TAPPING THE POWER OF FOREIGN FILMS: AUDIOVISUAL TRANSLATION AS CROSS-CULTURAL MEDIATION

What picture is given by foreign-language films via subtitling or dubbing of how people talk and negotiate interpersonal meaning and interaction in other languages - address one another, agree/disagree, apologise, participate in social talk, professional talk, etc.? How do foreign-language film audiences understand foreign films and respond to the linguistic and cultural representations conveyed through subtitling or dubbing and audiovisual translation (AVT)? How do these representations affect personal attitudes and personal or professional intercultural living? What is the value of AVT as a tool for cross-cultural literacy?

The object of the network is to address these topical but neglected concerns, in research and by the public. It is predicated on four basic observations:

  • the circulation of foreign-language films relying on subtitling or dubbing to reach their public has increased immeasurably with digitisation and global dissemination;

  • our research understanding of how subtitling and dubbing work as an expressive medium and represent other languages is fragmented;

  • we know barely anything from research or the industry of the impact on audiences of subtitling and dubbing as a medium for cross-cultural exchange, despite films' global availability;

  • there is limited public or industry recognition of subtitling and dubbing's role in making access to foreign films possible and shaping film audiences' intercultural experience.

The network is engaging with the concerns embedded in these observations on two fronts - cross-disciplinary research and knowledge exchange and impact. Its main activities are three events on themes interconnecting core objectives and defined by the concerns outlined below. They involve cross-disciplinary expertise from academic research (AVT and film studies, intercultural pragmatics, psycho- and cognitive linguistics) and the industry (AVT professionals, film and media stakeholders) in a mix of research and impact-oriented activities (research workshops, pilot educational outreach, focus groups, public presentations and roundtables). Research participants are drawn from centres in the UK and abroad, to establish the network as an international platform, in line with its concerns and research ambitions.

Films are significant vehicles exposing the public through AVT to modes of expression and being other than their own. They have acquired unprecedented currency as a medium for cross-cultural exchange. They are widely promoted as such, mostly with no reference to what makes access possible for audiences with no knowledge of languages other than their own, no mention of what underpins cultural exchange. From a research perspective, we are only beginning to understand how subtitling and dubbing depict language use - how, in their make-belief form shaped by medium constraints (e.g. synchrony, space, time) and different linguistic and cultural encoding across languages, they are harnessed, via the target text, to source texts and naturally occurring interaction. We know next to nothing of how the interlingual representations conveyed to audiences affect their perceptions of, and responses to, otherness, particularly in view of the cultural mismatch between the foreign seen on screen and the pragmatic expectations triggered by subtitled/ dubbed text in their own language. In reception, AVT research studies have focused largely on psycholinguistic processes (e.g. reading speeds, display times, text segmentation in subtitling), and, in the industry, on audience profiling or preferences for one modality or the other.

There are few issues currently more topical than intercultural understanding and tolerance. Research into how foreign films fit into the project of promoting it is overdue.

 

AIMS AND OBJECTIVES

The network’s aim is to coordinate an international cross-disciplinary platform and research agenda, with three main interrelated objectives:  

1) collate research on linguistic and cultural representation in AVT;  

2) develop research into AVT-mediated audience responses to FL films from an intercultural perspective;

3) raise public and industry awareness of subtitling and dubbing as mediators of the intercultural.   

More specifically, the network will  

  • develop a set of priorities for research in the two domains represented in 1) and 2)  above –  description and reception from the point of view of intercultural literacy;
  • foster cross-disciplinary links and collaboration between researchers in the UK and abroad and with film and media stakeholders to take projects forward, in research and public dissemination;
  • devise templates and pilot activities for i) public sensitization to the practices and cross-cultural value of AVT for society, and ii) outreach with schools, with e.g. hands-on awareness-raising workshops, focus groups and roundtables;
  • explore options for gaining additional funding and develop blueprints for collaborative projects arising from the network’s activities;
  • disseminate outcomes i) to the academic/research community, notably early career researchers to foster long-term research continuity and methodological robustness and consistency in this emergent domain of enquiry, and ii) to the public via the media and film-related institutions to raise the public profile of AVT (BFI, BAFTA).

 

IMPACT

The network is designed to bring audiovisual translation as cultural mediation to the forefront of research and to initiate a step change in how it is understood and responded to by the general public. It has impact at its core.

On the academic front, main beneficiaries are translation and AVT studies, and cognate disciplines - media translation, film/media studies, communication studies, linguistics. For translation and AVT studies there are two main impact targets:

  1. Ensuring that this new domain of research, now recognised as important and urgent, develops with methodological robustness and research dependability, within an international and cross-disciplinary framework;
     

  2. Making primary beneficiaries the younger generation of researchers who will be taking forward research into linguistic and cultural representation and its impacts, in mainstream subtitling/dubbing, and in the increasingly pervasive amateur and crowd-sourcing practices that are rapidly changing the face of the discipline.

On the societal front, main impact concerns are also twofold:

  1. drawing to public attention the cross-cultural impact on society of cultural products accessible on an ever larger scale via audiovisual translation, and to raise the profile of AVT with the public and film industry, from its current status as a covert and often misconstrued access medium to a key mediator of interculturality;
     
  2. promoting AVT as a tool for cultural mediation and interculturality.
    With these goals, the network aims to enhance understanding of processes and attitudes that strike at the heart of public life: how we respond to other cultures and their people in multicultural societies and how this impacts on our personal and professional lives makes headlines almost every day, and keeps large numbers of governmental and other agencies busy.