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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 4 Police Patter: Retaining Linguistic Variation in the English Subtitles of Maïwenn’s Polisse


← 102 | 103 → CHAPTER 4

Author-director Maïwenn’s 2011 film, Polisse, is based on real-life cases handled by Paris’ Brigade de Protection de Mineurs (BPM) [Child Protection Unit]. After introducing the film, this chapter defines the particular challenges to which subtitling Polisse into English gives rise. It then concentrates on three scenes in which members of the BPM interact with one another, and subsequently on three scenes in which the team deals with a range of distinct subjects. Focusing on the linguistic variation present in the SL film, this chapter examines the translation strategies employed, and the extent to which Polisse’s linguistically variegated character is therefore retained, in its English-language subtitles.

Polisse, the title of which is a child’s misspelling of the word police, is a powerful pseudo-documentary of the BPM’s daily activities. Photographer Mélissa (Maïwenn) is assigned by the Ministry of Justice to document some ← 103 | 104 → of the Unit’s work, which includes dealing with child molesters, teenage prostitutes, abused children and foreign people in difficulty. The emotional strain under which the BPM work is extreme, and Polisse illustrates vividly how this impacts on the personal lives of the team. The film ends dramatically as female officer Iris, who has just been informed of her promotion, can no longer handle the pressure and jumps from the window of the room in which a meeting with her colleagues is being held.

The language contained in Polisse contributes significantly to the portrayal of those...

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