Volume 6, No. 4 
October 2002

B. Schwarz





Five Continents

Index 1997-2002

  Translator Profiles
Translator, Teacher, Businesswoman, Mentor
Courtney Searles-Ridge interviewed by Ann Macfarlane

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Translation and Project Management
by Celia Rico Pérez, Ph.D.
What the Guys Said, the Way They Said It, As Best We Can
by Danilo Nogueira
Translators and Computers
The Emerging Role of Translation Experts in the Coming MT Era
by Zhuang Xinglai
  Legal Translation
Difficulties Encountered in the Translation of Legal Texts: The Case of Turkey
by Dr. Ayfer Altay

  Literary Translation
Cultural Implications for Translation
by Kate James
African Writers as Practising Translators—The Case of Ahmadou Kourouma
by Haruna Jiyah Jacob, Ph.D.
  Arts & Entertainment
Performability versus Readability: A Historical Overview of a Theoretical Polarization in Theatre Translation
by Dr. Ekaterini Nikolarea
Translation in a Confined Space—Film Sub-titling
by Barbara Schwarz

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor

  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Trados—Is It a Must?
by Andrei Gerasimov
Translators’ Job Market

Letters to the Editor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
Translation Journal
Arts & Entertainment

Translation in a Confined Space—

Film Sub-titling
with special reference to Dennis Potter’s “Lipstick on Your Collar”
Part 1

by Barbara Schwarz


1. Introduction

raditionally, translation was used to make religious, literary, scientific or philosophical texts available to a wider audience. The readers of both the original text or source text (ST) and its translated version, also referred to as the target text (TT), were an educated elite. During the twentieth century however, there was a shift in the kind of material that was translated. Technical and political texts as well as popular literature have been made accessible for a mass audience (Newman 1991:16).

The written word was soon to be joined by a new area for translation, that of moving pictures. Even early silent films had some text, in the form of inter-titles inserted between the images. With the arrival of the "talkies" in the late 1920s, the field of translation of films began in earnest. Film production has been dominated by the United States since its early days and Hollywood has nearly become synonymous with the film industry. Although the US accounts for 50 per cent of the market (Finney 1996), European and other non-English films have a keen following in the so-called "art house cinemas."

there must be some agreement between the sub-titles, the spoken source language (SL) dialogue, and the corresponding image
The vast range of languages, even within Europe, has often been seen as a barrier when producing films. The issues of translation have implications in regard to a film's budget and distribution worldwide. Finney (1996) claims that the decision to employ the popular British author Anthony Burgess to write the sub-titles for the French film "Cyrano de Bergerac" was instrumental in its world-wide success. Measured financially, it made five times more than any other foreign film at the time. While it may be difficult to analyse the exact contribution the translation played, it can certainly be said that good sub-titles enhance the experience for the audience. Unfortunately they do not receive much recognition and one has to agree with Nornes (1999) who says "no one has ever come away from a foreign film admiring the translation". Bad translations on the other hand, are certainly noted and can irritate or annoy viewers. This is of course only the case with sub-titles where the original dialogue is still audible. There are in fact two main types of film translation.

These two categories are known as dubbing and sub-titling. With dubbing, the translation is covert and the audience will only hear the target language (TL) dialogue. Lip-synchronisation however, may not be perfect and may not match the non-verbal clues and mannerisms on screen. There is no change of medium in dubbing and, ideally, the audience is completely shielded from the foreign tongue.

In contrast, sub-titling changes the medium with a written TL version of the dialogue appearing on the screen. Although there is no lip-synchronisation, there must be some agreement between the sub-titles, the spoken source language (SL) dialogue, and the corresponding image (Baker 1998). The main problem in this type of translation is caused by the difference between the speed of the spoken language and the speed in reading. A complete transcription of the film dialogue is not possible. Both the physical limitation of space on the screen and the pace of the spoken word require a reduction of the text. The experience for audiences is considerably different from those who see the original film. Viewers are asked to do a lot of extra work by reading sub-titles while still coping with all the other visual and oral channels of the film.

The aim of this paper is to focus on the highly specialised area of translation for film sub-titling. Firstly, differences in the translation process for sub-titles compared to that of written texts will be compared and analysed. Secondly, constraints within which the sub-titler has to perform will be explained and available strategies discussed. Thirdly, technical aspects and presentation procedures of sub-titles will be explained. Finally, particular problems will be examined using, as an example, a six-part television serial by the British author Dennis Potter, entitled "Lipstick on Your Collar." This was first broadcast in 1993 and the version with German sub-titles is taken from Swiss television. It was translated by Claudia Bodmer with Michel Bodmer as editor. The original English script was published in book form, but has been out of print for some time. In this paper, the English has been transcribed from the screen and may differ in spelling or punctuation from the published text.

2. Film Dialogue

The differences between translation for the screen and translation of a text appear obvious but must be analysed carefully. The translator is faced with a kind of "Gesamtkunstwerk" (multi-media performance) where the dialogue works together with the visual image, soundtrack and music. Chion (1999) claims that viewers do not perceive the soundtrack as a complete unit but rather order it hierarchically, with the human voice at the top. They then assign language, sounds and music to the images which appear on screen simultaneously. As the dominant part of the soundtrack, the human voice gets privileged treatment and great care is taken with its recording. It must be intelligible as it carries most of the narration. The task of the translator consists of rendering the spoken dialogue into written text. This is not merely a change of medium but the elusive and ephemeral voice of the original film dialogue is fixed and presented in a printed version.

Before any translation is possible however, it is important to understand fully the function of the dialogue in films. Kozloff (2000) states that although the words appear to be spontaneous everyday speech, they form a carefully crafted work by an author who probably wrote and re-wrote the parts. These were then rehearsed and performed by actors and finally edited and mixed with the rest of the soundtrack. As mentioned above, the dialogue is largely responsible for communicating the narrative. It identifies the time and place of the story and characterises the protagonists by giving them idiosyncratic voices in the form of regional accent, register, timbre and delivery of speech. Dialogue can also be used to control audiences' emotions, as for example in setting up suspense or fear. In addition, film dialogue fulfills functions which lie outside the simple storyline. It may include the use of poetic language, alliterations and metaphors and can also convey moral or political messages.

Spoken and written language function differently but the translator has to produce sub-titles which read naturally and are intelligible as a unit. This must be done in keeping with the same style and mood as the SL film. These requirements mean that a translator will need special skills. These include a large and rich vocabulary of synonyms and an ability to adapt and re-write for difficult situations and possibly a multitude of characters. Caillé (1965) describes this type of work as "perpetuelle gymnastique intellectuelle" ("ongoing intellectual gymnastics"). The overriding goal of good sub-titles must be their simplicity, clarity and adequacy. To achieve coherence of the narrative for the audience, a pragmatic approach is needed. Sub-titles have to be read and understood in the few seconds they are visible on the screen. They must not become the prime focus for the viewers. Their function is to aid the audience with the understanding and enjoyment of the film. Good sub-titles must remain subordinate to the rest of the visual and oral stimuli.

It is now time to turn to the specialised work environment sub-titlers work in. They translate within constraints of space and time and must not shy away from using technical aids like computer and video equipment. The following chapter will analyse the different aspects of a film, namely the auditory and the visual channels and the roles they fulfill in creating a complete "picture."

3. Constraints and technical aspects

Baker (1998) states, that film is a semiotic composition consisting of four channels:

  1. The verbal auditory channel, which includes dialogue and background voices and maybe lyrics.
  2. The non-verbal auditory channel, which is made up of natural sound, sound effects, as well as music.
  3. The verbal visual channel, comprising the sub-titles and any writing within the film, as for example, letters, posters, books, newspapers, graffiti, or advertisements.
  4. The non-verbal visual channel, which includes the composition of the image, camera positions and movement as well as the editing which controls the general flow and mood of the movie.

The aim of translation for sub-titles is to fulfill their role within this polysemiotic environment. The verbal and visual channels can work as a constraint but also as a support of the translation in communicating the narrative. While the audience can enjoy the authenticity of the original dialogue, their ability to take in information is severely tested. In addition to the visual and aural input of the SL version, they have to cope with a sizeable volume of written text, superimposed on the screen (Baker 1998). The experience for the viewers is somewhat disturbed as their eyes are divided between the sub-titles at the bottom of the screen and the rest of the image. This constant diversion of focus may result in loss of information which is vital to follow the narrative.

The match of dialogue and picture must be retained when translating. In other words, the appropriate sub-title must appear synchronous with the picture. Gottlieb (1998) refers to this constraint as the "textual or qualitative constraint." The positioning of the sub-title and the duration it remains on screen, are dictated by the dialogue and the visual channel, in other words the action on the screen. Sub-titles should remain as unobtrusive as possible and not interfere with edit points in the film. The wording of the translation should also aim to reflect delivery and style of the SL dialogue.

The second major constraint, termed by Gottlieb "formal or quantitative constraint," deals with the physical limitations of space for sub-titles. It must be pointed out that television screens are more limited than film screens and the reduction of the text volume is even greater. In addition, most people read more slowly than the pace of the film dialogue, so there must be even more shortening.

To deal with these problems, translators use specialised software to help synchronise sub-titles with both the image and the spoken SL dialogue. They must first determine the precise start of speech even when a speaker's face is not visible. The exact beginning can be located by listening to the audio track. Professional video has the possibility to step through any sequence forwards and backwards at any pace. By doing this, the "in-point," that is the exact moment of the first sound of the first word can be defined. This is done using time-codes. Time-codes are embedded on the video tape and come in units of hours, minutes, seconds and frames (hh:mm:ss:ff). The smallest unit is the frame, with twenty-five of them to the second in video and twenty-four in cinema film. This allows the sub-titler to mark the "in" and "out" point of the speech very precisely. Once the final sound of the utterance has been marked, the software will automatically display the duration of the sub-title. (visit SBS 2002)

Once positioning and duration are determined, the actual work of translation can begin. While marking beginning and end of speech, the translator gets to hear the part which has to be translated. If it is a short and simple segment, the translated version can be typed straight into the computer. The length of the line is limited to about 30—35 characters and in the case of a longer sub-title, the text gets pushed to a second line. The software allows the translator to superimpose titles directly onto the screen. The computer programme also facilitates the work by marking the length of the sub-title line. By putting a marker on the line, it indicates the correct length, thus indicating how much the text has to be reduced. Translators then enter a decision-making process described Kovačič (1996). Not only must they decide how to translate the ST and its constituent elements, but also what should be left out. Once a satisfactory translation has been done, the sub-title must be checked on screen to ensure synchrony with both the image and the dialogue. All the while, translators must keep the audience in mind and make sure that every sub-title works as an intelligible unit as well as a complete text.

Armed with this technical knowledge, the actual work of translating can begin. As with any translation, one has to read (or listen to) the words and familiarise oneself with the work.

While some aspects remain the same, translation for moving pictures also deals with non-verbal and visual information. The approach and specific strategies will be discussed in the following chapter.


4. Preparatory Stage

Intuitively, one would imagine that a translation will benefit from some information about an author and his work. In the case of Dennis Potter, this is even more important given his frequent references to his own history (discussed below). Unfortunately, outside the academic context, this information is often lost due to financial as well as time constraints.

Dennis Potter, the author of "Lipstick on Your Collar," was born in 1935 in Berry Hill, a village in Gloucestershire as the son of a coalminer. His education was interrupted by military service which he spent working as a Russian language clerk at the War Office in Whitehall. He continued his studies and read philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford and began to work as a journalist for the BBC and later for the press. Potter suffered from an illness (psoriatic arthropathy) which affected both his skin and crippled his joints. In 1964 he withdrew from public life, moved from London back to Western England and focused on writing for television. Potter's work was not autobiographical, but he repeatedly drew on his own life. For example the central character in "The Singing Detective" suffered from the same rare skin condition as Potter. The author's War Office experience appeared in both "Lay down your arms" (1970) and "Lipstick on Your Collar" (1993). After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Potter filled his last two serials "Karaoke" and "Cold Lazarus" with references to his career as a television writer and inserted quotes from his earlier work.

Over the years he developed a very personal style and became particularly well known for his television serials where the inner fantasies and dreams of characters are expressed in the form of songs. A naturalistic scene would suddenly be interrupted and actors would burst into miming popular songs and might address the camera directly. The rest of the cast would become the chorus, and the whole set might be transformed to represent the imagined world. The cut-back to the linear story line would be just as abrupt and actors would slip back into the scene where they left off. This unorthodox technique seems to have been quite new and combined with a multi-layered narrative meant that Potter challenged viewers with both story content and technical production. When Potter died in 1994, he left a huge body of works and the reputation of being the most inventive and controversial figure in British television. (Stead, 1993)

This paper examines the German sub-titles of Potter's television serial "Lipstick on Your Collar," broadcast in 1993. It is a six-part drama with songs, set in the 1950s at the time of the Suez Canal crisis (App. 1). It is largely set in the British Intelligence office in Whitehall (London). There is a clear class division between higher ranking officers, products of public schools, and the lower ranks, who betray their origins by their working class accents. Popular rock "n" roll songs illustrate the dreams of the young office clerks and stand in stark contrast to the rules and regulations within the military office.

Given this background, the translator can move on to a study of the ST. To interpret the text for the TL audience, the translator must ask about the content and purpose of the original work. Steiner (1975:8) refers to the thorough reading of the original text as "potentially unending". This reflects the fact that there are usually several possible interpretations. It is important to understand who the target audience is, as this influences choice of vocabulary and syntax. Higher education levels ensure better reading skills and broader general knowledge. This allows for denser sub-titles both in their content and quantity. Translators must also comprehend the author's attitude towards his audience within his own cultural environment. He shares a "knowledge bank" (Larson, 1984:426) with them and can therefore leave some information implicit in the dialogue or the visual part of the film. Translators must be able to recognise this presupposed information and decide whether it needs to be made explicit. It is their task to decide whether any collateral material is needed to enable the TL audience to follow the narrative. (Larson, 1984)

While reading of the text takes place within one medium, a film appeals to eyes and ears simultaneously. In other words, the implied messages are not only hidden in the language but can be found visually and orally. Connotations that appear in the image on the screen can include:

  1. Architectural or geographical landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Uluru)
  2. Icons from mass culture like pop music or television (Jimi Hendrix, Bart Simpson)
  3. Historical or political events (stolen generation, assassination of John F. Kennedy)
  4. Symbols of political or religious significance (swastika, cross)

Depending on the two cultures involved, the translator must identify these visual clues within the film and understand their significance in the SL culture. In addition, the soundtrack can also contribute to the density of the work, by evoking images or emotions with sounds, noises and carefully chosen music.

The dialogue is also full of non-verbal clues in the way it is delivered (regional dialects, class accent, register of speech, slow speech etc.) and the accompanying facial expressions, hand gestures and body language. The translator must comprehend all these different aspects and be able to interpret them. In this capacity he is not simply, as George Steiner (1975:45) put it, "a bilingual mediating agent between monolingual communication participants in two different language communities" but he is also, as Katan (1999) points out, "a cultural mediator". Katan goes on to say, that the translator must understand the geography, contemporary social and political history as well as have some familiarity with heroes and personalities from popular culture. In addition he must be conscious of his own cultural identity and be aware of the way it might influence his interpretation and rendition.

Translators usually work with a VHS-copy of the film which allows them to view difficult passages as often as necessary. They cannot however, change the speed with which the dialogue moves along. This is an additional difficulty compared to the study of written texts, where translators are in control of how fast they want to read a sentence or a paragraph. To help sub-titlers with their task, there is usually a post-production script, at least for more recent films. This is a written text of the final version of the film dialogue. This script can facilitate comprehension of the dialogue in the case of poor sound SL dialogue quality (particularly with older films) or unclear articulation. The process of hearing the SL dialogue correctly and completely can be quite demanding and is crucial as the basis of a good translation (Möller, personal communication).

Sub-titles for classic theatre productions, as for example the plays by Shakespeare, are often based on existing translations. These texts are particularly difficult to translate and there are already translations in the TL which are well established in the culture. It is therefore sensible to use these texts which are familiar to the TL audience and adapt them for the screen version by pruning and reducing them (Möller, personal communication).

For their research, translators use a range of tools: encyclopaedias, dictionaries, manuals with technical terminology, glossaries, specialised thesauruses and the Internet.

5. Presentation on screen

It appears obvious that sub-titles are for an audience who could otherwise not understand the film. Their main aim must be clarity and ease of reading. At the same time however, the superimposed text must be shown as discreetly as possible, so as not to interfere too much with the action on the screen. There are some common guidelines which most sub-titlers follow.

Sub-titles are conventionally placed at the bottom of the screen (for translations into Roman script) either left-aligned or centred. Sub-titles must not stay on the screen across a picture edit as this disturbs the visual experience too much. They consist of one or two lines and of no more than 35 characters (including spaces). To ensure good legibility on any type of background, a simple font in white or yellow with a dark drop-shadow is used or the titles appear on a dark and usually transparent bar.

Font styles, for example Italics, are used to mark foreign words or to emphasise a particular word in the dialogue. For example, the word "me" is particularly stressed in the spoken version and highlighted by the different font style in the written version. This example, as are all in this paper, is taken from "Lipstick on Your Collar':

You've thrown yourself away, ain't ya?
And all this time there was me waitin'.

Capitals can be used to indicate important information which is not part of the dialogue, such as voices from radio, television or loudspeakers. The use of capitals also applies to written words as for example, on posters, letters or newspapers when the content is important to the story line. For example, in "Lipstick on Your Collar," a paper on a clerk's desk in the War Office carries the following words: "Translation highly confidential'. These words are clearly visible, and meant to be read by the viewer so as to convey the atmosphere of secrecy in this special intelligence section. To communicate this information, but set it clearly apart from the dialogue, the translation appears in capital letters:


As mentioned before, the rate at which sub-titles appear is driven by the pace of the dialogue. To ensure synchronisation with the spoken word and the image, conversations have to be condensed in a layout which helps viewers to identify different speakers. If one transcribes a dialogue one might end up with a succession of very short lines. For example,

Sylvia: - My old man wouldn't like it, would he?

Man: - Your dad?

Sylvia: - me 'usband

Man: - Christ!

Sylvia: - What?

To enable the viewer to follow the succession of short questions and answers, dashes are used to signify different speakers. The five lines above would then fit on three and give a more coherent picture:

- My old man wouldn't like it, would he?

- Mein Alter würde das nicht mögen.

- Your dad? - me 'usband.

- Dein Vater?—Mein Mann.

- Christ! - What?

- Mein Gott! - Was?

The mode-shift from speech to written text also requires a choice of punctuation. As Hatim & Mason (1997) point out, translators must be aware that punctuation is not neutral. Film dialogue, which can be hesitant, vague or ambiguous, often comes across as more assertive in the written form. Punctuation can be a means to convey interpersonal dynamics which reflect those of the film dialogue. Hesitation or insecurity can be visualised by inserting an ellipsis (...) or loudness with an exclamation mark (!).

Distribution of the text also affects the legibility for the viewer. Sub-titles which run over two lines are generally more difficult to read if line lengths are very uneven. For example, a very short first line is followed by a full second line (SBS Style Guide 2000):

Der soll
sich doch so verdammt gut auskennen.

(He's supposed to be in the bloody know.)

A more even distribution will ease reading:

Der soll sich doch
so verdammt gut auskennen.

The main concern with longer sub-titles is the question of text distribution. Line-breaks play a vital part in ensuring good legibility and intelligibility and will be discussed separately in detail. The pace of the film and the delivery of the dialogue dictate the time sub-titles are displayed on the screen. This typically ranges from one to six seconds. While a full two-line sub-title takes considerable time to read, a simple word like "yes" can be read in a fraction of a second. It is advisable however, not to show anything less than one second, thus achieving a steady rhythm. A consistent presentation rate with a digestible text volume will achieve best results for the enjoyment of the viewer. (SBS Style Guide 2000)

As mentioned in chapter three, the translator works within several constraints, and the sub-titles are not a transcription of the ST but are considerably reduced. How this can be best achieved is the topic of the following chapter.

6. Specific strategies for sub-titling

Gottlieb (1998) describes translation for sub-titling as a "balancing act" whereby the dialogue is transcribed into lines of text, "conveying a maximum of semantic and stylistic information". When converting the spoken to written word, the volume is typically reduced by one third Baker (1998). In the case of Romance languages like Italian, French and Spanish into English or German, the reduction will be even greater, as the pace of speech is much faster.

To achieve this reduction, translators enter a decision-making process where they determine what has to be translated and what can be left out. This decision is influenced, states Kovačič (1996) by three factors, the type of programme, the target audience and the aesthetic aspect of the language.

The first consideration is the type of programme being tackled. This may range from lightweight comedy or cartoon to investigative documentaries or education. The different emphasis is also reflected in the language. Whereas content is the priority of documentaries, the aim of a comedy is to convey humour. The type of programme therefore determines the focus and features of the translation.

The next concern is the target audience. The function of the sub-titles is to make the narrative coherent to the viewers. Even if the translation is very good, sub-titles may fail to serve their purpose when the language is inappropriate for the intended viewers. If the programme is directed at a more educated audience, sub-titles can be denser with a larger vocabulary and more complex syntax. The same audience will have background knowledge at their disposal and may even be familiar with the author's body of work. This may influence the translator in his decision to leave some implicit information without further explanation. For films with mass-appeal, however, it is advisable to keep the language fairly simple and the sub-titles to a manageable size, thus making them accessible to everybody. Obviously if children form much of the audience, the vocabulary will be smaller as well as the background knowledge one can assume.

The final point made by Kovačič, is the decision about the importance of stylistic qualities of the language. While the narrative can be captured in plain language, translators must take into account the SL text and its aesthetic value. If the language of the ST is rich in poetic expressions and uses devices such as alliteration, metaphors or rhyme, a rendition should attempt to reflect that. It is important that sub-titles convey at least some of these stylistic features of the ST in addition to the mere facts of the story line.

When translators make decisions what to translate and what to leave out, Baker (1998) states that two factors motivate the choice: intersemiotic redundancy and intrasemiotic redundancy. With these terms, Baker notes that there can be redundancy either between channels or within one channel. For example, both visual and auditive channels may convey almost identical information (intersemiotic redundancy) and the spoken word can be regarded as redundant. Alternatively, the same information may be repeated within the sound track. This intrasemiotic redundancy occurs as part of the mode-shift from spoken to written word. Each sub-title has to work both as a unit as well as part of a "larger polysemiotic whole" (Baker 1998:245) in order to maximise retrievability of the intended meaning. Coherence must be the overriding goal as the audience has no possibility of back-tracking.

6.1. Text reduction

To achieve this coherence, translators have a range of techniques at their disposal. Gottlieb (1998) compiled a list of strategies, some of which are media-specific and deal mainly with the reduction of the text volume. One must point out that this kind of translation stands in stark contrast to the rendition of written texts, where the rule applies that a translator must not add nor leave out anything. Gottlieb (1998) distinguishes between different types of text reduction, namely condensation, decimation and deletion.

  1. Condensation manages to retain both meaning and most of the stylistic features of the original. The transfer from spoken to written language eliminates some of the redundancies automatically and thereby enhances coherence for the audience.
  2. Decimation is used to cope with a large speech volume due to fast speech pace. This strategy is characterised by using abridged expressions and a reduction in content. The cuts in the SL may result in a loss of both semantic or stylistic content. The message is conveyed with the help of the other channels (soundtrack and vision).
  3. Deletion is mainly used to deal with non-verbal content. Repetitions, filler words and tag questions can be omitted without loss of information to the audience, although it may affect the semantic or stylistic content.

These strategies are not distinct categories and usually appear in combinations. To illustrate their usage, it is now time to turn to some examples and analyse these strategies as applied in Potter's television serial "Lipstick on Your Collar."

Example 1

Here condensation and deletion are combined in order to reduce the text volume. The excerpts are taken from a scene at the War Office, where Colonel Bernwood talks to a soldier who has only just arrived:

Sie sollten doch vom Geheimdienstbüro
in Maresfield um 8.00 Uhr aufbrechen —

Look here, your movement order says you're supposed to leave the intelligence core depot
at Maresfield at 08 hours

und sich um 15.00 Uhr in diesem Büro

and report to this room at the War Office

des Kriegsministeriums melden.

at 15 hundred hours.

Keiner von uns ist in Uniform,

None of us here is in uniform,

das heisst aber nicht, dass wir von
Armeedisziplin oder-regeln abweichen.

but that does not in any shape or form imply
the slightest deviation from normal army
disciplines and procedures.

Ganz im Gegenteil. Verstanden?

Exactly the opposite, do you understand?

The underlined parts in the ST have little semantic value and could be left out in the original version without changing the meaning of the utterance. The deletion is therefore in line with the style of military speech in the TL which is short and direct, without elaborations. The rendered question at the end of the example (Verstanden?—understand?) has been stripped down to the mere verb. The loss of subject turns a neutral question into a less formal one. This is appropriate in the military context, where a higher ranking officer addresses a subordinate.

Example 2

The next excerpt is a continuation of the dialogue above, but a different combination of strategies has been applied. Here, the reduction is a combination of decimation and deletion:

Ich hoffe, Sie lernen schnell, dass
Ihre Meinung hier nicht gefragt ist.
Sie sollten sie für sich behalten.

But I hope you will quickly learn, soldier,
that in this office your opinions are of
little or no relevance and that in any case
should be kept to yourself.

The reduction of text volume relies on the visual side of the film to provide context and fill in the information. It is possible to omit the address term (soldier) in the translation, as Private Francis is seen on the screen. He is familiar to the audience and they already know his place within the military structure. The reference to the location (in this office) can be expressed with the much shorter adverb hier (here). As with the previous example, the image provides clues about the location. Finally, the sentences are pruned and anything which does not contribute to the meaning is deleted.

Example 3

This excerpt illustrates the combination of condensation and deletion. It is taken from a commentary of a newsreel which opens Episode 4 of the serial.

Zum Filmfestival in Cannes kommen
die Grossen und Schönen des Kinos.

To the film festival in Cannes on the French Riviera come the brains and beauties
of the picture industry.

The term "picture industry" has been changed to the concise term Kino (cinema). Within the context it does not simply mean the medium or the movie theatre but stands for the world of cinema. Based on the assumption that the TL audience is familiar with the geographical location of Cannes, the translator has left out the underlined part of the ST. The sub-title captures the essence and is reminiscent of a newspaper headline, which is appropriate for a newsreel commentary.

Of the three strategies discussed above, deletion is the one which appears most often in its pure form. If part of a sentence is repeated in the form of a synonym or a similar expression without additional semantic value, it can be dropped with little or no loss.

Example 4

Once more, Major Hedges is complaining about working conditions at the War Office.

Wenn wir schon Bürostunden einlegen,
wir Sklaven,

I mean, if we have to put in office hours,
we slaves,

dann sollten wir auch kein Scheiss-Jota.

then we ought not to deviate one bloody iota

von der Scheiss-Büroroutine abweichen.

or one bloody tiddle from office-bloody-routine.

The underlined part has been deleted in the TT with no loss of content. There maybe some loss of repetition which emphasises the monotonous office routine. The TL however, has no true equivalent for "bloody." It can be rendered with "verdammt" or "verflucht," but these terms are not used with the same frequency and they could have been left out without loss.

Whenever a word or phrase is repeated word for word, there is no need to duplicate the sub-title. For example, at the end of the title song, the verse is repeated as is often done in music.

Denn Lippenstift am Kragen
hat dich gleich verraten.

For lipstick on your collar
told a tale on you

for lipstick on your collar
told a tale on you

While the content is important to the audience and must be translated, there is no need for another sub-title for the chorus. The audience has been given the translation and will enjoy a short break from reading.

Spoken language is also often full of filler words or expressions which are inserted for emphasis without adding any new information.

Example 5

Da bist Du ja.

So, "ere you are then

Gehst du zum Palais?

Ever go down the Palais then?

Das würde nichts schaden.

Come on, wouldn't 'urt, would it?

Mein Geisteszustand scheint hier
keinen zu kümmern —

Ah, I see, I see, no one interested
in my state of mind

an diesem heiteren Morgen.

at this bright morn.

The underlined parts of the ST are left out with some loss to the stylistic content. A similar loss occurs with tag questions. They are part of the colloquial speech habit of some English speakers. As with the filler words, these additions are a characteristic of the spoken language and are lost when language is changed to the written form. Tag questions do not exist in all languages and as they do not carry much semantic value they can be deleted in the process of rendering.

Example 6

Das würde nichts schaden.

Come on, wouldn't 'urt, would it?

Mein Alter würde das nicht mögen.

My old man wouldn't like it, would he?

Jetzt weisst du's.

You do now, don't you?

There is no equivalent in the neutral written TL and the stylistic features and register of the speaker have to be rendered using appropriate vocabulary or syntax.


6.2. Simplifying syntax and vocabulary

The next example is taken from a newsreel commentary and the reduction is achieved by using simpler lexicon and syntax.

Example 7

Die Börse steht still.

Buying and selling on the stock exchange reaches zero.

Rather than translating, the sub-titler captures the content and renders it freely. The image of dealings at the stock exchange "reaching zero" is replaced by another image, that of "standing still" (steht still). This rendition is particularly successful as it uses simple language while still retaining both content and flavour of the ST.

6.3. Summarising

Another strategy which can be used particularly for short dialogues. Here phrases follow each other in quick succession and the constant speaker change marked with dashes makes reading tedious. With no adequate example available in Potter's series, the strategy is illustrated with an example from Hurt & Widler (1999). The first version is the full transcript:

- Mrs V. Goode? - Ja

- Avenue 1, Surrey? - Ja ...

- Mrs V. Goode? - Yes

- Of 1, The Avenue, Surrey?—Yes ...

This can be summarised and presented on one line which does facilitate comprehension:

- Mrs V. Goode?, Avenue 1, Surrey?—Ja ...

- Mrs V. Goode?, Avenue 1 Surrey? - Yes ..


6.4. Fonts and Figures

Another way to reduce the text volume is to use numbers instead of letters for figures. A lengthy word can be reduced to merely two characters. The obvious place for this strategy is in context with money. The example is taken from the first act of the Chekhov play "The Seagull" which appears as a literary allusion in Potter's television serial.

Ich bekomme ganze 23 Rubel
im Monat

I only get 23 roubles a month

This strategy does not only help to reduce the text volume but it also facilitates reading as can be well demonstrated by comparing the two versions.

Ich bekomme ganze
dreiundzwanzig Rubel im Monat

I only get twenty-three roubles a month

Figures are not only used in the context of money but elsewhere such as in these examples:

Herrgot, du kennst sie erst
5 Minuten lang!

Christ, you've only known her
for 5 minutes!


Mein Bild erschien 17mal
in der
Radio Times.

My photograph has appeared
in the Radio Times on 17 different occasions.

The reduction of text can even be found on the level of single letters. The fonts used in sub-titles are often not of fixed width, as is the case with courier. In general, letters are proportional, in other words the letters differ in width. For example, "i," "l" or "t" are particularly narrow, while "m" and "w" are much wider. This can influence the choice of lexicon, as one searches for the shortest synonym with as few wide characters as possible (Möller, personal communication). For example:

immense -> huge, gigantic employment -> job

Translators are using one or any combination of all the strategies described in their task of creating the best possible sub-titles. To investigate the claim by Baker (1998) that sub-titles are usually reduced by one third, the arbitrary selection of examples listed in this chapter can be used for testing. Here is a table with the examples discussed above:

Examples SL Spoken Dialogue TL - Sub-title Deleted Words Reduction in %


































































Average reduction





The thirteen examples show an average reduction of 36%, which is consistent with Baker's estimate. It must be remembered that the TL consists of many long compounds which count only as one word, but will occupy a large proportion of a text line.

While this chapter was mainly concerned with strategies of text reduction, one must now turn to strategies which are concerned with the syntactic structure of the sub-title.

7. Syntax

The syntactic structure of a sentence contains important information and helps the reader to grasp its meaning. Every translation requires some syntactic changes to conform to the rules of the TL, as for example a change of word order. As Hurt & Widler (1999) state, in the specialised area of rendering film dialogue, the translator can make comprehension easier for the audience by using simple and unambiguous language and syntax with careful punctuation. To achieve best results, there are a number of guidelines which help translators to achieve the most coherent sub-titles. One of the main applications of syntactic rules is their use in conjunction with line-breaks.

7.1. Line-breaks

Sub-titles do not always fit on one line and have to be divided across two or even more lines. The point at which the sentence is divided or broken up is known as the "line-break." The following discussion is only concerned with the line breaks of the TL sub-titles, while the SL version is merely a transcript of the spoken dialogue. One could take the view that the line break occurs at the end of a full line, which as discussed earlier, contains 30—35 characters. For example,

Wen sollte ich mitnehmen, Major

Who do you suggest I should take,
Major Hedges?

The split of the officer's rank and name appears very unnatural and demonstrates that there is more to a line-break than the physical constraint of space. There are units in any sentence which must be kept together to help the flow of the text and the understanding of the content. The Style Guide of SBS's sub-titling department gives the following guidelines for sub-titles in English. The following units must not be divided:

  • Subject and verb
  • Verb and object
  • Article and noun
  • Adjective and noun
  • Preposition and the rest of a phrase
  • Conjunction and the remainder of the sentence

(SBS Style Guide 2000)

Syntactic structures vary from language to language, but this list is a good starting point to scrutinise line-breaks of the TL sub-titles in "Lipstick on Your Collar."

  • Subject and verb

The close link in this unit is marked morphologically in some languages. For example in German, the inflection of the verb, usually in the form of a suffix, indicates the subject. In English, regular verbs only inflect for the third person singular. In both languages however, subject and verb function together as a unit, whereby the subject encodes the agent and the verb the action. They are therefore instrumental in the content of a sentence and must not be split up, as in this example:

Der Typ an der Kasse sagt, du
arbeitest nur montags und mittwochs.

The bloke at the box office told me that you only
work afternoons on a Monday and Wednesday.

To achieve better intelligibility for the audience the line-break should leave the unit intact:

Der Typ an der Kasse sagt,
du arbeitest nur montags und mittwochs.

The bad line-break can be explained by space constraints. While the second version reads much better, it comprises a line of thirty-nine characters. Time constraints discourage the use of a third line, so the sub-title is the result of a compromise between line-break and line length. While it is the aim of translators to produce the best sub-titles, they have to achieve the best result working within these constraints.

  • Article and noun

The function of this unit is identical in both SL and TL and there is no reason to divorce the article from the noun, as in this example:

Ich sage nur, wir sind nicht der
Nahe Osten

We're not the Middle East, are we?

  • Adjective and noun

Attributive adjectives precede their nouns in both SL and TL and must not be divided. The two examples illustrate the effect a line-break has for comprehension:

Ich muss ein paar mickrige
übersetzt haben ...

I need some of these chicken-shit captions translated

Ich muss ein paar mickrige Legenden
übersetzt haben ...

  • Preposition and the rest of a phrase

This unit often includes an article or possessive pronoun before the noun and travels as a group of words functioning together. The usage is identical in both languages. For example,

Ja, aber schau mal die Schrammen
an der Decke an.

But look at the marks—on the ceiling!

Schade sind sie nicht
auf ihrem Hintern!

Pity they're not on her backside.

  • Conjunction and the remainder of the sentence

According to the SBS guidelines, the conjunction should not be split from the remainder of the sentence. This rule is not of great relevance in the TL and coherence is not affected by the split. The line-break in the following example is a result of constraints of space. Both lines are full to capacity, with 35 and 36 characters respectively.

Ich hoffe, Sie lernen schnell, dass
Ihre Meinung hier nicht gefragt ist.

But I hope you will quickly learn soldier that in this office your opinions are of little or no relevance.

This unit is of importance in the SL, as English does not distinguish in spelling between the conjunction (that / dass) and the pronoun (that / das). If the first part of the sub-title is divorced from the rest of the sentence it can result in a distortion of the content.

'I know that'

For example, this phrase can stand alone as a simple sentence or function as the first part of a complex sentence. In the first case, "that" is a demonstrative pronoun, in the latter "that" takes on the role of a conjunction. The subordinate clause appears as a second sub-title and changes the meaning:

'your mother is coming this afternoon." (Möller, personal communication)

It is obvious that this kind of distortion must be avoided at all costs. The line-break can occur at different places. For example,

'I know that your mother
is coming this afternoon.'


'I know that your mother is coming
in the afternoon.'

  • "Die deutsche Klammer"

Compared to the SL, German syntax makes the listener wait until the very last word of the sentence to fully understand the meaning. This unit or bracket (Klammer) as it is called, holds the sentence together and consists of the finite verb with either an infinitive, a participle or a particle. The wider the bracket or the greater the separation of the two parts, the longer it takes for the content to unfold. The listener or reader must remember the entire sentence in order to understand the meaning. Considering that the sub-title is only part of the overall input of a film and there is no possibility of back-tracking, this separation should be kept to a minimum. Here are some examples to illustrate this unit:

Modal + infinitive

Wir sollten das Wettrüsten
nicht absichtlich verlieren.

I do think we should not intentionally
lose the armament race.

Auxiliary + participle

Er ist mit den anderen Offizieren
zum Jimmy Riddle gegangen.

He is havin' a Jimmy Riddle sir, with
the other officers.

Verb + particle

... und wir kriegen nicht mal
die Hände aus den Taschen raus.

... we can't seem to get our hands
out of our pockets.

It is often possible to avoid too much separation by restructuring a sentence, although this may shift the emphasis. For example, one could re-phrase the second example to:

Er ist zum Jimmy Riddle gegangen,
mit den anderen Offizieren.

  • Verb and object

This unit functions identically to the SL only if the main verb is finite. The word order of this particular construction is identical to the SL, where the object follows the verb:

Ich schreibe ihm einen Brief.

( I write him a letter)

If the sentence involves an auxiliary or modal, the main verb is pushed to the end of the sentence as described above ("Deutsche Klammer"). Main verb and object are therefore separated and do not have to be treated as a unit, as in this example:

Ich könnte ihr kein Härchen krümmen.
(I could her no hair (hurt) bend)

And I wouldn't hurt a hair on her head.

While it is important to understand syntactic rules to set line-breaks, there are some other areas in sub-titling where syntax plays in important role.

7.2. Re-phrasing

Film dialogue often contains parts which are self explanatory from the image on the screen. This results in re-phrasing, whereby for example, a noun as the object seen on screen, can be replaced by a pronoun. For example:

Ich krieg ihn nicht zu.

I can't shut this case

(Hurt & Widler 1999)

This technique is of particular importance for text reduction and was discussed in chapter six.

7.3. Pre-empting

With the syntactic structure of German (see "Deutsche Klammer," above) this problem is not likely to occur when translating from English to German. As it may apply to other languages, it must nevertheless be mentioned. "Pre-empting" refers to the fact that the sub-title must not pre-empt the plot line. For example, the dialogue may have been constructed in a way to build up tension and the most important part has been pushed to the very end of the utterance. Sub-titles must respect this suspense and the written text must not appear before the spoken word, thereby pre-empting or spoiling the punch line or climax. This may require some creative use of syntax and rewriting a sentence with the clue appearing right at the end. The timing factor is also crucial and particular attention has to be paid to the synchronisation of the keyword in the dialogue with that in the sub-title.

7.4. Other problems

One feature of spoken language is that people often do not finish their sentences. This can happen for many different reasons. The meaning however, is still understood as the recipient can fill in the missing part, using the syntactic structure. To illustrate this point, here is an example where Private Francis stops raving about Sylvia as soon as the Officers enter:

You haven't seen her. She is the most
beautiful creature that ever walked on this ...


In the SL "on this (earth)" is an adverbial phrase and the listener has no problems filling in the missing noun. Due to syntactic changes in the TL, the rendered version does not end with a noun, but with a verb:

Du hast sie nie gesehen. Das schönste
Wesen, das je auf dieser Erde ...

This translation is particularly successful, as it manages to convey both content and delivery. Sub-title readers experience the utterance similarly to the ST listener as they mentally complete it (lebte—lived).

Now that the more technical aspects of sub-titling, presentation and the different strategies have been discussed, one can turn to the purely linguistic aspects of the translation. The next question is how to turn spoken dialogue into written text while still retaining some of the individual features and mannerisms.

8. Idiosyncratic speech

Style and register are shared by both spoken dialogue and written texts. In addition however, there is a range of features which are essentially part of the spoken word. As mentioned in previous chapters, there are non-linguistic actions which also contain information. These clues can appear both visually and aurally. The discussion in this chapter will only be concerned with implicit information which is part of speech. This can be expressed for example, as intonation, word or sentence stress or an accent. The way in which the lines are delivered also reveals something about the character. People can speak with authority or in a hesitant and shy manner. They use a specific repertoire which is expressed phonologically and syntactically as well as lexically. The delivery and performance of the actors may influence the translator's interpretation of the text. Again, this working method differs strongly from the translation of a written piece, which is usually in silence.

In most languages, there will be some aspects of idiosyncrasies which are a challenge to translate and others which are plainly impossible. Often one can substitute colourful expressions in a SL with something appropriate in the TL. Next, one can try to convey some aspects of a character by the choice of words. An uneducated, unpretentious working class character will have a different vocabulary from a well educated intellectual. Finally, there will be some elements which will be lost in translation. A broad regional accent for example, gives the audience background information about a character and may not survive both a change into the written form, as well as translation.

It is the task of the translator to retain as many features as possible, while providing the TL with a communicative translation. It must be remembered that viewers do not have the opportunity to re-read a sentence or paragraph and must comprehend the sub-titles quickly. To ensure intelligibility, some of the more colourful aspects will be lost. As Newmark (1981) states, if the register is very far removed from the standard language, translators may have to discard their attempt to search for equivalence and produce a more standardised version for the sake of the audience.

With these thoughts in mind, it is interesting to take some examples from "Lipstick on Your Collar" and see how the professional sub-titler has dealt with the issues. This is an attractive example, since Potter, the author, is class-conscious and uses a range of devices to convey social status and position.

The first example is the speech of Corporal Berry. He uses working class speech with its characteristic glottal stops (bu'er -> butter) and dropping of the "h's (I 'ate you). His speech is characterised by simple syntax, limited choice of lexicon and the constant use of vulgar expressions. Here is an excerpt:


Du bist verfickt frech, Hopper.

You're a cheeky shagger, Hopper.


Ich hasse diese verfickte Arbeit.

I 'ate this shaggin' job.


Ich hasse diese verfickten Papiere

'n I 'ate these shaggin' papers


und die verfickte Gesellschaft,
in der ich sein muss.

and the shaggin' company
I gotta shaggin' keep.


- Was hast du gesagt, Soldat?!
(Francis) Nichts, Korporal. - Nichts?

- What d'ya shaggin' say soldier?

- (Francis) Nothing corporal. - No?


Nein, und das ist auch besser so,
verfickt nochmal.

You better shaggin' well not neiver.


- Was tun Sie da?

- (Francis) Lesen, Korporal

- And what you doing?

- (Francis) Re- Reading, Corporal.


Das seh ich auch.
Ich fragte was!

I can shaggin' see that you're shaggin' readin'. I asked you wha' -


Ich hasse diese verfickten Papiere.

'n I 'ate these shaggin' papers.

The working class accent is replaced by neutral standard TL. The register is reflected by the repeated use of the vulgar expression verfickt. The lexeme "shag" occurs in different word classes, for example as a noun (line 1), an adjective (line 2, 3) or as an adverb, inserted between "to" and the infinitive (line 4: to shaggin' keep) or the modal and the participle (line 8: I can shaggin' see). The translator stays very close to the ST. The term (verfickt) however, is much too strong and would not have been part of male speech during the fifties, the period the play is set in. Bearing this in mind, a better equivalent for the vulgar term would be verdammt or verflucht. In chapter nine, there will be a special section dedicated to bad language or taboo words. As Newmark (1981:132) points out, "the principle of equivalence-effect is the one basic guide-line in translation" and the aim is to produce the same effect on the TL audience as the author did on the SL one.

The linguistic behaviour of Private Francis stands in stark contrast to that of Corporal Berry. As mentioned above, his speech is characterised by the Welsh dialect. This is completely lost in translation, where standard spelling has been used. Francis" syntax is complex and the choice of lexicon reflects his education. He does not adapt his register to that of the military office and his speech is reminiscent of the kind of language spoken in classic plays. Here are some excerpts:

Seine sterbliche

Seele hat uns verlassen

His mortal soul
has passed from amongst us, Sir.

Es ist jetzt eine Frage der Ehre,
Tante Vickie.

It's a question of honour now,
Aunt Vickie.

Ich kann nicht mit dem Herzen
einer jungen Dame tändeln.

I'm not one to trifle
with a lady's heart.

Ich ging nach oben um ihr zu sagen,
dass ich gemerkt hatte,
dass Liebe schwerer fassbar ist
als blosse körperliche Anziehung.
Und ich wollte nicht den gleichen
Fehler machen wie Puškin.

I went up there because I wanted
to tell her, that I had realised
that love is more elusive
than mere physical attraction.
And I didn't want to make the same mistake Pushkin had made.

All of these translations are most successful, with the translator rendering the terms with true equivalents: a euphemism with a euphemism (passed from amongst us—hat uns verlassen), a literary term with one in the TL (trifle ...- tändeln) and a lengthy and complex sentence with another one. One may wonder however, why the name of the Russian writer Puškin appears in a form of transcription which differs from the traditional German phonetic spelling Puschkin. This would have been more appropriate as the TL audience is familiar with it. Rather than stumble across a foreign word, they would have been able to make the connection with Francis who keeps quoting Pushkin throughout the serial.

In addition to the literary quality of his speech, Private Francis sometimes uses precise and scientific language when reporting facts. The characteristic features of the speech are specialist terms or jargon. For example,

Beide Beine waren gebrochen
und sein Becken ebenfalls.
Seine Milz war gerissen und
seine Rippe hat die Lunge perforiert.
Both his legs were broken
and his pelvis.
His spleen was ruptured
and his rib had punctured his lung.

Tante Vickie, er ist verrückt.
Er ist unzurechnungsfähig.

Aunt Vickie, he is mad you know, he is certifiable.

It is important to recognise the type of lexicon together with the fixed expressions and to find the equivalent medical terms in the TL. For example "a punctured lung" is rendered to eine perforierte Lunge not eine punktierte Lunge. The similar sounding word, known as "False Friends" could have lead to an incorrect translation. In the case of jargon, it is important to check the correct term in a specialised dictionary to avoid any mistakes.

The translator is faced with yet another set of problems when rendering Colonel Bernwood's speech. The main feature is his mannerism of rarely finishing sentences. There are many false starts and many instances where he repeats words. To illustrate this point, here is an excerpt:

Ich hätte nie gedacht,
dass ich das erlebe, das ist alles.
Es ist ungeh... Jeder schwarze oder
braune Kerl mit einem grossen Maul ...
Ich habe einfach genug davon,
wie die Dinge ... Tut mir leid.

Well I'm ...I never thought I'd see the day,
+that's all meant. Such an utterly...
I mean,- it's- it's getting that every black or brown chap with a big mouth can - hmm
I'm just very fed up
with the way things... Sorry.

To ensure that sub-titles remain coherent, the TL version has left out some of the false starts and sentence fragments (underlined in SL text). Unfinished words and sentences indicated by an ellipsis (...), thus retaining the sense of hesitant and disrupted delivery.

Another feature of Colonel Bernwood's speech is that he does not use bad language. There are some occasions where he is hinting at a swear word by pronouncing only the first letter. The rest is left to the listener. Here are two examples:

was zum "T" los ist

what the "h" is going on

der nächste "v" Krieg

the next "b" war

This use of initials in place of a taboo word was fairly widespread in the SL, particularly fifty years ago, at the time of this story. Similarly, profane expressions also appeared in print only hinted at in this form: "b____y". Today this usage appears old-fashioned, as swear words are more often used in full. The dated usage of initials in speech has never been part of the TL and comes across as unnatural to the audience. While the translator has not rendered the SL literally but found the correct equivalent expression, she applies the same technique. The original "hell" has changed to Teufel (devil) and "bloody" to verflucht or verdammt. The TL audience who is not accustomed to this usage, will find the initials puzzling. To achieve a similar result for the TL audience, one would have to apply a different strategy. Rather than only using initials, the taboo word could appear in the form of a word fragment. For example,

was zum Teu... los ist

der nächste verfl... Krieg

Both languages have expressions where the term has been changed to avoid using bad language. In other words, there is a true equivalent in the target language to deal with this phenomena:

was zum Kuckuck los ist

what the heck is going on

der nächste verflixte Krieg

the next darned war

This is another way to deal with these expressions. This type of rendering is much freer but is part of colloquial German and would ensure a more natural flow.

The final example of idiosyncratic speech, is taken from Major Hedges whose linguistic utterances are the most complex. He constantly changes style and register and his use of language spans across from antiquated and unusual words to the use of vulgar expressions and baby-talk. He also uses quotes, as for example this one:

Kommt die Stunde,
Kommt der Mann.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man

This quote is originally taken from the Bible (John 4:23) "But the hour cometh, ...". The slightly changed version, appears to be a cliché much used by sports reporters according to a survey of ten British newspapers (Rees 1995). Potter wrote this serial in the early nineties and seems to have inserted some recent expressions which appealed to him. The quote uses the biblical form of the verb "to come" (cometh) which gives the sentence a literary quality. This antiquated form cannot be not reflected in the TL and the translation simply uses the neutral form.

The next example features a combination of baby-talk and nonsense wordplay based on sounds. This is completely lost in the translation:

11 Uhr: Kaffee. 4 Uhr: Tee und Kekslein.
Und dreimal 2 Minuten Pipi-pause.

Coffee at eleven and bikkie-wikkies at four
and three two minute weewees in between.

Was ist mit dem Kaum-Trinkbaren?

What about the barely-bloody

The sub-title retains the correct register (weewee to Pipi) and uses a diminutive (Kekslein—biscuit) which may be used with children. There is a considerable break in register however, in the last line. The "barely-bloody drinkie-winkie" with which Hedges refers to the coffee or tea they brew in the office plays an important role throughout the serial. It appears in different versions, "the barely-bloody drinkable" or simply "the barely-bloody" depending on the context. The version above is slightly elaborated to double up on the non-sense sound play. Compared to the SL, the TL version is a pale and uninteresting literal translation. This would have been an opportunity to be inventive and create a term which suits the character better. There are good TL slang expressions which capture the meaning. One could even try to retain the alliteration (barely-bloody) by rendering it to braune Brühe (brown liquid) or garstige Gebräu (beastly brew).

Major Hedges is a real wordsmith and produces by far the most puns. Wordplay needs particular attention and is among the most difficult elements to translate. It is discussed in chapter ten.

(Continues in the next issue)