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Dealing with Difference in Audiovisual Translation

Subtitling Linguistic Variation in Films


Claire Ellender

Subtitling films in another language becomes especially complex when the original language deviates from its standard form. Films that feature non-standard pronunciation, dialects or other varieties of language, especially when juxtaposed with more standard uses, are said to display «linguistic variation». As language use is central to characters’ identities and to a film’s plot, it is essential to retain the source language (SL) specificity as fully as possible in the target language (TL) subtitles so the target audience can experience the film as authentically as possible. Given its considerable difficulty, subtitling in this manner is often advised against, avoided or, when attempted, subjected to considerable criticism.
This book focuses on a collection of British and French films selected for the range of approaches that they adopt in portraying linguistic variation. Each chapter explores the challenges posed by the subtitling of such linguistic difference in the given films and the corresponding solutions offered by their subtitlers. Drawing on these findings and referring to contemporary thinking in the field of translation studies, this book argues that with insight and skill, linguistic variation can be preserved in film subtitles.
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Chapter 1 Subtitling Scots: Translating Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share into French


← 16 | 17 → CHAPTER 1

This chapter centres on two films, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) and Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share (2012), and examines how each of these has been subtitled into French. The two films were selected for their similar settings and content. Each is based in Scotland and has four main protagonists who belong to an underprivileged milieu, are in trouble with the law, yet aspire to build better lives for themselves. The speech of the principal characters of each film also features much use of non-standard language: urban, slang and vulgar varieties of Scottish English, or Scots (Bryson 2009: 104; Hughes and Trudgill 1996: 116–17). In both Trainspotting and The Angels’ Share, scenes are largely dominated by a Scottish accent, but at times contain clear instances of dialect and, in connection with this, numerous culture-bound lexical items.1 Also noteworthy are the ways in which the language of both films’ protagonists is juxtaposed with that of other speakers of Scots and English. Language variation within these three films is thus inherently ‘diatopic’ (Flydal 1951). As it will be witnessed throughout this chapter, given that the language used by these individuals is central to their characterization and to their respective films’ narratives, it is clearly important to attempt to preserve some of the films’ linguistic particularities when subtitling them into another language; this will enable ← 17 | 18 → the TL audiences to appreciate both the linguistic and cultural specificity of the films as fully as possible.

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