Post-Research Workshop Responses: UEA

Tapping the Power of foreign Films – Audiovisual Translation as Cross-cultural Mediation
Research Workshop Event 1 – UEA 29.06.2016

Post-workshop responses

Thomas Messerli (University of Basel)

The main value of the opening workshop and the project at large is the multitude of perspectives that have come together in this truly multi- and interdisciplinary endeavour. To me as a researcher in pragmatics who has so far focused mainly on the participation structures and the communicative setting of film and television in a monolingual context, the collected expertise in the kick-off presentations and discussions – coming from subtitling, film studies, translation studies, pragmatics, corpus linguistics and others – has provided new foci for future research on translated and in particular subtitled films and television series.

Being interested in the positioning of characters, viewers and collective senders in the filmic text, I also look at dubbing and subtitling mainly with regard to their influences on the meaning-making and understanding processes that take place between the involved participants and on various communicative levels. The questions of authorship of subtitling that were raised during the workshop, for instance, point beyond the influence different AVT strategies have on the immersion of the viewership to the notion that viewers of subtitled films potentially co-construct a more diverse collective sender than is the case for their co-spectatorship that follows the unsubtitled original audio track. This is to say that the additional source of linguistic information, manifest in the written words that appear on screen, may lead not just to additional input that feeds the construction of the collective sender, but also to the tacit understanding that this additional input must needs stem from a different source, both temporally and spatially, than the other modes of the audiovisual artefact.

In the workshop, the subtitler’s work was rendered as being determined, among other things, by an attempt to recreate an experience for a new audience. But since subtitles, as the name of the overall project already indicates, mediate across the source and target cultures of their translation, that experience for a culturally and linguistically different audience is newly created rather than re-created precisely because of the perceptible mediation work that is manifest in subtitles. Based on these premises, it is worth further investigating how the original film and the subtitles multimodally construct both meaning in general and (mental models of) participants in particular, and to analyse to what degree these processes of meaning-making have to be regarded as autonomous or participatory actions.

It follows that, as was emphasised throughout the opening workshop, AVT and subtitling in particular are additive rather than reductive in nature. Whether or not the target audience is ultimately aware of it, subtitling adds an additional communicative layer to telecinematic communication, which does communicative and meta-communicative work regarding the actions and interactions onscreen. On one level of communication, it makes a culturally other diegetic world accessible to an audience; on another, it repositions the entire audiovisual text it subtitles as a “subtitled film” and thus as an artefact from a different cultural space that is being transferred to that audience.

Nolwenn Mingant (University of Nantes)

As a French Anglo-American Studies associate professor, my approach is centered on the cultural value of language. Although trained as an English teacher, the vision of AVT I propose is neither about linguistics nor translation. I offer the idea that AVT can be studied from the point of view of the film industry historian. While researching Hollywood’s international distribution strategies, my attention was caught by the importance of language and translation whether at the production or distribution stage. A contemporary U.S. practice is for example to include more and more foreign characters and languages in films – think The Last Samurai or Inglorious Basterds. Multilingual films have become the focus of growing AVT research, deservedly so. More research would be necessary both on the production of these films (for example, who translate the English script into another language?) and on reception (how do spectators from a given country perceive the inclusion of their language in a U.S. film?) Even less studied is AVT as a distribution practice. When and why does a distributor decide to favour dubbing over subtitling? Is cost the only factor, or do the political, social, cultural context influence these choices? Approaching AVT from a film industry historian point of view is thus very much linked to the focus of the ‘Films in Translation/ Tapping the Power of Foreign Language Films’ initiative: whether at the stage of production, distribution or reception, AVT is all about cross-cultural mediation.

Participating in this initiative was thus a leap of faith, a step to encounter other disciplines and methodologies. While Carol O’Sullivan’s and Kristin Gerdes’ presentations on the history of and current issues for film translators were more familiar to me, the workshop was a true initiation in what I had previously nebulously called ‘linguistics.’ Presentations in pragmatics, multimodality, and sociolinguistics opened vistas on how AVT could be analysed and studied. As a former English-teacher, I felt particular interested in presentations related to applied linguistics and training, such as and Marga Navarrete’s and Patrick Zabalbeascoa’s

Thinking over these very thought-provoking days, three ideas appear striking to me. First, Marie-Noelle Guillot started by rebelling against the easy accusation that AVT was loss. The workshop was a clear demonstration that AVT implies multiple processes of deconstruction and reconstruction. Loss is thus not only a poor description of the process, but it also underestimates the complexity and riches of AVT.

A second thought was for translators themselves, whom the audience – and academics – tend to ignore. It would be vital to bring our focus back on translators as well as all professionals involved in AVT. Kristin Gerdes thus defended her vision of translators as cross-cultural mediators. Serenella Zanotti called for an archival and genetic approach, studying translators’ papers. As for Carol O’Sullivan, she emphasized the importance of creating visibility, for example by documenting the biography of specific subtitlers on Wikipedia.

The translators are not the only AVT players the workshop foregrounded. The third idea I left with was the multiplicity of players involved in AVT. Film directors, film distributors, adapters, translators, dubbing actors, spectators, academics, teachers can all be considered as cross-cultural mediators. They all take part in the creation, experiencing and deciphering or the cross-cultural mediation process that AVT is about. In that sense the ‘Films in Translation/ Tapping the Power of Foreign Language Films’ initiative, which includes academic workshops and outreach initiatives is particularly relevant, and I am looking forward to the forthcoming event.

Maria Pavesi (University of Pavia)

Central to the whole research workshop was the dissatisfaction with the idea of loss in AV. All participants highlighted the complexities of both subtitling and dubbing, which are likely to enrich, rather than impoverish, the final product. There obviously are limitations and constraints in AVT, as in any type of translation (Patrick Zabalbeascoa), but there was a general agreement that (i) dubbed and subtitled texts are self-standing discoursal/multimodal units, (ii) the language of AVT is a non-deficient variety, (iii) film is a text genre. In this context, Marie-Noelle Guillot pointed out that viewers are educated within the film so that they can pick up internally-motivated exchanges. Multilingualism emerged as a very challenging topic, treated according to Carol Sullivan in terms of ideology and heterolingual vis-à-vis homolingual address, in that professionals do not know who the audience will be of their original or translated products. Yet, multilingualism does not only apply to different languages but also to different dialects. As put forward by Irene Ranzato, the questions that can be asked in a cross-linguistic/cultural perspective include the following: how does a culture represent its dialects in fictional works?; what is the function of accents and dialects in film and TV dialogues?; what is the line between stereotypes and realistic portrayals?; how are dialects translated into another language? These concerns linked up with representation, another strong theme of the workshop: representation of otherness, cultural representation and the related problem of cultural a-synchrony brought to the fore by Marie-Noelle. Linguistic representation in original and translated AV discourse was considered by several participants with reference to research on routine formulas, compliments and other pragmatic aspects (Sivia Bruti), the stylization of AAVE speakers and stereotyping (Serenella Zanotti), my own work on deixis and features of spoken syntax, conceptualization of viewers in telecinematic communication and their awareness of the constructedness of AV language (Thomas Messerli). Patrick Zabalbeascoa’s provocative question “Is it credible for Elisabeth Taylor to speak English as Cleopatra?” is connected to the fundamental issue of naturalness, suspension of disbelief (Nolwenn Mingant) or immersion, perhaps a necessary step - but it is really so? - for cross-cultural mediation to occur. A major question remains open: how much of the other cultures viewers become aware of through dubbing and subtitling? And how exactly does the other culture get across to audiences thanks to AVT? Subtitles have a clear potential for keeping people alert about otherness (Marie-Noelle), but pragmatic transfer in dubbing may be more challenging. For example, address offers a direct window on sociocultural and pragmatic issues, all relevant for the project. What is the impression Italians get of the relationships, level of formality, friendliness or abruptness in interactions between American and UK characters on screen when watching dubbed products? And vice versa: how much of the subtle social meanings are carried through into English that are expressed by the various pronoun + appellative combinations in Italian? What do British audiences (or audiences speaking other languages) perceive when they watch Montalbano subtitled in English? Methodology is a crucial issue here; hence the relevance of Louisa Desilla’s study on the understanding of (cultural) implicatures in native and non-native speaking audiences. But our concerns about methodology did not only focus on perception and reception of AV products by foreign audiences but also on the description and analysis of AV dialogue as well as of the whole multimodal AV event. In this respect, corpora (e.g. the Pavia Corpus of Film Dialogue), including those built with a view to language teaching and learning (cf. the BLC Library of Foreign Language Film Clips , Silvia Bruti), represent considerable resources of reliable datasets. One must be aware, however, of the risk of excessive decontextualization when quantitative analyses of corpus data are not coupled with qualitative analyses or more in-situ, discoursal investigations of AVT.

Although in this post-workshop account, I was able to make reference to only some of the participants, I want to stress that I found all presentations very valuable and enlightening both from a scholarly and professional perspective.

Irene Ranzato (Università di Roma Sapienza)

Our Norwich workshop has been an enriching experience especially thanks to the refreshing diversity of the scholars and professionals involved and because of the emphasis - placed from the very beginning by promoter Marie-Noëlle Guillot – on the concept of creativity in film (and TV) translation. None of the contributions has in fact focused on the presumed ‘losses’ that texts have to suffer in their transfer to the target culture, but rather on their creative destiny in the new cultural milieu.

As a researcher interested especially in elements which can be found at the intersection between language and culture (cultural references and dialectal varieties, to name two areas I have often focused upon) and always eager to find ways to create a dialogue between film studies and translational/linguistic perspectives, I found several sources of inspiration in the course of our workshop and conversations. First of all, the very form that this exchange of ideas took – not through more formal conference presentations or written essays – was stimulating. Secondly, the diversity of approaches was not only refreshing, as mentioned above, but it created one of those mild culture shocks that I always find invigorating. This collaborative way of exchanging views shed a different light even on the work of colleagues that (I thought) I already knew quite well.

To give just a couple of examples from the many interesting contributions, it was inspiring for me to hear Patrick Zabalbeascoa’s illustration of his TRAFILM project on the translation of multilingual films, and reflect on the ways my own work on the function and translation of dialects in audiovisuals could benefit from his (and his colleagues’) categorisations. His presentation, examples and ensuing discussion convinced me of the validity of considering varieties of English from the point of view of cross-cultural mediation and pragmatics and they made me even more convinced of the necessity of ‘making order’ by devising and using agile categorisations.

Nolwenn Mingant offered, on the other hand, the point of view of the film studies scholar and historian interested in the industry and thus in films as socio-cultural products rather than or as well as linguistic/semiotic entities. Her work found in my mind fruitful associations with Carol O’Sullivan’s own historical perspective (and her call for a greater visibility of audiovisual translators by finding a precise historical collocation for them) and Serenella Zanotti’s work on the genealogy of audiovisual texts (encouraging study of translators’ texts and paratexts).

Finally, a common trait which I found always relevant in all contributions to this workshop (and especially relevant in Silvia Bruti’s, Thomas Messerli’s, Maria Pavesi’s, Serenella Zanotti’s discourses as well as in my own approach) is a desire (whether or explicit or implicit) to investigate the interesting, dialectic tension between what we can call the stereotypical versus the mimetic construction of filmic dialogue. A tension whose origin is in certain cases directly detectable in the different historical development of filmic traditions (my own reflection was centred on the peculiarities of British cinema and television, especially for what concerns sound and dialogue, as opposed to the Italian tradition in these domains).

It is difficult to summarise in just a few words such an intensive and inspiring, as well as entertaining, experience, but I hope these very brief notes might help to convey the spirit of an ongoing research project which has great potential. A special thanks to the promoters, Marie-Noëlle Guillot and Louisa Desilla.

Silvia Bruti (University of Pisa)

All the talks drew attention to issues of representation in AVT and to the increasingly central role of the audience in decoding the message conveyed by audiovisual products.

From a theoretical standpoint, both Marie-Noelle and Patrick objected to some generalisations on AVT. In particular, Marie-Noelle criticised the idea that subtitling offers a limited mapping of the original, because it is often a stylised means that effectively draws the audience’s attention to crucial nodes in the narrative. Equally convincingly, Patrick pointed out that AVT is often labelled as an example of “constrained” translation, but that is certainly true of translation in general. It is more interesting to delve into the nature of the constraints, and distinguish between internal and external ones.

Serenella brought up the issues of the genetics of audiovisual translations, either for dubbing or subtitling, and the careful revision work that is carried out by professionals, sometimes together with film directors (as in the case of meticulous artists such as Kubrick, who chose the dialogue writers for each of the countries where his films were to be distributed).

Both Kristin and Nolwenn offered the point of view of the market, explaining how choices often depend on marketing strategies that take into account the stronger competition for the offer of products (e.g. the high number of tracks in different languages available on DVDs) and the contraction of the market (e.g. smaller companies are often integrated into bigger conglomerates). In recent multilingual films, for instance, the choice of what to dub and what to subtitle is linked to the perspective that the audience should take.

Carol interestingly noticed that the perspective of audience, with its wants and expectations, has become more and more crucial. The deeper awareness of the audience is also responsible for the increase in the number of elements that need to be subtitled today.

Maria, Thomas, Irene and myself insisted on linguistic aspects of AVT. Irene reflected on a topic she has thoroughly investigated, i.e. the rendering of accents and dialects, between stereotyping and faithfulness, and claimed that the product needs to be adequate in the target culture, i.e. it needs to conform to what is understandable, believable and acceptable. Thomas reflected on translation of humour in AV texts, highlighting its multimodal nature. Both Thomas and Maria stressed the independence of telecinematic discourse as a variety in its own right. Maria showed that in Italian dubbed products ‘spokenness’ is represented through some markers, some “typical carriers of spontaneous language”, confirming the stylising effect that Marie-Noelle noticed for subtitling. I backed up this idea for the use of pragmatic routines in both films and TV series, as greetings and leave takings are comparatively less frequent in telecinematic discourse and translation than in spontaneous speech, but when they are used they perform an important diegetic function.

Several of us mentioned the usefulness of AVT in language acquisition: Patrick described some of the results of several European projects on subtitling; Maria mentioned some possible uses of both subtitling and dubbing in language teaching; Marga mentioned her AD-based activities to foster vocabulary acquisition; I illustrated the Berkeley/Pisa database of foreign language film clips, which is aimed at teaching both linguistic and cultural elements.

Serenella Zanotti (Roma Tre University, Italy)

As stated by Marie-Noëlle Guillot in her opening statement, the main objective of the network is to raise the profile of AVT from its current status as a covert and misunderstood access medium within the public and the industry. One of the issues underlying the discussion was therefore the need to subvert the ‘loss’ argument, in favour of a more positive and comprehensive approach to AVT, which takes into account the complexity of the process that lies behind the translation and adaptation of audiovisual texts for target-language audiences as well as the situatedness of audiovisual translators’ choices. The status that AVT enjoys in different cultural contexts depends on the historical conditions of exhibition and distribution of foreign-language films and TV programmes, as pointed out by Nolwenn Mingant, who rightly insisted on AVT as a distribution practice and on the film distributor as a locus of linguistic and cultural mediation. Such an approach was well in line with Carol O’Sullivan’s insightful discussion of the ideological status of subtitling in multilingual films as a case of “heterolingual address”, as opposed to “the regime of homolingual address” (Sakai 1997), which in turn aligned with Guillot’s reflection on the capacity of subtitles to alert viewers to cultural otherness and on the role AVT can play as a means for promoting intercultural literacy.

The theme of AVT as cultural mediation was addressed by the workshop participants with presentations reflecting different perspectives and methodological approaches. In addition to the studies mentioned above, what I found particularly illuminating was the description of dubbing and subtitling as creative “spaces” in which cultural otherness is captured through the linguistic representation of communicative practices, as suggested by Guillot, Pavesi, Bruti and Ranzato; Maria Pavesi’s notion of (translated) film language as an idiosyncratic variety having its own prototypical features; Thomas Messerli’s suggestion that, thanks to translation, target language audiences are more aware of the constructedness of telecinematic discourse than are source-language audiences; Patrick Zabalbeascoa’s emphasis on the situatedness of translators’ choices, which are arrived at locally and which make it possible for each film to have its own accent; Carol O’Sullivan’s view of translators as agents of mediation of different agendas, desires and priorities. Very original and interesting insights into the complexities of audiovisual communication and translation were offered by Silvia Bruti’s presentation on conversational routines and other pragmatic aspects in relation to the multimodal dimension of audiovisual texts. Louisa Desilla’s study of implicatures in film dialogue and Irene Ranzato’s work on dialects on screen also proved extremely interesting.  

I found this workshop very stimulating and useful for providing insights into various aspects of AVT that are largely relevant for my research, which focuses on AVT as a site of linguistic and cultural representation. I am particularly interested in the representation of voice and speech dysfluencies as an area of cross-cultural difference, especially when a shift from the spoken to the written medium occurs as in interlingual subtitling and in subtitling for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. Another area of interest for me is the way audiovisual translators deal with differences in communicative preferences between cultures. In particular, I am interested in exploring the way vagueness is conveyed in translated audiovisuals. A second strand of my research focuses on the application of archival and genetic approaches to the study of AVT as a means for investigating the dynamics of the translation process, the impact of external factors, as well as translators’ creativity and agency. A third strand of my research is related to audience reception in the history of AVT. I am particularly interested in exploring the role AVT has had in shaping the viewing experience of film and television audiences in the past, as well as the methods available to researchers for investigating AVT reception in a historical perspective.

“Tapping the Power of Foreign Films” represented a key moment in my research and a first important step toward the conceptualization of AVT as cross-cultural mediation. I am therefore very grateful to Marie-Noëlle Guillot and to Louisa Desilla for involving me in this project.





OutcomesJason Baldry