Saturday, 11 January 2014

The letter or the spirit: V

I am an admirer of Alan Moore's fantastic graphic novel V for Vendetta. I hear poor things of the 2005 film, and I haven't wanted to see it, but I have come across the opening scene where Evey meets V, and the script calls for a positive volley of alliteration in 'v' (there is alliteration in the graphic novel but not at this point in the narrative):

The speech goes as follows:
Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition! The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.
I recently picked up an American DVD of the film, which has subtitles in Spanish and French, to see what the subtitlers did with this passage, and on the literal front, they seem to have done pretty well. The Spanish subtitles from the US disc (not necessarily the same as the subtitles on the DVD in Spain, I'd imagine?) can be seen here:

(sorry, I couldn't find a version without advertisements, and I couldn't find the French-subtitled clip online at all.)

So far, so straightforward. These are languages which share a lot of cognate words with English. But what would happen when the subtitles have to be done into Greek, or Russian, or any language with a different alphabet, or writing system? How would one account for the V, especially since presumably one can distinguish some kind of aural pattern even if one doesn't understand English?

Dubbed versions of the scene will need to grapple with a similar problem, though they won't be as vulnerable to odious comparisons with the English. Here you can see a French dubbed version (for our purposes please ignore the dubtitles):

and here you can see a version dubbed into French in Canada:

I make the count of initial 'V's in this speech 49 in English. Out of combined curiosity and insomnia, I took a look to see how the subtitled and dubbed versions measured up. The Spanish subtitles have 35 'V's; the French subtitles have 47. If we look at the two French dubbed versions, the 'Frenssh of Parys' has 52 and the Canadian dub has an impressive 60 (61, if we count 'vice-versa' as two). (Both the transcriptions can be found here). The Italian dub, which I won't even link to because four versions of this clip is plenty to sit through, lags behind at a mere 44.

Exceeding the alliterative tally of the source text is not the only criterion by which the quality of the translations can be judged, of course, but there's a pleasure in seeing a translator outdo the original, as Umberto Eco argued long ago about his translation of Raymond Queneau's Exercices de style.

Another criterion will of course be how natural and effortless the translations sound, or should sound. Any opinions out there on the relative quality of the French-French and the French-Canadian dub? Any other subtitles of this clip to compare with? [Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?]


Me-Time Tales said...

Very interesting, even for non translators, especially writers. Enriching and enlightening.

Sian said...

I was thoroughly enjoying the Canadian French version, possibly because I preferred the voice; but I found that the build up to slashing the V in the poster was not so well timed as in the French version; and then he really spoilt it by spelling her name out. But the V-ness of it came over splendidly, for some reason (and I've not spent any time re-listening or analysing) it seemed more fluid and V-ish. I would note that the very beginning also has aliteration with f (form following the function), which the French version also emulates (la forme qui résulte de la fonction), the Canadian French does not.

Of course one other factor of the impact is how much the V sound is normally used in whichever language it is anyway.

Here's another one, not sure which language it is, quite v-ish but not tons and certainly not as much as it reaches the slash-the-poster v-climax - Turkish?

sunny south coast said...

Thanks for the comments, and for the Turkish clip, Sian! Very interesting. :)