Friday, 14 August 2015

Conference: Linguistic and cultural representation in audiovisual translation


This conference looks like a line-up of the great and the good in audiovisual translation... 
(Ignore the image, just one from my files that I thought suited the topic...)

Linguistic and cultural representation in audiovisual translation
International Conference
Sapienza Università di Roma & Università degli Studi di Roma Tre
Rome, 11-13 February 2016

Given the enormous and ever-increasing impact of audiovisual products on the general public, the representations that audiovisual texts convey of other languages and cultures cannot be underestimated. Films have been chief players in the construction of linguistic and cultural identities (Kozloff 2000, Bleichenbacher 2008), which is always the result of an act of selection of traits and features, both visual and verbal. Their critical role in reinforcing negative stereotypes has not been overlooked by scholars (Lippi-Green 1997), and so has the role of technical and ideological manipulation in shaping audiovisual texts and their translation (Díaz-Cintas 2012), while the creative, positive role of films in constructing images of other languages and cultures has been comparatively neglected by research, as has the similar role played by audiovisual products other than cinematographic films.
The translation process is a further step in the direction of shaping representation. As Venuti (1998) points out, “[t]ranslation wields enormous power in constructing representations of foreign cultures” and translated audiovisual texts in particular have the power “to produce insights into the cultures and languages represented” (Guillot 2012), to add further layers of meanings and to create new webs of associations only alluded to, if not altogether missing, in the original texts. Studies conducted on dubbing and subtitling have shown the mimetic capacity of some linguistic features to convey pragmatic meaning and sociolinguistic variation in both source and target languages (Pavesi 2009). Particular emphasis has been placed on audiovisual translation as a site of representational practice (Pérez-González 2014), on the representations that translations convey, on their serving as “a locus for (re)-negotiations of individual and group identities”, “as a vehicle promoting crosscultural and cross-linguistic sensitivity”, and “as agents of hybridisation of communicative practices” (Guillot 2012). The linguistic resources employed by translators in the representation of language varieties and communicative practices have also been an area of increased scholarly interest (Brumme and Espunya 2012).
This conference aims to explore the expressive and representational potential of the interplay of words, images, sounds and silences on the screen focussing on the negotiation of identity in audiovisual texts, and, more generally, on audiovisual translation as a mode of intercultural exchange. Linguistic and cultural representation will be ideally investigated from various viewpoints: that of the power of script-writers and translators to create, reinforce or undermine assumptions about the foreign language and culture represented; that of the audiences who negotiate the representations and meanings conveyed by audiovisual texts; that of stylistic and generic conventions, which contribute to shaping cultural and linguistic representation via established features and topoi in both source and target texts; and that of participatory translation practices, which are playing an important role in challenging and reshaping established representational schemas and conventions.
We encourage proposals for presentations (20 minutes + questions) on all areas of linguistic and cultural analysis of audiovisual texts, as well as on audiovisual translation. Intersections with related areas of research, such as film and television studies, which are advocated (Chaume 2004) but still under-researched, are especially welcome. Topics for presentations may include, but are not restricted to, the following:

- Linguistic and cultural representation in audiovisual texts;
- Representational practices in AVT (e.g. the representation of orality in both fictional and non-fictional audiovisual genres, the representation of identity and difference);
- Cross-cultural and cross-linguistic perspectives (e.g. communicative practices and their representation);
- Representation and audience perception;
- Translators’ representations of viewers (e.g. translators’ assumptions about their audience);
- Representation and accessibility;
- Representational practices in non-professional translation;
- The representational contribution of film, television and other audiovisual media to contemporary culture;
- The social impact of tele-cinematic representation;
- Linguistic and cultural representation in specific film and television genres (science fiction, war films, romantic comedies and so on);
- Culture-specific references in original and translated audiovisual products.

Submission Procedure:

Abstract deadline: 1st September 2015. Abstracts should be max 300 words (excluding references) and include title of the contribution, name of the author and affiliation. A brief bio-sketch of no more than 100 words should be also included.
Notification of acceptance: 10th October 2015.
Language: English.
Proposals should be sent to:

Invited speakers:
Frederic Chaume (Universitat Jaume I, Castelló, Spain)
Jorge Díaz-Cintas (University College London, UK)
Marie-Noëlle Guillot (University of East Anglia, UK)
Maria Pavesi (University of Pavia, Italy)
Luis Pérez-González (University of Manchester, UK)

Scientific Committee:
Dr Rocío Baños-Piñeri (University College London, UK)
Prof. Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli (University of Bologna)
Prof. Silvia Bruti (University of Pisa)
Dr Elena Di Giovanni (University of Macerata)
Prof. Maria Freddi (University of Pavia)
Prof. Donatella Montini (Sapienza University of Rome)
Prof. Stefania Nuccorini (Roma Tre University)
Dr Irene Ranzato (Sapienza University of Rome)
Dr Annalisa Sandrelli (UNINT, Rome)
Prof. Mary Wardle (Sapienza University of Rome)
Prof. Monika Wozniak (Sapienza University of Rome)
Dr Serenella Zanotti (Roma Tre University)

Irene Ranzato (Sapienza University of Rome)
Monika Wozniak (Sapienza University of Rome)
Serenella Zanotti (Roma Tre University)

For queries regarding the conference please contact:
Irene Ranzato:
Monika Wozniak:
Serenella Zanotti:

A conference website with all information regarding the conference, the location and the registration procedure is under construction at

Monday, 3 August 2015

Austenland in translation

I was watching the guilty pleasure that is Austenland last night, dubbed into Italian. (I'd previously seen it in English). Austenland is a romcom about a group of misfits who sign up for an 'immersive Austen experience'. Much of the broad comedy plays on accent: Jennifer Coolidge perpetrating a series of appalling come-back-Dick-van-Dyke-all-is-forgiven outrages on received pronunciation; Georgia King channelling Miranda Richardson's Queenie; Bret McKenzie not trying particularly hard to disguise his New Zealand accent, presumably on the grounds that his employer's usual clients wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway.

How can one badly fake an English accent in Italian? I wish my Italian was good enough to get a real sense of this from the dubbed version. But I could at least see how they manage the moment near the end of the film where Jane discovers that 'Lady Amelia Heartwright', played by Georgia King, is actually American too.

The English script goes more or less:
"Amelia Heartwright": Farewell! [sinking back into her seat in the carriage] God, that was the best time so far. Except for the eye gouging.
Jane: You're not British??
AH: Yeah, I know, right?! Well, that's what two years of private drama tutoring will get you.
The information that Heartwright is American is only conveyed here through accent. Of course the accent doesn't really come across (sorry, I couldn't find the clip itself online). The Italian script goes:
AH: Alla prossima! Dio, questa è stata la migliore di tutte le volte! Sì, a parte l'occhio, certo...
Jane: Ma tu stavi recitando??
AH: Sì! Sono bravina, vero? Be', due anni di lezioni di recitazione private sono serviti...
(Alla ricerca di Jane)
[AH: Goodbye! God, this was the best time of all! Yes, apart from the eye, of course...
Jane: You were acting??
AH: Yes! I'm pretty good, right? Well, two years of private acting lessons worked...]
The difference is that in English, Jane is astonished that Amelia has turned out not to be British. Since Amelia doesn't do a bad job of channelling Miranda Richardson, and since any British accent at all sounds great beside the efforts of Lady Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), this works OK.

In Italian, Jane is just astonished that Amelia was putting on an act - which is much less plausible. I couldn't find any more suitable footage on Youtube than the gag reel, but to get an idea of Lady Amelia Heartwright's acting style, see

Having said that, metalingual comments must be among the most difficult things to translate, and I don't easily see how else the dubber could have done it. How was it done in other languages? All comments from people who've seen the Italian, or any, dubbed version are very welcome... 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Snippets from film translation history: the subtitle turners

Following on a very interesting paper by Rachel Weissbrod at the Splendid Innovations conference in May 2015 at the British Academy, where Rachel talked about the beginnings of film translation in Mandatory Palestine, I have been reminded by Sam B. of this story by Israeli film producer Menahem Golan, from an interview in Cinema Scope:

Cinema Scope: You became involved with movies as a child back in your Israeli hometown of Tiberias, when one of your first jobs was as a subtitle-turner.

 Menahem Golan: At that time the subtitles were not on the film, but projected on the side. So you needed someone to turn the wheel. And already as a child I wanted to see every movie, but my father didn’t give me the money to go to the cinema three or four times a week. So I made a deal with the projectionist that I would turn the film subtitles for free, as long as I could see the movie. But it often happened that I got so caught up in the film that I forgot to turn the wheel. And the whole cinema would start yelling: “Menahem! Menahem! Subtitles!!!”

UPDATE 21 August 2015: I have just come across this account on Luke McKernan's excellent Picturegoing blog by the Palestianian author Khalid Totah (1886-1955) of going to see Olivier's Hamlet and another unnamed Hollywood film in Damascus, probably in the late 1940s. There's just a brief mention of the subtitles: 'of course the film was in English, but on the side there was an Arabic translation'. This would have been a bit later than Golan's account - Golan was born in 1929, so was probably turning subtitles in the early 1940s. If any readers know of other accounts of this subtitling-on-the-side in the Middle East I'd be very happy to hear about it.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

"Sub-titles inept, sub-titles abominable": a Russian film in the UK, 1935

I made a long-awaited trip back to Southsea this weekend and popped in to my favourite bookshop in the world, Adelphi Books on Albert Road, where I acquired (among other trifles) some 1930s issues of Sight and Sound. The autumn 1935 issue contains a review by Arthur Vesselo of Petersburg Nights (Roshal & Stroyeva, 1934) (referred to in the review as St. Petersburg, known in France as Les nuits de Saint-Pétersbourg). (I note that the film was nominated in the same year for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival, but otherwise seems to have had an undistinguished career.)

(image borrowed from Encyclocine)

Vesselo isn't happy with the film, or the translation:
The film as a whole has little real solidity: its movements are feeble, its climaxes crude. The propagandist element lacks both purpose and subtlety, and the nineteenth-century setting is infinitely less convincing than the customary Russian treatment of present-day conditions. What virtue remains is ruthlessly massacred by the sub-titles.
   This question of sub-titles needs long and deep consideration. They meet us at every turn: sub-titles misplaced, sub-titles mis-spelt, sub-titles inept, sub-titles abominable. They throw out the composition of shots, ruin their photographic quality, and break up their continuity - sometimes they seem to swamp the picture completely. (Sight and Sound 1935, vol. 4, no.15, p.124)
There were very competent subtitlers working in London in this period - Mai Harris, Julia Wolf - so one suspects that these abominable sub-titles may have been produced in the country of origin - well, we'll see, if a copy can be tracked down in the archive.

It's worth noting by the by that Vesselo doesn't seem a big fan of dubbing either: in the same section he reviews a Czech film, Volga in Flames, and complains that the dubbed English dialogue
was hardly a success. the lack of correspondence between words and mouth-movements can be ignored, but the vast unsuitability of Western tone and accent is another matter. Cossacks and Cockneys have little in common; and at moments of tension the formal intonation of the studio reduces the action to bathos. Choice of language also provides its problems. Wherever, in fact, the dialogue ceased for a space to be predominant, and the film was left to rely upon its original sounds, the story was lifted bodily to a higher sphere.
Interestingly,  Vesselo doesn't note that the film was in fact dubbed from French (thanks to Sam B. for pointing this out) as the film was a French-Czech co-production with Danielle Darrieux and Albert Préjean, also known as Volga en flammes:

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Doctoral seminar: Practice-led research in translation, Bristol, 23 June 2015

We are delighted to announce our final translation event at Bristol for this year, which is a doctoral seminar on practice-led research. The emphasis is on translation studies, but the event should also be of interest to PhD researchers and their supervisors in other areas of the Arts and Humanities.

Translation@Bristol presents:

Doctoral seminar: Practice-led Research in Translation 

23 June 2015


Lecture Theatre 3

Arts Complex, 17 Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UP

(access for external visitors via 3-5 Woodland Road)


2.15    Welcome and opening remarks

2.30    Round table on practice-led research in the Arts and Humanities:

     Dr Katja Krebs, Senior Lecturer in Theatre and   Performance, University of Bristol

     Simon Jones, Professor of Performance, University of Bristol

     Dr. Chantal Wright, Assistant Professor of Translation as a Literary Practice, University of Warwick

     Dr. Angela Piccini, Senior Lecturer in Screen Media, University of Bristol               

3.45    Coffee break

4.15    Keynote lecture:

           Professor Jean Boase-Beier, University of East Anglia

            Theory and Practice in Translation Studies Research”

5.15    Final questions and remarks

5.30    Wine and mingling


Speaker bio: Professor Boase-Beier taught Literary Translation, Linguistics, German and Stylistics at UEA since 1991 and set up UEA's MA in Literary Translation in 1993. An Executive Committee member of the British Comparative Literature Association, member of the Advisory Panel of the British Centre for Literary Translation,  and former Executive Committee member of the Translators Association, she is also a translator between German and English and the editor of the Visible Poets series of bilingual poetry books (Arc Publications). 

The event is free and all are welcome. 

For further details, please contact carol.osullivan[at] 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Adrian Brunel redux: on subtitling and dubbing in the early 1930s

I mentioned Adrian Brunel's autobiography Nice Work in a recent post, as he observed the transition from the silent to the sound period from close up. On reading further we learn that he also worked as a subtitler some time in the early 1930s.

It is not very promising that the chapter where he describes his work in audiovisual translation is entitled 'Slumming':
I picked up a few little interesting jobs titling foreign films - interesting as jobs but deadly dull financially. After having been paid £250 for titling a silent foreign film, the maximum I could get for doing a foreign talkie was £40. As I [...] naturally gave part of my fee to Roy Lockwood, Reggie Beck or whoever was assisting me, it was hardly worth our time after we had learned what we could of the job. One think I learned still applies to-day [at time of writing in the late 1940s] - that the super-imposition of translated titles is a neglected art, probably because it is very badly paid. Most foreign film so titled are spoiled by not having had enough time, invention and skill expended on grappling with the problem of condensing eighteen spoken words into six printed words, of finding just the right place to superimpose the title, of judging when no title is necessary, of how to avoid unnecessary overlapping of a title on to two scenes and so on. (p.162)
It's interesting to see how little the basics of subtitling have changed in nearly a century, though subtitles were sparser and more selective, still, at the time Brunel was writing. Brunel himself felt that dubbing was superior to subtitling: 'superimposed translations [were] disturbing', while 'with care, patience, time and intelligence, almost perfect results can be obtained' in dubbing. He was involved in dubbing the Guido Brignone film La Wally, made in 1932, but found that the translation did not go far enough:
we did a fine job [...] but unfortunately my detailed and urgently stressed advice on how to edit the film for England was ignored, so that it was ruined by the inclusion of several passages which I knew would be regarded as ridiculous by English audiences. (p.165)
If you are interested in hearing more about these problems of audiovisual translation in the early years of sound, you may still (just about) be able to register for our conference 'Splendid Innovations', which takes place this Thursday 21 and Friday 22 May at the British Academy, London:

Only two more sleeps until the conference! \o/\o/