Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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Exploring languages and cultures

5.9 Subtitling

Subtitling is a specialised branch of translation, and comes with its own challenges. In order to ensure that subtitles can be read easily and quickly, they have to adhere to strict rules, such as respecting the maximum number of characters per line, no splitting of words, etc. It also needs to be borne in mind that people process written language more slowly than spoken, so the subtitler often has to cut out non-essential meanings while trying to remain faithful to the original. Working within these parameters, translators writing subtitles still have to give as faithful a rendering of the original as they can.

Activity 48

Watch the following Hairy Bikers video, where the producers deliberately use inaccurate subtitles to make fun of Dave and Si, and later explain how the joke came about. Then answer the questions below.

Download this video clip.Video player: Using the language gap
Skip transcript: Using the language gap

Transcript: Using the language gap

Richard Sharman:
This contributor spoke no English. He spoke Italian, um, very, very fast as his colleague pointed out. So, it just seemed to ram home that it, it sounded utterly impossible for anybody to understand. It’s that kind of thing where you’d think as a, as a native English speaker that this is a language that nobody could ever understand, so it just seemed like an impregnable wall. Um, and I think that was spotted by the editor I was working with to give him credit.
He said, ‘Why don’t we have some fun with this?’ because, you know, it just sounds so mad that this could actually be intelligible to anybody. Um, so we just innovated this idea that we would give subtitles, but they would not necessarily be trustworthy ones. And we felt we were allowed to do that because it was the bikers, and we could have a bit of fun.
Dave Myers (narrating):
Fed’s mate, Chicco, is one of the chefs here. He’s a local lad and has agreed to show us how to make his family’s version of Ferrara’s pasta pie.
Si King:
Hey, Chicco.
Federico Pellegrini:
Chicco.
Dave Myers:
Hi, Chicco.

[on screen caption points to Chicco Calanchi]

Federico Pellegrini:
Oh, fantastic.
Si King:
So is this the pastry, Chicco?
Chicco Calanchi:
Questa è la pasta frolla.
Federico Pellegrini:
Chicco don’t speak English but speaking Italian very, very quickly.

[interposing voices] [laughter]

Dave Myers (narrating):
Hold on a minute. Italian? Very fast? Oh, we’re going to struggle with that.
Si King: (narrating):
Ah, but luckily, our director speaks Italian, and he’s offered to put subtitles on to explain what Chicco was saying. How fab’s that, dude?
Chicco Calanchi:
Adesso bisogna spiegargli che comunque la dobbiamo fare riposare trenta minuti.

[caption on screen: Are these two clowns going to do anything or just watch?]

[interposing voices]

Dave Myers (narrating):
Hang on. I smell a rat. I think the director is having a bit of a laugh.
Si King (narrating):
At our expense.
Chicco Calanchi:
Quando diventa liquido ma ancora prima che bolla, come dire che frigga, cominciamo a aggiungere la farina. La tostiamo nel burro, farina e burro tostati insieme.

[caption on screen: Weren’t Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver available? Or even Gino D’Acampo? I’ll do the flour and butter …]

Si King:
So flour and butter …
Dave Myers:
… Flour and butter cooked together.
Chicco Calanchi:
Piano piano del latte.

[caption on screen: … why don’t you two pop out and get me a latte?

Dave Myers:
Just milk?
Federico Pellegrini:
Yes, but warm it.
Dave Myers:
Warm milk?

[interposing voices]

Dave Myers (narrating):
Right, seeing as these subtitles don’t seem to be reliable, we’d better tell you what’s going on. Chicco is making béchamel sauce, and he starts by adding flour to melted butter.
Si King (narrating):
But he seems in no hurry.
Si King:
Helping Chicco, the king of the béchamel sauce.
Federico Pellegrini:
You fall in love with many, many, many women with this recipe.
Si King:
There you go, lads, teenagers, anybody that’s on the pull, learn how to cook, you’re laughing.
Dave Myers:
See? There’s passion in the pan.
Chicco Clalanchi:
Questo l’ho capito anch’io.

[caption on screen: In their dreams, eh!]

Dave Myers:
Right. That’s it. Enough of this subtitles lark.
Richard Sharman:
Um, I was concerned slightly that we were going to misrepresent him, so, er, I made sure to clear it with him, um, and talk about it with his colleague and show them a little cut of the piece, but, er, they were very happy. So, really, it was just, it was for fun. It was just to make a comic effect in programme.
End transcript: Using the language gap
Using the language gap
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  1. When is it OK to do something like this?
  2. Where would you draw the line?
  3. Have you experienced anything similar in your own life?
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Discussion

Your answers here will depend on your own views and experiences, but here are some thoughts.

The producer shows that he is fully aware of the ethical considerations of using wrong/joke subtitles, and confirms that he sought permission from the Italian chef. It would not be OK to leave the victim of the joke entirely in the dark, for example, by widely distributing an unfaithfully subtitled film while leaving the contributors to believe that their speech has been rendered accurately. Nor would it be OK to introduce invented content that is offensive.

L161_1

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