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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 6 Dealing with Dialect: The Subtitling of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis into English


← 148 | 149 → CHAPTER 6

Given the notorious difficulty of translating dialect (Berman 1985: 294; Hatim and Mason 1990: 40–5), Landers (2001: 117) is adamant that this should be avoided when he recommends: ‘The best advice about trying to translate dialect: don’t’. Against this background, the present chapter considers the French film, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Dany Boon 2008), and explores whether Landers’ advice is valid. After introducing the film, the chapter presents ch’ti, a dialect closely related to the Picardy region’s picard language. It then focuses on five scenes from the film in which pronunciation, vocabulary, expressions and grammar result in confusion and subsequently, amusement. By examining how ch’ti has been rendered in English, Chapter 6 sets out to explore the extent to which the translation of Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis preserves the linguistic specificity and the humour of the French source text (ST) in its English subtitles.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is set in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France and provides a humorous portrayal of the cultural peculiarities and dialect of this region’s people, les Ch’tis. The film tells the story of Philippe Abrams, manager of the post office in Salon-de-Provence in the South of France. Abrams’ wife, Julie, suffers from depression and, in an attempt to cheer her up, he applies for a transfer to the Mediterranean coast where she dreams of living. When he learns that this position will be given to a disabled person, Abrams pretends to be physically handicapped. However,...

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