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Approaches in the Translation of Popular Films and TV Shows

Approaches in the Translation of Popular Films and TV Shows
on July, 15 2013

“May the Force be with you,” the defining line from the blockbuster Star Wars film franchise has two variations in the Navajo tongue. When translated back to English they read, “May you walk with great power,” or “May you have the power within you.” Five Navajo translators completed the translation of the Star Wars A New Hope script in 36 hours. For them, the most difficult aspect of the job was translating technical terms that have no equivalent in the Navajo tongue.

Star Wars: A New Hope in Navajo

Lucasfilm and the Navajo Nation Museum recently engaged in the gargantuan task of translating Episode IV: A New Hope. This very first Star Wars movie, released to the public in 1977, changed the way movies are made and perceived forever. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was translated to Diné bizaad, the Navajo native tongue in the most accurate means possible.

The persons behind the project thought it was a great move to resurrect the Navajo tongue. According to Manuelito Wheeler, Navajo Nation Museum director, this project is a means of preserving the Navajo language. Wheeler approached Lucasfilm, Ltd. with the idea after recognizing the entertainment and educational value of Star Wars. With Star Wars, a revival may be at hand. English has become popular among the younger members of the tribe and fewer people speak the Navajo tongue these days.

Literal translations

Not all translation of popular films and TV shows are as thorough or dedicated. “Psycho” the notorious Hitchcock horror classic was translated to “O homem que matou a própria mãe” in Portuguese or “The man who killed his own mother” which is very much in line with the plot, but not as foreboding as “Psycho.” Meanwhile, the Portuguese for the 1989 comedy “Weekend at Bernie's” is “Um morto muito louco,” or “A very crazy dead man,” which is also very accurate, but might not bide well with audience sensibilities.

Adapt and adjust

When translating popular television shows and movies, some translators choose to adjust and adapt the translation with regard to what is relevant to their own culture. Accuracy is sacrificed, and when the translation is translated back to English, it’s not the same anymore.

The popular television show “Meet the Robinsons” was translated to “La Familia de Futuro” in Spanish or the family from the future – not necessarily an exact translation. “The Flintstones” was translated into “Los Picapiedras” or “The Rock Breakers.” The TV drama, “ER” which was unparalleled in popularity in its heyday was translated into the rather redundant, “ER Emergencias.” The Soderbergh movie which eventually became a hugely successful trilogy, “Ocean’s Eleven” was translated to “La Gran Estafa,” or “The Grand Heist.”

21st century translation

So, what’s new with translation these days? Here’s something you might not have heard before. The latest addition to the Star Trek movie franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness” has inspired Bing, Microsoft’s search engine to feature Klingon, an artificial language invented for the Star Trek series, as an integral part of its automated translator tool. Trekkies and Trekkers who have not yet mastered the language can avail of not just one but two versions of Klingon – in Roman characters and in the Klingon alphabet as well.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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