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17 - Dubbing

"Since I had an easy time with Latin, I got used to a kind of double existence with him. My ears followed his instruction, so that, if called on, I could always reply. My eyes read a small volume that I kept open under my desk"1.

One of the types of translated text that comes closest to the orality pole is dubbed films, where by "dubbing" is meant the technique of postsincronization consisting in the deleting of the original voice of the actor pronouncing hie text during the shots, and its substitution with another recording.

There are many types of dubbing. The authorial dubbing is the one where the director himself decides to have his actors' voices dubbed, either with the same actors' voice, or with the dubbers' voices. Such type of dubbing, usually occurring within the same language, is a sort of intralingual self-translation and deserves a treatment of its own, since it is part of the original creation. The director decides to publish his film with dubbed voices, so that the viewer or the critic can judge the whole filmic text, and they know that the author's intention coincides with the result they have before them.

One of the reasons why a director may decide to have a given character's line dubbed can lie in the desire to give that character a given voice, different from the chosen actor's. The timbre of the voice, its intensity, the pronunciation, inflections, pauses, whispers are all features concurring to shape the poetics of a movies character; for this reason it is sensible for the director to desire and to be able make decisions on the subject, in the same way as he participates in the decisions concerning the makeup, the clothing, the casting.

In most cases, however, dubbing is a process with which the director and the authors have nothing to do, and that is motivated by the desire to propose an interlingual translation of dialogues to facilitate the fruition of the work in countries with cultures and languages differing from the original. The buyers of the dubbing are not directors, but distributors; they make these decisions within the framework of general choices in marketing or commercialization of the film product.

Having to propose a film to a culture in which the spoken language of the film is unknown to most people, the distributor has two techniques at its disposal, one alternative to the other: dubbing and subtitling. In some countries (Italy, Germany, Spain, France) the tradition of dubbing prevails, while in others (Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Switzerland, Slavic countries) usually the audience prefers films with subtitles. Usually the distributors choose to avoid trying to modify the habits of the audience of the different countries, preferring to overindulge them. That is why, thanks to such inertia owing to short-term commercial reasons, they continue to dub in the countries where in the past dubbing was used and where often it was done for precise historical reasons. In Italy, for example, dubbing originated during the Fascist period, in which the regime wanted to control and minimize outside cultural influences. In this period they got to the point of transform in a local version traditionally non-Italian place names as if to remove uncomfortable cultural traces, transforming, for example, Courmayeur into "Cortemaggiore". In Spain a similar dubbing-friendly attitude occurred during the Fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco: the few non-Spanish films admitted in the Spanish cinemas were dubbed with the aim - according to Ballester - to minimize the international influence (1995: 175-177).

Actually, dubbing is a translation technique specifically aimed at hiding the nature of the text as translated text. As Shuttleworth and Cowie write, it «is designed to give the impression that the actors whom the audience sees are actually speaking in TL"2. Dubbing is considered successful when it can coordinate the actor's lips movements with the sounds produced by the dubber, especially those sounds that make use of the lips.

A high-quality dubbing has, therefore, the aim of pretending that an actor's playing is acting directly in the language of the receiving culture. In other words, the aim of interlingual dubbing is denying the translated nature of the filmic text.

According to Goris (1993: 170), among the disadvantages of dubbing there is also the loss of authenticity because a very high number of actors of many nationalities are represented by, in the receiving culture, the timbre and recitative features of a narrow range of dubbers. The fact that, in a given culture, the playing of an actor is received in the form of the representation of another actor, who didn't receive any instruction from the former actor or from the director to represent him or her, is in itself at least a curious thing, and presents itself as an abuse (above all by the distributors) Then the fact that ten or fifty actors in a given culture are presented as having the same voice is a further element of confusion and text manipulation, occurring, by the way, with the audience completely unaware.

That's the reason why I don't agree at all with Baker and Hochel's statement that

a dubbed film or programme is always overtly presented and perceived as a translation3.

Such a statement is based on a wrong assumption: that the lip movement always disclose the false nature of dubbing:

in a dubbed film we are constantly aware through images and non-matching mouth movements of the presence of a foreign language and culture4.

It would be as much as saying that dubbing does not give the illusion of the film being local, but only at the condition that it is badly made, and when therefore the lips movements are not coordinated to the sounds of the translated text. Getting to the extreme consequences Peter Fawcett's argument, one should infer that dubbing is innocuous on the plane of cultural falsification on condition that it is realized in a bad way, denouncing in this way overtly its nature of unsuccessful imitation (meant in contraposition to "original"). But I don't think that Fawcett wants to say that dubbing, in order to be acceptable, must be made in a bad way.

In the next unit we will continue the discussion of dubbing, looking at its differences connected to the type of text.


Bibliographical references

BAKER MONA e HOCHEL BRAŇO Dubbing, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies edited by Mona Baker, London, Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0-415-09380-5, p. 74-76.

BALLESTER ANA The Politics of Dubbing. Spain: A Case Study, in Translation and the Manipulation of Discourse: Selected Papers of the CERA Research Seminars in Translation Studies 1992-1993, Leuven, CETRA, p. 159-181.

CANETTI ELIAS Die gerettete Zunge. - Die Fackel im Ohr. - Das Augenspiel, München, Carl Hanser Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-446-18062-1.

CANETTI ELIAS The Tongue Set Free. Remembrance of a European Childhood, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-19950-7, p. 1-286.

FAWCETT PETER Translating Film, in On Translating French Literature and Film, edited by Geoffrey T. Harris, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1996, p. 65-88.

GORIS O. The Question of French Dubbing: Towards a Frame for Systematic Invetsigation, in Target, 5:2, p. 169-190.

SHUTTLEWORTH MARK e COWIE MOIRA, Dictionary of Translation Studies, Manchester, St. Jerome, 1997, ISBN 1-900650-03-7.

1 Canetti 1999: 249.
2 Shuttleworth and Cowie 1997: 45
3 Baker and Hochel 1998: 76.
4 Fawcett 1996: 76.