Audiovisual Translation, Subtitling
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Audiovisual Translation, Subtitling

Jorge Díaz Cintas, Aline Remael

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eBook - ePub

Audiovisual Translation, Subtitling

Jorge Díaz Cintas, Aline Remael

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"Audiovisual Translation: Subtitling" is an introductory textbook which provides a solid overview of the world of subtitling. Based on sound research and first-hand experience in the field, the book focuses on generally accepted practice but identifies current points of contention, takes regional and medium-bound variants into consideration, and traces new developments that may have an influence on the evolution of the profession. The individual chapters cover the rules of good subtitling practice, the linguistic and semiotic dimensions of subtitling, the professional environment, technical considerations, and key concepts and conventions, providing access to the core skills and knowledge needed to subtitle for television, cinema and DVD. Also included are graded exercises covering core skills. "Audiovisual Translation: Subtitling" can be used by teachers and students as a coursebook for the classroom or for self-learning.It is also aimed at translators and other language professionals wishing to expand their sphere of activity.
While the working language of the book is English, an accompanying DVD contains sample film material in Dutch, English, French, Italian and Spanish, as well as a range of dialogue lists and a key to some of the exercises. The DVD also includes WinCAPS, SysMedia's professional subtitling preparation software package, used for broadcast television around the world and for many of the latest multinational DVD releases of major Hollywood projects.

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1. Introduction to Subtitling

1.0 Preliminary discussion

1.1 Do you see subtitling as a case of translation or adaptation? What are your reasons for your choice?
1.2 In your opinion, does it matter whether subtitling is perceived one way or another?
1.3 Make a list of situations where subtitles are consumed in your country.
The main aim of this book is to introduce the reader to subtitling, one of the most thriving areas within the wider discipline of Translation Studies. For many years ignored by academics and teachers alike, it has since the 1990s gained well-deserved visibility thanks to the proliferation and distribution of audiovisual materials in our society. The value of the image is of crucial importance in our daily lives and we are literally surrounded by screens of all shapes and sizes. Television sets, cinemas, computers, and mobile phones are a common and recurrent feature of our social environment, based on the power of the screen. We come across them at home, in our work place, on public transport, in libraries, bars, restaurants and cinemas. We spend a fair amount of hours watching screens and consuming audiovisual programmes to carry out our work, to develop and enhance our professional and academic careers, to enjoy ourselves and to obtain information. It would not be an exaggeration to talk about the ubiquity of the image in our time and age.
A common companion of the image since the 1930s has been the word, and with the word comes the need for translation. Scholars like Gambier (1994) and Díaz Cintas (1999) differentiate up to 10 different ways of translating audiovisual programmes, although there are three main ones: dubbing (also known as lip-sync), subtitling and voice-over. This chapter sets out to offer a definition of subtitling practice as well as a classification of the many different types of subtitles that we come across in our daily lives.

1.1 Definition

Subtitling may be defined as a translation practice that consists of presenting a written text, generally on the lower part of the screen, that endeavours to recount the original dialogue of the speakers, as well as the discursive elements that appear in the image (letters, inserts, graffiti, inscriptions, placards, and the like), and the information that is contained on the soundtrack (songs, voices off). In some languages, like Japanese, cinema subtitles are presented vertically and tend to appear on the right-hand side of the screen.
All subtitled programmes are made up of three main components: the spoken word, the image and the subtitles. The interaction of these three components, along with the viewer’s ability to read both the images and the written text at a particular speed, and the actual size of the screen, determine the basic characteristics of the audiovisual medium. Subtitles must appear in synchrony with the image and dialogue, provide a semantically adequate account of the SL dialogue, and remain displayed on screen long enough for the viewers to be able to read them.

1.2 Translation or adaptation? Audiovisual Translation (AVT)

For some, this activity falls short of being a case of translation proper because of all the spatial and temporal limitations imposed by the medium itself (§4) which constrain the end result. They prefer to talk about adaptation – an attitude that has stymied the debate about AVT and could be tainted as having been one of the main reasons why the whole area has been traditionally ignored by scholars in translation until very recently.
Audiovisual programmes use two codes, image and sound, and whereas literature and poetry evoke, films represent and actualize a particular reality based on specific images that have been put together by a director. Thus, subtitling – dubbing and voice-over too – is constrained by the respect it owes to synchrony in these new translational parameters of image and sound (subtitles should not contradict what the characters are doing on screen), and time (i.e. the delivery of the translated message should coincide with that of the original speech). In addition, subtitles entail a change of mode from oral to written and resort frequently to the omission of lexical items from the original. As far as space is concerned, the dimensions of the actual screen are finite and the target text will have to accommodate to the width of the screen. Although the figures vary, this means that a subtitle will have some 32 to 41 characters per line in a maximum of two lines. These tend to be the main reasons put forward by those who have looked down on this activity, considering it as a type of adaptation rather than translation. It is indeed this attitude that can be held responsible “for the fact that translation studies of all disciplines have been rather reluctant to include film translation among their subjects of study” (Delabastita 1989: 213). For others, this concept of adaptation seems to equate the process to a lesser activity and becomes enough of an excuse to carry out a linguistic transfer that is clearly inadequate but nonetheless justified since it is only a case of adaptation.
Jakobson (1959) is often cited as being one of the first academics to open up the field. He famously established three types of translation: intralingual (or rewording), interlingual (or translation proper) and intersemiotic (or transmutation). Half a century later, this may need some revision to accommodate other dimensions, crucially the audio and visual ones in our case, but the essence is there.
One of the first significant advances in the process of conceding theoretical kudos to translated products such as audiovisuals came from the hand of Reiss (1977 and 1981). Basing herself on the three basic language functions devised by psychologist Karl Bühler, Reiss identifies in a first instance three types of texts (informative, expressive and operative) that encompass the different language functions. In an effort to acknowledge translation forms considered until then marginal, Reiss (1977: 111) points out the special attention deserved by written texts co-existing with other sign systems with which they must maintain a constant link. To make room in her taxonomy for this new group of texts of greater semiotic complexity, Reiss creates an additional hyper-text type which she calls ‘audio-medial text type’. She defines it as a superstructure that takes into account the special characteristics of the spoken language and oral communication, and sits above the three basic communicative situations and corresponding text types. Despite the fact that the examples provided by Reiss (ibid.), “songs, comic strips, advertisements, medieval morality ballads, etc.”, seem to overlook audiovisual translation as such, it is evident that it fully fits into her theoretical framework.
Some years later, Delabastita (1989: 214), aware of the risks involved in having a limited and normative definition of translation that “is in danger of being applicable to very few, well-selected cases, and of being unsuitable for a description of most actual fact,” rejects this minimal kind of definition and opts for a highly flexible notion. He is representative of a trend and an approach that is also shared by Mayoral Asensio (2001b: 46), who goes even further by advocating a more dynamic notion:
The definition of the object of study in translation studies is not the definition of a natural process that assumes an unchanging nature; rather it is the definition of a technological process that continually evolves and changes. Our role is not to close the door on new realities but to favour and encourage them. We need open definitions that can be modified both to envelop new realities (sign language interpretation, multimedia, text production), and to get rid of those that have ceased to be useful and necessary. (Our translation)
We share this opinion. Translation must be understood from a more flexible, heterogeneous and less static perspective, one that encompasses a broad set of empirical realities and acknowledges the ever-changing nature of practice. The traditional notion of formal fidelity, so venerated by the structuralists of the 1960s, has now been revised and made all translations more flexible, but this is especially the case of subtitling and other forms of audiovisual translation. The one-to-one translation approach loses all validity in our field and the concept of formal equivalence must be understood from a much more flexible perspective than in other spheres of translation. If we reject the term ‘adaptation’, it is because it seems to have taken on a negative connotation, with some academics using it to take away ontological value from this professional practice which they see as inferior to translation. Gambier (1994: 278) also considers the use of this all-encompassing epigraph inappropriate, since the mention of adaptation implies, in his words, “to be under the spell of a quantitative, mathematical theory of information (information entropy) which considers cross-linguistic communication in terms of losses or additions and sees translation as a process of mimetically copying a literary word, a duty to repeat”. Nearly a decade later, Gambier (2003: 178–179) seems to somehow backtrack in his argument when he resorts to the term ‘transadaptation’. Although the concept is not clearly defined, it is used in an attempt to justify the hybrid nature characterizing all the different audiovisual translation types, and can be perceived as yet another effort to grant translation status, even if only partially, to our field. The term is probably better suited to give account of another professional practice, in the way Neves (2005: 151–154) defines it. She uses the term:
to refer to a subtitling solution that implies the translation of messages from different verbal and non-verbal acoustic codes into verbal and/or non-verbal visual codes; and the adaptation of such visual codes to the needs of people with hearing impairment so as to guarantee readability and thus greater accessibility (ibid.: 154).
We believe, however, that the battle has now been won with regard to the nature of these practices and translation is perceived by most scholars as a more flexible and inclusive term, capable of accommodating new realities rather than disregarding practices that do not fit into a corseted, outdated notion of a term coined many centuries ago, when the cinema, the television and the computer had not yet been invented.
Once we have accepted the tenet that we are indeed dealing with cases of translation, the following step is to find a generic term that can encompass all the different manifestations we find in the audiovisual realm. Although this may sound an easy task, the fact is that the terminology used is very hesitant and can be confusing. The adjectives ‘constrained’ and ‘subordinate’ were regularly used when referring to this type of translation in publications during the 1980s and early 1990s, but began soon to receive criticism for their somewhat negative connotations. It was then that the term ‘audiovisual translation’, abbreviated to AVT, appeared in academic circles. This coinage has the advantage of including the semiotic dimension, and has taken root to such an extent that today its use is quite frequent. However, despite its popularity, it is not the only term used and some scholars prefer other terms such as ‘film translation’ or ‘cinema translation’, but as the field of study spreads to other types of programmes – e.g. sitcoms, documentaries, cartoons, etc. – these concepts also become somewhat restricting. Other umbrella terms, all of them bringing in different nuances, are also in use. One that has caught on in English but not so much in other languages is ‘screen translation’, which strives to encompass all products distributed on screen, be it a television, movie or computer screen. This term opens the doors to the translation of other products that until now have failed to make it to a more stringent classification, such as computer games, web pages and CD-ROMs. Another designation that is gaining ground is ‘multimedia translation’, to refer to those products where the message is broadcast through multiple media and channels. This term blurs the boundaries even further and establishes a stronger link with the localization of software and the translation of programmes that are distributed on the Internet, as does the more recent ‘multidimensional translation’.
This fluctuation in terms is no more than a reflection of the changing times in which we live. Far from representing a barrier to communication, it could be interpreted as a clear sign of the desire of many academics to maintain an open and flexible approach to our object of study; one that can assimilate and acknowledge the new realities emerging in the translation world.
Fortunately enough, one of the terms, audiovisual translation (AVT), has been gaining ground in recent years and is fast becoming the standard referent. In its inception, AVT was used to encapsulate different translation practices used in the audiovisual media – cinema, television, VHS – in which there is a transfer from a source to a target langua...

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