by the monster James P.
Sullivan. Such a description serves to build up the viewer’s expectation of what Sullivan would look
like, conjuring up the image of a tough, scary monster. This expectation is intensified by lexical
elements such as “at your best” and the repetition of “scarers” and “like”, with a pause between the
two occurrences of “like” creating an added sense of irony through the use of suspense. However,
this scene is juxtaposed to the following one, in which Sullivan, the supposedly model scarer, is seen
snoring loudly, still in bed and fast asleep. Thus, the expectation built up by Waternoose’s verbal
description is soon frustrated or invalidated (Lucariello 1994; Muecke 1969) by the incongruous
kinesic and phonic elements of the following scene.
In the EV version, the translation succeeded in preserving or even accentuating the intended
humorous situational irony by providing four epithets, which are functionally adequate, though not
necessarily accurate lexical equivalents: brave, wide-awake, tough and reliable. Of particular
importance here is the humorous epithet  (wide-awake), which is in sharp contrast with
Sullivan snoring in the next scene. In other words, the EV translator sought to capture and intensify
the irony involved, rather than aiming for some pointless literal equivalence. But the effectiveness of
the EV version is also attributable in no small measure to its colloquial register, where naturally
humorous words are cleverly selected to create the situational irony, namely  (scarers);
 (wide-awake);  (tough). Compare the creatively coined occupational term 
(scarer) in the EV version with the rather flat  (ones who scare) in the MSA version. A further
manifestation of this strategy of intensification is repetition with intensive qualification: I need
scarers proper…”.
In contrast, the translator of the MSA version provides an inaccurate deflated rendering of the
four epithets of scarers, which are meant to contrast with the ensuing scene. Only two restrained
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epithets are provided: self-confident and tenacious, without any repetition or intensification.
Indeed, due to the omission of some of the epithets in the ST, for a moment, the audible words in the
MSA version do not seem to match the lip movements of the character.
Table 3. Example 3
Time: (20:33)
Context: Mike is telling Sullivan how much he admires Celia. By the moment he turns he is surprised
to see Roz instead.
Type of Irony: situational, verbal
Irony marker: text to co-text, text to context, phonic, kinesic
Source Text:
Mike: I gotta tell you buddy that face of hers… it just makes my heart go…Yikes!
Roz: Hello, Wazowski. Fun filled evening planned for tonight?
Mike: Well, as a matter of fact
Roz: And I’m sure you filled your paperwork correctly. For once.
Roz: Your stunned silence is very reassuring.
Target text (EV)
Back translation
 


 
Marid: I have to confess to you, friend.
When my heart sees her, it says... Yikes
Roz: Hello, Washwashni, aspiring for a beautiful
soiree tonight.
Marid: It is….
Roz: It is for sure you have finished your reports
today, or not? Your silence confirms my speech.
Target text (MSA)
Back translation
 
 

 
Mike: I have to tell you my friend how happy I am
to meet my beloved… Aaaay.
Roz: Hello, Wazawski. Do you have a fun project
tonight?
Mike: As a matter of fact, that does not matter…
Roz: Of course you submitted your documents
correctly?
Your stunned silence is very reassuring.
This instance of irony actually contains three different types of irony: two situational and one verbal.
The word yikes, used to express surprise and fear, is rendered accurately in the TTs, but in a higher
pitch in the EV. Roz is asking Mike whether he has filed his paperwork “correctly,” a word that
contradicts what will happen later when Sullivan is going to shuffle through Mike’s scare reports.
This type of irony is missed in the EV and maintained in MSA through a literal translation, “Of course
you submitted your documents correctly?” In this case, Roz’s utterance, “Your stunned silence is
very reassuring,” is an antiphrasis said in a very flat tone, a phonological irony marker that directs
the viewer to interpret her message ironically. “Stunned” and “reassuring” are strong adjectives used
to strengthen the effect of the irony in her words as being different in meaning from what is stated.
The use of “very” to modify “reassuring” adds even more emphasis to the adjective.
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On the grounds that Roz and the viewer know it is a custom of Mike to be lazy when filing his
paperwork, and as he has wished in a previous scene “to just let them blow away,” using these
overestimating adjectives is a deliberate hint as to the real nature of the ironic message. The blank
face Mike turns to Roz further supports the ironic implied meaning that he has not done his paperwork
after all. In translation, “correctly” and “for once” are omitted in EV. The word “stunned” is also
omitted. However, “reassuring” is maintained. In MSA, “for once” is also omitted, while the last
sentence is literally translated, preserving all the words of the original.
Table 4. Example 4
Time: (5:10)
Context: Sullivan is training and Mike coaches him. While Sullivan was doing gravity sit-ups,
Mike suddenly runs to the TV.
Type of Irony: situational
Irony marker: text to co-text
Source Text:
Mike: One- eighteen… do you have one-nineteen… do I see one-twenty… Whoah! I don’t believe it!
Sullivan: I’m not even breaking a sweat!
Mike: Not you! Look! The new commercial’s on!
Target text (EV)
Back translation



Marid: I can’t believe it!
Shalabi: That I’m not tired yet?
Marid: Not you, look, the new commercial is on!
Target text (MSA)
Back translation



Mark: I can’t really believe it!
Sullivan: I’m not even breaking a sweat!
Mark: I don’t mean you, look, they are broadcasting the
new commercial.
In this third example, Sullivan and the viewer are made to believe that Mike is expressing his disbelief
that Sullivan could exercise so profusely and not break a sweat. However, the viewer soon realizes
that Mike’s words are not in reference to Mike at all, but are actually in response to a television
commercial that he will be starring in. Using a discourse marker such as “whoa”, which is “present
in speech to support interaction but [does] not generally add any specific meaning to the message”
(Romero-Trillo 2012, 4916), is accompanied with Mike’s facial gestures, opened jaw, body
movements, and flailing arms. As such, omitting “whoa”, as a discourse marker in both translations
does not affect the meaning or impact the translation of irony across the dialects. What matters most
is his wording, “I can’t believe it,” which is then followed with “I don’t mean you.” The first utterance
is translated literally through negation in the EV and MSA. In the EV, the translation renders it “That
I am not tired?” This non-interrogative makes it clear that the characters are questioning expectations.
Additionally, the MSA stays similar to the original by opting for negation and idiomatically
expressing effortlessness with “I’m not even breaking a sweat!” In this way, chunking sideways is
once again used, by substituting a relatable target idiom on the same level or with the same intent. In
this example, both versions succeed in showing the irony, but the EV uses omission and the MSA
uses substitution.
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Table 5. Example 5
Time: (4:08)
Context: While Sullivan is lying in bed snoring with his alarm clock clicking, Mike is
standing next to Sullivan’s bed and impersonating a radio announcer in a mocking voice.
Type of Irony: Verbal and situational
Irony marker: Kinesic (sleep; facial expressions; gestures), phonic (snoring; mocking tone of
voice), linguistic (contrastive intensification).
Source Text:
Mike: Hey, good morning Monstropolis, it’s now five after the hour of six a.m. in the big
Monster City. Temperature’s a balmy 65 degrees, which is good news for you reptiles, and it
looks like it’s gonna be a perfect day to just lie in bed, sleep in, or simply… WORK OUT
THAT FLAB THAT’S HANGING OVER THE BED!! Get up, Sulley!
Target text (EV)
Back translation




Marid: Morning of horror!... Shade
temperature is 25 degrees, which is good for
reptiles and could be terrific weather for
lazing in bed or sleeping, or better still, for
some workout for scarers! Get up, Shalabi!
Target text (MSA)
Back translation






Mark: good morning Monstropolis! …
Temperature is moderate, not exceeding 18
degrees, which is good for reptilian animals
and it seems it will be a perfect day for
lying in bed and sleeping in, or simply
practising some sport to get rid of the flab
situated in the bed! Get up, Sullivan.
In this example, we find verbal irony in the ST clause, “it looks like it’s gonna be a perfect day to just
lie in bed, sleep in…”, where Mike is clearly mocking Sullivan for sleeping in, implying that he is
lazy and unfit, and should rather get up and exercise. Departing from literal equivalence to accentuate
the intended irony, the EV translator resorts to intensification (terrific weather) and under-
dissimulation (lazing in bed). This under-dissimulation is further reinforced by Mike’s facial
expressions, gestures and intonation, but it is easily perceivable in the script alone. Intertextuality is
also employed in the EV version to achieve a humorous effect; for example, “good morning
Monstropolis” is rendered as the morning of horror, which is modelled on the customary Arabic
greeting morning of goodness (good morning). There is a sense of irony involved here too with the
contrast between the pretended negative meaning (horror reigning over the city) and the real positive
one (more and more horror and screams being generated for the benefit of the city).
The MSA rendering, though much closer to the ST, fails to match the kinesic and phonic markers
of the verbal irony, as can be demonstrated by reading the script in isolation from the picture; one can
easily miss the intended verbal irony because of the matter-of-fact wording and tone typical of a
factual description. The mocking tone is only abruptly adopted in the last part of the sentence, or
simply practising sport to get rid of the flab situated on the bed!.
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Table 6. Example 6
Time: (6:45)
Context: Mike and Sullivan are heading to work. Mike brags about being seen on TV more often.
Type of Irony: verbal
Irony marker: parody, phonic, kinesic, text to Context
Source Text:
Mike: I’m telling you big daddy, you’re going to be seeing this face on T.V. a lot more often.
Sullivan: Yeah? Like on “Monstropolis’ Most Wanted”?
Mike: ha, ha, ha. You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade, pal.
Target text (EV)
Back translation
 


Marid: Trust my words, after this you’ll be seeing me a
lot more often on TV.
Shalabi: hhhh in “Search with the Police”.
Marid: You’ve always been jealous of me because I am
more handsome than you.
Target text (MSA)
Back translation
 

 
Mike: Believe me friend, you will be seeing this face on
TV more often.
Sullivan: Really, like “Monstropolis’
Most Wanted”?
Mike: ha, ha, ha. You have been jealous of my good
look since the fourth grade.
This example uses parody as a type of irony, by alluding to the name of a famous comic TV series
and creating a contradiction between being on TV for fame, as Mike believes, and shame, as shown
by Sullivan’s use of the parody. Here, parody is being used as a device to express ironical disbelief.
Unlike the translator of the MSA version, the EV translator does not opt for a literal translation of the
name of the show, which would fail to function as an ironic parody. Rather, the EV translator provides
a cultural equivalent, namely the name of a similar Egyptian TV show, Search with the Police,”
which is a popular hidden camera series starring the Egyptian comedian Ibrahim Nassr. It was popular
in the nineties on Egyptian television and on MBC, a famous broadcasting network in the Arab world.
Thus, the translation of “Monstropolis’ Most Wanted” was achieved again through chunking
sideways by providing a culturally specific substitute on the same level, thereby maintaining the irony
created through the parody.
In the MSA version, however, this parody is translated literally. But, notwithstanding the
concomitant paralinguistic markers of irony, the intended parody is much less accessible to the hearer
given the absence of a culturally befitting equivalent. What makes the MSA dubbed rendering even
more opaque, and arguably less ironic or humorous, is the subtle propositional shift from a rhetorical
question “Like on ‘Monstropolis’ Most Wanted’? to a statement Like the most wanted in
Monstropolis. Thus, there is no reference to a show in the MSA rendering, but rather an analogy
with the most wanted in Monstropolis. The literal rendering of most wanted , has a
hint of translationese, which arguably detracts from its humorous ironic effect.
Another overall contrasting feature between the two versions, which has direct bearing on their
respective effectiveness in capturing the humorous irony of the ST, is related to the natural context-
sensitive variation of register that is remarkable in the EV version. An example of this registerial
variation can be found in the immediately preceding scene featuring the Monsters Inc. TV
commercial. Here, as would be expected in this kind of genre, the main part of the script is read out
by the announcer in MSA, which is interspersed with soundbites in EV. Arguably, this natural
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variation of register enhances the credibility, hence effectiveness, of the EV, unlike its MSA
counterpart, which is rather bizarrely mono-registerial (almost uniformly MSA), and hence,
unnatural. The overall functional translation strategy of the EV translator, as opposed to the
predominantly literal strategy of the MSA translator, can best be illustrated by their respective
renderings of the commercial’s ironic slogan: “We scare because we care!” While the EV translator
cleverly opts for a rhyming, funny, functionally equivalent slogan:  (Oh, scarer,
enlighten my life!), the MSA translator opts for a literal, non-rhyming, ineffectual rendering: 
 (we scare because we care).
Clearly, the analysis presented here shows that the general orientation of the MSA version is
word-for-word translation that follows the form and syntax of the ST. This approach proved mostly
unsuccessful in accurately conveying many of the ironic instances. The EV version, on the other
hand, managed to carry the ST irony, and in some instances, even enhanced it by introducing
additional markers (as in example four). By opting for a transcreation approach, the translator proved
that Arabic vernacular could indeed convey various types of irony by cleverly trans-adapting cultural
innuendos, playing on words, and echoing the exaggerated irony by stressing, linguistically and
phonetically, the unintended meaning through the use of strong adjectives and varying intonation.
6. Translation strategies
Table 7. Strategies used in VE vs. MSA
Strategy
EV
MSA
Literal translation
13
16
Explicitation
5
1
Substitution
5
3
Omission
4
2
The analysis presented here has clearly shown that the general orientation of both versions is the
literal, word-for-word translation that follows the form and syntax of the ST. This way of translation
proved successful, in varying degrees, in conveying many of the ironic instances, since the film’s
dialogue depends on short, direct interactions between characters. If there is incongruity involved, it
could be easily rendered through the translation of single words or with the substitution of other
words. This was not the case since most of these words have straight one-to-one TL equivalents and
cultural references have not played a major role in constructing irony. The most common strategies
used (in Table 7) are omission, substitution, and explicitation. Some of these strategies are more
prevalent in the EV translation than the MSA version. It is also worth noting here that exaggerating
irony as humor, by stressing the unintended meaning linguistically through the use of strong
adjectives and phonetically through varying intonation, was intensively employed in the original.
This was reflected more in the EV version than in the MSA one. A plausible explanation for this is
the nature of the EV, which is very paralinguistically expressive.
7. Conclusion
The aim of this paper was to analyze irony as humor in Monsters Inc., a Disney animation film which
was dubbed into Egyptian Vernacular and Modern Standard Arabic. To find whether irony as humor
is maintained or lost in the two translations, the study opted for a descriptive, methodological
framework. This involved contrasting the source text with the two target texts, by focusing on specific
European Journal of Humour Research 7 (4)
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segments where irony is present. In identifying those segments, the research used Muecke’s (1978)
classifications of irony markers. Taking the genre into account, the comparison data revealed that
situational and dramatic types of irony are the most frequently used as humor in the film. Based on
the recurrent types of irony as humor, translational problems were tackled in two distinct ways in
both versions. The first dubbed version in EV adopted a more TT-oriented translation strategy,
translating many of the names of narrative value using creative and free translation to carry irony as
humor. From Toury’s (1995) point of view, it can be considered as an “acceptable” translation since
it “embraces the linguistic and cultural values of the target poly-system” (Díaz Cintas 2004: 29). The
second dubbed version in MSA is more source oriented. It opted for using literal translation and
transliteration to render many of the cultural references, such as names. This has produced the so-
called “adequate” translation, by “adhering to the values and referents of the source product” (ibid.:
29). However, it is markedly noticeable that literal renderings resulted in losing the
metacommunicative function of almost all instances of irony in MSA.
The results of this comparative study can be used to understand why translators make the choices
they do when determining source or target orientation and culturally conscious renderings through
the adoption of a given approach (literal vs. transadaptation). With this in mind, future studies could
seek to identify other films of different genres dubbed in the two versions of Arabic, so as to isolate
specific variables which might lead to one particular translation strategy over another. One limitation
of this research is the subjective nature of humor in general, and irony in particular, when they are
not straightforward and overt instances.
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Filmography
Monsters Inc. 2013. Dir. Pete Docter. Perf. John Goodman and Billy Crystal. Buena Vista Home
Entertainment.
... govern the translator's overall choice between two opposed orientations: complete focus on the original, known as adequacy; or adherence to target norms which originate and act in the TC itself, thus determining the translation's acceptability.Yahiaoui et al. (2019), in their study of irony in the Arabic dubbed and redubbed Disney animated film Monsters, inc.(Pete Docter and David Silverman, 2001), conclude that the EA version can be considered as an 'acceptable' translation since it adopts a more TToriented translation strategy by activating a creative and free translation while the MSA version op ...
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