Volume 16, No. 4
October 2012

  Paulina Burczynska

Front Page


Index 1997-2012

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
How I Tripled My Translation Business in One Year
by Ilse Wong

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant and Worker Bee
The Most Prized Possession of All
by Jost Zetzsche

  Translators Around the World
The Booming Localization Industry in the People’s Republic of China
by Chuanmao Tian

  Translators' Health
Using OSHA Guidelines for Ourselves
by Françoise Herrmann, PhD

  Legal Translation
Derecho continental y derecho anglosajón: la terminología y la fraseología propia del ámbito sucesorio
by Esther Vázquez y del Árbol
The Brazilian Supreme Court Comes to the Rescue of Translators!
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Literary Translation
La palingénésie de Marco Micone : écriture, traduction et auto-traduction comme remèdes littéraires à l’invisibilité du migrant
by Cecilia Foglia

Cultural Aspects of Translation
Who’s Listening/Reading?
by by Philip Macdonald
Translation of Cultural Items in Dubbed Animated Comedies
by by Paulina Burczynska

Advertising Translation
Advertising in Translation: “Nivea Beauty Is” Campaign Against “Belleza Es, Facetas”
by Soledad Sta. María

Translation Theory
The Illusion of Transparency
by Daniel Valles

Translator Education
A Foray into Student-Centered Learning (SCL): Two SCL Activities Designed to Enhance Translation Pedagogy
by Lorin Card, PhD

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

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies

  Translation Journal
Cultural Aspects of Translation

Translation of Cultural Items in Dubbed Animated Comedies

by Paulina Burczynska

1. Introduction

ecent developments in the field of digital technology have led to an increased interest in audiovisual translation and its variants, i.e., subtitling, dubbing and voice-over (Diaz Cintas 2003/2007/2009; Orero 2004; Chaume 2004). While subtitling is most frequently applied in the translation of feature films, dubbing has become a more often used method in the translation of computer-animated comedies. However, to achieve a satisfying result, animated films should be adapted to the environment of target language viewers, which means that cultural references should be reflected in the audience's cultural heritage. Not without reason, such animated comedies like Shrek, Ice Berg, Madagascar or Gnomeo and Julia have gained in popularity in recent years. In Poland these animated productions with their dubbed translations can be defined as a phenomenon since they were widely acclaimed by Polish audiences. Considering the above-mentioned facts, the following question has been raised: what translation strategies are deployed for the translation of cultural elements in dubbing to make the translation comprehensible and enjoyable to the target audience? Debate also continues about other key factors that impinge on the successful reception of computer-animated comedies through their cultural associations. This non-judgmental comparative pilot study was designed to analyze the translation strategies that were applied in the translation of cultural references in the Polish dubbed version of the computer-animated comedy ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ and to determine their percentage. In addition, it is highly significant to discuss other cultural items that may have an influence on the comprehension of the film and its humor. To investigate this issue, a corpus of 100 dialogue lines of randomly selected scenes was created for the analysis. One frame is a word or a short set of words forming an utterance of a dubbed dialogue that appears on the screen for a limited time. A set of translation strategies for rendering culture-specific items presented by Davies (2003) was used as a theoretical framework.

2. Culture reflected in films

It is a challenge to transfer cultural items from the source language into the target language.
Recently, a huge compilation of translation studies has been published that accounts for the notion of culture and elaborates on various ways of its transfer into the target language reality. Over the last few years, numerous eminent scholars have approached the issue of culture defining it from various points of view. As a result, various definitions have emerged. In his seminal study, Nida (1994:157) described the notion of culture as “the total beliefs and practices of a society," while Vermeer (1987: 28) depicted it as

The entire settings of norms and conventions an individual as a member of his society must know in order to be ‘like everybody—or to be able to be different from everybody.

These cultural settings are characteristic elements for every country that should be reflected in the target culture. What follows is that, apart from two languages, translation also occurs between two cultures (Toury 1978). It is, therefore, not an easy task to find appropriate cultural equivalents, and Nida (1964:130) observed that cultural divergences between countries may be more problematic for translators to render than various divergences in the structure of both languages. As a result, to be able to effectively translate various cultural references, profound knowledge of the norms and conventions of the target countries is a necessity. It is also reinforced by Dollerup (1974:198), who highlighted that it is highly significant not only to have a command of both languages, but also to explore and study history and literature as well as the cultural and social references of both countries. To reflect the ‘spirit of the film’ (Nida 1964: 164) in dubbed animated movies for target language viewers, Newmark’s (2001) cultural and functional equivalence should be applied. Cultural equivalence means that a source language cultural item is substituted with a target language one, while functional equivalence aims to disseminate and to naturalize cultural words in the source text so that the word sounds neutral in the target language.

The translation of cultural elements becomes even more complicated when a movie has to convey entertaining factors and a translator has to face various humorous phrases, wordplay, allusions, irony, or idiosyncratic metaphors. It follows that humor contains a wide array of linguistically and culturally based expressions, which make a translator’s work difficult because some elements seem to be hardly translatable.

Because most jokes or humorous expressions are culture-specific, a translator has to explore the mindset of both the source and target country audience. Building on this, in her seminal study Chiaro (2008:585) suggested that

We share our humor with those who have shared our history and who understand our ways of interpreting the experience. There is a fund of common knowledge and recollection, upon which all jokes draw with instantaneous effect.

In addition, according to Tomaszkiewicz (2008) humorous elements that should be potentially funny depend on the social and cultural background, i.e. some situations may be entertaining in one society yet in another may be perceived as vulgar or offensive.

Another aspect worth mentioning about translating cultural items is non-verbal communication which is highly significant in film translations. Several studies have identified a whole range of non-verbal and visual elements on the screen that may influence film comprehension, evoke cultural associations and boost humor: gestures, body movements, facial expressions, and the like, which may be interpreted in various countries differently. The cultural divergences in the ‘sign system’ across countries have also been underlined by various scholars. For instance, Poyatos (in Snell-Hornby 2006:79) elaborated on the interpretation of ‘smile’, which is usually associated with positive feelings in England, while it is interpreted differently in Japanese culture. The ambiguity in the meaning of visual signs on the screen between the two languages may be thus very problematic and the level of difficulty in their interpretation depends on the language pair analyzed. So-called ‘body language’ may thus reinforce the humorous effect yet only if it is properly translated within the cultural conventions of the target viewers.

3. Domestication in dubbing

Cultural references play a pivotal role in adapting the content of the source dialogues to the language and cultural norms of the target language viewers, but a number of other aspects may be domesticated, as well. In his analysis, Venuti (1995:20) described the notion of domestication as “an ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to target language culture values, bringing the author back home." To be more precise, a foreign-language text should reflect the cultural heritage of the target language audience. However, apart from cultural elements hidden in the dialog sentences, there is a wide array of other aspects in dubbed computer-animated comedies that may reinforce the level of domestication and how the cultural elements are received by the target audience.

It is beyond question that dubbing is a demanding and complicated proces, which consists of various stages (Martinez 2004). Among many factors that may impact how a dubbed film is received by the target audience are the characters’ voices, for example. The dubbing director should pay particular attention to actors’ timbre of voice, intonation or accentuation to match them with a certain character on the screen (Martinez 2004). It is particularly significant in computer-animated comedies in which characters’ voices may enhance an entertaining aspect of a film. Furthermore, to make target viewers more familiar with a foreign production and to adapt it to the target cultural environment, characters’ voices are dubbed by ‘domestic stars’ widely known in the target language cultural circle (Ciu Song 2012:125). As a result, children, teenagers, or adults may associate a character’s voice with a certain recognizable actor who may boost the humoristic value of an animated film. In Poland, such computer-animated comedies like Shrek, Iceberg, Madagascar. or Gnomeo and Juliet are dubbed by an eminent Polish cast whose voices are very recognizable within the Polish community. However, if cultural references are domesticated excessively, the dialogs may sound artificial. It is thus almost impossible to domesticate all features of the source culture in all cases as Zabalbeascoa noted (1993). Furthermore, in his seminal article, Martinez-Sierra (2005:92-95) demonstrated a situation where excessive domestication of cultural elements may deteriorate the quality of a film and make it very unnatural for the target language viewers to watch, i.e., in the American series The Simpsons a typical American football match is commented by a recognizable Spanish sport announcer José María García whose voice sounds very artificial in this case.

Another factor that may enhance the level of domestication and humor in animated comedies is the translation of proper names. The characters’ names adapted to the target language viewers make the film more recognizable, memorable, and also more hilarious, especially when they are twisted and sound even funnier for the target audience, e.g., the frog’s name ‘Nanette’ was translated into Polish as ‘Dżaneta’ which is a twisted version of a Polish real female name ‘Żaneta’. Nevertheless, this procedure is usually restricted to supporting characters, while the names of characters starring in leading roles usually remain unchanged.

Notwithstanding, even if the method of domestication may jeopardize the naturalness of dialogues in dubbing, it is still a better way to convey cultural elements of the target language viewers than subtitling (Cui Song 2012). Although the translation of cultural references may pose many problems to translators, a grain of translational feeling is in this case very helpful and a continual search for “the closest natural equivalent to the source language message” as Nida stated in his study (1964: 166 in Munday 2008:46) may be the key to successful translation.

4. Translation strategies in the translation of cultural items

A considerable amount of literature has been published on the translation of cultural elements. Because ‘culture’ itself embodies various aspects of history, politics or social feelings of a certain society or culture, it is of paramount importance to render them correctly in dubbing. This concept has recently been challenged by eminent scholars (Newmark 2001; Hervey & Higgin 1992; Aixela 1996; Davies 2003) whose studies demonstrate a whole range of translation strategies that facilitate the decision-making process and the translation of culture-specific items.

For the purpose of this research, Davies’ strategies for the translation of cultural items have been adopted (2003). Her classification consists of following translation strategies: preservation, addition, omission, globalization, localization, transformation, and creation.

  • To begin, in Davies’ view ‘preservation’ involves translation of a source language phrase directly into the target language one without providing any additional explanation.
  • Another translation strategy is ‘addition,’ which is applied when the original text is ameliorated with additional information in the form of gloss, footnotes, or introduction. However, to approach the translation correctly, the translator must be aware of cultural nuances of the target language (Davies, 2003:77-78).
  • Omission’ is a strategy that is used quite frequently in audiovisual translations, especially when a text seems to be hardly translatable. In the case of cultural references, sometimes it is a more convincing idea to “omit a problematic culture-specific item (CSI) altogether, so that no trace of it is found in the translation” (Davies, 2003, p.79). As a result, it is better to obviate some cultural elements than to transfer it incomprehensibly or lose the humorous effect in animated comedies.
  • Under the concept of ‘globalization’ is a strategy of superseding culture-bound elements with more general, neutral expressions in the target language.
  • Localization,’ in contrast to globalization, attempts to find a formal equivalent of a cultural reference in the target language. According to Davies, ‘localization’ is applied when translators attempt to “try to anchor a reference firmly in the culture of the target audience” (Davies 2003,pp.83-84).
  • Another strategy worth mentioning is ‘transformation,’ which consists of “alteration or distortion of the original” (Davies 2003, p.86), which means that the original dialog or title is slightly changed in the target language to match it with the target culture reality.
  • The last translation strategy listed by Davies is ‘creation,’ which means a completely different translation of cultural items, which sometimes do not even appear in the source language.

5. Methodology

To examine the translation strategies deployed by a translator to render cultural references into the target viewers’ reality and to determine their percentage, a corpus of 100 dialog frames of randomly chosen scenes was chosen for the analysis. To investigate this issue, selected scenes from the computer-animated comedy Gnomeo and Juliet dubbed in Polish were chosen. The classification of Davies’ strategies for the translation of cultural references was used as a theoretical framework. Another purpose of this pilot study was to identify other cultural items that may affect the film’s reception by the target audience.

The plot of the animated comedy Gnomeo and Juliet is based on the well-known drama Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. However, in this case the two quarreling families are represented by two gardens. the Blues’ garden and the Reds’ garden. When Juliet from the red garden and Gnomeo from the blue garden fall in love with each other, the dispute between the two gardens worsens.

The process consists of three steps. Firstly, the film is watched in its original and dubbed version in Polish. Then the transcript of the original dialogs in English was compared with their Polish professional translation and various translation strategies were identified. The third step was counting the percentage of the identified translation strategies. The results are given below:

The statistics collected in the graph demonstrate the frequency and percentage of the identified translation strategies in the selected dialogs. Out of 100 dialog frames, there are 130 strategies identified to transfer cultural items into Polish. The translation strategy that was applied the most frequently is ‘localization’ (36%) ,which indicates that the translator attempted to supersede the source cultural items with their formal equivalences in the target language, e.g. Nanette says: ’I need details. And go slowly, is he totally gorgeous?’ This phrase was translated into Polish in a following way: “Jest z niego totalne ciacho?’ ( BT: Is he quite a good cake?). In this case the word ‘gorgeous’ was superseded with ‘cake’ which in Polish colloquial, everyday speech signifies a handsome man. The data demonstrated in the graph also indicate that ‘creation’ (23%) placed second. iFor example, in the original version Nanette says: ‘Does he havea nice rotund belly?’ which was translated into Polish as: ‘Ma kaloryfer czy sexy boiler?’ (BT: ‘Does he have a radiator or sexy boiler?’). It is another example of colloquial speech used in Poland because the word ‘radiator’ in Polish slang is used to describe ‘a man’s muscular belly’, although it is only known and used within the Polish community. while for English speakers it sounds very strange. The most striking result to emerge from the data is that ‘globalization’ (16%) placed third, which means some specific cultural items from the source language were replaced with a more general term in Polish dubbing. For instance, Juliet comparing different hats’ colors says: ‘Why couldn’t it be (...) green like a leprechaun." A leprechaun is an Irish dwarf that is a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day which is a well-known celebration in the UK and the US. In Poland, however, this term may not be familiar. Therefore the translator decided to use a more general expression, i.e. ‘ (..) jak zielone berety’ (BT: ‘(...) Like green berets’), which is a colloquial term for US Army Special Forces but equally used in other countries like Poland. The fourth most-used strategy was ‘addition’ (9%), but the supplementary text was not added because of cultural divergences in the form of notes or gloss; however it happened very rarely, mostly in cases where a phrase appeared in a language other than English. such as Japanese. ‘Transformation’ (8%) placed fifth in terms of frequency. The two strategies that scored the lowest results are ‘preservation’ and ‘omission.’ Surprisingly, there were very few examples of ‘preservation’ (5%) identified, which indicates that the translator was able to adapt the translation well to the cultural environment of the target audience. Most of the items that were preserved were some of the proper names. When it comes to the strategy of ‘omission’ it must be admitted that a translator tried to convey a lot of information and very few items were left out. In the case of translation of culture-bound expressions ‘omission’ (3%) is not the favored strategy.

6. Summary and Conclusions

Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this study, it is now possible to state that a wide array of translation strategies was used to render cultural references into the target language. One of the more significant findings to emerge from this study is that ‘localization’ and ‘creation’ were the most-used strategies. The main aim of both of those strategies was to find a cultural equivalence in the target language that will make the target audience more familiar with a foreign production. The transferred phrases stem from Polish slang, cultural associations, and common sayings that play a pivotal role in the culture of teenagers and adults. Furthermore, the results of this study indicate that sometimes cultural items of the source language were superseded with a more general, neutral item, and as a result ‘globalization’ placed third. ‘Transformation’ was also encountered in some cases. However, other strategies, like ‘preservation,’ ‘addition,’ or ‘omission’ were used very rarely. Taken together, these findings suggest that a huge majority of the source cultural elements were rendered into the target language, which enhanced the humorous value of the animated comedy because various popular Polish slogans, which in other cultures may be misunderstood, were used. In addition, characters’ voices that were provided by famous Polish actors make the computer-animated comedy even more hilarious. What is more, some of the characters’ names were adapted to Polish reality and twisted to reinforce the humorous effect.

Beyond a doubt, it is a challenge to transfer cultural items from the source language into the target language because ‘successful translation depends on a double awareness of the cultural context in which the original was produced and of the context into which it is to be projected’ as Brower highlighted in his study (1966: 5). As a result, not only a proficient knowledge of both languages is a necessity, but knowledge about both countries’ cultural norms seems to be the key to success.


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