Volume 15, No. 3 
July 2011

  Claire Ellender


Front Page

  Translation Journal
Arts & Entertainment

Transporting the Aquarium:

Overcoming the Challenges of Subtitling
Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank into French

by Claire Ellender
Université de Lille III, France


his article centers on the challenges posed by the subtitling of Andrea Arnold's 2009 film, Fish Tank, into French. It concentrates on key scenes and songs from the film, considers the particular difficulties presented by the subtitling these in French, and examines the strategies employed in order to deal with these difficulties. By adopting this approach, the article intends to establish the extent to which the linguistic and cultural specificity of this British film is preserved in its French subtitles.

Key words: Fish Tank; subtitling; linguistic and cultural specificity; translation challenges


Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank is set in a council estate in Essex, England, and provides a gritty portrayal of the social deprivation and personal problems which its characters face. After introducing the film and drawing attention to the widely acknowledged challenges of subtitling, the present article focuses firstly on four representative examples of character interaction in Fish Tank, and secondly on three key songs from the film's musical soundtrack. Considering the particular difficulties presented by subtitling these extracts in French, and examining the strategies employed in order to deal with these, the article sets out to establish the extent to which Emmanuelle Boillot and Nicola Haughton's translation preserves the linguistic and cultural specificity of this quintessentially British film in its corresponding written French subtitles.

The film

Fish Tank's subtitles, which contain close, accurate and concise translations,... succeed very well at preserving the film's representation of this social class and culture.
Fifteen-year-old Mia lives on a socially deprived council estate. Excluded from school, she spends her days fighting with other girls on the estate, arguing with her mother Joanne and younger sister Tyler, drinking and practicing hip-hop dancing. When Joanne brings home her new American boyfriend, Connor, Mia's life changes. Following a sexual encounter between Connor and Mia, Connor's relationship with Joanne ends and he leaves. Mia tracks down Connor, discovers that he is married and has a daughter. By way of revenge, he kidnaps the little girl. After returning her, Mia makes peace with her mother and sister and leaves to make a new life in Wales with her boyfriend, a local traveler. Arnold's film, the title of which is metaphorical for the oppressive, claustrophobic environment in which the characters live, and which the audience observes unrestrictedly, is firmly set in a social-realist tradition. Both the non-standard, colloquial and vulgar language which Fish Tank contains and its accompanying musical soundtrack contribute significantly to the portrayal of the social class and culture, or fish tank, which this film seeks to represent. The translation challenges posed by attempting to transport this aquarium from one linguistic and cultural context to another, form the focus of the present article.

The challenges of subtitling

Spoken and written language are clearly distinct from one another; if speech is rooted in communities and is therefore subject to sociocultural and geographic variation, the written word is commonly believed to be a more standard, erudite and prestigious form of language. As Diaz-Cintas and Remael explain:

Language, and spoken language especially, is as changeable as human beings and their surroundings, whereas writing is traditionally connected with the preservation of knowledge and with prestigious verbal art forms that appear to have more permanent and worthy functions than speech.

(2007: 184)

Clearly then, the process of translating the spoken word, whose sociocultural and geographic varieties have no exact TL equivalent, into the written form of another national language, poses numerous challenges. Translating against the background of an original soundtrack does indeed have certain advantages; the linguistic alterity and consequent exoticism of the foreign film can be preserved and, as language is only one aspect of a film's transfer (Luyken, 1991: 154), much non-verbal information can be conveyed by voices. Tone, stress and intonation contribute greatly to the mood and atmosphere of any situation. This said, subtitlers are obliged to respect tight deadlines and rigid spatial and temporal constraints in order that their translation be readable, clear and accurate (De Linde & Kay, 1999: 6-7; Diaz-Cintas & Remael, 2007: 145). Against this background, the present article considers the linguistic and cultural challenges of translating Fish Tank into French and examines the strategies which have been employed in order to deal with these challenges. These challenges, and the strategies adopted in order to meet them, are firstly considered in relation to character interaction, and secondly in relation to the translation of some of the soundtrack's songs.

1) Character interaction

The use of language in Fish Tank is colloquial, local and colorful; it could therefore aptly be defined as 'marked speech':

[...] speech characterized by non-standard language features or features that are not 'neutral'. Speech can be marked by style or register, and it can also be [...] bound to socially and/or geographically defined population groups. Besides, marked speech includes taboo words, swear words and emotionally charged utterances such as interjections and exclamations.

Diaz-Cintas & Remael, 2007: 187

Indeed, the language which dominates Fish Tank is unmistakably associated with users who belong to a specific social group - a socially deprived housing estate - and geographical area - Essex. As such, most of the characters speak the same dialect. According to Peter Trudgill:

[...] social and geographical kinds of language are known as dialects. [...] Dialect is the particular combination of words, pronunciations and grammatical forms that you share with other people from your area and social background and that differs in certain ways from the combination used by people from other areas and backgrounds.

(2004: 2)


With reference to the above definition of 'marked speech', this article will examine four representative examples of character interaction from Fish Tank which contain taboo words, swear words and non-standard grammar. The extracts to be examined also include distinct accents, cultural references and instances of humor and irony which are linguistically and socially bound. By adopting this approach, the article will draw attention to the specific challenges which the subtitling of such language poses, and examine how these are handled by Boillot and Haughton.

1.1 Scene one

In this scene a gang of girls from the housing estate, including Mia's former best friend, Keeley, do a dance routine to pop music and perform to some local boys. The style of dancing and music is very different to that which Mia likes. Mia watches the girls critically which results in a confrontation.

Line / Speaker



1. Girl

What the fuck's your problem?

C'est quoi, ton problème ?

2. Mia

Your terrible dancing's my problem.

Tu danses comme une bouse.

3. Keeley

Quit it, Mia. Don't start.

Fais pas chier, Mia.

4. Mia

You can talk, Keeley. Since when did you have such ugly friends?

Alors, Keeley, tu traînes avec des thons?

5. Girl

You can talk, you skanky little pikey!

Tu t'es vue, sale gitane?

6. Mia

(Mia headbutts girl)

What you gonna do about it?

Tu vas porter plainte?

7. Girl

Fuck off!


8. Other girl

Get away, bitch!

Dégage, sale pute!

9. Mia

If you want some fucking more, you know where I am!

Si vous en voulez encore, venez me chercher!

10. Girl


Sale pute!

11. Other girl

Walk away!



This scene centers on the fact that the gang of girls want Mia to stop watching them and leave. The principal translation challenges which it poses centre on the re-rendering of culturally-specific taboo words, swear words and non-standard grammar in the TL in such a way that the French-speaking audience can still appreciate their significance. If the variety of SL expressions used to convey this - 'fuck off' (line 7), 'get away' (line 8) and 'walk away' (line 11) - is preserved in the TT - 'casse-toi', 'dégage', tire-toi' -, the force of line 7 is certainly lost in translation. Indeed, 'fuck' is used three times in this scene, but is not once translated into French. Attempts are nevertheless made to compensate for this elsewhere in the TT. In lines 2, 3 and 4 the vocabulary used - 'bouse', 'chier' and 'thons' - is more vulgar than that in the corresponding ST. 'Bitch' (line 8) and 'c**t' (line 10) are both translated with an offensive TL term, 'sale pute', which preserves the aggressive nature of the exchange. However, as the second term is far more offensive in the SL than the first one, there is again a sense of loss in the TT. Further, when the highly slangy and derogatory 'you skanky*1 little pikey*2' (line 5) is re-rendered as 'sale gitane', another case of undertranslation occurs. 'Manouche' (gippo / pikey) would have been a preferable alternative to the more conventional 'gitan(e)' (gypsy).

The use of non-standard grammar is a noteworthy feature of the translation of this scene. In line 1, 'C'est quoi, ton problème?' compensates in part for the vulgarity of the ST and, in line 3, omission of the negative 'ne' helps to preserve the colloquial quality of Keeley's 'Quit it, Mia'. This said, when Mia asks, 'What you gonna do about it?' (line 6), the French translation is much more correct in terms of both lexis and pronunciation; this results in a definite neutralization of the ST style.

Given that this is an audiovisual text, any such losses are, however, minimal. It is not only the lexis and grammar which convey the aggressive nature and informal register of this scene. Aural clues - tone, volume and speed of voice and constant interjections -, and visual ones - facial expressions, body language and violent gestures - are available to the TT audience and contribute significantly to the sense of acrimony which pervades this scene.*3

In brief, if instances of loss in translation and undertranslation can be witnessed in the subtitling of this scene, these are, for the most part, successfully compensated for, both lexically and grammatically. Moreover, when translation results in a neutralization of the style of the source language, aural clues play an important part in preserving the aggression and informality of the original scene in its subtitled version.

1.2 Scene two

In this scene, Mia meets Connor for the first time. She is in the kitchen, dressed in her pajamas, waiting for the kettle to boil and dancing seductively to music on the television. Connor sees Mia dancing as her enters the room. Taken by surprise and embarrassed, she is defensive and rude to him. Nevertheless, the camera shots, which show Mia watching Connor, suggest her immediate interest in, and attraction to, this new man.

Line / Speaker



1. Connor

Don't mind me, girl. Carry on.

T'occupe pas de moi, continue.

2. Connor

I was enjoying it.

Ca me plaisait.

3. Mia

As if.

C'est ça.

4. Connor

You making eggs?

Tu te fais des oeufs?

5. Mia



6. Connor

What's the water for?

C'est pour quoi, l'eau?

7. Mia

I'm making tea.

Je me fais du thé.

8. Connor

I'm a friend of your mother. You dance like a Black.

Je suis un ami de ta mère. Tu danses comme une Black.

9. Connor

It's a compliment.

C'est un compliment.

10. Mia

What do you know?

D'où tu sors ça?

11. Connor

I watch videos, like everyone else.

Je regarde des clips, comme tout le monde.

12. Mia

And that makes you some kind of expert, does it?

Ca fait de toi un spécialiste?

13. Connor

You've got a mouth on you!

T'as réponse à tout?

14. Connor

What should I call you, anyway?

Tu t'appelles comment?

15. Mia

Whatever you like.

Comme tu veux.

16. Connor

That's a charming personality you've got there!

Tu sais charmer ton monde.

17. Connor

See you later.

A plus tard.


The key challenge which this scene presents concerns the translation of accent, the sociocultural implications of which are not immediately available to the French audience. The most noteworthy linguistic feature of this scene is the clear distinction between Mia's Essex accent and Connor's American lilt. The recapturing of this in translation is handled in a number of ways. First, both of these non-standard SL accents are partially compensated for in the TT through less accurate use of TL grammar. Mia's 'What do you know?' (line 10) becomes 'D'où tu sors ça ?' rather than a lengthier more correct 'Qu'est-ce que tu en sais?'. Similarly, Connor's American 'girl' (line 1) is recaptured by the non-standard 'T'occupe-toi de moi' (omission of negative 'ne').

More significant, and easier to preserve in the TT, are the characters' very different attitudes. If Mia is snappy, her speech is less aggressive than usual and she uses no vulgar language. Her defensive responses are successfully preserved by using relatively close translation strategies (lines 3, 5, 12, 15). By contrast, Connor is not only of another culture but also has a very different personality. His relaxed manner is reflected in his voice, both in his use of non-aggressive language and in the slow pace of his speech. This is easily preserved in the TT, given that the subtitles evidently accompany the original soundtrack. Last, Connor's gentle use of irony, which serves to diffuse the slight tension in the atmosphere (line 16), is fully maintained in the TL through use of a more concise, but perfectly equivalent expression. In this instance, equivalence of effect is created in the TL (Nida, 1964).

Thus, although it would be impossible to fully recapture Connor's American accent in translation, Boillot and Haughton compensate for this through their use of non-standard TL grammar. Again, the presence of the original soundtrack, against which the subtitles are set, allows the relaxed pace of his speech to be preserved. The use of equivalent TL expressions also enables the ironic tone of the ST to be recreated in its subtitles. It can thus be argued that, by employing a combination of translation strategies, the film's subtitlers manage to convey the essential 'foreign' qualities of the American culture to the TL audience.

1.3 Scene three

In this, the penultimate scene of Fish Tank, Mia is about to leave home to begin a new life with her traveler boyfriend. In the lounge, Joanne is dancing to one of Mia's CDs, which is in fact the theme tune of the film. The music is very different to that which Joanne usually listens to; this scene therefore suggests her eventual attempt to connect with her daughter. Following the dialogue below, Mia responds to Joanne. The pair dance together in synchrony, are joined by Tyler and are watched closely by their pet Staffordshire bull terrier, Tennent's.

Line / Speaker



1. Mia

I'm going then.

J'y vais.

2. Joanne

It's one of your CDs.

C'est un de tes CD.

3. Mia



4. Joanne


C'est pas mal.

5. Mia

Yeah, it's Nas. He's good. You can keep it.

Oui, c'est Nas. C'est bon. Garde-le.

6. Joanne

Go on then, fuck off. What are you waiting for?

Vas-y, casse-toi! T'attends quoi?


The overriding translation issue to which the present scene gives rise is again the translation of accent. The way in which culture-bound terms are handled also proves interesting. The language which accompanies this scene is typically informal and the characters' regional accent comes across strongly. The challenges of re-rendering this in the TL are dealt with variously. In line 4, Joanne's slovenly pronunciation of 'It's alright' ('Sorright') is partly recaptured by an omission of the negative 'ne'. Mia's 'yeah' is not translated in line 3 as the meaning of this internationally understood word is self-evident. However, in line 5, her 'Yeah, it's Nas.' becomes 'Oui, c'est Nas.'.*4 Boillot and Haughton opt for a standard spelling in their subtitle, avoiding the non-standard French equivalent of 'yeah', 'ouais'.*5 This, in turn, is compensated for in line 6, when Joanne's standard SL question form, 'What are you waiting for?' becomes a very informal 'T'attends quoi?' as opposed to a more standard 'Qu'est-ce que tu attends?'.

This is an emotionally charged scene; Joanne is upset and has obviously been crying. Her listening and dancing to Mia's CD and her giving approval to this music are the only signs of affection which she shows her daughter in the entire film. Despite this, Joanne ultimately tells Mia to 'fuck off' (line 6), which is once again undertranslated as 'casse-toi'. She is so used to addressing her daughter aggressively that she seems unable to talk to her in any other way. In sum, despite some instances of undertranslation, the non-standard register of the language which pervades this scene is largely recaptured through the use of non-standard, informal TL grammar.

As mentioned above, the family's pet dog witnesses this scene. Due to the drinking culture which prevails on this housing estate, alcohol assumes considerable importance; the characters are seen drinking at home, in the street, while dancing and at parties. In this spirit, the family pet is named Tennent's, after the famous Scottish lager. Thus, the issue of translating cultural allusions arises. As Luyken comments aptly: 'If language consisted of just words, subtitling would be easy. The problem lies in the fact that behind the words lies a world of associations, customs, institutions: in short, a whole culture.' (1991: 157). When Mia returns home in one scene and the dog growels, she says: 'It's only me, Tennent's, stupid dog.'. This name is directly transposed from the ST to the TT: 'C'est moi, Tennent's, gros débile.' To the ST audience, this name is very funny. By contrast, the 'foreignizing' translation strategy used (Venuti, 1995: 19-20) results in a loss of humor in the TT. In order to achieve 'dynamic equivalence' (Nida, 1964) and therefore 'domesticate' the TT (Venuti, ibid.), it would be necessary to substitute this name with a well-known brand of French lager such as 'Kronenbourg' or 'Stella' - a choice which Boillot and Haughton do not make and is perhaps a lost opportunity to render the humorous name of the dog amusing to a French-speaking audience.

1.4 Scene four

Throughout Fish Tank, Mia's interaction with her sister, Tyler, is characterized by bitching and nastiness.*6 However, before Mia gets in to the car to go to Wales with her boyfriend, she and Tyler share an affectionate hug. As the car pulls away, Tyler runs after it, shouting. These two characters are not used to being nice to each other; the sentiment which they show here is therefore masked by use of apparently hostile language.

Line / Speaker



1. Tyler

I hate you.

Je te déteste.

2. Mia

I hate you too.

Moi aussi.

3. Tyler

Bye you scank. Don't forget to text me!

Salut pétasse. Envoie-moi un SMS.

4. Mia

Say hello to the W(h)ales for me!

Dis bonjour aux galeux de ma part.


When translating this scene, Boillot and Haughton again confront the issue of translating humor and irony which is linguistically and culturally bound. This scene is underpinned by a strong sense of affection. Due to the audiovisual context in which the speech is set - viewers witness the two sisters hugging -, the irony of lines 1 and 2 is immediately apparent. This is recaptured closely and concisely in the TL. In line 2, Tyler calls Mia a 'skank'. In the above discussion of scene one, it was seen that 'skanky' can be defined as 'cheap', 'dirty', 'nasty' or 'slutty'. 'Pétasse' ('slut') is therefore an apt translation of this SL insult. The offensiveness of this term is, however, mitigated; in the second part of line 3, Tyler reminds Mia to keep in touch. Her 'Don't forget to text me' is translated by the contracted and equally effective TL structure 'Envoie-moi un SMS'.

The word play contained in line 4 ensures that this scene ends on a lighter note. In Tyler's 'Say hello to the W(h)ales for me!', it is unclear whether this young girl thinks that the Welsh are called the Wales, or whether she is deliberately referring to these people as animals. In any case, the SL viewer hears the noun 'whales', which has a gently humorous effect. Translation of this term as 'galeux' ('shabby') instead of the phonetically similar 'Gallois' ('Welsh'), has an equally amusing effect on the TT audience; in this instance, Boillot and Haughton's creation of an alternative TL pun enables 'dynamic equivalence' (Nida, 1964) to be achieved.

In brief, use of equivalent TL insults, recreation of SL word plays and reliance on audiovisual context enable the humor and irony of this scene to be successfully transferred across cultures.

2) Musical soundtrack

As this paper mentioned in its introduction, it is not only the character interaction which Fish Tank contains, but also its musical soundtrack, which contribute significantly to the portrayal of the social class and culture which the film seeks to represent. In their discussion of the subtitling of songs, Diaz-Cintas & Remael (2007) suggest that the translation of certain tracks may be necessary. These include songs: which are long and which would leave viewers wondering about their meaning if they were left untranslated; which constitute the essence of a film; which support the narrative more or less explicitly; which suggest mood or create atmosphere (ibid.: 207-10). Diaz-Cintas and Remael also posit that, when the decision to translate has been made, three issues should be considered; those of content, rhythm and rhyme (ibid.: 211). Bearing in mind these issues, three of the film's key songs will be considered. The first two are the only ones in the film to have been subtitled. The third, somewhat surprisingly, is not translated.

2.1 Me & U

Me & U (2006) is sung by Cassie, an American singer, model and dancer whose music is in the mould of that of Janet Jackson or Jennifer Lopez. It features in the second of the eight previously discussed scenes; a gang of girls from the housing estate are performing a dance to some local boys, and Mia is watching them critically. If the above criteria are applied, the decision to translate this song (approximately one fifth of the song's entire lyrics) is entirely founded. The song is relatively long; non-anglophone TL viewers would therefore need to understand its meaning. The sexual nature of the lyrics also explicitly supports the seductive dance which is performed; these lyrics therefore contribute to creating an atmosphere of sexual enticement. In sum, the message of the scene is certainly enhanced by this use of intertextuality.






You've been waiting so long

Tu as attendu si longtemps


I'm here to answer your call

Maintenant, je suis là


I know that I shouldn't have

Je sais, j'aurais pas dû


Had you waiting at all

Te laisser attendre si longtemps


I've been so busy

J'ai eu beaucoup à faire


But I've been thinking 'bout what I wanna do wit you

Mais j'ai imaginé tout ce que je veux te faire


I know them other guys

Je sais que tous les mecs


They been talking 'bout the way I do what I do

Racontent que j'assure comme aucune autre nana


They heard I was good

Ils savent que je suis bonne


They wanna see if it's true

Ils fantasment sur moi


They know you're the one I wanna give it to

Mais tu es le seul que je veux aujourd'hui


I can see you want me too

Et tu me veux aussi

(Original lyrics: www.metrolyrics.com) [accessed 03/05/10]


The above translation is not always exact; simplifications are made (lines 2, 7, 9 and 12) as are some slight modifications (8, 10 and 11). This said, the song is, at all times, couched in a perfectly equivalent TL idiom and the content of the ST is fully preserved in the subtitles. The rhythm is also maintained as the subtitles are set against the song's melody on the SL soundtrack. By contrast, whereas alternate lines of the ST rhyme (call/all, you/do, true/too), which is not the case in the TT. This is, however, of no real consequence; content and rhythm take precedence over the rhyme of the song and an absence of the latter entails no real linguistic or cultural loss in translation; this song is successfully transferred across cultures. Indeed, the decision to subtitle this particular track enhances the TL audience's appreciation of the message, and the mood of the scene.

2.2 California Dreamin'

The film's second translated song, California Dreamin', was first released in 1965 by the 'Mamas and the Papas', an American vocal group (http://en.wikipedia.org). However, when Joanne and Connor discuss his CD collection in his car, it becomes apparent that the track which features in Fish Tank is in fact Bobby Womack's 1968 cover version of the song.*7

This song features three times in Fish Tank: first, when Connor takes Joanne and her two daughters for a drive in the countryside; second, when Mia is practicing a dance which she intends to perform at an audition; third, as she is about to perform her dance at the audition, before she actually changes her mind and leaves. Again, the decision to translate these lyrics was particularly appropriate. The song is lengthy and is repeated; an explanation of its meaning is therefore necessary. It supports the narrative very explicitly; the words describe an exotic and better world in America, which Connor clearly represents. In the car, the song helps to create a relaxed atmosphere on the family day out. At the audition, it may be seen to encourage Mia to accept a challenge and to aspire to something which is preferable to her current situation. Thus, in both of these contexts, this use of intertextuality contributes to, and enhances, the film.






All the leaves are brown

Les feuilles sont brunes


(All the leaves are brown)



And the sky is gray.

Et le ciel est gris


(And the sky is gray).



I've been for a walk

Je marche sans but


(I've been for a walk)



On a winter's day.

Par un jour d'hiver


(On a winter's day).



I'd be safe and warm

Il ferait plus doux


(I'd be safe and warm)



If I was in L.A.

Si j'étais à L.A.


(If I was in L.A.)



California dreamin'

Je rêve à la Californie


(California dreamin') on such a winter's day

Par ce jour d'hiver


Stopped in a church I passed along the way.

J'ai vu une église, je m'y suis arrêté


Well I got down on my knees

Je me suis agenouillé


(got down on my knees)



And I pretend to pray.

Et j'ai commencé à prier


(I pretend to pray).



You know the preacher likes the cold.

Le prêtre bénit le froid


(preacher likes the cold).



He knows I'm gonna stay.

Car il sait que je vais rester


(knows I'm gonna stay).


(Original lyrics: www.sing365.com) [accessed 03/05/10]


If the translation of this song (approximately two thirds of the entire lyrics) contains some simplifications (line 1) and inaccuracies (lines 5, 9 and 18), it does largely preserve the content of the ST; the latter's global message is not compromised. The song's rhythm is also maintained as the subtitles are set against the original soundtrack; a device which, in this instance, serves to reinforce the 'foreignizing' effect of this intertext (Venuti, 1995). As was the case of the previous song, the rhyming alternate lines of this ST are not preserved in the TT, yet this does not in any way detract from the translation. The song has the same function in the TL as it does in the original film.

2.3 Life's a Bitch

The third song to be considered in the present article is Life's a Bitch (2007) by the American rapper, Nas, who was referred to explicitly in the third scene discussed above. This song is heard during the film as Mia practices her hip-hop dancing and as she dances in synchrony with Joanne in the penultimate scene of the film (scene three, discussed above). It is also the film's theme tune. Although its lyrics contain a certain amount of rap slang which would have been extremely difficult to translate, the decision to subtitle not even the film's chorus is surprising; the song recurs, contributes to the film's atmosphere of rap culture and supports Mia's own narrative:

Life's a bitch and then you die, that's why we get high

Cause you never know when you're gonna go

Life's a bitch and then you die, that's why we puff lye

Cause you never know when you're gonna go.

(Original lyrics: www.sing365.com) [accessed 03/05/10)

Life is indeed something of a bitch for Mia; she takes her own refuge from it in her dancing and drinking. It could be argued that subtitling these four lines, possibly during the previously examined third scene or as an accompaniment to the theme tune, would enhance the non-anglophone TL audience's appreciation of both the relevance of this track and the film as a whole.


This article has focused on Andrea Arnold's 2009 film, Fish Tank, which is set in a socially deprived council estate in Essex and contains much non-standard, colloquial and vulgar language. The challenge of translating this oral register into the written form of another national language was recognized, as were the problems faced by subtitlers when working with strict temporal, spatial and visual constraints.

In view of the above, this article has considered some of the key difficulties presented by the subtitling of Fish Tank into French and has examined the strategies employed in order to deal with these difficulties. It has thereby sought to establish the extent to which the translation of this film preserves the linguistic and cultural specificity of the ST, an English soundtrack, in the TT, its corresponding written French subtitles; that is, how the fish tank, or aquarium, is transported from the source environment to the target environment.

In its analysis of the subtitling of four significant instances of character interaction and three songs, this article has identified certain slight losses which occurred in translation. Much of the vulgar language of the ST is, for instance, either omitted or toned down, which results in some neutralization of the SL style. This, however, is subtly compensated for by making more selective use of vulgar TL terms, lowering the register from the SL to the TL and relying on audiovisual clues which are available, such as aggressive facial expressions and violent gestures. As Luyken suggests:

Any method of Language Transfer will inevitably interfere with the original film [...] but it should attempt to be as unobtrusive as possible so that, ideally, the new viewers' experience [...] will differ as little as possible from that of the original audience.

(1991: 29)

The decision to retain the culture-bound term 'Tennent's' does indeed result in a loss of humor in the TT and the decision to provide no subtitles to the admittedly challenging theme tune, Life's a Bitch, entails indisputable semantic loss. In these instances, the 'new viewers' experience' differs considerably from that of the original audience. This said, as it has been demonstrated throughout the present article, for the most part, Fish Tank's subtitles, which contain close, accurate and concise translations and are evidently set against the original audiovisual context, succeed very well at preserving the film's representation of this social class and culture. Indeed, the film is not transformed in its translation from the SL to the TL; rather, Boillot and Haughton ensure that it is transported, intact, from one linguistic and cultural context to another.




*1. Skanky: 'The act of looking cheap, dirty and nasty. Also acting slutty.' www.urbandictionary.com [accessed 03/07/10]

*2. Pikey: 'From the English 'turnpike', the place where itinerant travelers and thieves would camp near a settlement. Pikey is not a racial group; the term is used to describe anyone who lives in a caravan or shares the same values and 'culture' of the travelling community [...].' (ibid.)

*3. In his paper, 'Dubbing versus Subtitling: Old Battleground Revisited', Tveit also acknowledges that '[...] tone of voice, stress and intonation [...] contribute to conveying information across language barriers [...].' (in Diaz-Cintas & Anderman, 2009: 87).

*4. This is the only explicit reference which is made to Nas in Fish Tank. The film's theme tune, sung by Nas, will be discussed at a later stage in this article.

*5. The predominance of written register features in subtitles has been investigated and demonstrated by other researchers in the field. (Assis Rosa in Gambier & Gottlieb, 1991: 215-16.)

*6. In one scene, Tyler asks Mia 'What are you doing?' ('Tu fais quoi?'). Mia replies 'Mind your own, fuck face.' ('T'occupe-toi, petite pétasse'), to which Tyler retorts 'If I'm a fuck face, you're a c**t face.' (T'occupe toi-même, grosse pute.'). The translation of this short exchange is particularly effective as the second insult is even more offensive than the first in both the SL and the TL.

*7. Joanne says 'You've got some weird shit here, I'm telling you.': 'T'as des trucs bizarres ici.', to which Connor replies 'You can't call Bobby Womack weird shit.': 'Bobby Womack, c'est tout sauf bizarre.'.



Assis Rosa, A. 'Features of Oral and Written Communication in Subtitling' in Gambier & Gottlieb (eds.) (2001)

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Electronic Resources