Millions of people around the world watch films more so now because film translations have allowed them to enjoy foreign films in their own language. Foreign films are tools that spread the culture of one country, especially their food, behavior, events, celebrations or modes of dressing. Artistic license is expected but there will always be economic, cultural and artistic elements of a country that are mixed into the film.
Film is considered an art as well as an industry. It is an essential element for continental and national cultures' survival. Moreover, foreign films are said to be an important learning tool to know about other people, cultures, countries and so on.
Whatever type of film you see, it contains a bit of documentary because it is filled with information and images about the country where it came from. Through film translations (dubbing and subbing), it is able to reach a bigger audience and movie goers are able to see customs, cities, modes of dress and landscapes of places that they have not visited.
When a film is translated or dubbed, it becomes a bicultural product so you can see for example, an Italian actor speaking your language and using your own idioms and slang. The translated film now has an additional element. First, the images from the country of origin that cannot be replaced and a new language, which is going to be different, based on the country where the translated or dubbed film is going to be shown.
Strategies for film translations
Film translation is a very difficult and demanding task. The translator not only needs language training. Knowledge of the culture of the language pair is essential. This is the only way for the translator to properly convey the message and do the translation job properly. This is one of the reasons why cultural knowledge is vital in translation. It is more demanding in film and other audiovisual translation projects because the translation and the images should complement, instead of contradict, one another.
When watching a film, it is not often that the viewer understands the social and cultural connotations implied by the dialogue. Thus it is essential to have film translation strategies, to have standard equivalents. Some of the strategies include cultural adaptation to the target language, paraphrasing, direct translation or using loan words. Generally, the most used strategy is cultural adaptation, but in some cases, it can cause confusion.
One of the most important things to remember in foreign film translation is that the translator should fully understand the context of the movie. The translator must analyze how close the original culture is going to be to the target culture. He or she should also know how much knowledge the target audience has of the original culture depicted in the film.
Modes of film translations
Each country has a different way of translating films but you can consider at least two or three modes. Dubbing and subtitling are often used for film translation, while the third mode, voiceover is often employed for television shows.
The decision of which mode to use for film translation is not arbitrary. There are several factors to consider, like cost, the method that is more popular to the target audience, the traditions and historical circumstances. In some cases the position of the source and target cultures according to the international context has to be taken into consideration.
It is important to understand the difference between the two modes applied to film translation – dubbing and subtitling.
What is dubbing? In dubbing, the source text is modified so that it becomes familiar to the local audience. In this method, the foreign dialogue has to conform to the mouth and actor's movements. The objective is to make the moviegoers feel that the actors are actually speaking in the local language.
What is subtitling? In subtitling the dialogue is translated into the target language. The subtitles or captions have to be synchronized. They are positioned at the bottom of the screen. The target audience feels the ''foreignness'' of the film throughout the show.
Very few foreign films are imported by the English-speaking countries like the UK and the U.S. If there are foreign films to be shown, most of them have subtitles. The issue is not very significant in these two countries as they are both sources of many films exported to other countries.
The popular dubbing countries are Spain, Germany, Italy and France. Most of their films are dubbed. It stemmed from history, as the dubbing tradition started in the 1930s.
There are countries known for subtitling as well. These countries import a lot of foreign films, thus they require the services of translation companies often. These include Croatia, Portugal, Slovenia, Denmark, Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden. There are also several countries outside Europe that prefer subtitles as well. Did you know that in countries where majority of the people speak two languages, such as Belgium and Finland, they provide double subtitles?
On the other hand, Poland and Russia prefer voiceovers because they cannot afford to pay for subtitling services.
Social and economic impacts
Film translations have evolved throughout history, affecting people and the industry. It exerted so many effects of global societies in different ways. During the time of silent movies, there were only intertitles (title cards), so the titles can easily be translated and inserted into place faster.
But when the ''talkies'' appeared in the late 1920s, the American companies produced different versions of the films in different languages. But it was not profitable, because the versions that used different actors and directors did not have the same artistic quality as the original. Due to this, the companies produced dubbed versions instead. With the talkies the moviegoers are cognizant of the culture and nature of the film.
As the cost of film production went higher, smaller countries felt the crunch, so the films they produced cannot compete with the larger countries, reducing their production to domestic patronage, which resulted in film importations. It was also reflected in the mode of film translation. Film dubbing became regular for larger countries, while the smaller ones resorted to film subtitling.
1. Rise of American film companies
The film industry in the United States flourished during WWII, and Europe was flooded with new movies. Spain, Germany, Italy and France became protective of their own film industry. They imposed quotas on American film importation to protect their domestic companies. They also imposed special taxes, requiring film importers to invest their profits locally. Governments of Spain, Germany, Italy and France supported local production companies through loans and subsidies.
2. National pride
Although the larger countries were able to improve their film production industry, the smaller countries opted to import films from the United States and other European countries. The situations influenced the choice of dubbing or subtitling imported films.
France chose to dub imported films, which stemmed from different reasons. For one, the country felt that it has a cultural mission within the film industry, which is considered an art form. They wanted to keep their culture pure, keeping it from foreign influence. They think the French is successfully used in cultural and political centralization. French speakers still believe that French is a superior language and still enjoys a lingua franca status.
The same is true in Spain, Italy and Germany, where the countries' leaders believe that hearing their local language affirms its importance and boosts the sense of autonomy and national identity.
3. Economic reasons
In several smaller countries such as Portugal, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, they opted for film subtitling. Some of the reasons include:
- Lower cost of subtitling
- Dual languages spoken in a few countries
- The quantity of imported films
- Smaller popular, which limited ticket sales
4. Promotion of American way of life
At the turn of the 20th century, the United States was acknowledged as a world power. But while other nations resorted to conquering other countries, the United States approached its global reach differently, by employing economic and cultural similarity. It was still exploitative as they were able to run local economies via their multinational companies. The country promoted democracy and free market economy, which are cultural symbols of the U.S. The films they produced managed to spread the American values globally.
In this era of globalization, film translation takes place between cultures instead of between words. It is a cross-cultural transfer and the choice of film translation mode is now dependent on the target culture's attitude, mixed with some political factors. American productions are widely accepted in countries in Western Europe. Resistance to the habits and norms of Americans face resistance in Arabic countries. Bollywood films are widely patronized in its own country as well as in locales where anti-American attitudes face strong opposition.
Films are very powerful and influential tools in transferring information, ideas and values. They present different cultures verbally, aurally and visually through pictures, music and dialogue.
Film translation at its best
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