Audiovisual Translation Modes

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Introduction[edit]

This book serves as an overview and introduction to audiovisual translation and its modes - subtitling, voice-over and dubbing. The aim is also to present the basics of practical use of those modes - rules, guidelines and tips on how to do it correctly. The books is going to discuss all of the modes, but the greatest deal of attention will be paid to subtitling.

AVT - it means AudioVisual Translation: opposite to common assumption, it is not only about films (this is the domain of film or screen translation), but also about TV, computer games, video games, videoclips and even theatre plays - everything that is multimodal and includes more than one mode of reception, for example, not only the visual one, but also the aural one.

Multimodality means that a translator has to take into consideration other layers of reality, not only the textual one: "...interlingual translation is based on translating sense of texts, and in case of AVT the sense is the sum total of meaning of image, text and sound and relations taking place between them - a translator cannot ignore the visual aspect while translating" In other words, AVT can be also called intersemiotic translation - translating one semiotic complex into a different one.[1]

History and popularity of AVT modes[edit]

Subtitling[edit]

This is the oldest of all AVT modes. The first forms of today's subtitles were introduced just after the beginning of cinema, in the form of intertitles, texts appearing between the frames in silent films. In 1927, when sound films appeared, so called talkies, first subtitles emerged. The very first sound film, The Jazz Singer, created the need for translating it for foreign audiences: in 1929 the film had its premieres in France and Italy.[2]

An exemplary intertitle of a silent film

It is popular predominantly in English-speaking countries, whereas in Poland only 8.1% of viewers prefer this mode.[3]

Dubbing[edit]

This mode in Poland is commonly used for animations, children's films and adventure films such as The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, or the Harry Potter saga.[4] The most famous examples of dubbed children's films (or those which audience is intended to be consist at least partially of children) are Shrek or Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra.

However, in numerous countries, dubbing is one of the most popular modes - it is even the dominant one.

Popularity of dubbing in Europe.Countries in red - use dubbing exclusively, both for films and TV

For example, in Germany every foreign film is dubbed and a particular actor has his or her own dubbing actor, e.g. Robert de Niro is always dubbed by the same German actor.[5]

Voice-over[edit]

This is the least popular of the three main modes. Its use is restricted to the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, for example Poland or Russia. It takes a form of a single voice (usually male) reading the roles of all actors, even women and children. The method is fairly popular among viewers, because of its accessible form not requiring reading and intellectual work (you only have to listen to the voice), and it is the most commonly used form on Polish TV. A survey from 2002 shows that it is the preferred form for 50.2% of Poles. [6]

Subtitling[edit]

It is a mode which consists of a text (one or two lines) appearing at the bottom of the screen, simultaneously to characters' utterances. As the name suggests, subtitles appear at the bottom, but it is possible to encounter them in the middle or even at the top of the screen. It happens only if the frame makes it impossible for the subtitles to appear in their usual position. A different kind of subtitling is surtitling, also known as supertitling. It is used in theatre and opera to help the audience understand a foreign-language play.

Technical rules and guidelines for subtitlers[edit]

There are several important rules to consider while creating subtitles:

1. Legibility - the subtitles have to be legible and easily seen on the screen. They have to fit on the screen within 1-2 lines of text and be displayed long enough for the viewer to understand them.[7]

It means that the subtitler either has to work with ready-made time frames (and is responsible only for the linguistic part) or they have to synchronise the subtitles with dialogues themselves [8]

Legibility is also about the size of subtitles: they have to be big enough to be read easily, and their font must be easy to read - preferably sans serif. [9]

The text should have no more than 36-38 characters per line, including spaces and punctuation marks. [10]

That is why subtitles always seem short to viewers: subtitlers sometimes have to sacrifice information for increased clarity and the appropriate number of characters in a line. It is estimated that about 30%-40% of the original is lost during the process of translation [11]

2. Comprehensibility - form of the subtitles has to be easy to grasp and make reading easy.[12]

This criterion overlaps with the previous one - it is concerned with optimal division of text into lines and making it understandable - sometimes it can influence our understanding of the whole film. [13]

3. Discreetness - subtitles have to obstruct the view as little as possible.[14]

As their name suggests, subtitles should be placed at the bottom of the screen (they appear in the middle or at the top of the screen very rarely).

They are usually white, sometimes yellow is used - to indicate a song in background or an utterance in the third language.

4. Naturalness - our translation must look natural and read like a possible conversation in the target language. It has to be appropriate for the film and the language used by the characters. [15]

The aim of a subtitler is to make their work neither too formal nor too colloquial - the tone and register of the translation must be appropriate for the film. Dialogues must make a viewer believe that a conversation is taking place in their native language.

How to achieve naturalness?

  • Don't be too colloquial if it is not necessary:
    • don't use excessive slang or vulgarisms
    • don't use mental shortcuts
    • don't invent your own words! Don't use phrases understandable only to you and your friends either - you must be understandable to all viewers!
  • Don't be too literal - pay attention to idioms, phraseologisms or proverbs in the source language
  • Don't be too formal
  • Pay attention to punctuation marks - there are no semicolons or parentheses in subtitles. [16] Revise the rules of punctuation (especially commas! They usually pose many problems even to experienced translators. If you have any problems concerning English, look here or here
  • Revise:
    • how to use numbers
    • when and where to capitalise
    • spelling rules - sounds obvious but spelling mistakes are still common!

Dubbing[edit]

It is a mode in which the original soundtrack is completely covered by voices of dubbing artists, whereas songs and music are retained.

It is the most difficult and most costly mode. Not only does it require translating the text and acting it out by the actors, but also it forces the producers to hire a separate dubbing director, a person concerned with lip-syncing (the lines have to appear at the same time as the original ones and to have more or less the same number of vowels and consonants - they have to sound similar, an editor and a separate team of producers in touch with the producers of the film. The actors cannot be any actors: sometimes even famous actors are bad at dubbing and some less known ones are perfect for that role)[17]

If you want to learn more about dubbing, look here - it is a Wikibooks project concerned with technical and linguistic details of dubbing, based on the example of "Shrek".

Voice-over[edit]

It is a mode in which translated dialogues are read out by an off-screen voice. The voice reads all the dialogues, regardless of the gender of a character on the screen and is usually male. A notable exception is Krystyna Czubówna, a famous female voice-over artist, working on nature films or news programmes. The voice-over mode can be used for virtually anything, from films in cinema, to TV series or even songs ( listen to "Piosenka z lektorem" ("Songs with voice-over"), a comedy programme on Radio Zet) [18]

Voice-over artist at work

Popularity in Poland[edit]

In contrast with majority of European countries, Poland still uses voice-over to translate most of foreign films, both in TV and in DVD versions. According to a survey quoted above, over 50% of viewers prefer that mode. Subtitles, seemingly more popular, actually receive much less attention.What could be possible reasons?

1. People are just lazy - reading requires more attention than listening

2. Listening allows the viewer to multitask - you can even leave the room and still be able to follow the plot if the volume is loud enough. Subtitles require us to be in front of a TV set all the time.

3. Subtitles are often of bad quality - they are full of mistakes, they omit many things or simply do not exist and we are forced to watch a certain show or a film with voice-over.

4. No other choice - most of TV stations do not allow the viewer to turn off voice-over and turn on subtitling instead.

5. Force of habit - voice-over was developed and widely used in the former USSR and countries of the Eastern Bloc: its use was forced by authorities and no other options were available.

Tasks[edit]

Now, let's focus on the practical part of the book.

Task 1[edit]

This is a warm-up before translating, also called "shadowing":

1. Choose a film or a programme you like, in your native language or a foreign one you know well.

2. Do not translate anything, simply repeat what you hear.

3. If you want to make it more challenging, bring a piece of paper and write the letters of the alphabet (first - in order, then - backwards) while speaking.

Task 2[edit]

Here you can find a fragment of "Dances with Wolves" with voice-over

1. Watch the fragment.

2. Analyse the original dialogues and the voice-over translation.

3. Assume you have to create subtitles - propose your own version. If you want to feel like a real subtitler, you can use a subtitle editing program, such as Subtitle Edit

4. Points to take into consideration:

  • The original text - are there any difficult points? If yes, what may be difficult? Why?
  • Voice-over version: how much of the original has been omitted? Why?
  • What are the differences between subtitles and the voice-over version?

Task 3[edit]

1. Choose a film where the characters speak your native language (or any language you are more or less familiar with) and set up subtitles in the same language.

2. Analyse the difference between what you hear and what you read. You may propose a better version if you see any major differences.

Task 4[edit]

1. Choose a film in a foreign language you know fairly well.

2. Translate while watching - utter the translated version aloud.

3. To make the task easier, you may watch the film twice, for the first time to understand the film better, write down particularly tricky phrases etc. and for the second time to produce your translation.

4. If you want to test yourself first, you may start with something easy, e.g. news programmes.

Task 5[edit]

If you want to feel like a subtitler:

1. Download a subtitle editor - it can be Subtitle Edit recommended above or any other software of your choice

2. Upload a film fragment of your choice, in its original version. Before uploading, make sure you don't infringe anyone's copyright!

3. Propose your own translation. Remember about the guidelines above - your version should be short, clear, legible, and of course understandable.

4. More of a fansubber? Try your hand at translating shows or anime! Google fansubbing groups active in your country and ask them to allow you to work with them.

Summary[edit]

The book describes techniques used in AVT, also known as "modes".

In majority of European countries, the most popular mode is subtitling (several of them also use dubbing) but Poland is extraordinary with its preference for voice-over, which usually is seen as old-fashioned and a relic of several decades spent in the Eastern Bloc when it was used by default.

Subtitling, though unpopular in Poland, is the most extensively researched mode. The majority of articles and books on AVT are on subtitling.

It has various advantages:

  • it allows us to learn a foreign language
  • it retains the original dialogues
  • it improves our reading skills: we have to read quickly to follow the plot
  • it is less expensive than dubbing (interestingly enough, it is still more expensive than voice-over) [19]

On the other hand, dubbing is too costly to be used regularly and it does not work well in case of films for adults. It also requires preparation and specialist equipment and can be done only by professionals, whereas subtitles can be done with anyone with an appropriate computer program and a good grasp of a given language.

Voice-over is too limited in its use in Europe to highlight its advantages. Its advantage is that we can concentrate on different things while watching the film, but at the same time it is also its disadvantage: such multitasking makes us lazy and unfocused. Voice-over also drowns out the original soundtrack and the voice of most voice-over artists is monotonous and after some time it may become annoying to listen to.

Personally, I believe that the best mode (especially for learners of languages) is subtitling. It is the most popular mode, it is the most extensively researched one and it improves our reading skills.

References[edit]

  1. Tomaszkiewicz, Teresa. Przekład audiowizualny. PWN, 2015, p. 97
  2. History of Intertitles
  3. Translating postmodern networks of cultural associations in the Polish dubbed version of Shrek
  4. Dubbing in Poland
  5. German dubbing
  6. Łukasz Bogucki's article on audiovisual translation
  7. Belczyk, Arkadiusz. Tłumaczenie filmów. Wydawnictwo Dla Szkoły, 2007, p. 11
  8. Belczyk, Arkadiusz. Tłumaczenie filmów. Wydawnictwo Dla Szkoły, 2007, p.12
  9. ibidem, p. 15
  10. Ibidem, p. 13-14
  11. Tomaszkiewicz, Teresa. Przekład audiowizualny. PWN, 2009, p.113
  12. Ibidem, p. 11
  13. Belczyk, p. 11
  14. Ibidem, p. 11
  15. Ibidem, p. 11
  16. Belczyk, p. 60
  17. | Discussion of dubbing
  18. The best songs with voice-over
  19. Advantages of subtitles