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
Culture reflected in films
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
It is a challenge to transfer cultural items from the source language into the target language.
The entire settings of norms and conventions an individual as a member of his society must know in order to be ‘like everybodyor 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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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