Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Adventures in Subtitling

Ever wonder who writes those subtitles? Check out this fascinating description of the day-to-day work of professional subtitlers. Guy La Roche, a Dutch translator living in France, offers a vivid look at the particular challenges of subtitling things like cartoons, Shakespeare . . . and porn:
Once I had to do a whole series of funny American cartoons for kids. In one episode the expression “it is raining like cats and dogs” was used in combination with an image of actual cartoon cats and dogs falling out of the sky that totally belied my earlier argument that I do not have to mention these creatures in my translation. After all, this time the animals were shown on screen. So what does a good translator do in a case like this?

Well, first of all you cry a little and curse the fact that you chose to become a subtitler. Next, you search your native language database for any expressions dealing with heavy rainfall in the hope that at least one of them will mention either a dog or a cat so that your translation will correspond with what is being shown on screen. In Dutch there is the word hondenweer or dog’s weather, which means “really bad weather” and generally describes heavy rainfall combined with heavy winds. I solved the pun problem by feeding cats into the equation and came up with something like: “Today, it is dog’s AND cat’s weather.” The pun was preserved and the text corresponded with the image. Eureka!


Blogger the Albino Bowler said...

Hey. I've been trying to explain New Orleans slang while trying to learn Australian slang as I am heading Down Under. If you think this stuff is as fascinating as I do, I'd love some feedback. You always have an interesting take on things.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Martha said...

Do tell. albino bowler! I'd love to hear more about your efforts in both areas!

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A long time ago, I remember reading something about how Hong Kong movies from the 80s/early 90s frequently had their English subtitles (which I think were required by law by the British) written by college students with a rather limited command of English (which sometimes resulted in some pretty wacky subtitles). An article about that would probably be interesting to read.

1:09 PM  

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