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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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Summary of Jan Pedersen’s 2005 Framework for the Analysis of ECRs, Based on ‘How is culture rendered in subtitles’ (2005: 1–16)


Thesis: cultural references cause translation problems; the ways in which they are handled reveal the approach of / norms applied by a given translator.

Extralinguistic Cultural References (ECRs): ‘expressions pertaining to realia, to cultural items, which are not part of a language system’ (2005: 2).


Explanation and examples

1) Official equivalent (no real translation problem)

‘Donald Duck’ = ‘Kalle Anka’ in Swedish

Pre-formed TL version; evidence of ECR having entered TL

2) Retention (Most SL-oriented strategy)

Sometimes marked off by quotes / italics

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