Here’s a challenge to any of you reading. Translate the following simple English language phrase into any other language. And/or translate the joke I’m about to tell you below. Then post your translation in the comments here, and help us out with reading the other language(s). (Now I’ll play the linguist who explicates beforehand various English meanings of the words, both in the phrase and in the joke).
I.A. First the phrase:
Dare you translate that phrase?
I.B. Now the linguistics (plays on the words) of the phrase:
1) There’s a sound play (i.e., phonological alliterations and rhyming). The spelled-out “-ation” gives away the rhyme. And, if you’re from
2) The first word, imitation, as an adjective in front of the noun translation, can mean “cheap,” or “pretended,” or “artificial,” and so forth. Not a great meaning.
3) Without much of a stretch, you can also imagine “imitation” to be the sort of act that Wayne Leman over at Better Bibles Blog writes about today. “Be readers of this post” is his playful title, which imitates what he’s arguing is a bad-sounding English (e.g., “be imitators of God”) for a Greek clause.
4) You may add a #4 here as to what “imitation translation” means.
Now, how much of 1), 2), 3) or 4) can you bring across in your translation?
II.A. Here’ the joke in English:
How did the turtle cross the freeway?
[Let me just interject quickly here to warn: this joke is rated PG. One of my daughters brought it home from her private Christian school. Let me also warn that I’m spoiling the joke.]
[When the person you ask the above question to can’t answer, then offer this “help”]:
To figure out the answer, take the “F” out of “free” and the “F” out of “way.”
Okay, you’ve taken the “F” out of “free.” Now take the “F” out of “way.”
[If the person’s a native speaker of English, then he or she will eventually answer this way]:
There’s no F in way.
[When everyone around is laughing, the person will then start laughing after realizing the awful, unspeakable pun].
II.B. Now the here’s linguistics (plays on the words) of the joke:
1) There’s sound play (i.e., a pun): “no F in way” is the same set of sounds in “no f-in way” but the meanings are different.
2) “There’s no F in way” is the retort the one falling for the joke gives. But the same person has just uttered a clause with the abbreviated expletive “freaking.” This is funny for another reason: it’s an answer to the original question of sorts. How did the turtle cross the freeway? Well, the turtle didn’t cross the freeway; there’s no freakin’ way the turtle can make it across the freeway.
3) The other funny thing is the social shock of the joke. Everyone else is anticipating the answer; everyone else is laughing first; and then, when the one falling for the joke finally gets it, everyone laughs all over again together. Saying an F-word (and almost saying other F-words) is often funny. (But if English isn’t you’re first language, then you won’t fall for it so easily. You see, we English speakers to introduce a new idea will use what linguists name “the existential there.” That’s “There + BE.” We say, “There is a no business like show business.” Or, “There is no letter F in the word way.” But, of course, we contract the words in speech. Now, the reason you won’t fall for the joke if you are not a “native English speaker” is this: you haven’t internalized the “existential there” rule. So you’ll say what my wife’s coworker from
4) You may add a #4 here to explain how linguistically the joke is funny.
Now, how much of 1), 2), 3) or 4) can you bring across in your translation? Will your listeners laugh in the other language(s)?
III. Your Turn
Would attempt to imitate the phrase or the joke by translation into another of your languages? Would you share your translation (and explanation) in comments here?
Or would you just care to explain why translation doesn't work?
There will be prizes for the winners!