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Should film dialog be translated literally?
Thread poster: RHELLER
United States
Local time: 18:43
French to English
+ ...
Mar 17, 2006

There is a very interesting discussion today

Films are translated in order to be viewed by international audiences. Usually, political/biographical/historical films try to portray their character's get inside their head. Often, filmmakers take sides and have definite points of view. That is their prerogative.

Portraying a character's thought processes is used to render the character 3-dimensional; otherwise, they might as well be anyone just spouting lines.

I am not sure there is a "right" or a "wrong". My opinion is that the translator is obligated to do the same; that is, get inside the character's head and not be literal.

In any case, there are many points of view on the topic. I am interested to hear what others think.

[Edited at 2006-03-17 16:21]

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Doron Greenspan MITI  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:43
Member (2005)
English to Hebrew
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Same as literary translations Mar 17, 2006

I don't see much difference between translating film and any literary translation (except perhaps for poems). The only difference is technical, due to the limit on the length of lines.

So obviously I support your view that film dialogues should be treated with as much care as literary ones with regard to hidden meanings, aliterations and other literary 'tools', in order to provide a realistic portrayal of characters.


[Edited at 2006-03-17 18:03]

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Claudia Boday  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:43
Hungarian to Italian
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Not literally at all! Mar 17, 2006

Rita Heller wrote:

There is a very interesting discussion today

Films are translated in order to be viewed by international audiences.

You got the point!
Film translation is a particular form of audiovisual transadaptation, which has nothing to do with literally translation. (Anyway, this is true for practically every field of translation). It is an art of adapting audiovisual material to a specific cultural and linguistic context. Most of all, in the case of political/social documentaries which have plenty of cultural references.
I wrote my final dissertation on the Italian transadaptation of Fahrenheit 9/11. : ) Therefore, I had the opportunity to see how often it was necessary to change, re-create and shape the original dialogues in order to send 'the message' to the Italian public.

While doing researches for my thesis, I found some extremely interesting articles on, for example, the transadaptation of the famous cartoon 'The Simpson'. It is really challanging to translate this American 'social' cartoon into any other language..

I cut it because I may go on for hours on this topic! ; )


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:43
French to English
Impact is all Mar 17, 2006

Surely the objective of translation is to reproduce the impact, in the widest sense, of a text?

In the case of a mundane technical translation, say, that impact can be reduced to the transmission of information such that the reader in the target language obtains the same info (no more & no less) than a source-language reader.

As we move further up the emotional scale, to, say, a newspaper article with a point to make, then both the raw info and the impact of that info on the reader are important (empathy, agreement, outrage, whatever).

And I guess perhaps the ultimate test is that of poetry where the emotional impact is key and the "raw data" of secondary importance.

So, in a film, I would say that the aim is to achieve the same impact on the 'foreign' viewer as for a 'native viewer'. With a fictional film, this may involve changing cultural references and so on.

In the case in point, we're talking about a political documentary, and what people actually said and did, however. The translator of such a film should reproduce the film-maker's approach and attitude in order to reproduce the effect on the audience, i.e. the translator has some lattitude with the subjective elements of the film in order to re-create the impact. When it comes to the objective aspects, i.e. the bald facts of what someone actually said, there is, IMO, no such lattitude - the translator should translate the facts, no more, no less.

Hence, with the case in point, if the dialogue in question is a *fictionalised* version of what occured, it is therefore subjective and some freedom for the translator is permitted in order to reproduce the impact (and this is of course the case with fiction in general).
If the dialogue in question is a direct quotation and a matter of historical fact, it is objective and should not be altered one iota. One should not translate what he meant, but what he said. Indeed, in such a documentary, one could argue that the whole point is to reproduce in the viewer's head (or in the viewer's family or circle of friends or whatever) the self same discussion as in the kudoz question linked to - does he mean he was denied the opportunity? does he mean he tried but no-one listened? did he not even try at all? As translators, we should not be answering those questions by interpreting the "dialogue" when it comes to direct quotations.

[Edited at 2006-03-17 17:51]

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day for night  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:43
French to English
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text ot subtitles? Mar 18, 2006

Within audiovisual translation alone there are differing approaches and therefore the nature of the text to translate will determine how the translator should engage with the material. For example, translating a script will follow the style, content and detail envisaged by the scriptwriter/ director. However, if you are translating for subtitles, there are many other considerations, most importantly reading speed and how to convey the essence of what is spoken, retaining cultural references and nuances as well as style. Different kinds of programme material will necessitate adapting to different methods and styles eg. documentary, film, television - what kind of programme are we dealing with?

As with other areas of translations, it is important to get inside the author's mind as well as asking the question: who is the expected reader? The challenge of audiovisual translation is primarily concerned with rendering spoken language into text, making this material accessible to wider audiences. Therefore, I would definitely say that film dialogue must be treated quite differently from other textual material as we are equally concerned with visuals and not just dialogue alone.

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Local time: 03:43
English to Arabic
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literature approach... Mar 19, 2006

I do believe that translators, in this regards, have to adopt literature translation approach to convey the meaning correctly. Literary translation will not convey actors’ gestures, double meaning, tone, emotions…etc. In a nut shell, I see that translators must have free hand with this, without impacting the overall concatenation of plot.

Kind regards
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