Funny in 33 languages: The art of translating Maysoon Zayid’s hilarious TED Talk

TED Blog

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What’s funny in one language isn’t necessarily funny in another. Maysoon Zayid’s “I got 99 problems … palsy is just one” presented many challenges for TED translators bringing the hilarious talk into their language. As she tells stories from her life as a Palestinian-American comedian with cerebral palsy, Zayid cracks with wordplay. For translators, it’s one thing to convey meaning, but how do you let non-English speaking audiences in on the joke? “If you have to explain the joke, it’s no longer funny,” says Greek translator Dimitra Papageorgiou. But if you do a good job, says Meric Aydonat, who translated the talk into Turkish, “it looks so natural that your translation becomes funny in itself.”

Valérie Boor subtitled the talk in Dutch. “It’s always difficult to make a translation funny, since the spoken word has factors like timing and intonation that contribute to the joke,” she…

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