Movies’ translations

January 22, 2015 7:04 pm

007As we know, in the depths of the web you can find useful resources. You think movie translation is quite an obvious thing? There’s a lot more going on than one might think. This academic article starts with a description of the three types of translation: dubbing, subtitling and voiceover. Each country chooses a single type of translation, which is not done randomly, but it obeys to a precise cultural, national and economic strategy. After importing a movie, dubbing or subtitling are rather different choices, with different consequences, since, as stated in the starting quote “audio-visual translation ultimately plays a unique role in developing both national identities and national stereotypes“. This is explained by the vast and ignored relationships between audiovisuals’ transcriptions, as vehicle of foreign values, different languages, and their effect on a specific culture. As an example, the dubbing strongly interferes with the original text of a movie (and the influence of the original culture is less visible), while the captions, usually placed at the bottom of the screen, give a more precise idea about the country in which the movie is produced and filmed.

Are you aware that the countries are classified by their choice? More specifically, they are divided into four categories, according to The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation Studies: source-language countries, dubbing countries, subtitling countries and voiceover countries. In the first group, we find the United States and Great Britain. The reason is that they dominate the market and produce most of the movies. Countries that use dubbing are France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, sometimes referred to as FIGS. If a country is inclined to import a big amount of movies, they will most likely go for the subtitles. The classification, among other things, is not related to the size of the country nor the choices of distribution channels. As a consequence, the choice will strongly affect the gains.

We will consider now a particular type among the translations mentioned: subtitles. The first main difference between the usual, normal translation of a document and a translation of captions is the limitation of the number of characters per line. You are only allowed to use from 32-36 characters for each one, with a maximum of two double lines per single subtitle. There is also a time limit for the duration: the subtitle displayed on screen must not exceed 6 seconds. Combining the two rules, one can easily realize that it is not possible to translate everything. Which brings us to another issue: the filtering of meaningful information and transcribing it into a concise, shortened form. The main objective is to provide just enough information for the viewer to be able to follow the story and, at the same time, remain in sync with the spoken phrase. Besides, cultural references, jokes and sayings are obstacles that tend to be solved with a bright rule already mentioned in other posts: the emotional effect is more important that the accuracy of the translation. A few softwares worth mentioning in this field are Subtitle Workshop, a useful tool for professionals; and a new online software, ClipFlair, intended to introduce children to languages and captioning.

Going back to the topic of movie translation, let us see some historical background. One may not be aware of the impact of the change from mute to sound. It raised complications in the movie industry. In the beginning, movie producers just needed what they called “inter-titles”, verbal introductions to mute scenes, that could be easily prepared in the needed languages. Then, with the so-called “talkies” or spoken movies, the problem of the British  and American English influence was revealed, so some countries decided to create dubbing companies to put a barrier to the foreign impact. France was particularly attentive toowards their national language: for more than two centuries, it had been the universal lingua franca and the dominance of American English in audiovisuals was considered to be a risk and a matter of national interest. Furthermore, France showed pride in its domestic movie production, and it was perceived as being more sophisticated than the big productions from Hollywood. Each and every country decided, in their way, how to deal with the same problem. Things grew more problematic in the era of globalisation. Many critics complain about the universal, unidirectional use of English and American English, about anglophone products flooding the market, sometimes seen as a form of cultural assimilation.

It is important to mention that the Indian and Asian markets are not included in the analysis yet. That would be a whole new ground of research. For more information, we suggest that you read the mentioned paper.

The Power of Film Translation by Agnieszka Szarkowska


By Matteo Poles

Social Media Specialist

Communication Trainee at TermCoord

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