Friday, April 23, 2010

Subtitle translation as it should be

Last year, I wrote about a poor example of subtitle translation that I had come across. The subtitler evidently did not have a sufficient comprehension of the film’s dialogue, and made up what they did not understand, which sometimes resulted in important aspects of the meaning being lost, or even twisted around to mean the opposite of the actual dialogue.

In happy contrast, English subtitles for the Spanish film The Secret in Their Eyes by director Juan José Campanella were written by a credited translator who worked in close collaboration with the director to get the style the directer wanted, and to polish every title. Read about it here.

The article cites an example of one sentence that took hours to get right, and very right it was in the end. Quoting translator Tony Grey:
For example, there was a line of dialogue that was crucial in the film, repeated several times by an important character, which in Spanish means “What would I gain by shooting him four times?” This was too long and clumsy. Next option: “What would I gain with four shots?” I didn't want to use the word “shots” because it sounded to me like someone in a bar ordering shots of tequila.

Finally, I put “What would I gain by killing him?” which explains the meaning perfectly — but Juan didn't like it because he wanted to maintain the imagery of the gun being fired four times, which the audience sees onscreen.

So I went home that night and kept thinking about it until it finally came to me. “What would four bullets get me?” This was the subtitle we were looking for. And it was Juan's prodding me that made it possible.


At August 06, 2010 8:46 a.m., Blogger Mago said...

A reader (or something) has kindly left a comment (which we perversely decline to publish) with a link to a subtitle translation tool that offers to solve all your problems! Quoting from the tool′s website:

“Still looking for a software for playing subtitle for movie that have none subtitle or playing your subtitle for movie that you don't satisfied with it's subtitle? Still looking for a tool for palying two kinds of language subtitle or above at the same time?”

The copywriting speaks for itself; a fine example of the quality you can expect if you opt for the tool.

At September 22, 2012 1:58 p.m., Anonymous Annabelle Vergne said...

Thank you for sharing this good example about how subtitling is not only about translating, but at least as much about adapting. Literal translation, if ever, especially doesn't work in this specialty. Being as faithful to the source text here often means stepping away from it.


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