Non-professional Interpreting and Translation in the Media

by Rachele Antonini (Volume editor) Chiara Bucaria (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 286 Pages
Series: Interfaces, Volume 8


Non-professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT) is a recent discipline. Books and volumes on this subject that combine all the different fields are extremely uncommon and authoritative reference material is scarce and mostly scattered through disparate specialized journals. There are many areas and aspects of NPIT in the media that to date have been under researched or utterly neglected. The aim of this volume is therefore to fill an important gap in the academic market and to provide an overview of diverse aspects of non-professional interpreting and translation in the media. The volume consists of a collection of essays by eminent international scholars and researchers from the field of Translation and Interpreting Studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Rachele Antonini and Chiara Bucaria - NPIT in the media: An overview of the field and main issues
  • Representations of NPIT on Screen
  • Delia Chiaro - Mimesis, reality and fictitious intermediation
  • Giuseppe De Bonis - Mediating intercultural encounters on screen. The representation of non-professional interpreting in film
  • From Non-Professional to Professional Status
  • Chiara Bucaria - “I didn’t think it was appropriate”: Considerations on taboo humour in the subtitling classroom
  • Anna Bączkowska - Quantitative study of non-professional subtitles and implications for corpus-based translator training
  • NPIT on the Internet and Other Media
  • Minako O’Hagan - Reflections on professional translation in the age of translation crowdsourcing
  • Ulf Norberg and Ursula Stachl-Peier - Hedging markers in non-professional translations of individual words and expressions
  • Rachele Antonini - Non-professional media interpreting of radio interviews
  • Dingkun Wang and Xiaochun Zhang - The cult of dubbing and beyond: Fandubbing in China
  • Alessandro Ghignoli and María Gracia Torres Díaz - Interpreting performed by professionals of other fields: The case of sports commentators
  • Fansubbing
  • David Orrego-Carmona - Internal structures and workflows in collaborative subtitling
  • Silvia Bruti and Serenella Zanotti - Non-professional subtitling in close-up: a study of interjections and discourse markers
  • Ornella Lepre - Translating culture in fansubs: proper name cultural references in 30 Rock
  • Editors’ and Contributors’ Bionotes

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Rachele Antonini and Chiara Bucaria

NPIT in the media: An overview of the field and main issues1

1. Rationale of the volume

The present volume was initially inspired by the First International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT1) that took place at the former Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators (now the Department of Interpreting and Translation) of the University of Bologna in Forlì in 2012. The number and variety of papers devoted to non-professional interpreting and translation (henceforth NPIT) that were presented at the conference confirmed the need for such an event where scholars and researchers dealing with this specific form of linguistic and cultural mediation can share their studies without being relegated in sessions or panels that have nothing or little to do with NPIT. Hence the importance of having forums like NPIT conferences where scholars and researchers coming from different disciplines and dealing with different aspects and facets of NPIT can present their work.

The outcome was two volumes focussing on two specific settings: NPIT in institutional settings (Antonini et al. forthcoming) and the present volume. However, since the great majority of papers presented at NPIT1 focussed on one specific form of NPIT in the media, i.e. fansubbing, the editors of this volume decided to invite researchers who deal with other aspects of this topic to submit an article in order to present a more varied and nuanced depiction of this specific area of NPIT.

1.1 Definitions

NPIT is a difficult practice to define, its contours slippery and blurred, its domains all-encompassing. Its scope encompasses all those linguistic and cultural mediation activities performed by people (bilingual speakers) who have had no formal training and who are often not remunerated for their work as an interpreter/translator. The use of this term is quite recent and is rapidly surpassing other labels that have been and are used to define this practice and which include ad ← 7 | 8 → hoc interpreting, family interpreting, informal interpreting, language brokering, lay interpreting, native and natural translation/interpreting (Antonini 2015). Yet, while contributing to isolating fundamental aspects of this practice they do not manage to provide a description that unambiguously sets it apart from professional interpreting and translation.

With the premise that the juxtaposition of the prefix non- is not sufficient to set it apart from professional practice and following Antonini et al.’s (forthcoming) comprehensive assessment of the terminology that has been employed over the last four decades to define NPIT, it is possible to identify a set of specific features attached to this practice. The terms ‘natural’ and ‘native’ translator where developed in bilingualism and interpreting and translation studies. ‘Natural translator’ has been used to refer to the natural aptitude for bilingual speakers to translate in everyday circumstances without having had any special training for it (Harris 1973, Harris and Sherwood 1978). With the term ‘native translator’ Toury (1995) put forward a similar notion which, however, did not consider bilingualism as a precondition for the development of translation competence and stressed the importance of other factors such as social motivation for translating, the social functions that govern the need for translation and/or its end products. ‘Informal’ (Meyer et al. 2010) and ‘lay’ interpreting (Pöchhacker 2004) are generally used to define the unofficial, unpaid and untrained aspect of NPIT practices particularly in health and institutional settings (thus not accounting for the formality that characterizes both the place and the interaction that take place in such settings). ‘Ad hoc’ denotes the unplanned nature of NPIT although, as Antonini et al. observe, “much NPIT is – if not planned – at least strongly expected to take place, by either primary party (or even both parties) and/or the interpreter, in a number of circumstances in which participants are aware that there is no professional option available” (forthcoming). ‘Family interpreting’ is a term coined by Valdes (2003) to define the role played by both adults and children in allowing their families to interact and communicate with members and representatives of the institution and society of their new country of residence. ‘Language brokering’ (Shannon 1990, Tse 1995) and ‘para-phrasing’ (Orellana et al. 2003) refer to the interpreting and translations performed by children, mostly of immigrant origin, but also by the children of deaf adults. While limiting the scope of NPIT to children-mediated events these two terms succeed in capturing the complex nature of this practice which is not limited to the mere transferral of information from one language into another. Finally, we would like to mention a term of more recent coinage which is ‘unrecognized translation’. Harris, in one of the entries in his blog www.unprofessionaltranslation.com, defines this form of translation as the interpreting/translating “that goes unrecognized because it forms part and ← 8 | 9 → parcel of some other job”2, thus emphasizing the vast scope of NPIT and the fact that just a small parcel of this practice has so far been studied.

Given all the above, we feel that the term ‘non-professional’ is probably the best umbrella term “not just because it is a generic enough rubric to subsume a wide range of practices, but also because it lacks the biases that other terms seem to have” (Antonini et al. forthcoming).

The media setting is even more susceptible to the overlap between professionalism and non-professionalism to the point that in every situation in which any form of interpreting and/or translation is needed people may resort equally to either professionals or non-professionals to provide media content in another language. Moreover, as many chapters in this volume contend, the non-professionals who end up providing an interpreting or translation service might not provide a service that is up to the standards of a professional, but will however do so without being detrimental to the overall comprehension and fruition of the event/text they are mediating. They may be professionals or experts in other areas and disciplines, who in specific settings (e.g. sports, journalism, entertainment), by virtue of their competence, fluency and proficiency in another language are able to provide a satisfactory rendition of what is said/written in a foreign language thus helping the final users partake in the mediated event/text.

Hence where is the fine line between professional and non-professional? What are the defining elements that can help us set one apart from the other?

Non-professional interpreters and translators are generally defined as untrained, unremunerated, not abiding by a code of ethics or standards of practice, and lacking in social prestige. However, the application of these features to NPIT in the media shows that, in reality, this may not be the case. For instance, as in the case of fansubbing, non-professionals are in fact recruited (cfr. Orrego, and O’Hagan this volume) and are required to follow standards of practice created by either the community in which they are active as interpreters/translators (as in the case of fansubbers) or by the professional category to which they belong. Moreover, even though their job as interpreters/translators is generally unremunerated, in some cases, like for instance DJ interpreters (cfr. Antonini this volume), although not paid for their role as an interpreter, they are paid for their job as DJs and when performing interpreting activities they retain the prestige attached to being a professional in the radio sector. Lastly, non-professionals who interpret/translate in the media, in most cases, are unqualified having not received any training in this ← 9 | 10 → specific profession, however, this does not necessarily mean that they are incompetent as, over time, they can acquire expertise and competence in a specific area of interpreting/translation in the media.

2. Issues in NPIT in the media

The theorization of concepts useful to a discussion of the various areas of NPIT in the media mentioned above has been mainly offered by the disciplines of Translation Studies and Media and Communication Studies, with the most valuable contributions being the ones spanning across these fields. In particular, scholarship in the subfields of audiovisual translation, fan studies, audience studies, television and film studies, and game studies, among others, has tackled issues related to non-professionals translating and sometimes distributing oral or written material through various media platforms. Far from being an all-encompassing review of existing academic work in all areas of NPIT in the media, this introduction aims at contextualizing some of the situations in which this form of interpreting and translation is present, leaving more in-depth literature reviews to the individual chapters.

Common to most forms of NPIT are some crucial changes that have occurred – mainly in the last decades of the 20th century – in the dynamics in which media content is produced, accessed and consumed. Particularly, the increased accessibility of the Internet and the advancement of digital technologies have amplified the ways in which users can access, interact with and modify audiovisual material, putting in motion what Jenkins has called “participatory culture” (2006). In this context, users are not only consumers of online content but by producing this content they have also become prosumers (Tapscott and Williams 2006), thus essentially re-appropriating and engaging with online material in new and stimulating ways, such as fan vids, mash-ups, and fanfiction.

The above-mentioned changes have also drastically modified the volume and impact of NPIT in the media. Specifically, the prominence and growth of user-generated content (UGC) have also been accompanied by “user-generated translation” (UGT) (O’Hagan 2009: 97), or forms of translation directly produced by users or fans, who typically receive no monetary compensation for their services. In the last few years the impact of amateur or volunteer translation has been so influential that O’Hagan has noted that “Translation Studies can no longer afford to overlook the fan translation phenomenon” (2008: 179) and Cronin (2010) has coined the phrase “technological turn” to suggest the importance that recent technological advances have had on the ways in which translation scholars (should) now approach and conceive of this discipline. ← 10 | 11 →

Different aspects and themes related to NPIT in the media have been more or less extensively studied by scholars, with a few recurring leitmotivs. One of these is the various reasons or motivations (e.g. Fernández Costales 2012) that lead amateurs or fans to engage with translation: these most typically range from the pure entertaining value of an activity that obviously engages amateur translators from an affective point of view (for example fansubbing) to more complex factors such as political, cultural or social concerns, as in the case of activism expressed through translation crowdsourcing (O’Hagan 2011) or other forms of translation motivated by humanitarian reasons. Particularly when discussing translation crowdsourcing or “a contemporary means to procure translation by tapping into the skills and energy of engaged audiences through the connectivity of the online world” (O’Hagan this volume), scholars tend to stress the fine line between participation and citizen engagement on the one hand and free labour on the other, with concerns particularly arising when the work of volunteer translators is subsequently exploited for profit by the commissioner.

NPIT in other contexts – such as the medical and legal settings among others (Antonini et al. forthcoming) – is often considered as a threat for the translation profession and NPIT in the media is no exception, with the obvious concession that the media itself seems to amplify the resonance of the controversy. For instance, translation scholars and professional translators alike have expressed concerns over the amateur translators’ lack of official professional qualifications, which in turn raises anxieties over the reliability of the translated products. In a field which is in many countries still plagued by the lack of officially recognized standards and status for professional translators and interpreters, these concerns about quality standards and the risk of trivializing the translation-related professions indeed seem all but marginal. Famous instances of relatively recent much publicized attempts at translation crowdsourcing openly opposed by the professional world include Facebook and LinkedIn, which have been criticized for their seeming profit- or rather savings-driven approach to localization (O’Hagan 2009). However, other scholars also highlight the advantages of voluntary translation, particularly in being able to benefit from the genre-specific knowledge of fans and other domain-specific experts, which some professional translators might not have and which in some cases can be seen as compensating for the lack of formal training (O’Hagan 2008 and this volume).

Another aspect closely interconnected with NPIT is its potential for activism and resistance against injustice or discrimination perpetrated on a political, cultural or social level. Similarly to fandubbing, which in some contexts can function as an opposing force to state censorship (Wang and Zhang this volume), although for partially different reasons, fansubbing can also be seen as a site in which the ← 11 | 12 → sometimes subversive (or “abusive” in Nornes’ words, 2007) nature of NPIT is exemplified. Firstly, fansubbing communities successfully manage to take control of which audiovisual products are made available to users outside of the official distribution channels, for example by choosing to subtitle films or television series that have not yet been shown – or never will – in a given country. By the same token, consumers of fansubs can choose, if they will, to add a further option to their already rich range of viewing possibilities – on demand services and digital recording devices being among them – by watching an audiovisual product not only in their own time, but aided by subtitles that, unlike officially produced subtitles, promise to reject textual manipulation, for example in the form of censorship and omission of cultural references. Secondly, this form of co-creational work (Barra 2009) subversively breaks some of the norms of traditional subtitling, for example through the use of colourful fansubber notes in anime or by exceeding by far the amount of text on screen that is normally allowed in professional subtitling, thus covering a considerable portion of the screen. Furthermore, fansubbing generally tends to adopt more source-oriented or foreignizing translational strategies (Bruti and Zanotti this volume) – for example by remaining closer to the source text when it comes to idioms, puns, etc. – a choice that also challenges the invisibility of the translator (Venuti 2008).

Given the widely acknowledged specificities of fansubbing, the contributions in this volume do not openly engage in the debate concerning the superiority of official subtitling over fansubbing or vice versa. Similarly to the obsolete debate over the superiority of either dubbing or subtitling, most scholars seem now to subscribe to the view of fansubbing as an alternative form of audiovisual translation, with its own agenda and target audience, which therefore does not need to be in competition with more established and widespread options. Scholars and professional translators alike would therefore benefit from acknowledging this phenomenon and other forms of non-professional translation as an evolution of the profession.

Apart from the more commonly studied areas in which NPIT is practiced in the media, this volume also addresses forms of non-professional interpreting and translation that have historically received little attention. Some of these include the collaborative practice of fandubbing (Nord et al. 2015) – or “fundubbing” (Chaume 2013) – which consists in the free distribution over the Internet of audiovisual programs, most commonly Japanese anime, which have been dubbed by fans for fans” (Diaz-Cintas and Orero 2010: 444), radio and sports interpreting, and the representation of NPIT in film and other audiovisual products (Chiaro 2014), which can all contribute to a better and fuller understanding of the various facets of non-professional interpreting and translation. ← 12 | 13 →

Lastly, with the relentless growth of courses and modules in audiovisual translation at various higher-education institutions across Europe, we would have been remiss not to include students of audiovisual translation in the array of non-professionals performing translation tasks. Although they do not technically fall into Harris’ categories of non-professional translators, the students’ status as trainees automatically makes them a noteworthy subject of analysis when it comes to looking for insights into what the transition from non-professional to professional translation practitioners consists of and what the trainees’ needs might be while they are on the verge of entering the professional world and facing its challenges.

3. Volume overview

The twelve chapters in this collection touch upon and expand on the aspects and ideas briefly outlined above. The three sections in this volume try to group together the plethora of approaches and themes that our contributors have adopted and engaged with in their scholarship. The opening section, “Representations of NPIT on screen”, is devoted to the stimulating if little studied aspect of the ways in which non-professional interpreters are portrayed in film and television.

By spanning across fictional and non-fictional genres, Delia Chiaro’s chapter looks at the representation of the role of incidental interpreters on screen, starting with an analysis of classic, multilingual films in which one or more characters speak a different language and this otherness needs to be somehow mediated both for the characters on screen and for the audience. By drawing on older and newer filmic examples, Chiaro identifies a few recurring patterns in the depiction of non-professional lingua-cultural mediators, such as the fine lines between truth telling, white lies, and deceit. The author then moves on to describe examples in which journalists, disc jockeys, and anchor-men and women take on the role of interpreters on news and entertainment television programmes, comparing their skills and positioning with those of professional interpreters on screen.

Giuseppe De Bonis offers an overview of the roles that non-professional interpreters take on in the specific field of multilingual films. Adopting an approach that spans across Translation Studies and Film Studies, De Bonis aims to create a theoretical framework for the understanding of the who, what, for whom, when, where, how, why of non-professional interpreting in its filmic representation. Through instances from both drama and comedy, the chapter describes a range of on-screen situations, in which issues are raised concerning the reliability vs. unreliability of the fictional interpreters and the successful vs. unsuccessful outcomes of an interpreting situation. Interpreting carried out by non-professional mediators is also described ← 13 | 14 → at times as a narrative device used to advance the plot of a film or as a vehicle for humour.

The second section in this volume attempts at problematizing the practice of audiovisual translation performed by students by couching it in the context of their transition from non-professional to professional status.

Chiara Bucaria proposes to look at advanced translation trainees as non-professional translators in their own right and reports on a case study in which students in a subtitling course were tasked with the translation of an episode of the British TV series Extras containing humour based on taboo language and content. By adopting a mixed-method approach combining a close analysis of the subtitles produced by the students and observation of the students’ attitudes while tackling the translation task in class, Bucaria maintains that even advanced translation trainees may lack the linguistic tools and self-awareness to successfully and consistently render taboo elements in an audiovisual product. As a consequence, a call is made for training in audiovisual translation that also includes a non-prescriptive discussion of how to transpose potentially disturbing elements.

Anna Bączkowska’s chapter presents the results of a quantitative analysis based on data extracted from the Learner Corpus of Subtitles (LeCoS). The corpus, which was launched in 2010, consists of subtitles created by undergraduate students of Modern Languages at the University of Adam Mickiewicz. The aim of the LeCoS project is to ascertain the students’ subtitling skills, their subtitling strategies as well as language problems they generally encounter, and, on the basis of such information, to put forward some guidelines that could be used to design the objectives, content and structure of future courses in subtitling. The analysis of lexical and stylistic tendencies in subtitles written by undergraduate students allowed the author to identify the main translation problem areas that should be addressed in a course in subtitling.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Translation Studies Interpreting Studies Broadcast media Fansubbing
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 286 pp., 37 tables, 5 graphs

Biographical notes

Rachele Antonini (Volume editor) Chiara Bucaria (Volume editor)

Rachele Antonini is Senior Lecturer in English Language and Translation at the Department of Interpretation and Translation of the University of Bologna at Forlì. Her main research interests focus on sociolinguistics, audiovisual translation, Humour Studies, non-professional interpreting and translation. Chiara Bucaria is Lecturer in English Language and Translation at the Department of Interpretation and Translation of the University of Bologna at Forlì. Her main research interests include audiovisual translation, censorship in translation, fansubbing, Humour Studies, and Television Studies.


Title: Non-professional Interpreting and Translation in the Media