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18 - Dubbing (second part)

"He would then raise his finger threateningly and yell - it was the only loud sound I ever heard from him: "Falsu!" (False child!) And he drawled out the accented a; the word sounded both ominous and plaintive, I can still hear it as though I had visited him only yesterday"1.

The model "reader" of the dubbed film is a person presumably not able to appreciate the poetics of an actor's voice. The model reader of a subtitled film has a cognitive potential superior to his counterpart viewer of the dubbed film. This is why, as Delabastita states, a dubbed film demands a less intense cognitive effort by the user as compared to the subtitled film. Such a model reader is, therefore, not very gifted as far as the ability of appreciating a work from the aesthetic point of view is concerned, and has a reduced cognitive ability. Due to these considerations made by the distributors in the choice of marketing strategies, I think that it is justified to think it is not flattering to be perceived as belonging to a dubbing-focused culture.

Moreover, the model viewer of a dubbed film is a person who must not realize the glaring contradiction intrinsic in the fact that actors 'speak' her language but exist in a world culturally totally foreign, with inscriptions and references in a different language.

The culture of dubbing-focused countries is a culture where little by little one get used to being careless about contradictions, about points of encounter and collision between own culture and others' culture. The speedometer in the foreground, indicates "60", and the actor comments "We are going at a hundred an hour". The actor presses in the elevator the '1' button and the elevator goes to the ground floor, and nobody in the film or in the cinema takes notice.

What in common speech is called cultural "provincialism" is the tendency to mentally extend the principles and usages of one's own culture to the rest of the world, without asking oneself the question of cultural specificity of one's own way of being and doing. Such a mentality is favored by the absence or scarcity of clues in favor of the presence of different cultures in other parts of the world. The greater the opportunities to communicate and travel, the lesser the provincialism in the people.

It is true that sometimes the prevailing tourism is that in which one's own culture is reproduced in miniature around oneself, when one goes to a vacation village and does not get in touch at all with the local population or with their culture. One enters an artificial microcosm where he has the illusion that even there, where one is, this is how life is, not only on this side of the wall, also in the rest of the territory.

But when, instead, one really visits a foreign land, one lives in it and has exchanges and interactions with people who permanently live there, one realizes that habits and uses that we always had taken for granted can be different according to the country where one is. One thus forms a notion of cultural relativism on her own, a personal one whose elaboration is as large as her provincialism leaves room for it to be. They are two complementary notions.

In filmic translation, dubbing is the implemental tool of cultural provincialism. Cinema, in itself, like all media tends to be a wonderful instrument for de-provincialization. Through films, cultures make contact and comparisons, and spectators after the fruition of each filmic text see the world from a new point of view.

Such broadening of minds, such opportunity to see more facets of reality is muted, is diminished by dubbing, for two reasons:

  • first because it doesn't alert the user as would occur in presence of different cultures, because it is a form of implicit, not explicit, culture, that tries to pass the translated text off as an original;
  • moreover, because it deprives the user of the cultural estrangement that is produced by linguistic difference; the subliminal message given with dubbing is: "all over the world my language is spoken".

It is not surprising, therefore, that dubbing has been, and sometimes still is, congenial to dictatorships of nationalistic and chauvinistic type. The cultural militia that is language, invades - in the aconscious imagination of the viewer of a dubbed film - all the extra-national space, where everybody hails it with no resistance. The nationalist's delusion of omnipotence triumphs.

* * *

The dubbing technique, as compared to subtitling, is enormously more expensive. Cost differences have been carefully studied; the conclusion was that dubbing costs fifteen times more than subtitling2. The high price elevates the price of tickets at the theater, affects the quantity of advertisement on TV, the price of videos on sale and for rent. It is a tangible difference that you can check in the price of a movie on optic or magnetic medium on sale with soundtrack only in the original or with a dubbed soundtrack, too.

In some countries, for reasons that are essentially cost related, a system of translation of the verbal filmic text is used that is not synchronized with the original lines, neither does it completely erase the original sound track. The viewer, basically, watches the film, with the original soundtrack at a very low volume that is sometimes perceivable. Over this sound track is recorded the voice of one speaker (only one speaker for all the characters) who just reads the lines of dialogue just before or after they are pronounced in the original, with no claim of similarity to the original sound.

This system, used for example for the TV in most east European countries, has the advantage of not necessitating the reproduction of all the sounds outside dialogues, because the viewer can hear them directly from the original soundtrack. It has also the advantage of presenting the film as openly non-original: the original is even heard in the background. And the translated text has no pretense of substituting itself to the original; it may even add to the original. In this case it is, therefore, a metatextual rendering. The original soundtrack (prototext) is offered the viewers with the subsidiary apparatus (metatextual) of the voice-over.

In this case, the viewer doesn't get the illusion of having an original presented. Indeed, the limit of this method lies just in the fact that fruition is made so very hard by the complication of the voice-over, without expressivity, cold, like a newscast, partly covering sounds and words of the original that might, if heard, be helpful.


Bibliographical references

BAKER MONA e HOCHEL BRANO 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.

LUYKEN GEORG-MICHAEL et alia, Overcoming Language Barriers in Television: Dubbing and Subtitling for the European Audience, Manchester, The European Institute for the Media, 1991.

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

1 Canetti 1999: 21.
2 Luyken 1991: 106.