Translating Audiovisuals in a Kaleidoscope of Languages

by Montse Corrius (Volume editor) Eva Espasa (Volume editor) Patrick Zabalbeascoa (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 204 Pages
Series: Łódź Studies in Language, Volume 65


Translating Audiovisuals in a Kaleidoscope of Languages addresses the challenges involved in translating multilingualism in film and TV fiction. It shows the complexity of fictional characters "speaking in tongues" in different genres and for different audiences. It includes individual contributions and team project work on a range of audiovisual translation modes, such as dubbing, subtitling and audio description. The types of products analyzed go from musicals to detective stories, including comedy, adventure and drama. The methodologies embrace case studies, corpus studies and reception studies. This book also allows the profession to let its voice be heard, through interviews and discussions with film-makers, producers, actors and translators working with audiovisual multilingualism.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Acknowledgements
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction: An Amazing Maze of Languages in Audiovisual Translation
  • Multilingualism in Stage and Film Musicals: Varying Choices in Various Translation Modes and Contexts
  • Multilingual Humour in Audiovisual Translation
  • Researching the Presence of Third Languages (L3) in AV Fiction with the Trafilm Tool
  • Why Make Multilingual Films and TV Series? And How Are They Perceived? Preliminary Results on Filmmakers’ Intentions and Audiences’ Reception
  • The Beatles’ Accents: Insights on Audiovisual Characterisations of Scouse
  • ‘Montalbano Here!’ Subtitling Dialects and Regionalisms from Italian into English
  • The Multilingual Text: A Challenge for Audio Description1
  • Professional Perspectives on Multilingual Films: In Conversation with Isona Passola, Alex Brendemühl and Lluís Comes
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series Index

Montse Corrius, Eva Espasa and Patrick Zabalbeascoa

Universitat de Vic—Universitat Central de Catalunya
Universitat de Vic—Universitat Central de Catalunya
Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Introduction: An Amazing Maze of Languages in Audiovisual Translation

The use of more than one language in a filmic text may respond to various motivations and take on different forms, many of which are dealt with in this volume. By way of introduction let us start with two powerful and recurrent motivations for exploiting or reflecting language variation in audiovisual texts, as can be seen in the following claims by Bogucki (2013) and Passola (in Santamaria, in this volume).

According to Isona Passola, Wim Wenders, the President of the European Film Academy, asked film professionals to use different languages in their films, on the grounds that the culture of Europe is diversity and the language of Europe is translation. This is the view of film whereby two or more languages may coexist in a film as a purposefully constructed means to reflect sociolinguistic phenomena such as multilingualism, code-switching, diglossia, and casual interpreting, among others. According to this approach, even audiovisual fiction could be expected to be true to life as far as language use is concerned: to lend credibility, to be respectful, for art to reflect life, and so on. This is closely related to the multilingual character of films for which Sternberg (1981: 223) coined the term vehicular matching. Vehicular matching ‘far from avoiding linguistic diversity or conflict, accepts them as a matter of course, as a fact of life and a factor of communication, and sometimes even deliberately seeks them out – suiting the variations in the representational medium to the variations in the represented object’, as opposed to a historically frequent practice of having all characters speak the language of the intended audience. Sternberg proposed the name homogenising effect for this strategy, in opposition to vehicular matching, and what he called referential restriction, consisting in confining the scope of the represented world to the limits of a single linguistically uniform community whose speech-patterns correspond to those of the implied audience, sometimes to the point of excluding interdialectical as well as interlingual tensions, as in the ←11 | 12→novels of Jane Austen. Vehicular matching is often seen as—or claimed to be—a better option, as a more faithful representation of the world.

This is not the whole picture, however, regarding the copresence of different languages in a given film, as Bogucki deftly points out.

The use of multiple languages in film is a thought-provoking case of filmmakers’ creativity, and its implications for audiovisual translation are definitely under-researched. There seems to be little regularity as regards the techniques of translating other languages in film, but further research may help locate certain recurring patterns (Bogucki 2013: 89–90).

The operative word in Bogucki quote is creativity, stressing as it does the artistic, rhetorical, stylistic potential of skilful, artful combinations of languages. So, although these two strategies may overlap, and they do not necessarily involve a binary opposition the way vehicular matching and homogenizing effect might seem to do, one has to be mindful that using different languages to reflect the way of the world may or may not be done while at the same time ‘planting’ and ‘distributing’ such languages in artful, creative ways. In relation to translation these two approaches beg the question as to how and in what circumstances vehicular matching can be rendered in AVT (mimetically or by compensation), and a reformulation of the age-old question of whether translators can or indeed need to be creative when translating creative or original writing, or film-making.

The audiovisual mode dates back to the late nineteenth century and is one of the most common means of communication and entertainment of all kinds (films, shows, clips) nowadays, for different analogical and digital media (cinema, home entertainment, and mobile devices) and with a range of (non)professional standards. According to data provided by the Unesco Institute for Statistics (2016), since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the countries leading the production of feature films have been India, USA and China, with Hindi, English and Chinese as their main languages, respectively. The Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) already classifies feature films linguistically according to their language composition: (a) monolingual (using one language) or (b) multilingual (using a combination of two or more languages), as a reflection of a palpable decline in the number of monolingual films in recent years, in favour of multilingual films.

Although India is the country with the biggest feature-film output, the United States leads the market by gross box office. In fact, ‘the ranking of the top 20 feature films most viewed in the world in 2013 only lists firms that were either produced or co-produced by US companies’ (UIS 2016). What is more, the film industry of the United States has a profound effect all over the world given ←12 | 13→the volume and diverse destinations of its exports. Most films are produced in English, which is a foreign language for a large part of the population of the planet, although most of their films—following the current tendency—contain more than one language in their source-text versions. Audiovisual translation is a necessary tool in a society marked by great advances in the fields of communication, information, digital technology and globalisation in general, namely, in our audiovisual and digital era, in which digital streaming platforms such as Netflix, HBO and Hulu have come to the fore, boosting the need for translation. There is no doubt that this era has challenged the field of translation studies in general and of audiovisual translation theory and training in particular.

A number of academics from different places and institutions have made important contributions on this issue. Research carried out since the end of the last century (the 1990s) has deepened the theoretical foundations of audiovisual translation, and increased its attention to different modes of translation and audiovisual genres and opened up certain didactic implications.

However, multilingualism in audiovisual translation was little studied until Corrius (2008) approached this topic in her PhD dissertation, although there had been some incursions into the topic in the field of literature, most notably Delabastita (2002) and Grutman (2006). Bleichenbacher (2008) studied the presence and purpose of languages other than English in Hollywood movies although he did not focus on the foreign versions. Since then, the study of multilingualism in audiovisual translation has gained importance and several academics from various parts of the world have taken an interest in the subject. Soon afterwards, in 2010, the research group TRAMA (Traducció per als mitjans audiovisuals i accessibilitat) [Translation for the Audiovisual Media and Accessibility] from Universitat Jaume I (Castelló, Spain) started to examine the representation of immigration in Spanish multilingual films.1

As stated by de Higes Andino (2014), Cronin (2009) has studied the visibility of translation in films which depicts language diversity, that is, the thematisation of translation in polyglot spaces; Martínez-Sierra, Martí-Ferriol, de Higes Andino, Prats-Rodríguez, Chaume (2010) and O’Sullivan (2011) have analysed how multilingualism might become a tool for filmmakers, whereas Şerban (2012) has focused on the presence of multilingualism as aesthetic purpose.

Different perspectives of the translation of multilingual texts have been approached during this last decade: Corrius and Zabalbeascoa (2011) have worked on providing a more systematic understanding of the nature of the third language (L3), described as neither L1 in the ST nor L2 in the TT but any other language(s) found in either text. They have developed theoretical insights into L3 as a translation phenomenon, above all, and as a problem, too, resulting in a ←13 | 14→significant contribution to existing general models of translation. Monti (2009) and Minutella (2012) centred their studies on the translation techniques employed in the transfer of multilingual dialogues. Meylaerts and Şerban (2014) have identified the intradiegetic functions of L3, such as character portrayal, voice, and point of view, as well as its extradiegetic role. Likewise, Ranzato (2019) has also analysed the use of the third language to portray character, yet focusing on language variation such as accent and idiolect; and Martínez-Tejerina and Sánchez (2019) have also dealt with foreign and regional accents. Similarly, other researchers have worked on identity and multilingualism. Micòl Beseghi (2017) has undertaken a sociolinguistic and intercultural study of diasporic films and analysed how South Asian identity is reconstructed for the Italian audience through dubbing and subtitling. The Spanish research project Identitra (2016–1019) (FFI2015-68572), led by Pérez L. de Heredia and Merino-Álvarez, studies the representation of translation and identity in multilingual texts (Pérez L. de Heredia and Higes Andino, 2019).2 Likewise, the Spanish research project PluriTAV (2017–2019) (FFI2016-74853-P), led by Juan José Martínez Sierra, explores the connection between AVT and a multilingual approach to foreign language learning.3

A further point needs to be made here, as the third language is frequently associated to instances of humour; some academics have analysed the intricacies of the relationships between humour production and multilingualism: De Bonis (2014), Dore (2019), Zabalbeascoa (2012, 2018). Likewise, Chiaro and De Bonis (2019) have explored when two or more languages in contrast become a humorous trope.

A final point of clarification is the theoretical and terminological difficulty of defining exactly what amount of language variation a film must have in order to be properly called multilingual. On this point we can say that definitions have become stricter and membership more difficult as the phenomenon became more pervasive and its study more widespread. So, whereas some years ago it was almost enough for a film to have a single word in another language to qualify as multilingual, it was not long before some scholars (Díaz-Cintas, 2016) were demanding that a film have at least one bilingual character or bilingual conversation. It is not clear that there is a real need for this kind of polemic, if we can get around the issue of defining the label of ‘multilingual’ and instead simply refer to films that somehow comprise linguistic expressions that meaningfully include the presence of at least one language that is distinct from the main language of the film. However, we are not out of the woods entirely even with that. Research has shown that for the purposes of translation it is not useful to erect language borders too rashly, and that it may boil down to what the translator perceives ←14 | 15→as being a meaningful difference between two types of language expression, without even going so far as to have to cross national borders, thereby including in the notion of language variation (L3) not only foreign languages but dialects, too, and sociolects, made-up languages, and so on, as more and more studies show how the dynamics, the creativity (or the reflection of a sociolinguistic reality), and the problems posed to translators have enough common ground to be considered together until proven otherwise. So, here we will refer to ‘multilingual films’ to mean films that include some measure of language variation and alternation.

As our present-day society is becoming more and more aware of accessibility needs, Translation Studies have also embraced the new emerging research area of media accessibility. Therefore, a few academics have started to delve into this amazing area of research. The adaptation of multilingual audiovisual texts for the deaf and hard of hearing audience has been dealt with by Kereviciené and Urboniené (2017). Braun and Orero (2010), Benecke (2012), Remael (2012, 2015) and Iturregui-Gallardo (2018), on the other hand, have dealt with audio description and audio subtitling in multilingual texts; and Corrius and Espasa (2017, 2018) have analysed the presence of the third language in some Spanish audio descriptions. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2018, Corrius and Espasa led the research project TRAFILM (The translation of Multilingual films in Spain) FFI2014-55952-P.4 The project was developed by a group of researchers from the three Catalan universities that offer studies in Translation and Interpreting (Corrius, Espasa and Pujol-Tubau from Universitat de Vic—Universitat Central de Catalunya; Zabalbeascoa from Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Santamaria from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), as well as Sokoli, a scholar from the Hellenic Open University (Greece). Zabalbeascoa and Sokoli (2018) produced The Trafilm Guide in order to provide the necessary instructions for scholars interested in analysing L3 translation on how to introduce samples and analyses into the Trafilm database,5 which consists of excerpts from multilingual films, that is, empirically collected samples of L3 as they appear in fictional AV and their corresponding translated versions. The Guide has also been reported to be used also as a conceptual framework for a better understanding of many of the factors involved in audiovisual combinations of languages in feature films and TV shows, and in this sense The Guide is a statement of the theory and its related concepts and has served as a model for other research projects in the same area.6 The impact of this project on the international academic community and the exchange of experiences with researchers in this booming field has led to the publication of the present volume.

←15 | 16→

This book intends to look at the various challenges involved in rendering and conveying L3 in AV translation, and, further, it must be born in mind that this cannot be done without also delving into how L3 is inserted into the film-making process of the source texts. Among the languages considered, it is not surprising that most contributions deal with English, given its importance in the audiovisual industry, either as L1 (Corrius et al., de Higes Andino et al., Dore, Mateo, Sokoli et al., Ranzato) or, in Magazzù’s chapter, as L2, with Italian as L1. In the group of L2 languages, importance is given to Spanish (Corrius et al., de Higes Andino et al., Mateo, Sokoli et al.) or to Italian (Dore, Ranzato). Dialect as an instance of L3 language variation is also a challenge for translation: how to render the Beatles’ accent, as analysed by Ranzato, or the Italian dialects in the English version of Inspector Montalbano, researched by Magazzù.

As regards translation modalities, dubbing is addressed by contributors coming from places traditionally labelled as dubbing countries (de Higes Andino et al., Dore, Mateo, Sokoli et al., Ranzato, Santamaria), and it is often compared to subtitling (de Higes Andino et al., Dore, Mateo, Sokoli et al.). Dore, more specifically, compares professional subtitling and fansubbing and considers that digital formats have been instrumental in blurring any clear-cut distinction between professional and amateur audiovisual translation, especially productive in the case of fansubbing. A modality that has not been researched at length so far in connection with multilingualism is Audio Description, which is the focus of the contribution by Corrius et al.

Regarding audiovisual genres, there is attention to feature films (Corrius et al., de Higes Andino et al., Mateo, Sokoli et al., Santamaria) and to TV series (de Higes Andino et al., Dore, Magazzù, Ranzato). Stage musicals are analysed by Mateo and compared with musical films, whereas TV series and feature films are compared in de Higes Andino et al., in connection with filmmakers’ intentions and audience reception.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (April)
accessibility audio subtitling audio description (non-)translation reception audiences filmmakers translation functions L3 third language captioning revoicing humour sung translation translation strategies accents dubbing subtitling multilingualism Audiovisual translation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 204 pp., 11 fig. b/w, 31 tables.

Biographical notes

Montse Corrius (Volume editor) Eva Espasa (Volume editor) Patrick Zabalbeascoa (Volume editor)

Montse Corrius, PhD, Senior Lecturer at Universitat de Vic-Universitat Central de Catalunya (UVic-UCC), Eva Espasa, PhD, Senior Lecturer at Universitat de Vic-Universitat Central de Catalunya (UVic-UCC), Patrick Zabalbeascoa, PhD, full Professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra


Title: Translating Audiovisuals in a Kaleidoscope of Languages