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Subtitling in the Multimodal Context of Translated Film

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1 Subtitling in the Multimodal Context of Translated Film
Chris Taylor University of Trieste Kristiansand 21 October 2005

2 SUBTITLES The basic premise of this talk is that subtitles, as a semiotic resource, ADD to the meaning-making potential of a multimodal text such as a TV ad. or a film. If they are done well (a huge provviso) they ADD to the pleasure, interest, emotion or other cognitive process experienced by the viewer. They ADD to and do not detract from the hermeneutic process as a whole.

3 TRANSLATED FILM Film has been translated since its earliest beginnings in the silent era. And in the beginning… there were subtitles intertitles Eg ‘The Clash of Wlolves’


5 multimodal text within a multimodal text
Modern subtitles also perform this function in a more subtle way. For example Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’, a film in any case much given to the visual verbal channel – information, comments, letters, dicuments, etc.

6 Barry Lyndon The seduction scene between Barry and Lady Lyndon is based exclusively on a long series of knowing glances. Schubert and the ‘Faites vos jeux’ of the gaming tables provide the background. There is only one utterance, on the part of Lady lyndon: “Samuel, I’m going outside for a breath of fresh air”

7 Barry Lyndon subtitled
A subtly placed, clear to read subtitle here Samuel, esco a prendere un po’ d’aria accompanying the lady as she moves out to the veranda and also Barry’s self-congratulatory expression, adds to the complicity and avoids the intrusion of an alien voice where the enunciation is brimming with covert intent.

8 but with talkies… …came the advent of dubbing especially in those countries with strict laws governing the intrusion of foreign languages (and cultures). … and the larger European countries have continued along this path, achieving excellent results.

9 but led Sergio Viaggio to say
“Film dubbing is the least studied of all the branches of translation” …. and subtitling?

10 The subtitling vs. dubbing debate
Views differ considerably, but a recently published work in Italy lays the battle ground in no uncertain terms. ‘Tradurre per il doppiaggio’ Paolinelli and Di Fortunato. After a detailed consideration of the financial aspects, the authors list the drawbacks of subtitling…

11 Drawbacks 1. Reduction of text (eg. ‘Natural Born Killers’ 9,758 words to 12,737); 2. Invasion of screen; 3. Reading takes up half length of film! 4. Continuous jumping from centre to bottom of screen; 5. No pedagogic value in context of cinema; AND

12 The main drawback? 6. Subtitles, given the preponderance of audiovisual material of foreign origin, give more ‘nobility’ to the source text than the target text, and are therefore an instrument of creeping linguistic and cultural colonialism.

13 … there’s worse to come “I sottotitoli, quindi, si riducono a un semplice ausilio alla comprensione della trama, ma non possono, per ragioni strutturali, svolgere nessuna funzione di trasposizione linguistica.” Subtitles are a mere guide to understanding but for structural reasons unable to fulfil any language transposition function.

14 … and more “Laddove poi – ci riferiamo in particolare ai film comici – il dialogo si fonda su giochi o ripetizioni di parole, il sottotitolo è costretto a distruggere la coerenza del discorso, e con esso l’espressione comica”. Where there are plays on words or repetition subtitles necessarily ruin the coherence of the discourse and any comic element gets lost.

15 other typical shortcomings
all seeming redundancy is eliminated; translation is limited to an understanding of the plot; the ideational function of language is favoured at the expense of the interpersonal and the textual

16 how? Typical interpersonal markers of a verbal nature (discourse markers, phatic devices, hedges, etc.) are omitted. The textual function is mostly present in the other semiotic modalities – a mere list of subtitles lacks many cohesive and structural components.

17 but in favour of subtitling…
Hofstadter “In America we tend not to dub movies, to my personal relief, so that we can experience the original voices and the alien phonemes of a foreign film. … Subtitles are not a replacement of anything, but an addition to a film – they form an overlay, so that one has a kind of simultaneous bicultural interpretation of what is going on.” Multimodality in the service of intercultural communication.

18 Ivarsson “People want to hear the languages of the
rest of the world, but they want to be sure they have understood them in their own tongue too…. … SUBTITLES SEEM TO BE THE ANSWER”

19 But where do subtitles fit in the wider translation picture?
“The qualities of a good translator are not few” Martin Luther “We are bound in two ways: to our mother tongue and to the mother tongue of the text we are translating” Martin Heidegger

20 Delisle and Woodsworth
“Translators (are) importers of foreign cultural values and key players at some of the greatest moments in history… ….. (they) have played a determining role in the development of their societies.

21 Voltaire “Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning!”

22 …but none of these people were thinking about subtitles… …and we are dealing with a recognisable variation on the general theme

23 Dolet (1540) The translator must fully understand the sense and meaning of the original, although he is at liberty to clarify obscurities; The translator should have a perfect knowledge of both SL and TL; The translator should avoid ‘word for word’ renderings; The translator should use forms of speech in common use; The translator should choose and order words appropriately to produce the correct tone.

24 Ivarsson and Carroll’s ‘good practice’
1. Subtitlers must always work with a copy of the production, a copy of the dialogue list and a glossary… 2. It is the subtitler’s job to spot the production and translate and write the subtitles in the language required. 3. Translation quality must be high with due consideration of all idiomatic and cultural nuances. 4………

25 so what are subtitles? “an independent stratum midway between speech and writing” Kovacic or a subcategory of either? (Answers please)

26 but now let’s move to… MULTIMODAL TEXTS
“Multimodality refers to the diverse ways in which a number of distinct semiotic resource systems are both co-deployed and co-contextualised in the making of a text-specific meaning”. Paul Thibault


28 Column 3: The visual image

29 Application of multimodal transcription to film translation
BY - simplifying the descriptions - doubling up some columns - eliminating other columns - adding a translation column the MT proved useful in deciding translation strategies for subtitling film.

30 Insert video Citroen


32 Comment 1 Full meaning comes from various sources, both overt and covert - gloomy atmosphere; sparse facilities; evocation of areas such as East End of London; air of mystery (what’s it about?)


34 Comment 2 It’s a boxer, doing typical boxer things.
Voice – cockney accent! – it is the East End of London.

35 Comment 3 - translation MAX subtitles – eg. education purposes
DUBBING – risk of making him eg Neapolitan MIN subtitles – give him same ‘tough’, taut talk.


37 Comment 4 These are not intrusive titles and can blend in perfectly with the holistic original product.

38 Comment 5 “In definitiva, i sottotitoli dovranno risultare parte del film e la loro integrazione con l’originale sarà tale che essi diventeranno, pardossalmente, invisibili.” Nironi (Subtitles must be part of the film and their integration with the original must be such that they become, paradoxically, invisible)

39 in terms of … good practice
The subtitler should be aware that the translated title forms part of a multimodal whole and seek the best way to integrate it with the other semiotic modalities present.

40 Subtitles – distinguishing features

41 Gottliebian thoughts The fact that subtitles are additive leads us to compute them into our multimodal scheme, and the fact that they are synchronous makes their function as an integrated element clear. And of course Gottlieb tells us that they are polymedial.

42 Gottlieb in Trieste HG laid great emphasis on the aesthetic appearance of the titles (clarity, non intrusiveness, perfct synchronisation, acccessability) as well as their meaning-making role.

43 so now in answer to Mario Paolinelli
Comparing the dubbed and subtitled versions of the Marx Brothers’ ‘Animal Crackers’, and considering the following scene, the authors criticise the subtitled version…

44 Example from ‘Animal Crackers’
Ex- pres: President Wagstaff, now that you have stepped into my shoes… Wagstaff: Oh, is that what I stepped in? I wondered… If these are your shoes, the least you could do was have them cleaned. (Groucho looks down with a look of disgust)

45 Subtitles Ex- pres: Ora che lei è nei miei panni…
Wagstaff: Mi chiedevo di chi erano! Poteva farli lavare. (literal translation) Ex- pres: Now that you are in my clothes… Wagstaff: I wondered whose they were. You could have had them washed.

46 Dubbing Ex- pres: Professor Wagstaff, ora che si è messo nei miei piedi… Wagstaff: Ah, lì mi sono messo. Ecco da dove esala. Se questi sono i suoi, li mandi in lavanderia! (literal translation) Ex- pres: Now that you have put yourself in my feet… Wagstaff: Oh, there I put myself. That’s where the smell comes from. If these are yours,send them to the laundry.

47 Well… The dubbed version uses an expression that does not exist in Italian (or English). The subtitled version uses the equivalent colloquial expression in Italian and is nice and succinct. The visual element (Groucho looking down at his feet and wrinkling his nose) is not misleading. THE WHOLE POINT IS THAT IN A MULTIMODAL TEXT THE MEANING COMES FROM ALL SIDES AND THESE SUBTITLES FIT IN WELL WITH THE REST OF THE SEMIOTIC BATTERY.

48 Natural Born Killers The main objection to the subtitling of NBK was that the translation of the constant background of radio and television noise was sacrificed because of the ‘inevitable’ condensation requirement. But the meaning conveyed by this component was the evil influence of irresponsible (American) media and this proved clear from the general context of the film, particularly as heard in the original language. This is the beauty of the multimodal text.

49 Shortcomings revisited
regarding the ‘inevitable’ condensation all seeming redundancy is eliminated; translation is limited to an understanding of the plot.

50 The Gottlieb Strategies

51 Caro Diario Annalisa Sandrelli subjected Nanni Moretti’s ‘Caro Diario’ to a thorough Gottliebian investigation by analysing the English and Spanish subtitled versions.

52 ENGLISH No.subtitles % transfer 661 66.3% condensation 165 16.5% decimation 45 4.5% paraphrase 35 3.5% deletion imitation 33 3.3% transcription 11 1.1% expansion 9 0.9% resignation 3 0.3% dislocation 1 0.1% TOTAL 997 100%

53 SPANISH No. subtitles % transfer 950 80.7 condensation 96 8.2 imitation 40 3.4 decimation 27 2.3 paraphrase 23 2 transcription 15 deletion 13 1.1 expansion 5 0.4

54 More objections Paolinelli agrees that subtitlers need to possess “ottime qualità di analisi linguistica” as well as “grande familiarità con i meccanismi narrativi cinematografici”, but suggests that few practitioners possess these qualities. So let’s take a look at some subtitling from a multimodal point of view.

55 Insert video Ae Fond Kiss

56 Ae Fond Kiss This multimodal text is pregnant with explicit and covert meaning: The tradition of the school in the private singing lessons cf. rough Glasgow background. The enthusiasm of the teacher towards the girl who can’t sing; The Scots accents of the (middle class) Pakistanis.

57 Ae Fond Kiss 2 This text cries out for subtitles:
1 to hear the different accents (Irish, Scots Scots, Pakistani Scots) - dubbing neutralises this aspect; 2. The words of the song are in any case unintelligible and would be farcical dubbed into another language; 3. The overlapping chat in the garden (which gives the scene such texture) does not require explicitation – dubbing would have to be selective and would remove this important component completely.

58 Ae Fond Kiss subtitles 00:06:54:02 00:06:55:20 Ci sei? Bene.
00:06:54:02 00:06:55:20 Ci sei? Bene. 00:07:02:22 00:07:09:01 Un tenero bacio, e poi ci separeremo

59 Subtitles 2 00:07:39:16 00:07:41:18 cosi' ti puoi fare
00:07:39:16 00:07:41:18 cosi' ti puoi fare un'idea di come sara'. 00:07:41:18 00:07:44:12 Okay, allora facciamo una prova! Aspetta un attimo. 00:07:44:18 00:07:46:21 - Guarda un po'... Vado? - Si', certo, vai.

60 Ae Fond Kiss - commentary
Within the multimodal text the subtitles leave untouched the other semiotic modalities the perspective in the various shots; the colours in the garden; the gaze vectors of the characters; the embarrassed body language of the girl; the clumsy movement of the father, AND PARTICULARLY - the suprasegmental elements –the accents of the characters and the spontaneous nature of the exchanges.

61 Film Language Recalling the lack of interpersonal markers in subtitles, it must be pointed out that film language itself has been shown to be lacking in this respect.

62 Comparison realistic/corpus

63 From script to screen Comparisons between the original script of a film and a transcription of the actual dialogues practically always show discrepancies in favour of a more spoken language approach.

64 Philadelphia script CHANDRA (O.S.)You want to apply the foundation as evenly as you can, Andy. You don't want to look like you've thrown it on with a spoon.  ANDREW (O.S.) Uh huh CHANDRA Okay. You try.

65 Insert video Philadelphia

66 Philadelphia transcription
Chandra: Okay, now, you gonna wanna apply the foundation as evenly as you can Andy, okay? ‘Cos you don’t want to look like you’ve thrown it on with a spoon, okay? So, okay, you try it.

67 Philadelphia - dubbing
Il fondotinta va applicato il più uniformemente possibile. Perché non sembri che te lo sei spalmato con un cucchiaio.

68 neutralisation The risk of neutralising is ever present in film translation, but as the example shows, it is as present in dubbing as it is in subtitling. But at least in subtitling the original ‘spoken’ language can be heard. Furthermore, as Kovacic exhorts, there is no reason why subtitles should not capture elements of ‘interpersonal’ language use.

69 An example from TV Six Feet Under
The American TV programme ‘SIx Feet Under’, set in a funeral home, exploits black humour and taboo language. For the Italian audience both dubbed and subtitled versions were produced. A study has shown that reactions to the programme were different depending on the translation mode adopted. (Bucaria, University of Bologna)

70 Six Feet Under 2 Trials were carried out on sample groups selected according to age, sex, education, geographical location, etc. As was expected, reactions to the programme differed between, for example, old ladies in traditional country villages and urban student populations.

71 Six Feet Under 3 But interestingly the dubbed version produced less disapproval among the ‘traditional’ viewers than the subtitled version. The reason, it emerged from questionnaires, was that the dubbing attenuated many of the taboo expressions and tempered the elements of black (sick) humour.

72 Six Feet Under 4 This finding explodes the myth that written texts tend to neutralise creative spoken language. The ‘return to the written’ can prove a powerful integrating force In the case of SFU, the subtitles ADD spice to the show in written form integrating with (1) the verbal force that can be heard in voice prosody and (2) the facial gestures that accompany ribald talk.

73 a drawback of dubbing The most obvious drawback of dubbing, which emerges clearly from this example, is that it can cheat. Particularly in TV productions, the dubbed version can stray from the original way beyond what can be accepted as ‘equivalent effect’. eg. Friends

74 Impact on students In general they favour subtitles, and many have attempted to make their own subtitled versions of films, encouraged to use (not always successfully) the strategies they have learned in creating a more complete MULTIMODAL TEXT.

75 An example - Occident The work of a (Rumanian) student who wished to show the inaccuracy of the English subtitled version and produce a more accurate Italian version of her own. She succeeds despite the amateur attempt at synchrony. The interesting thing is the text works even with two sets of titles ‘cluttering up’ the screen. It is another multimodal text.

76 Insert video Occident

77 Insert video The Shining dubbed

78 Insert video The Shining subtitled

79 I rest my case. Thank you very much

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