Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies The Film and the Book



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2. Audiovisual Translation


“Audiovisual translation refers to the translation of products in which the verbal dimension is supplemented by elements in other media” (Diaz-Cintas, http://www.literarytranslation.com/workshops/almodovar).

Diaz-Cintas suggests three possibilities: 1) the message is conveyed only auditorily as, for example, in songs and radio programmes, or 2) the only channel used is the visual one: comic strips, published advertisements, etc. or 3) both auditory and visual channels convey the message as in products such as films, CD-ROMs or documentaries. Because of the mix of different communication systems such as images, sound (music, noise) and the verbal component (oral production, written text), the translation of audiovisual materials is characterised by particular limitations. These make audiovisual translation very different from literary translation.



2. 2. Subdivision of audiovisual translation


Serban devides audiovisual translation into two groups: intralingual and interlingual.

1) Intralingual Audiovisual Translation

In this kind of translation the source language is the same as the target language. There are three main types of intralingual audiovisual translation: subtitling for the hearing impaired, audio description for the blind, live subtitling and surtitling for the opera and theatre.




2) Interlingual audiovisual translation

Television programmes and films are translated to foreign languages. The interlingual translation can be either visual which is known as subtitling, or aural, in which case the whole soundtrack is replaced (Luyken, 11).




2. 3. Intralingual Audiovisual Translation

2. 3. 1. Subtitling for the hard-of-hearing and the deaf


As stated by Ivarsson and Carroll, subtitles for the hard-of-hearing and the deaf are intended especially for people with hearing problems although other people can benefit from them as well. They are prepared specifically for this target group and are transmitted via teletext (129 – 133).

Ivarsson and Carroll also maintain that the subtitles for the hearing impaired differ from translated subtitles mainly in that they adhere to slightly different norms for reading speed and syntax and include additional information (e.g. indication of who is saying what, usually by assigning a special colour of subtitles to each of the main characters).



2. 3. 2. Audio description for the blind


Ivarsson and Carroll also speak about audio description for the blind. This kind of translation is an additional narrative that fits between the original dialogue and describes everything that is seen in the film or on the stage. It includes descriptions of e.g. actions, facial expressions, clothing and scenery and helps the blind to understand the plot of the story. As far as TV, video and DVD are concerned, the description has to be carefully balanced with the original soundtrack. As for the theatre, there are usually several people working as describers, as the task would be too demanding for one person.

2. 3. 3. Live Subtitling (e.g. news broadcasts)


Live subtitling might be sometimes used during news broadcasts. The main problem is that as writing at the same speed as normal speech is practically impossible with a standard keyboard, even with highly developed abbreviation programmes, special “chord keyboards” have to be used. These allow the typist to press two or more keys at the same time, i.e. to write syllables and even whole words instead of single letters. Together with special programmes, which are capable of correcting errors, it is possible to obtain the subtitles in a reasonable time limit (Ivarsson and Carroll, 133).

2. 3. 4. Surtitling for the opera and the theatre


Ivarsson and Carroll also deal with surtitles or supertitles. These are often used during musical performances, especially the opera. In general, they are the translated or transcribed lyrics projected above the scene. They may be used either to translate the meaning of the lyrics to the audience’s language, or to transcribe lyrics that may be difficult to understand in the sung form. They are usually displayed using a supertitling machine.

Surtitling for theatre follows the same principles as subtitling for television. The only exception is the speed of the surtitles. As the audience have to move their gaze a great distance from the actors to the display above the stage, the surtitles have to be even slower than subtitles in a film (Ivarsson and Carroll, 19 – 20).



2.4. Interlingual audiovisual translation


The aim of interlingual translation is to make the audiovisual production (films, TV programmes etc.) comprehensible for audiences who cannot understand the language in which it was made, and thus improve the possibility of exporting it abroad.

Interlingual translation, designated for all cinema, television or video, can be divided into two groups: 1) revoicing, which consists of lip-sync dubbing, voice-overs and narration and 2) subtitling.

Luyken describes revoicing as “the replacement of a programme’s voice track by a version, either of the same or new dialogue, translated into another language or dialect. The visual appearance of the programme remains unaltered from the original, but is usually edited so as to accommodate optimum lip-synchronisation” (39). Subtitles are described by the same author as “mostly condensed translations of original dialogue (or on-screen text) which appear as lines of text usually positioned towards the foot of the screen. The subtitles appear and disappear in time with the corresponding portion of original dialogue or text. Some subtitles are ‘reduced’ or they can be bilingual” (39).

Although these two types of production of audiovisual translation are obviously very different, they have one major feature in common: they interfuse linguistics, science, technology, art and aesthetics. All these have to be mixed harmoniously enough so as the final result (subtitles or dubbing) is comprehensible and comfortable as much as possible for the viewer. Any inconvenience can annoy the audience and thus negatively affect the final perception of the whole audiovisual product by the target language viewers.



2. 4. 1 Interlingual Audiovisual Translation in the Past

2.4.1.1. Early History


Although all the production in the early years of film industry was silent, there was, according to Ivarsson and Carroll, very strong intention to convey to the viewers the dialogue, which is spoken by actors on the screen. This was solved by intertitles – a predecessor of today’s subtitles. The intertitles were short texts written on a paper and inserted between sequences of a film. Later on they started to be called subtitles. Translating such a dialogue was very easy. Intertitles or subtitles in the original language were removed and after the translation they were placed again into the film. But there existed even easier ways. Sometimes a speaker translated the text simultaneously in the cinema during projection (9).

But after the invention of sound film in late 1920s, a new serious problem appeared as far as translation of the dialogue is concerned. According to Kautský, the first way of dealing with this problem was multilingual filming. This means that one film was shot several times, successively in English, German, Italian and French. The scenario of such a film was translated into these languages and every scene had to be shot four times on the same set. When English actors have finished, Kautský claims, they were replaced by Germans, who were then replaced by Italians etc. But it is obvious that this way of film internationalisation had to be abandoned very soon. Not only was it extremely expensive, but it was also very time-consuming (the shooting itself as well as the journey of European actors to the United States). Furthermore, people who did not speak any of these four languages did not understand the film anyway. That is why new ways of film translation had to be found.


2.4.1.2. History of Subtitling


Subtitles directly followed intertitles. As maintained by Ivarsson, the main difference was that they were not inserted between film sequences, but directly into the picture. The process was rather complicated and the results were very poor. Scientists in several European countries (mainly Hungary, France and Scandinavian countries) tried to improve the way of inserting subtitles on the distribution copies of the film. Success came in 1933 when chemical subtitling was invented in Hungary and Sweden (although the first subtitled film ever was shown in Copenhagen as early as 1929). Other techniques of transferring the translated subtitles to film followed (mechanical and thermal, photochemical, optical, laser) (7).

Ivarsson also claims that an important landmark in the history of subtitling was its emergence on TV. When television broadcasting started to operate, it was only a matter of time when foreign cinema films would be shown in this new medium. That moment came in August 1938 when Arthur Robinson’s Der Student von Prag was presented on BBC. However, the showing itself was rather disappointing. It was found immediately, that subtitles made for the cinema are not convenient enough for television. As the picture on a TV set has a narrower contrast range than that on a cinema screen, the subtitles were almost illegible. Furthermore, the ability of the audience to read subtitles on a TV screen is much slower than on a cinema screen. It thus started to be necessary to produce subtitles for TV, different from those designated for the cinema (7 – 8).

Later stages of sutbtitling history are described by Ivarsson and Carroll. As for the making of subtitles, it was done by several people in separate work processes. The spotting was done by a technician who usually had no knowledge of the source language. He just marked the in times and out times of every utterance into a dialogue list. Afterwards, these times were converted to a specific number of characters. The translator then had to fit his translation into this number of characters, usually without ever having seen the film. Finally, another technician had the job of typing the subtitles onto the type plates or later on, onto the computer disks from which they were transferred to the film. The final result was very often full of errors. A turning point came in the 1980s. Advances in computer technology and new subtitling programmes allowed translators to carry out the whole process of subtitling (timing, translation and revision) on their own. They had the film on a videocassette and thus only needed a video recorder connected to their personal computer. Even that is now history, as films are now stored on DVDs which can be inserted directly into the computer.

2.4.1.3. History of Dubbing


The history of dubbing is treated in detail by Kautský. His findings can be summarized as follows.

The evolution of dubbing is different from the one of subtitling in that it varies from one country to another. Its origins are in the United States, but it has been used mainly in Europe, where it first appeared in 1936.

Kautský claims that first attempts at dubbing date back to the 1930s. The quality was very poor and it was rejected. At the beginning, it was usually one person (often the translator himself) who dubbed all the characters of a film. A typical example of such a dubbing is H.C. Raymakery’s “Na stopě”, which was translated, spoken, edited and mixed by one person. This was also the first film ever dubbed in Czechoslovakia (1933). Later, several people started to perform postsynchronisation. But the quality did not improve much. The dialogues sounded unnatural, the text was badly synchronised, the performance of the actors was usually rather poor and as a whole it was acoustically very badly done. All these facts were very irritating for the spectators. But there was another problem, which contributed to the unpopularity of early dubbing in Czechoslovakia: the audience simply could not get used to the fact that people in the United States or France speak Czech instead of English or French. This was, according to Kautský, considered very funny and uncomfortable.

As stated by Kautský, the evolution of dubbing was strongly contributed to by television. It was decided that all films in Czechoslovak television would be dubbed. The main reason was the supposition that viewers should feel as much at ease in front of the TV as possible. If the films were subtitled, they would have to concentrate much more than when they are dubbed. Another reason was the unsuitability of cinema subtitles for television.

In the early days of TV dubbing, as claimed by Kautský, only a few actors were involved. They simply read the subtitles at the same time when the subtitles were shown on the screen. One actor dubbed several film characters. Later on, an unsubtitled version of the film was broadcasted, but the performance of the dubbers was not much better.

The next evolution stage of dubbing was “live dubbing”. In this process the dialogue was translated specifically for this purpose and the number of dubbing actors was the same as the number of characters in the film. But the main inconvenience was the fact that it was broadcasted live, which means that actors were performing only once without any possibility of correction or change. They successively took their turns on one chair using one pair of earphones. All the noise they made (such as coughing, moving the chair, putting the earphones on and off, steps) was heard in the dubbing. The quality of the final product was obviously very low. It was only in 1964 when loop dubbing started. Its quality increased progressively and Czech dubbing soon became one of the best in Europe. In the loop system the whole film is divided into several parts or loops, all actors are present and dub the whole loop so many times until the director is satisfied. This method ensures high quality of the dubbing, but is very time-consuming.

As stated by Bajerová, Škovrová and Tomíček, full opening of the market for foreign films, the possibility of watching films on video and new TV channels in the 1990s caused a sudden rise in the demand for dubbing. New dubbing studios appeared, especially in Prague. As everything had to be done as fast as possible, the quality of dubbing has dropped. This situation seems to be improving in the last few years as only the best of these studios have survived and as the expertise of people doing this job has improved (http://www.dabing.info/historie.html).

Besides, a new method appeared in the 1990s. It was the unilinear dubbing – there is always only one actor present in the studio who dubs his character continuously from the beginning to the end of the film. If the director is dissatisfied, they only have to redo only the particular part in which they made a mistake. As the unilinear dubbing is faster and cheaper than the loop dubbing, it is now preferred by an overwhelming majority of dubbing studios (Bajerová, Škvorová, Tomíček, http://www.dabing.info/historie.html).


2. 4. 2. Interlingual Audiovisual Translation at Present




2. 4. 2. 1. Situation in Europe


Luyken divides European countries into several groups according to their attitude towards translating audiovisual production. There are 1) dubbing countries, 2) subtitling countries 3) countries using both subtitling and dubbing, and 4) countries using other types of audiovisual translation (mainly voice-over) (31 – 39).


  1. Dubbing countries are those that use lip-synchronisation both at cinema and television. They are Germany (together with Austria), France, Italy and Spain. Only in such countries the market is large enough so that the expensive production of dubbing can be profitable. Spain can be here considered as an exception, Luyken claims, since the main reason why dubbing started to be used in this country was a big proportion of illiterate population.

  2. Subtitling countries are, on the other hand, those which subtitle everything, being it for the cinema or television. They are small Western European countries where foreign-language programme has a high share of total programme output and where the market is not big enough to sustain dubbing. Typical examples of such countries are the Netherlands, Portugal or Scandinavian countries. The only case in which subtitling countries use dubbing are films and TV programmes for children who are not able to read the subtitles.

  3. The third group is formed by Central European countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary) using both subtitling and dubbing, the former for cinema, the latter for television broadcast. Sometimes subtitled programmes appear on TV as well, especially those meant for particular viewers.

  4. The fourth group is the one of rather poor Central and Eastern European countries using voice-over. Especially Poland is well-known for this practice, but there are others (e.g. Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia).

2. 4. 2. 2. Subtitling vs. Dubbing


Both these main techniques of audiovisual translation have their pros and cons and it is important to stress that neither of them is better than the other in a general way. Advocates of subtitling point out that it is much cheaper than dubbing, it keeps the original dialogue and that the viewer can hear the original actor’s voice (unlike dubbing where it is lost). Another important reason is the fact that films with subtitles promote learning of foreign languages as the audience can hear the foreign language and at the same time reads the translation. According to many, this might contribute to the fact that the majority of inhabitants of the dubbing countries are much worse at learning foreign languages (English in particular) than inhabitants of the subtitling countries.

But, on the other hand, subtitling also has substantial disadvantages. Not only is the reduction of original information much higher than in the case of dubbing, but subtitles also distract the viewers, which means that the audience has to perceive the written text together with the image and that can be very inconvenient. Furthermore, the viewer cannot follow the story whenever he is distracted from watching. These are only some pros and cons of subtitling and dubbing. As far as voice-over is concerned, there is only one advantage: low cost. This technique thus cannot be considered as equipollent to the ones of subtitling and dubbing.

As it is impossible to state which of these practices (subtitling and dubbing) is better, it seems that there are two things that influence the decision whether a certain programme will be subtitled or dubbed: 1) economic reasons and 2) audience expectations and wishes (Diaz-Cintas, http://www.literarytranslation.com/workshops/almodovar/).

2. 4. 2. 3. Costs of Various Audiovisual Translation Types


According to Luyken, the costs can be divided into two groups: investment costs for equipment (capital costs) and labour costs influenced by time (operational costs) (90).

He states that the average cost of one hour of television programme subtitling in Europe (in 1991) is € 740. Lip-synch dubbing of the same one hour costs on average € 11,000 and voice-over for the same period of time can be produced for about € 1,100. But it is important to stress that these are only average amounts as they vary significantly from one country to another (from € 275 to € 1,957 for subtitling and from € 3,460 to € 24,000 for dubbing) (90 – 108).

It is thus observed that dubbing is approximately 15 times more expensive than subtitling. There are two main explanations of this fact: it takes much more time to dub a film than to subtitle it and there are much more people needed. That increases financial demands enormously. On the other hand, the capital and equipment costs of subtitling and dubbing are almost the same (around € 130,000) (Luyken, 105).

It is important to stress in this context that the cost of both subtitling and dubbing is closely connected to its quality. If the whole process is done faster and fewer people are engaged (especially in the case of dubbing), then the costs can be significantly reduced. Nevertheless, this is always at the expense of the quality of the overall product.




2. 4. 2. 4. Various Types of Audiovisual Translation as perceived by the audience


As far as preferences of the audience are concerned, it is important to note that they are always primarily determined by audiovisual practices they are used to (Luyken, 185).

Almost all viewers in a subtitling country such as the Netherlands will always opt for subtitles, while those in the dubbing countries expect everything to be dubbed. In a similar way, the majority of the audience in the Czech Republic expect that almost all TV programmes will be dubbed, but cinemagoers are unpleasantly surprised if a foreign film is dubbed (except for some particular cases, e.g. films for children).

But, on the other hand, there are some other factors influencing attitudes of viewers to both methods. They are age, education and socio-economic standard.

“The younger, the better educated and the more affluent viewers

are more likely to claim across Europe to prefer subtitled versions,

or ‘viewing the original’, rather than dubbed adaptations. This is

partly because higher multilingualism and familiarity with reading

in this particular target group make subtitled programmes easier

for them to comprehend and enjoy” (Luyken, 186).

2. 4. 2. 5. Globalisation of Audiovisual Translation


Efforts to reduce costs and duration of the translation process led to new ways of doing the job of audiovisual translator. This concerns particularly DVD subtitling of Hollywood films. Nowadays, they are almost all translated in London into about 40 languages and only then distributed to the target countries. The majority of these multilingual subtitling companies in London originally produced only closed captions in English for British television programmes and commercials. After several fusions and takeovers, they moved to the production of multilingual subtitles and are now key providers of DVD subtitles of Hollywood films. Nonetheless, their origins in closed captioning for the hard of hearing are still reflected in their style of timing subtitles (Carroll, http://fr46.uni-saarland.de/atrc/images/artikel_carroll.pdf).

Carroll claims that formerly these companies provided only so-called templates (also known as master list or “Genesis” file). Such templates were files containing English subtitles with all in and out times. They were sent by e-mail to various countries where local translators translated them into their languages. The translators also usually worked with a VHS cassette, which was shipped to them. According to Carroll, the templates were useful especially in the case of bonus material on the DVD such as documents about shooting the film. As the original language script for these bonuses is usually not available (unlike the main film) and they are usually very badly comprehensible, templates helped the subtitler in the target country to manage the translation.

The main disadvantage was that the translators usually were not able to change the spotting and their work thus resembled more the localisation of texts rather than subtitling as such. This led the subtitling companies to a new strategy: employing foreign translators directly in London. Such a strategy had also other positive effects: privacy risks were reduced and no time had to be spent by shipping the cassettes (Carroll, http://fr46.uni-saarland.de/atrc/images/artikel_carroll.pdf).

2. 4. 2. 6. The Job of Audiovisual Translator


There is a substantial difference between a subtitler and a dubbing translator. The subtitlers do a complex job – spotting, translation and subtitle composition. They can be either permanent staff of subtitling studios or TV stations or they can be free-lancers. These free-lancers are, however, usually used on a more or less regular basis. On the other hand, the dubbing translator only has to do a rough translation of the dialogue. He usually translates the script word by word, sometimes suggesting various possibilities of translation and than passes it on to the dubbing writers (or adaptors) who then compose a dubbing dialogue which is synchronous with the original one.

Luyken claims that the actual translation expenditure in lip-sync dubbing is the single smallest item of the entire cost involved, representing between 13 and 20% of a total dubbing budget. However, he admits that the majority from this share goes to the pocket of the adaptor and the translator usually only gets very little. There are even cases when he receives only 1.5% of the dubbing budget. This is, according to Luyken, the direct result of the fact that dubbing companies are looking for ways to cut costs. The first victims are then the translators, because there are many of them and their job is not the final product. Translators thus earn between € 80 and 145 per working day which translates, on the assumption of full-year employment, to a gross salary equivalent of some € 26 500 pa. On the other hand, the gross annual income of a subtitler in Western Europe is estimated at some € 34 000 per year (approximately € 170 per working day) (90 – 108).



2. 4. 2. 7. Fake Subtitles


Fake subtitles are those which can be found on the internet. They are produced by movie fans and usually serve to those who have a fake copy of the film. The films themselves can be downloaded from peer to peer networks. Users can download whatever they want for free, in return they only have to share programmes, films, music etc. that they have on their own disks. Czech fake subtitles can be found for instance on www.titulky.com or www.subtitles.cz. The quality of such subtitles varies widely as they are usually produced by people who not only have no knowledge in translatology and subtitling theory, but even their knowledge of English is sometimes very poor.

The fake subtitles are usually translated from time-coded dialogue lists with no or little attention being paid to the rules and constraints described in this work. Whatever is the original language of the film, almost all Czech fake subtitles are translated from English which serves as a pivot language. Thus, as the translation into English is usually very bad and then the translation from English into Czech is even worse, the final result is crappy. Incorrect spelling and syntax errors occur very often.





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