How do you translate swear words? Does it depend on the culture?
Thread poster: Warren EDWARDES

Warren EDWARDES
United Kingdom
Spanish to English
May 10, 2012

How do you translate swear words?

Depending on the respective cultures do you ramp them up or down? Or keep them at the same intensity?

I would for instance tone down Spanish swear words into English and not use the English equivalent. But is it done the other way round? i

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2012-05-10 17:49 GMT]


 

TRA 2  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:24
Member (2014)
English to Italian
+ ...
It depends on different things... May 11, 2012

Hello Wedwardes,

I think it depends not only on the cultures (e.g. how much the target culture can tolerate or understand of the source culture), but also on the purpose of your translation, on the text type (text conventions) and the different readership, as well.

As a translator, you need to decide if you wish to recreate the same effect on the target readership and therefore you may want to adjust the "intensity" of the swear words accordingly.

Or if you want to be loyal to the original culture you might want to keep the equivalent swear words. I think that if you choose the second option you should make sure that the target readership is aware of the cultural differences.

For example, if you decide to use the equivalent word in English but you think that it is too "strong" for an English readership, then you could mention something about the different connotation that the word has in Spanish. You could add a note explaining that in Spain it is a common expression and it is not perceived in the same negative way as it is in English. (Don't know, just giving you an example!icon_smile.gif ) Your decision will also depend on the text type, because sometimes you can add a footnote and explain translation decisions, but most of the times you can't!

This second option will also offer you the chance to highlight the fact that in some cultures swearing is more tolerated and acceptable while in others it is seen as a more negative thing or as a taboo even!

Whenever it is possible, I like to "educate" the target readership about cultural differences. In my opinion, translations should also make the readers "understand" and "learn" about other cultures. Sometimes we want to protect the readership from "uncomfortable" elements but what we are actually doing is practising a sort of censorship.

Sorry for the length but I hope it was helpfulicon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2012-05-11 16:08 GMT]


 

Warren EDWARDES
United Kingdom
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
A film May 12, 2012

Thanks TRA 2. Very helpul reply. I am doing film subtitles. A Spanish film into English.

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 01:24
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Not necessarily literally May 14, 2012

From the translation point of view, i.e. technically, swear words are a bit like greetings and the polite expressions (talking about the weather, people's health etc.). Just at the opposite end of the scale. icon_smile.gif

They need not be translated literally, and it is more important to use an expression that works in the situation, i.e. the sort of expression the person would actually use.

If a workman dropped a hammer on his foot, his comments might be quite strong in any language, but a Spanish builder might swear in a different category from an English one.
(Blasphemy, calling down ancient gods or evil spirits, calling down plagues and disasters on enemies, corrupted or euphemised versions of any of these, lavatorial or sexual references...) Catholics might appeal to the Virgin and saints, while protestants and many English speakers would probably not...

The younger generation in Denmark actually uses English four-letter words, but very often it would NOT be appropriate simply to repeat them in English - as parties of schoolchildren have sometimes discovered on visits to the UK! The same words have a very different impact on English and Danish audiences.

A slightly earlier trend was to use lavatory expressions, and earlier still, references to the almighty or to diseases were more common. The pox sounds archaic in English, but is still used over here.

I have to admit my knowledge of the area is somewhat academic (largely from the Danish Language Council's articles.)
In my family swearing was very much frowned on, and likewise among my in-laws!

In practice I would NOT worry about educating most target readers - it would seem out of place, and there is no time to read explanations in the middle of a film.

"Simply" find an expletive in the target language that might be used in the context you are translating.


[Edited at 2012-05-14 13:50 GMT]


 

Warren EDWARDES
United Kingdom
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Think I'll tone down the Spanish May 14, 2012

Christine thanks for your detailed reply.

Funnily I never ever swear in English. But do in Spanish from time to time. It is easier and perhaps "cooler" to get into the (nasty) habit of swearing in a foreign language as Danish schoolchildren you say find.


 

Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 00:24
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Hi, May 14, 2012

I happen to translate a very angry letter full of swear words not so long ago. I simply used the analogues of the target languages, with the same intensity and ugliness. I have to admit I was glad it to be a written translation, for my cheeks and ears went beet-red. In the cover letter, I apologized for the wording and explained that the original was just what it was. And in this case, it was important to keep the intensity as close as possible to the original, for the author's mindset was questionned. Thanks to that work, I found a site with an extensive list of swear meanings and synonyms - helped a lot !icon_smile.gif:)

 

TRA 2  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:24
Member (2014)
English to Italian
+ ...
Find idiomatic equivalent May 14, 2012

Now that I know more about what you are translating, I agree with Christine. Subtitling is a complete different story! You have so many costraints to take into consideration that it would be impossible to explain your choices.

Regarding Wedwardes swearing mostly in Spanish, I read an article which can explain partially why. Please, read it if you have time. Here below, I copied an extract from the article.

"Bilingual people typically respond less emotionally to words in their second language. For example, swear words in a foreign tongue don't usually feel as shocking; likewise, some research has found that people are more comfortable talking about embarrassing topics in a second language".

source: http://www.livescience.com/20172-brain-represses-negative-emotions.html


I find this topic very interesting!icon_smile.gif


 

Warren EDWARDES
United Kingdom
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Link please May 15, 2012

Inga: Can you please post up that linkicon_wink.gif Purely for educational purposes of course.

Thanks TRA for the link and quote. So true.

I remember seeing a Spanish film with subtitles in English and the translator knocked down the intensity of the Spanish swear words quite a bit. made me smile.

[Edited at 2012-05-15 18:55 GMT]


 

Attila Kosik  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 01:24
English to Hungarian
+ ...
In a film, stick to the original May 15, 2012

I think that with subtitling you have a dual task: making the original understandable for the target culture, but conveying the meaning of the original to the fullest possible.

As I see it (although I have some experience only with one of them), Spanish and British are two very different cultures so the tone and the use of curses are very different.

I would simply put the Spanish swears into understandable English and stick to the original intensity. After all, the creators of the film had a certain purpose with using the wording the way they did.

Just my two cents.

Good luck with the subtitling - that's one of the hardest works I can imagine for a translator.

A.


 

Warren EDWARDES
United Kingdom
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks May 15, 2012

Thanks Cossyc. Perhaps it is best to sticky with the original intensity as bilingual viewers will spot the intensity change and complain in facebook etc.

best

Warren

[Edited at 2012-05-15 23:44 GMT]


 

eva maria bettin
Local time: 01:24
German to Italian
+ ...
who knows? May 16, 2012

it will not help you- but it's what happened to me- I lived for 4 years in Tunisia- spoke, read and wrote as much Arab as necessary.
Then I turned to live in Rome. Mothertongue German- using as well Engl and Fr- and naturally It. But I forgot all my Arab- cant'even read what I wrote years ago
One day- parking (trying to) in front of the main railway station- a guy pretended the "fee" - and I started swearing- like hell- in Arab. He looked like an Arab- and was- and never again I had to pay to park my car there..
I prefer the hard boiled way... in translation.
Ex: halt's Maul" in my dialect- means just- be quiet. In Hamburg it was a great offence.
Eva


 

Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 01:24
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
pardon? May 16, 2012

TRA 2 wrote:
For example, if you decide to use the equivalent word in English but you think that it is too "strong" for an English readership, then you could mention something about the different connotation that the word has in Spanish.


[Edited at 2012-05-11 16:08 GMT]


If you use the "equivalent word in English", how can it possibly be "too strong" for English readers?

Either it's the "equivalent" or it isn't.*

Think.

(* Unless, of course, you believe "equivalent" = "literal". I should hope not, for your sake)


 

TRA 2  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 01:24
Member (2014)
English to Italian
+ ...
Thanks for highlighting my mistake May 16, 2012

Andy Watkinson wrote:

TRA 2 wrote:
For example, if you decide to use the equivalent word in English but you think that it is too "strong" for an English readership, then you could mention something about the different connotation that the word has in Spanish.


[Edited at 2012-05-11 16:08 GMT]


If you use the "equivalent word in English", how can it possibly be "too strong" for English readers?

Either it's the "equivalent" or it isn't.*

Think.

(* Unless, of course, you believe "equivalent" = "literal". I should hope not, for your sake)


Thank you Andy for your point. You are right to highlight my mistake.

I meant "strict, literal equivalent". I was thinking about my language combination. There are swear words in EN that have "literal equivalent" in IT, but different connotation. In other words, literal equivalent with different idiomatic meaning.

Surely, "equivalent" and "literal" are not synonyms though.


 


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