Due to economic, political, cultural and ideological factors, Spain has become a dubbing country. However, nowadays the situation is changing and more subtitled films are appearing in Spanish movie theaters. In this paper, I will explain the reasons why a country like Spain prefers dubbing to subtitling, and I'll analyze the consequences of this dubbing tradition.
Europe is divided between dubbing and subtitling countries. And this division is much clearer if we take into account that dubbing countries do not use subtitling and vice versa. Although it might change, this has been the situation for many years.
In this paper I will use the example of Spain to explain the reasons why a country chooses to dub its films. Because Spain is a dubbing country, I think it will be quite useful to analyze the case of Spain to clarify, as much as possible, the reasons for and consequences of this dubbing tradition.
There are various reasons to explain the Spanish dubbing tradition, such as economic, cultural, ideological and political factors. We will examine the consequences of all these factors, paying attention to the films seen in Spain and their origin.
In conclusion, I will explain that this situation is likely to change in Spain, stating future possible changes that might be observed within the Spanish dubbing industry.
1- Dubbing or Subtitling?
With silent movies there was no problem with language transfer, because intertitles made them internationally understandable. As Whitman-Linsen (1992: 12) tells us, in the era of silent films the intertitles were replaced for audiences in their own languages, and so they obviously imagined the actors communicating in these same languages.
With the advent of sound, it was no longer possible to simply replace intertitles. At first, to solve these problems with language transfer, branch studios were used, where the original film was re-shot, scene by scene, with a new cast of foreign actors, so that films could be shown in different countries.
Sicne this solution was soon found to be too expensive, several approaches were tried to solve the language problem. Europe was divided between countries choosing dubbing as the main language transfer method and those choosing subtitling. According to Dries (1995: 9), dubbing was introduced in motion pictures at about the same time as sound itself.
In France, Germany, Italy and Spain dubbing is the most common method of language transfer, whereas the subtitling countries include Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden. Both Great Britain and Ireland, Luyken reports (1991: 31-32), belong to the large anglophone audiovisual market and are neither classical "subtitling" nor "dubbing" countries, but use these language transfer mechanisms as needed and in a mixed manner.
The reasons why a country prefers dubbing to subtitling have been studied by different authors, and are mainly thought to be economic and ideological factors which make a country to become a dubbing or subtitling country.
2- Different Reasons to Explain Spanish Dubbing Tradition
It has traditionally been pointed out that those countries with a market able to afford the costs involved in the dubbing process, which is more expensive than subtitling, have chosen dubbing. On the other hand, those countries that could not deal with the high costs of dubbing films, had to subtitle them.
Nir explains that smaller countries usually opt for subtitling for purely initial cost/ultimate return reasons. "In larger countries such as Germany, France and Italy, dubbing is customarily used since the outlay involved is 'viable' because of the relatively large size of the target audience," Whitman-Linsen (1992: 18) reports.
But the situation is not quite as simple: smaller and poorer countries with a high illiteracy rate had a dilemma, because lip-sync dubbing added greatly to the costs which were difficult to recover, but subtitles restricted the audiences to those who were able to read them, as Luyken (1991: 32) points out.
It is obvious that, although subtitling is less expensive, it makes no sense to use this language transfer method in those countries in which most of the population will not be able to read the subtitles. At this point I would like to state that, basically, dubbing hides the original language and creates the illusion of watching an original film, whereas subtitling makes the audience aware of the original culture present in the movie. While subtitling is more suitable for those wishing to learn a foreign language and know about a foreign culture, people who prefer dubbing "get used to being careless about contradictions, about points of encounter and collisions between their own culture and the foreign culture" (Osimo).
2.2- Ideological and cultural factors
The audience plays an important role concerning the showing of films, because film distributors need to take into account the audience's preferences if they wish to reap maximum benefits. So if moviegoers demand dubbing because they are unwilling or unable to read subtitles, distributors will have to show dubbed films.
In the words of Dries (1995: 10), the vast majority of the audience in dubbing countries has grown up with dubbing and does not wish to see this changed. Broadcasters and film distributors do not wish or can take the risk of losing viewers because of a switchover to cheaper subtitling and thus do not want drastically to change their ways of working. Apart from this, dubbing is an integral part of their audiovisual industry and employs a great many people, which can be an economic reason for continuing with dubbing.
This is the case of Spain, where people are used to see films dubbed into their own languages; therefore, it is comprehensible that subtitled films are not so successful. Somehow, Spaniards have not trained the visual skills needed to read subtitles.
Anyway, although it is true that it is difficult to change audience preferences when the public is used to dubbing, it is not impossible, and actually things are changing in Spain. I agree with Diaz Cintas when he points out that nowadays subtitling is an increasing sector in Spain, and Spaniards go to the movies more often to watch subtitled films. I will explain this fact in detail later on, when I will analyze possible future changes in the situation in Spain.
It is also obvious that a bilingual country is more interested in subtitling as a way of using both national languages than a country like Spain, in which, until relatively recently, only Spanish was permitted. Throughout the franquista period even regional languages, such as Catalan, were prohibited in films.
Danan (1991: 612) reports that Spain insisted on having one official national language for the sake of national unity, and forbade minority groups from speaking their own dialects or languages. She thinks that suppressing or accepting the foreign nature of imported films is a key to understanding how a country perceives itself in relation to others, and how it views the importance of its own culture and language.
In the case of Spain, apart from this defense of the national language, we must also note that the government favored dubbing with its censorship. These are political factors, which I will explain now.
2.3- Political factors
To summarize the reasons why Spain chose dubbing as the main language transfer method, I will explain how the Spanish government had a very important role concerning this decision. Censorship in Spain forbade production in any other language but the national language. As a result, it was necessary to hide the original script of foreign films imported to Spain.
In my opinion, the most important dates of censorship in Spain are 1937, when censorship offices--the Junta Superior de Censura--were established in Seville and Salamanca, and 1941, when obligatory dubbing made the showing of original versions of foreign films illegal unless they were first dubbed in Spanish studios, in the words of Higginbotham (1988: 8).
Clearly this latter law, intended to prevent foreign languages from entering Spain, had the opposite effect, and films from the United States arrived massively into Spain. Censorship may sometimes have unintended effects.
I agree with Higginbotham when she says that if it were not because of the consequences in terms of freedom of expression and creativity, the story of Spanish film censorship would be amusing. She states, for example, the change of a lovers' relationship between an unmarried man and a woman to a relationship between brother and sister in Mogambo--censors appeared to prefer incest to adultery. We can find and read more about film censorship in Gonzalez Ballesteros (1981), who classifies films according to the reason why they were censored, for example, because of their sexual content, for political reasons or, sometimes, for no apparent reason at all.
Then, in November 1977 censorship in Spain was officially abolished and any director, writer, or producer could now make almost any kind of film he or she wanted to. All those hot screenplays that directors had for years, collecting dust on their shelves and that would have made great films could now be turned into masterpieces. Concerning this point, Higginbotham (1988: 121) states that cinema in Spain seemed to be free at last, and films never publicly released there could now be seen for the first time.
3- Spain as a Dubbing Country
From all the factors mentioned above I would like to highlight the law of 1941. This law encouraged foreign films to be imported into Spain, with important consequences for the Spanish cinema. It was not a right decision according to defendants of Spanish cinema.
It is not difficult to guess, but I will analyze what foreign films are exhibited in Spanish movie theaters, winning the battle against the national cinema. With this aim, I will study films exhibited in Spain from 1999 until 2003, with special attention to grossings and market shares, as well as to the origin of these films.
First of all, I would like to say that all these data are from the I.C.A.A. (the Spanish Institute of Cinematography). I have compiled statistics for films made in Spain, the U.S., the European Community (EU), and other countries.
3.1. Films from Spain and the U.S.
The first graphic is about films exhibited in Spain, from 1993 to 2003. As we can see, the number of foreign films is about four times as high as the number of national films.
The second graphic tells us that half of these foreign films are from the U.S. At the same time, films from the U.S. are more than twice the number of Spanish films, except last year, which was a year with a large number of Spanish movies, as we can see in the previous table. The graphic also shows the number of films from the E.U., and finally the number of films from outside de E.U., labeled below as 'other' films.
Let's study now the grossings and the market share of these films, from 2001 until 2003. The grossings are shown in millions of €. According to this graphic, 2001 was a good year for Spanish cinema, with the highest grossings for fewer movies than the previous year.
Being the U.S. the country with the highest number of films and the highest grossings, it is logical that it will also be the country with the highest market share, more than three times as high as that of Spanish films. So the number of films is only twice that of films from Spain, but their market share is three to four times higher.
3.2- Films from the E.U. and 'other' films
We have analyzed films from Spain and from the U.S. Now we will examine films coming from outside Spain, excepting the U.S. The most significant detail here is that while the number of films from outside the E.U. is six times lower than the number of European films, the difference between the market shares of these films is not so significant.
In the following graphics we will study films from and from outside of the E.U. Within the E.U. British films are those most preferred by the Spanish people, followed by French, German films and films from other European countries. As we will see later, the fact that the number of German movies is higher than that of the English ones does not mean more grossings for these films from Germany.
Films from the U.K. had twice the number of grossings of those from France, but the number films exhibited coming from this English-speaking country was smaller. The case of Germany is really interesting, as the number of films exhibited from this country is very high, twice the number of English films, but the grossings are very low, being six millions the highest amount.
As we can notice, there is a large number of films from the E.U., which I called 'other' films, with a very small market share. So, undoubtedly, more films do not mean more grossings, nor do fewer films mean less grossings. British films had the highest market share during the three years studied here, because these films had a large amount of grossings with a small number of films.
In order to study 'other' films from outside the E.U. I will show the origin, box office grossings and market share of these films separately for each year studied. The reason is that in this case there are different countries involved each year, so I realized that if I wanted to show clearly the origin of these films it was much more convenient to draw the graphics according to the year, instead of making individual graphics for the origin, grossings, and market share of the movies.
Having made this fact clear, let us study films from outside Europe. During these three years under study, the case of New Zealand is quite significant, as with only two, four or five films it had the highest market share in Spain among all the other foreign films coming from outside the E.U. It is obvious that this fact is due to the big success of The Lord of the Rings.
Spaniards also like films from Australia, China, Argentina, Japan and Hong-Kong. Although the box office grossings for these films were not as high as those for films from New Zealand, they were adequate, taking into account the small number of films exhibited in Spanish cinemas from these countries.
The movies coming from these countries mentioned above have a high market share with a small number of films, while there is a high number of films coming from other foreign countries with a small market share.
With all these details, in the past three years the five top grossing countries in Spain were the U.S., Spain, the U.K., New Zealand and France. Only in 2001 did France have higher grossings than New Zealand. Anyway, as the graphic shows us, films from outside the U.S. are no competition to American movies. The grossings for Spanish films were about four times lower than those for films from the U.S.
Unsurprisingly, the ten most seen films were from the U.S., New Zealand, Spain and the U.K. What is significant indeed is that during these years, out of the 10 most seen movies 6 were American. So we can say that 60% of box office grossings for films exhibited in Spain are for films from the U.S.
To finish, I would like to point out that obviously all these foreign films need to pass through a translation process before being exhibited in Spanish cinemas, and, as we have seen in the preceding section, in the case of Spain this translation process is dubbing.
4- Possible Future Changes
Although Spain is clearly a dubbing country, and we have seen in this paper that "viewers are strongly conditioned by the respective predominant methods, and attitudes to, as well as acceptance of, different or new methods take a long time to mature," (Luyken 1991: 38), the situation may change and is currently changing.
Spaniards can choose if they want to see dubbed or subtitled films, as quite a number of cinemas offer both versions. In the words of Diaz Cintas (2003), 90% to 95% of films from Columbia Tristar are nowadays both dubbed and subtitled.
Why are people getting more used to subtitles? This author has the answer, which has to do obviously with new technologies: e-mail, chat rooms and mobile phones are making people to get used to reading short messages. A large number of people is therefore ready to change and read the subtitles, consuming subtitled films and willing to listen to the original language. Also, DVD makes it possible to see films in both dubbed and subtitled versions.
Danan (1991: 613) asks herself how long patterns based on European nationalism will last and what new patterns might be emerging. If new patterns do emerge, will dubbing become a practice of the past? It is easy to figure out that in the future people will be used to reading subtitles and they will consume more and more subtitled films.
As a first conclusion I would like to say that, as we have seen, the reasons why a country chooses dubbing to subtitling are not limited to economic or political factors. In the case of Spain, there were various factors working together in favor of dubbing. The government also encouraged a nationalistic spirit in Spain where a single national language was the symbol of national unity. The Spanish people thus got used to watching foreign films dubbed into their own language, and Spain now has a rich dubbing tradition.
The fact that the most preferred films in Spain come from the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand and Australia, all English-speaking countries, reflects the influence of the Anglophone world in Spain.
The situation is currently changing in Spain, and subtitling is being increasingly used. According to what we have seen, there seems to be a clear preference: Spaniards prefer dubbed films, because they do not like to read subtitles, and they prefer films from English-speaking countries.
Obviously, this does not mean that Spanish cinema is inferior or that there are no good Spanish directors or actors. For example, The Others and Mortadelo and Filemon: The big adventure in 2001 and 2003 respectively have been two really successful films by Spanish directors, Alejandro Amenabar and Javier Fesser.
Also, as I already mentioned, The Lord of the Rings, from New Zealand, was a success in Spain in 2001. Spaniards liked all three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King,.
We have seen that films from the U.S. are the ones with the largest box office grossings and market share. In this regard, Whitman-Linsen (1992: 11) declares that "dubbing has the power to represent and misrepresent, distort, sway and in general make a tremendous contribution (positive or negative) to America's image abroad."
Obviously, these facts show the precarious situation of Spanish cinema. Although some successful films are made in Spain each year, Spaniards do not generally go to the cinema to watch a Spanish movie. I do not think they will stop going to watch American movies any time in the future, but a big proportion of Spaniards now certainly go to the cinema to watch subtitled films.
From the moviegoer's point of view, of course, both dubbed and subtitled versions have their pros and cons; the important thing is to enjoy cinema.
Ballester Casado, A. (1995) La política del doblaje en España. Valencia: Centro de Semiótica y Teoría del Espectáculo, Univeristat de València; [s.l.]: Asociación Vasca de Semiótica.
Besas, P. (1985) Behind the Spanish Lens. Denver: Arden Press.
Danan, M. (1991) Dubbing as an expression of nationalism. Meta 36 (4). 606-614.
Díaz Cintas, J. (2003) Teoría y Práctica de la Subtitulación: Inglés-Español. Barcelona: Ariel.
Dries, J. (1995) Dubbing and Subtitling: Guidelines for Production and Distribution. Düsseldorf: European Institute for the Media.
Gambier, Yves. (coord.) (1998) Translating for the media. Turku: Universidad de Turku.
Gambier, Yves. (ed.) (1996) Les transferts linguistiques dans les médias audiovisuels. Villeneuve d'Ascq (Nord) : Presses Universitaires du Septentrión.
González Ballesteros, T. (1981) Aspectos Jurı́dicos de la Censura Cinematográfica en España, con Especial Referencia al Perı́odo 1936-1977. Madrid: Editorial de la Universidad Complutense.
Gubern, R. and Font, D. (1975). Un Cine para el Cadalso: 40 Años de Censura Cinematográfica en España. Barcelona: Editorial Euros.
Higginbotham, V. (1988) Spanish Film under Franco. Texas: University of Texas Press.
Luyken, G.M. (1991) Overcoming Language Barriers in Television: Dubbing and Subtitling for the European Audience. Manchester: European Institute for the Media.
Whitman-Linsen, C. (1992) Through the Dubbing Glass: the Synchronization of American Motion Pictures into German, French and Spanish. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.