This article is going to address one of the encountered problems in subtitling a short clip from the American movie: Scream. It is the first five minutes of the 1996 well-received Scream movie. Based on the movie lifetime gross, it ranked the highest among other horror and slasher movies since 1978 until now (Box Office Mojo). Such a movie was the lead of a series whose last installment, Scream 4, was released on 2011 (AFI Catalog). The beginning of the movie is condensed and full of many thrilling and loaded expressions. Translation of this movie or its genre in general— which is characterized with violence, mystery, cultural references, swear words and sometimes movies intertextuality— imposes further challenges on the subtitler. Introducing such a genre to audience with a different background, a quite number of problems is arisen. Some of them relate to the technical aspects of subtitling such as keeping the semantic unit with segmentation in a way that does not abort the suspense or thrilling factor. On the other hand, the content of the genre itself has too many issues that need a thoughtful addressing. According to the characteristics of such a genre, most of the issues are relevant to culture. The challenge of cultural references takes further dimensions in terms of film intertextualities, using swearing words, cultural bound activities or concepts, and idiomatic expressions. This article will briefly discuss the problem of subtitling Scream idiomatic expressions into Arabic with a special focus on the first five minutes.
Combining between linguistic and cultural factors, translation of idiomatic expressions is one of the most interesting and challenging fields. Idioms cannot be discussed apart from the cultural dimension because they are the output of “the common intellectual in the society, which are influenced by politics, economy, literary , religion art and so on, and then they influence those things the other way round” (Ren and Yu). Hence, translating idioms usually addresses the pragmatics and culture beyond the text itself. Moreover, it gives a chance for the translator/subtitler to go deeper into their native language exhausting the means to find the best equivalent in terms of language and culture. Interlingual subtitling of idioms adds extra pressure of time limitations and selection of translation that serves the same purpose for the intended recipients. This is further highlighted if the cultures are massively different.
Challenges of idioms start from the technical study of idiom itself in terms of definition, characteristics and types. There are many definitions for the word idiom. Having no space to cover all definitions, this paper selects one of them. According to Oxford English Dictionary, idiom is defined as, “a form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase, etc., used in a distinctive way in a particular language, dialect, or language variety; spec. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from the meanings of the individual words” (“Idiom, N.”). In other words, idioms are “lexical units that act as single semantic units” (Abu-Ssaydeh 116).
Idioms have some characteristics that it is unacceptable to add, delete, or replace some of idiom words, or to change either their word order or grammatical structure (Baker 67). After analyzing different classification of idioms in various resources, Ghazala concluded that idioms can be divided into five main types: “1- full/ pure idioms; 2- semi-idioms; 3- proverbs, popular sayings, and semi-proverbial expressions; 4- phrasal verbs; and 5- metaphorical catchphrases and popular expressions” (Ghazala 208). On the other hand, Zitawi categorizes idioms into two main types: transparent and opaque idioms (Zitawi 242). Accordingly, the difficulty to render an idiom into a target language varies according to its type.
Translation of idioms involves many difficulties that starts with identifying the idiom in the text whether it is a written or audiovisual text. The first difficulty to be encountered by the translator is to recognize that they are dealing with an idiomatic expression (Baker 69). Some of idioms’ major difficulties include: having no equivalent in the target language; having equivalent but with different connotations that its use of context is different; using of the source text idiom at the literal and idiomatic senses at the same time while the target text gives only one of them; and having differences in usages (Baker 71–76). The last difficulty of different usages of English and Arabic idioms was forwarded by (Al-Wahy) who writes an article on “Idiomatic False Friends in English and Modern Standard Arabic” being a double difficult to address. He reaches that “most English and MSA IFFs are partial false friends” (Al-Wahy 120). Hence, this requires a careful approach to the seemingly equivalent English Arabic idioms. Hence, there should be methodologies to be taken into account to encounter such difficulties.
Researchers propose some methodologies and strategies to face the challenges of idiomatic expressions. Baker’s strategies are either to use an idiom of similar meaning and form, an idiom of similar meaning but dissimilar form, borrow source language idiom, paraphrase, omission of a play on idiom, or omission of the entire idiom (76–86). Zitwai proposes some similar strategies. However, she terms Baker’s second option as dynamic translation where idiom’s original meaning is translated into natural and accurate form preserving the meaning (244). However, Zitawy adds the strategy of naturalization/ localization, addition and word-for-word translation (245, 247-248). Presenting some common strategies used in subtitling culture-bound terms, Díaz-Cintas and Remael add to the previous strategies explicitation through using hyponyms and lexical recreation through inventing a neologism in the TT (200–207). This could be applied to idioms, being a culture-bound term, as well.
There are many idiomatic expressions throughout the Scream movie in question. The subtitled clip has some idiomatic expressions that call for various strategies to solve such a difficulty. The adopted theoretical framework in my subtitling is to maintain the functional communication of the TT for the target audience. In addition, the process is made while bearing in mind the Skopostheorie that “regards translation as a purposeful activity intended to mediate between members of different culture communities” (Nord n.p.). Having no TT equivalents of the same meaning and form for the ST idiomatic expressions in the movie, it becomes necessary to find other means to communicate the message effectively. Consequently, the subtitled translation follows some of the aforementioned strategies in dealing with the idiomatic expressions. In the following, four of the used strategies will be highlighted along with explanation for the reasons behind choosing each of them.
One of the oft-adopted strategies to translate idioms in the clip is to use idioms in TT with a similar meaning but a different form. “Shaking in my boots” means to tremble (“Quake in One’s Boots”). The used translation is “ارتعدت فرائصي” (irta‘adat fraa’isi literally: my flesh or muscles beneath shoulder blade got quivered, metaphorically, violent fear seized me) (Ibn Manzur 64). The used Arabic idiom has common meanings of trembling and shivering. There is no need to highlight that the speaker ironically said such an idiom because the context clearly tells.
Another example for using an Arabic idiom giving the meaning apart from the form of the English idiom is “in the middle of nowhere.” Such an idiom has some meanings and the used sense here is “a remote or unknown place” (“Nowhere”). Literal translation will be meaningless. Consequently, translation goes for the closest Arabic idiom translating it as “منطقة مقطوعة” (mantiqa maqtoo‘ah: literally a cut off area, metaphorically: remote place).
In one idiomatic expression, the strategy of addition strategy is used. Based on Skopostheorie where the “function is seen from the perspective of the receiver” (Nord), there was a need to add one more word for the idiomatic expression “don’t hang up on me” to align with the Arabic idiom. The translation is “لا تغلقين في وجهي” (laa tughliqen fe wajhi don’t hang up on my face). The word “face” is added in order to keep the TT functionally communicative through the closest Arabic idiomatic expression.
Paraphrasing or explaining the meaning of the idiom is a safe resort in certain cases. Such a strategy is a means of escape if the idiom is culture-bound or has some words of swearing or sexual references that may offend the target audience. Culturally speaking, such words are not acceptable to be displayed, in the Arab world, either due to a religious patronage that prohibits obscenity, taboos, or the meaninglessness of the literal translation. “Kick the shit out of you” which means, “to hit or attack them severely” (“Shit And Shite”) is a good example for the three aforementioned reasons. It is translated as “يوسعك ضربًا” (yusi‘uka dharban beat you up).
In other cases, it is resorted to explicitation because there is no Arabic idiom that concisely or culturally gives the meaning. There might be Arabic idioms that communicate the message but in other contexts or beyond character limitations of subtitling. For example, in 00:34:51 Dewy says, “They sell this costume at every five-and-dime in the state.” Five-and dime is a culture-bound idiomatic expression that refers to stores that sell items at the price of five or ten cents (“Five-and-Dime Stores”). “At every five-and-dime” here indicates that such a costume is very common so that it is hard to trace back the buyer. If I were to subtitle this part, I would have translated it as “في جميع المتاجر” (fee jamee‘ al-mataajirin all stores). This would serve the purpose and communicate the intended message. Providing an explanation for such stores is beyond the spacial limitation of subtitle number of characters. There are some similar stores in the Arab world; however, they might not be famous in all areas. In addition, the domestication in this example will be inconvenient for the audience that it is impossible to have the Arabic equivalent names in non-Arab countries. The domestication option would be useful in case of dubbing.
The issue of idioms is one of the critical areas in translation that relates to linguistics and culture. A translator should be aware of the ST and TT usages and nuances to choose the best option. Idioms in subtitling may call for studying the option of using colloquial Arabic. Some Arab countries colloquially use some idioms that are imported from English idioms. However, this would cause another problem of localizing the output to a certain dialect excluding other sections of the audience. This may be a motive for subtitlers to collect the common colloquial pan-Arab idioms that equal some English idioms.
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Al-Wahy, Ahmed Seddik. “Idiomatic False Friends in English and Modern Standard Arabic.” Babel 55.2 (2009): 101–123. EBSCOhost. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
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Box Office Mojo. “Horror - Slasher Movies at the Box Office.” n. pag. Box Office Mojo. Web. 4 Dec. 2014.
Díaz-Cintas, Jorge, and Aline Remael. Audiovisual Translation: Subtitling. Manchester, UK : St. Jerome Pub, 2007. Print. Translation Practices Explained 11.
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Chi, and Hao Yu. "Translation of English Idioms from the Perspective of Cultural Context." Cross - Cultural Communication 9.5 (2013): 78-81. ProQuest. Web. 3 Dec. 2014.
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Written on: 14th December, 2014
Updated on: 06th October, 2015