Can you amuse the audience through an interpreter? Parliamentary interpreting and humour

Magdalena Bartłomiejczyk

In this article, I investigate how interpreters handle humorous utterances during plenary debates of the European Parliament, focusing on the input by one Polish Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Janusz Korwin-Mikke. The source speeches (in Polish or English) are analysed bottom-up to identify the types of humour favoured by the speaker. The most frequent ones are irony, ad hominem arguments with an element of ridicule, absurdity, and shifts in register. Subsequently, a pragmatically oriented comparative analysis is conducted to assess whether and how individual instances of humour are transferred by interpreters. Additionally, possible side effects are considered, such as shifts accompanying transferred humour and message incoherence resulting from humour loss. Register humour is typically removed by interpreters. The successful handling of absurdity relies mainly on compression and often fails, while ad hominem and irony appear to be relatively less challenging to interpret. Interestingly, irony is occasionally added by interpreters, either to boost the speaker’s comical intent or to distance themselves from his views.

Publication history
Table of contents

I have recently undertaken to explore the frontiers of translatability in simultaneous interpreting on the basis of a small corpus of complete original and interpreted plenary contributions by one particularly troublesome Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Janusz Korwin-Mikke (JKM) (Bartłomiejczyk 2020, 2022). Anti-EU, extremely right-wing and freely expressing his highly negative views on commonly accepted values such as democracy and gender equality, JKM is a very fast speaker who also often uses strongly accented non-native English. Consequently, both the content and the form of his plenary contributions make him a daunting speaker to interpret.

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