The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 7, No 1 (2019)

One text, two varieties of German: fruitful directions for multilingual humour in “translation”

Mary Catherine Frank


A heterolingual text is characterised by the presence of two or more different languages, or two or more varieties of the same language (Corrius & Zabalbeascoa 2011: 115). This article discusses possible methods of translating into English of a text containing two varieties of German: Ottokar Domma’s Der brave Schüler Ottokar [The Good Schoolboy Ottokar]. In these stories, about a schoolboy growing up in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the 1960s, Domma creates a zone of friction between child narrator Ottokar’s everyday German and the language of GDR officialdom (“official discourse”). This article first shows that following a conventional method of translating a literary text into English does not allow this satire to be conveyed to the reader. It then presents two alternative translational methods “thick” and creative that demonstrate how it is helpful, indeed in some cases necessary, for the translator to adopt a broad understanding of “translation” in respect of texts that exploit multilingualism for humorous purposes. It is argued that methods of translating in which effect is privileged over form — which here included introducing multimodality — can serve well to open up heterolingual humour for speakers of other languages.


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