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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 5 The Trials of the Foreign: Preserving Linguistic Alterity when Subtitling The Terminal into French


← 130 | 131 → CHAPTER 5

Based on a true story, Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film, The Terminal, centres on Viktor Navorski, a man of Eastern European origin who is temporarily stranded in New York’s JFK airport. Lost, confused and able to speak little English, Viktor is portrayed as unmistakably foreign in the film’s original English-language version. This chapter begins by providing a brief outline of the film. Subsequently, it sets the present study against the background of Antoine Berman’s seminal 1985 article from which its title is inspired.1 Working with four major categories – poor mastery of English, positive and negative consequences of this poor mastery, attempts to improve English and entertaining errors – this chapter proceeds to examine the ways in which Viktor’s linguistic otherness is communicated in the SL film. Within each of these four categories, it identifies the challenges, or trials, which arise when subtitling the film into French and considers the translation strategies which are employed in order to overcome these challenges. Thus, this chapter sets out to establish the extent to which Viktor Navorski’s linguistic alterity, and the communication problems to which his use of a ‘broken’ language gives rise, are preserved in Béatrice Thomas-Wachsberger’s French subtitled version of Spielberg’s film. By extension, it also determines how Thomas-Wachsberger’s approach to translating ‘foreignness’ compares to that of Berman.

In this comedy-drama, Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at New York’s JFK airport; he is on a quest to obtain an autograph from the saxophonist, Benny Golson,...

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