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Translating Echoes

Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17

By António Lopes (University of the Algarve)

Abstract & Keywords

In 1812 the Farrer family established their wool trading business in Lisbon. Samuel Farrer and, a couple of years later, James Hutchinson remained in regular correspondence with Thomas Farrer, who owned a textile mill in the vicinity of Leeds, then centre of the wool trade in England. Their correspondence, spanning the period 1812-18, offers a vivid account of life in Lisbon and its hardships and troubles in the aftermath of the Peninsular War. Those letters mirror the turbulent politics of the time and articulate an attempt to narrate otherness and the way it kept challenging their gaze. The translation of the letters has posed some challenges, especially on a stylistic level. In order to confer a sense of historical authenticity on the target-language text and to attend to the stylistic features of the source-language text, the translator has been forced to revisit the Portuguese language of the period as it was spoken and written by the urban middle class in Lisbon. In this article I discuss some of the issues, both theoretical and practical, that have arisen in the course of the translation process.

Keywords: travel writing translation, commercial correspondence, private sphere, estrangement, displacement, double disjuncture, Peninsular Wars

©inTRAlinea & António Lopes (2013).
"Translating Echoes"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Translating 18th and 19th Century European Travel Writing
Edited by: Susan Pickford & Alison E. Martin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/1967

1. Introduction

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
Saint Augustine

During my research for the British Travellers in Portugal project – an ambitious initiative that has been carried out for almost three decades by the Anglo-Portuguese Studies group at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (Lisbon and Oporto) –, I chanced upon a rather curious collection of letters housed at the National Archives in Kew.[1] Written by James Hutchinson Jr. (1796 - ?), a young Yorkshire merchant working in Lisbon, and addressed to his brother-in-law, Thomas Farrer, who headed the family’s wool business back in Farnley, Leeds, these letters span a period of approximately two and a half years (from 22 July, 1815 to 29 November, 1817), at a time when Portugal was struggling hard to stand on its feet after the scale of destruction caused by the Peninsular War.

Originally, the primary purpose of my undertaking was to contribute to an anthology of translated accounts of the city of Lisbon by British travellers. This meant that a considerable portion of the original text, most of it dwelling on private affairs or matters of commerce, would have to be excised in order to leave only those passages where explicit references were made to the Portuguese capital. However, it soon became evident that the scope of the content of these letters called for a differentiated approach and so the editor commissioned me to translate the complete set. The investment in an unabridged translation would give readers the opportunity not just to satisfy their curiosity about Lisbon, but above all to gain a sense of the complexity of the historical, social and economic issues with which the letters engaged, all the more so because translation is not about impoverishing the original, but about giving it a new lease of life: translation is not just a question of making a text accessible to another community of readers by acquiring a new linguistic and cultural dimension, but above all of allowing the letters to transcend their immediacy and the original purpose for which they were written, and inscribing them in new discursive practices.

So, instead of publishing excerpts of the letters in the anthology, both the editor and I decided to publish the complete set in two issues of the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses (CETAPS, Lisbon) (see Lopes 2010). This would allow us to preserve the integrity of the letters and, given the fact that the Revista is aimed at a scholarly readership (historians, philologists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and so on), to invest in a more detailed and in-depth approach, marked by philological accuracy and by a consciousness of the challenges posed by the hermeneutical inquiry. This would also give me the opportunity to set my own translation agenda, not just in terms of style and method, but also in terms of the future of this project. As a matter of fact, the files contain dozens of other letters and papers written by other members or friends of the family which, in view of their historical value, are also worth translating. I decided to amass all of them with the aim of publishing the whole collection in one single volume. That work is now underway.

Since translation is necessarily always a reflexive process (in more than one sense: on the one hand, the translator has to speculate about the meanings that the source text does not immediately disclose and about the readers’ responses to his/her choices; on the other, the target text always presents itself as a mirror image of the source text), the task of rendering this piece of nineteenth-century English prose into contemporary Portuguese prompted a series of theoretical and empirical questions which I set out to explore in the present article. The next section seeks to set the letters in their political, social and economic context. The meanings they contain are rooted in a specific historical setting, which has to be revisited so as to enable the text to function simultaneously as a piece of documentary evidence and as an instance of resistance: in the case of the former, substantiating that which historiography has already validated; in the case of the latter, defying or even rebutting historical theories. The third section (‘An Englishman in Lisbon’) touches on issues of estrangement, displacement and the quest for a sense of belonging, all of which are central to travel writing. The fourth section (‘Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence’) discusses the ethics and the challenges of translating the intimacy and confidentiality of private correspondence, and how the author’s objectivity gives the translator a foothold in the factual validation of his translation. The last full section (‘Translation as a Double Disjuncture’) focuses on issues of spatiality, temporality, representation and re-representation, as well as on some of the solutions to the problems posed by the historical dimension of the texts (modes of address; anachronisms; outdated terminology; formulaic language; and the need for historical research).

2. The Letters in Context: Portugal and her British Ally 1809-20

The Farrers were one among many of the local families whose lives revolved around the woollen and worsted manufacture and trade in Yorkshire. The success of their business went hand in hand with the economic growth and technological development of the period, a process which would leave an indelible mark on the landscape of the Midlands and the North of England. These developments led to major changes in the social structure, with a generalised phenomenon of rural-urban migration meeting the industry’s need for labour (Fletcher 1919: 77-84). The Yorkshire region soon became the chief export centre for manufactured woollen goods. In a world of cut-throat competition, those who succeeded in business were of an unrelenting entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit that often looked beyond the confines of Britain.

Industrial expansion forced traders to look further afield and open up new markets; Portugal swiftly became a key destination. Since Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, decreed in 1806, was firmly in place, the first industrial nation found itself in a worrying predicament. Portugal, where Britain’s commercial stakes ran high, was also left particularly exposed. It was only through Lisbon that it was possible to gain access to the Brazilian market, which had long become the mainstay of the intensive southern Atlantic economy, responsible for the capitalisation of the European market in the Early Modern period. Besides, the Portuguese could not afford to lose the support of the old ally, whose navy provided protection for the trade routes between the metropolis and its colonies. The French invasions of Portugal pushed it to the periphery of the very empire it had founded. If the demise of both commerce and industry had a terrible impact on the economy, the destruction the war wrought in the provinces proved no less damaging. Looting, extortion and massacres left a trail of blood, hatred and revulsion across the whole nation that was to remain unabated for generations. Wellington’s scorched earth policy – aiming to deprive the French troops of victuals and other supplies – aggravated the situation even further. Agriculture and husbandry practically ground to a halt and farmers were unable to produce the foodstuffs required to feed the urban centres. Famine set in and with it a period of demographic stagnation.

Freeing Portugal from the chains of Napoleonic imperialism was not without its costs. Unable to overcome such complete vulnerability, the nation was at the mercy of British interests. Certainly a significant part of the Portuguese economy had for a long time depended on Britain. Whether Portugal benefited from this trade relationship or not is a matter of controversy (Borges de Macedo 1963; Bethell 1984; Maxwell 2004; Pijning 1997; Pardo 1992). However, at least since the Methuen Treaty (1703) Britain had been undermining the Portuguese industry with a substantial influx of cheap manufactured goods undercutting all competition. In January 1808 the opening of the Brazilian ports to Britain represented a fatal blow. Two years later, the protective mechanism of customs duties was removed precisely when the Portuguese economy was most in need of it. The prospects for the manufacturing sector grew dimmer as British cotton and wool cloths flooded the Portuguese market.

The political power that William Carr Beresford, commander-in-chief of the Portuguese troops during the invasions, held during this crucial period in the country’s history played a decisive role in protracting this position of economic subordination. He ended up gaining considerable ascendancy over the representatives of the Prince Regent. In the post-war years he headed the military government, a position which rapidly eroded his earlier prestige as a war hero. People started protesting against the way public funds were being squandered to pay for the presence of British troops on national territory. Portuguese officers likewise harboured deep-seated resentment towards the British officers, who were now apparently being granted all sorts of privileges and promotions (see Glover 1976). Beresford’s radical intransigence in politics led to the repression of those who advocated a more liberal agenda, namely those who were suspected either of sympathising with the ideals of the French Jacobins, or of defending a constitutional monarchy. As a stern defender of Tory absolutism, his views were in line with the ones shared by two other Anglo-Irish potentates, namely Wellington and Castlereagh (Newitt 2004: 107). His absolutist values, along with his thirst for power, left him isolated in a world riven by deep-rooted hatreds. The revolutionary clamour heard in Oporto on 24 August 1820 was to put paid to Beresford’s ambitions. Paradoxically, partly thanks to the influence of the British officers, the British tradition of liberalism ended up taking root in a country lacking in ideological coordinates to define its political future.

When James Hutchinson first set foot in Lisbon, the country was going through a period of economic depression. His letters mirror the upheavals and the social unrest of the period and therefore help to shed light on historical processes, since they testify to the way in which individuals perceived reality and (re)acted accordingly. Popular reactions to the new king, news of the uprising in Pernambuco (Brazil), political persecutions, and hangings are well documented elsewhere,[2] but here we are given a view from the inside. Moreover, rather than just affirming the picture that the extensive historiographical literature on the subject has already established, the letters also disclose new facets. They prove that, despite the impressive growth of Britain’s exports in this period, British trade did not run smoothly in Portugal. Hutchinson could hardly be said to be the definitive model of the successful businessman. His efforts, nonetheless, were mostly undermined by factors that lay beyond his reach. General poverty, scarcity of money, shortages of food and other essentials, and rationing, for example, became recurrent, if not obsessive, subjects in his letters, betraying his sense of frustration and underachievement. Moreover, Hutchinson was forced to deal with fierce competition within the Portuguese market and the incompetence of the Customs officials, not to mention liabilities and bad debts, marketing obstacles and, curiously enough, an increasingly demanding clientele, all of which imposed psychological costs he found ever more difficult to cope with. And although he was not so forthcoming in discussing political issues, such as Beresford’s repression, his fears and silences about the persecutions are no less telling.

Each letter contains, as it were, the very essence of history and, through the picturesque and sometimes disconcerting episodes they feature, they help us recreate a reality long buried by time. Precisely because this is a genuine voice that has remained hidden amidst other archival material for almost two centuries, unscathed by later misappropriations or misinterpretations, we are able to salvage pristine fragments of the historical experience and to retrieve for our collective memory some of the particularities and singularities that are usually overlooked in the construction of the historical grand narratives of the nation. In a letter dated 18 October 1816, for instance, Hutchinson speaks of the funeral ceremonies of Queen Maria I and clearly enjoys recounting the peculiar causes of the accidental fire that burned down the church where those ceremonies were being held. In a later letter (22 October 1817), he provides a first-hand testimony of the horrendous hanging of the men who followed Gomes Freire de Andrade in his revolt against Lord Beresford’s roughshod rule. Elsewhere he laments the shortage of foodstuffs and the rise in prices which mercilessly strike the poor (letter dated 25 January 1817), but he cannot help relishing the story of a woman arrested for stealing bodies from the cemetery to produce black pudding to be sold to the local shops (9 August 1816). In another letter he speaks of an earthquake that threw the city ‘into the most dreadful alarm’ and the scenes of panic that ensued, while rejoicing at the fact that he remained ‘during the whole of the night in a sound slumber’ (3 February 1816).

3. An Englishman in Lisbon: Estrangement, Displacement and the Quest for Belonging

Notwithstanding the rapid decline of the Portuguese economy during and after the Peninsular War, British traders rapidly resumed their investments in the country. Samuel Farrer & Sons were amongst them. Samuel Farrer Jr. established the family’s business in Lisbon in 1812. The family’s entrepreneurial effort must have paid off somehow, for upon his death, in February 1815, they decided to keep on investing in their Portuguese venture. It would be up to young James Hutchinson Jr. to take up the business. His inexperience notwithstanding, James was not entirely at a loss. The need to account for every transaction and to keep his brother-in-law posted about how business was being conducted resulted in a correspondence of considerable length, which lasted until his departure from Lisbon at the end of 1817. The letters were permeated by the young man’s comments, remarks and anecdotes about life in the Portuguese capital. Being an outsider in customs, language and feelings, Hutchinson tried hard to accommodate himself to his new setting.

In his letters, however, the affectionate attachment he exhibits towards his sister and the other members of his family indicates that his stay in Lisbon was, emotionally speaking, hard to bear. He often complained about her silence and the fact that she now seemed to have forsaken him altogether. But then, it was not just the separation from his loved ones that threw him into a state of melancholy. His life in the Portuguese capital was infused with a sense of estrangement he was unable to overcome. He felt uprooted and disengaged.

It becomes all too apparent that his gaze is that of an outsider, of someone struggling to succeed in a strange, disturbing world, whose social and political environment contrasts in many respects with that of his native land. He soon realised it would not be easy to fit in. Despite the support that other British expatriates residing in Lisbon gave him, he complained to his family about living conditions there. Blatantly ironic, he confessed that he ‘suffer[ed] very much from the Muschetos [sic], Bugs & other filth with which this sweet City so much abounds’ (11 August 1815).

His difficulty in understanding the Portuguese is particularly visible when he is faced with the lack of patriotic fervour of the man in the street, a fervour one should expect from a nation that had been recently freed from the Napoleonic terror:

On Saturday last the King was proclaimed throughout the City and Sunday was appropriated for the acclamation.—The Troops were reviewed by Marshal Beresford, yet never did I witness their going through their manoevres [sic] in such an inanimate manner:—never was such a Viva given by the Portuguese to their Sovereign; scarcely did one Soul open his mouth, excepting the Marshal and his Staff Officers:—it was a complete ‘Buonapartean Viva’ a forced shout of applause dying away in a groan. (11 April 1817)

Since most of the time he was consumed by work, it becomes difficult for the contemporary reader to detect such feelings of estrangement in the midst of commercial jargon and ledger accounts. He sought to be meticulous in his book-keeping and reports and sensitive to changes in market conditions, especially as far as fashion, trends, tastes and purchasing power went. He struggled to prove himself worthy of the trust and respect not just of his brother-in-law, but also of other foreign merchants who had already established their names in the Portuguese market. He even got carried away by the idea of opening his own establishment in order to fend off competition and to tackle the problem of low bids, which often forced him to keep the bales in store for unusually long periods of time.

In order to perceive how displaced he felt, one has to read between the lines. When his enthusiasm waned or his health gave way, an undeclared anxiety and irritation would surface. His less than flattering comments on Portuguese customs officials and the tone of his replies to his brother-in-law whenever suspicion of laxness or mismanagement hung in the air prove the point. He became impatient when ships from Brazil, New York or Falmouth were unduly delayed. He was unnerved by the negligence of long-standing debtors, who often turned a deaf ear to his entreaties. Besides, in spite of the considerable sums of money that passed through his hands, James was far from leading an easy and comfortable life. In a sense, it was through his own body that he first measured the degree of his maladjustment. He was constantly ill, poorly dressed, and found his lodgings uncomfortable. The weather did not suit him and he feared death might creep up on him. For some time he had to resign himself to ‘a Bed Room fitted up for me in the Warehouse, without any other convenience or sitting room’ (11 April 1817). He would wear the same clothes for months on end, winter and summer alike. Disease would take hold of him and he would be confined to bed for several weeks. His neat copperplate handwriting would then degenerate to illegible scribbling. In the spring of 1817 he would confess that ‘I have suffered very materially in my health since I came here’. Convinced that he was no longer fit for the job, he would then ask Thomas to let Ambrose Pollett, a friend of the family, replace him in the firm. His physical condition would not let him endure another winter in Lisbon. In his last letter, dated 29 November, he once more complained about his health, saying that the cold weather caused him to ‘spit blood in considerable quantities from the lungs’ and that he was afraid he would never be able to return to his homeland again ‘since I fell [sic] persuaded I shall never get better of the severe illness I had in the Spring of the year 1816’. To him Lisbon, thus, ended up representing the proximity of death, that ultimate moment of displacement. His fears, however, were unfounded and he went back to England where he remained in convalescence, before returning to Portugal. But once more the climate did not agree with him. His health worsened, especially after hearing the news of his nephew’s death in December 1818, and he was compelled to leave Lisbon one last time.[3]

In the course of his stay, James was badly in need of a focal point to keep things in perspective and letter writing served such a purpose. More than anything else, it allowed him to keep his sense of belonging alive. These letters ended up being the only bridge not just to his origins, but above all to his own identity. He felt so helpless when his sister failed to reply to his letters that ‘it even grieves me to the heart when I reflect upon it’ (17 February 1816). This sentimentality towards his family is in marked contrast with his attitude as an observer. Although Hutchinson cannot entirely detach himself emotionally from what he witnesses, there is a kind of Verfremdungseffekt in his writing, a journalistic objectification of the topics he covers, whereby the distance between himself and the other is never to be entirely spanned.

4. Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence: Issues of Intimacy, Confidentiality and Objectivity in Translation

Translating something as intimate and confidential as private letters has the potential to border on voyeurism. It raises issues that concern the ethics of translation, since the translator, unlike the casual reader, is supposed to leave no stone unturned in his struggle to reach communicative effectiveness. His labour consists in unveiling all meanings, in ransacking the secrets of the author’s mind, and, if necessary, in exposing the frailties of his body. The innermost thoughts are not fenced off from the translator’s dissecting tools. In this sense, translation is to be viewed as an act of intrusion and, simultaneously, of extrusion (in other words a disclosure and a close examination of that which pertains to the private sphere). The former constitutes a form of violation, of disrupting that which belongs to the realm of the confessional and becoming, to borrow the words of St. Augustine, ‘privy to the secrets of conscience’; whereas the latter manifests itself in the form of violence, destroying the integrity of the textual body, vivisecting it and exhibiting it to the public gaze. Nevertheless, such violence is mitigated by the transmutational properties of time. Over time, these texts have acquired the status of archaeological evidence, which does not necessarily mean that in this respect the position of the translator is less delicate. After all, he was not the addressee of the letters and that fact alone poses some problems. An outsider may find it difficult to penetrate the referential fabric of the letters. Unlike travel accounts or autobiographies written for publication, these texts were not intended for a wide readership. They were personal in tone and content, and the writer knew what responses to expect from his only reader living across the English Channel. The writer did not project an ideal or fictional reader to whom he might grant full right of access to the world recreated in his prose. As a consequence, his world remains sealed off from a larger audience and the translator is forced to break into the textual space like a trespasser. Implicatures lie hidden within this corpus of letters but they can never be entirely unravelled: whatever inferences the translator may draw, he or she will always lack the necessary background knowledge to establish their validity. Such implicatures, one must not forget, are a symptom of the close relationship existing between the two correspondents. Implicit meanings result from a common experience, excluding other readers. Fortunately, the text in question is generally far more objective and factual than one would suppose, and this alone gives the translator significant leverage over the hidden aspects of the correspondence. It is in the terrain of factuality and narrativity that the translator moves free from major constraints, although it is certain that the faithfulness of the representation can never be taken for granted (see Polezzi 2004: 124).

Of course one cannot expect to find in such letters a precise and exhaustive portrait of Beresford’s Lisbon, systematically organised in such a way as to cover all possible angles. What we get instead is a myriad of disparate images that can hardly be coalesced into one single picture. The reason is obvious: the stories he tells do not follow any thematic pattern, other than the fact that all of them revolve around the city itself. Apart from the town of Sintra, a popular tourist resort in the nineteenth century, where he spent some time ‘for the benefit of my Health which, thank God I have recovered beyond my expectation’ (14 June 1816), he never set foot outside of the capital (or at least there is no archival evidence of him doing so) and therefore he apparently did not know what was going on in the rest of the country. His letters lack the ‘horror and pity’ William Warre experienced as he crossed the country chasing after the fleeing French army and encountering ‘many people and children absolutely starving and living upon nettles and herbs they gathered in the fields’ (Warre and Warre 1909: 222). Not even Sintra, that ‘glorious Eden’ with its ‘views more dazzling unto mortal ken than those whereof such things the Bard relates’, as Byron wrote in his celebrated Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1812), succeeded in enrapturing our author, who preferred to remain faithful to whatever notable occurrences Lisbon had to offer the outsider’s gaze.

Hutchinson’s short narratives appear scattered throughout the letters in a rather random way, and it is their reading as anecdotal collages, rather than as a set of tightly-woven, interrelated stories, that allows the reader to gain a taste of the spontaneity of the narration and the ingenuousness of the narrator. Although the anecdotal episodes themselves are self-contained and refer only to fragments of both individual and collective experiences in early nineteenth-century Lisbon, they play an important part in the process of historiographical reconstruction of the past. The historiographical value of the letters lies in the fact that they contain accounts that were neither censored nor doctored: no one ever scrutinised or edited the stories, which were simply committed to paper without any concern for accuracy, trustworthiness or factuality. The ensemble of letters forms a sort of scrapbook containing clippings or mementos that were never meant to be published. Such moments, however, were bound together by a common genetic code: they all emerged out of the drive for novelty, a drive partly explained by the way the processes of cultural displacement affected the author.

However, when it comes to Hutchinson’s values and ideological assumptions, they are not readily easy to detect. He preferred to position himself as an observer rather than as a commentator, and avoided getting entangled in elaborate considerations. If the translator wants to gain a glimpse of his ideas and opinions, then he/she must proceed by engaging in a symptomatic reading of the letters, observing, for example, the way he framed and skewed the subject matter, or how he got himself more or less emotionally involved with the events he narrated, or simply how he refrained from passing judgement on what he saw. Far from highly opinionated, the letters nonetheless give us the chance of peering into his personality, albeit obliquely.

Sometimes, however, he felt compelled to take sides, such as when he dared to air his own opinion on Beresford:

...being the weaker power & finding himself defeated in all his projects, it is reported that he is about leaving [sic] the Country, which in my opinion is the wisest step he can take, else a worse fate may attend him. (11 April 1817)

Such explicitness was rare. Shortly after the rebellion in Pernambuco, Brazil, Hutchinson censured himself for letting slip his views on the political turmoil that had gripped the country and decided to not to return to the issue for fear of reprisals:

You are well aware that it is necessary to be very cautious how we treat upon political subjects in this Country, for which reason I avoid any thing of this nature, only sofar [sic] as I suppose it may be connected with the interests of Mercantile Affairs. (4 July 1817)

His fears over the consequences of political dissent were not wholly misplaced. The horrific hanging of the Conspirators he watched on 22 October 1817, shortly before his departure, left a lasting impression on him:

[C]uriosity led me to be one of the spectators of this awful scene & however disgraceful hanging may be in England I can assure you it is not less so here. The Executioner is obliged to ride astride the shoulders of every man he hangs.—It was about four O’Clock in the Afternoon when the Prisoners arrived at the foot of the Gallows & was about midnight when this melancholy scene closed.—After the Execution of all 7 out of the 11 were burnt on a Funeral Pile on the spot.

Here, his voyeurism matched his horror as he came to the full presence of death—that dark character that kept resurfacing in his writing.

5. Translation as a Double Disjuncture

As we have seen, what was once private acquires, over time, an archaeological value: the status of artefact is conferred on language as privacy metamorphoses into historical evidence. In translation, chronological distance is of the essence: one might even argue that every translation has embedded in its genes an indelible anachronism. In sharp contrast with our contemporary world, where synchronous forms of communication and instantaneous access to information seem to have taken hold of the way we communicate with each other, the art and craft of translation necessitates the slow transit of time. It is a painstaking process of problem-solving, reflection and maturation. It takes time and perseverance. And when it involves the representation of past historical phenomena, as in the present case, the temporal dimension acquires critical significance. On the one hand, the translator cannot help excogitating his own condition as a historical subject: he becomes conscious of the relativity of values, of the differentials separating lifestyles, habitus (in the Bourdieusian sense) and Weltanschauungen. On the other, the target text ends up constituting the representation of a representation and, as such, it is, as Althusser once stated of ideology, a representation of an ‘imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’ (Althusser 1971: 162). And here, in the translation process, the time gap separating source and target texts functions not so much as a thread linking both acts of writing along a historical continuum but rather as a lens, generating several simultaneous optical effects, where light shifts in unsuspected ways and where appearance must be understood in its composite and elusive nature. The world of the (author’s) ‘present’ can never be reconstructed as such in the target text. The translator necessarily operates in the time gap between two ‘presents’ (his/her own and the author’s). That is why the translator’s labour must be that of a conscious re-representation of history. This, of course, entails much scrupulous work of detailed historical research, as well as the ability to articulate it within the translational process.

The crux of the matter lies in being able to dwell in the interstices between two languages, two cultures and two historical periods. This is the translator’s privilege and the source of many of his tribulations. To be able to lay claim to the ability to contemplate the insurmountable differences that separate not only languages but also cultures, one is required to perceive how far one’s own consciousness depends not only on λόγος and on the chains of meanings that help one make sense of the world, but also on the points of rupture of discourse, those points where signifiers and signifieds (regardless of the language) can no longer encompass those phenomena that keep resisting appropriation, including the culture of the other. In other words, one must learn to come to terms with the undecidability which undermines the certainties offered by our ingrained logocentrism.

As the translator shifts, in the course of the translation process, from one logosphere (in the Barthesian sense) to another, he realises that the movement itself does not (actually, cannot) entail the loss or gain, subtraction or addition of meanings. Meaning does not constitute some sort of universal currency (that is, manifestations of a universal language common to all human beings) that can be subjected to a process of direct exchange or transaction. Meanings cannot migrate freely from one language to another. I can only subtract meanings within the system they belong to. Languages weave their own networks of meanings and the exact value of each meaning, if it can ever be assessed, is to be determined only symptomatically by the effects generated by its presence or absence in one particular social and cultural context. To believe in the transferability of the meaning and its capacity to survive as a whole in two distinct linguistic and cultural environments (as in a process of ecesis) is not to realise something that Derrida pointed out: that even within the same language meanings not only differ (a problem of spacing), but are forever deferred (which is the condition of their temporality). One of the main problems of translation, therefore, is not just spatiality but also temporality, particularly the historical condition of the texts.

And this, I think, poses an obstacle far more difficult to overcome, since it has to do with the impossibility for the translator to render two externalities compatible in one single (target) text. Just as Hutchinson was compelled, as an expatriate, to come to terms with the social and cultural reality of his host country[4] (which is, for all purposes, a question of spatiality), so the translator, like a migrant travelling through time, is forced to come to grips with an ancient world governed by laws long forsaken and now irretrievable (the question of temporality). And since both writer and translator are forever barred from a fully unmediated contact with the unconsciously lived culture of the Other, both seeing it as something external to themselves, though not necessarily negative, their attempts to assimilate cultural elements and national idiosyncrasies can only take place on the terrain of the imaginary, which enables them to crop, select, filter and reshape elements and idiosyncrasies in order to discursively tame the otherness. It is when the translator is trying to tackle texts of this nature that he feels – to allude to one of Derrida’s most quoted metaphors, borrowed from Shakespeare – that ‘time is out of joint’, namely that he is supposed to take up the writer’s voice, but without being able to adjust either to the discursive and ideological framework within which the texts once gained their coherence, or to the past ‘structure of feeling’ (to use one of Raymond Williams’s concepts of cultural analysis) that informed the emotions, thoughts and actions of the original writer (Williams 1965: 64-6).

Translators of travel writing therefore have to operate on a double disjuncture. On the one hand, they have to deal with the cultural gap that exists between the author and the people he visits (Hutchinson and the Portuguese), a gap which over-determines the perceptions, constructs, responses and projections of otherness of the British expat, but which -- since it is barely made explicit in the text -- can only be detected by means of a symptomatic reading. On the other hand, translators have to negotiate the disjunction that will always separate them from the time and the concrete conditions under which the texts saw the light of day -- a disjunction that is further amplified by the impossibility of mapping the exact location of the intersection of cultures which gives the letters their characteristic intercultural tension (see Cronin 2000: 6). Therefore, the translator is left with no choice but to try to overcome these two disjunctions, both of which constitute distinct moments of resistance to interpretation.

The translator’s path is strewn with obstacles, for the minute he or she starts translating the text that distinction is no longer clear: the two moments overlap and the barriers between them become blurred, since his or her gaze is constructed in and through the gaze of the expatriate. How can we then circumvent the limitations to translation that such a double disjuncture imposes? Of course a careful, detailed investigation into the empirical elements offered by the letters and the issues broached therein must always be conducted, but this is not enough: it can only be through a critical awareness of these tensions and resistances that translators may decentre themselves and avoid the pitfalls of identification and idealisation. It is this decentring at the core of translation that ends up being in itself a form of travelling. After all, ‘translatio’ in Latin means ‘carrying across’, ‘transporting’, ‘transferring’, and, in contrast to what we may think, it is not the source text that is ‘carried across’ to a target culture. It is rather the translator and his reader who are invited to venture across a frontier -- the frontier that sets the limits to their identities, values and representations, and that is both spatial and temporal.

In fact, the main challenges to the translation of these letters were posed by the problem of temporality, that is, by the difficulties of bridging the time gap. The first issue to be tackled was the stylistics of the Portuguese target text. It was not just a matter of finding the best equivalents and transferring contents from the source text into the target language without major semantic losses. It was also a matter of finding a style and a register that could somehow match the original ones. In order to do that, I compared the letters to similar archival and bibliographical sources in Portuguese. Two manuals of commercial correspondence proved invaluable: Arte da correspondência commercial ou modelos de cartas para toda a qualidade de operações mercantis [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or Letter Templates for all Sorts of Trade Operations] (Anon.; 1824) and Monlon’s Arte da correspondência commercial ou escolha de cartas sobre o commercio [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or a Selection of Business Letters] (1857), the only key style manuals of the day in this area still available for consultation in the Portuguese National Library. The analysis of the examples of letters allowed me to determine the way in which the target text was to be drafted.

One of the most complicated aspects I had to deal with was choosing the mode of address: the original letters invariably start with ‘Dear Brother’, and then the addressee is always referred to with the second person personal pronoun ‘you’. In Portuguese, this is not so linear. In the early nineteenth century, modes of address would have varied according not only to social class, age or degree of familiarity, but also to written language conventions. ‘You’ could be translated either as ‘Tu’ (too informal; the verb is conjugated in the second person singular), ‘Você’ (slightly more formal; the verb is conjugated in the third person singular), ‘Vossa Mercê’ (idem), or ‘Vós’ (more formal; verb conjugated in the second person plural), among several other possibilities. Back then, a relationship with a brother-in-law, close as it might have been, did not necessarily imply the use of the informal ‘tu’, since informality and closeness are not synonyms. The way Hutchinson closed the letters (‘Your ever Affectionate Brother’) bears witness to such emotional proximity, but it is far from being indicative of a relaxed, informal manner. The solution to the difficulty in ascertaining whether we were dealing with informality or politeness was partly given by the 1824 manual. The plural ‘Vós’ is used when addressing both singular and plural persons, but in some cases all we have is the initial ‘V—’, which could stand either for ‘Vós’, ‘Você’ or ‘Vossa Mercê’. When the ‘V—’; form occurs, the verb is conjugated in the third person singular, midway between formality and affable politeness. This was the form I resorted to throughout.

Another difficulty had to do with wording. The manuals proved useful in guiding my lexical choices. I wanted to give the translation a distinctive period flavour to represent the historical dimension of the original letters. For example, ‘company’ could be translated either as ‘sociedade’ or ‘empresa’, but these words barely appear in the 1824 manual, especially when referring to one’s own company. Instead, the commonest word is ‘caza’ [House] sometimes ‘caza de commercio’ (dated spelling), which I decided to adopt. Many more old-fashioned or outdated Portuguese words that appear in the manual were likewise retrieved: ‘embolço’ [imbursement]; ‘estimar’ [to believe; to guess];  ‘fazer-se de vella’ [to set sail]; ‘governo’ [management]; ‘sortimento’ [assortment]; ‘sortir’ [to sort; to provide]; ‘praça’ [exchange or financial centre; market]; ‘rogar’ [to beseech]. The manual was equally useful in providing formulaic language that was pretty close to some passages in Hutchinson’s letters: ‘Sacámos hoje sobre vós pelo importe da factura (…) L... a 60 dias á ordem de…’ [Today we drew on you for the sum of £… at sixty days]; ‘Vosso reverente servidor’ [Your very Obedient Servant]; ‘Por esta confirmamos a nossa circular de (…) desde a qual ainda não tivemos a satisfação de receber alguma vossa…’ [Without any of your Favors since mine of the … I have now to inform you…].

Another challenge was related to the commercial jargon both in English and in Portuguese. Nowadays commercial terminology in both languages is much more complex, but most of the neologisms that currently exist in Portuguese are English words. Back then, that influence was more tenuous. In any case, the search for the right equivalent would have always been time-consuming. ‘Bill’ alone, for instance, could be equivalent to as many things as ‘letra’, ‘letra de câmbio’, ‘saque’, ‘promissória’, ‘papel comercial’, ‘título de comércio’, ‘factura’, or ‘facturação’. If we multiply this by the wide spectrum of nomenclatures related to those areas of economic activity Hutchinson was directly or indirectly involved in, we have an idea of the complexity of the task.

To start with, there were the inner workings of the wool trade business. I had to unwind the ball of yarn of the English wool and worsted industry, including all the details concerning the different stages of the manufacturing process: recognising the provenance and differences in quality of the raw wool available in both the Portuguese and Spanish markets, the various patterns of the warp and weft, the way the cloth should be cut or dressed, specific types of woollen cloths, their designs and colours, and so on. One particular stumbling block was the enigmatic ‘37 R., 6 F., 4 S., 1 T. & 11 A.’ (letter dated 9 August 1816). It took me a while before I learnt from a magazine published in London in 1804 (Tilloch 1807: 239-42) that the initials did not stand for any English or Portuguese words, but for Spanish ones. They referred to the way Spanish wool (which also included Portuguese wool) was classified: Primera or Refina (R.), Fina (F.), Segunda (S.), Tercera (T.) and Añinos (A.).

Moreover, since conducting business ventures overseas back then was not without its risks, I had to acquaint myself with the idiom used in cargo and shipping insurance, learn about risk-assessment, shipping deadlines, storage conditions, bills of lading, types of merchant ships crossing the Atlantic, and so on. But then there are also taxes and duties, customs procedures and the requirements of port authorities, the valuation of the bales in the Cocket,[5] goods lodged at the Custom House not yet dispatched -- all of this wrapped up in a language of its own, which has to be patiently disassembled, explored, digested, and then reassembled and fine-tuned in the translation process. In order to penetrate that language I had to resort to historical research once more. I visited the ‘Torre do Tombo’ (the Portuguese National Archives) and consulted the records from the customs houses that existed in Lisbon at that time: the ‘Alfândega Grande do Açúcar’, the ‘Alfândega das Sete Casas’, the ‘Alfândega da Casa dos Cinco’ and the ‘Casa da Índia’, the first of which provided invaluable information about the duties on wools and worsted, the classification of wools and of all sorts of cloths, their quantities and provenance, and so on. In the records of the ‘Casa da Índia’, the inventory of the cargo of the French ship Le Commerciant [sic], seized in the summer of 1809, reminds us of the risks faced by merchants like Hutchinson.

I adopted a domesticating approach to a certain extent, adding explanatory footnotes whenever words, phrases or referents might challenge the modern reader’s understanding of the target text. However, since the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses is aimed at a scholarly readership, it proved unnecessary to insist on the explanation of cultural or linguistic aspects that they are supposed to be already acquainted with. Differences in style between early nineteenth-century and early twenty-first-century Portuguese are noticeable, but they do not make the text less intelligible. In any case, stylistic conventions should not pose a problem for all the scholars who are used to working with documents of that period. So I kept the footnotes to a minimum. The future publication of a book containing the complete correspondence of the Farrer family, this time aiming at a more general readership, will entail a different explanatory methodology, but not a different stylistic treatment.

6. Conclusions

Writing narratives of displacement and travel is in itself a translational act, where the author is always seeking to translate into his mother tongue the manifestations of the culture of the other.[6] The translator of travel writing, in turn, operates on a double disjuncture – the gap between the author and the visited culture, on the one hand, and the gap between the translator and the author, on the other – threefold if you include the inevitable temporal disjuncture. In the process, the translator is forced to question his identity, values and the representations of his own nation and people, especially if the original text is non-fictional and therefore stakes a claim to the immediacy and truthfulness of the experience. The translator thus has to achieve a tour-de-force in bridging all three gaps and rendering the text accessible to the contemporary reader. However, the meanings in the target text will always have but a spectral relation with the ones in the source text: they are constructed at the same time as a re-apparition of a former presence (that does not present itself as full presence) and as the apparition of a new presence –a new text in its own right. This distance between the source and target texts becomes more difficult to span when historical time – fissured as it has been, in this particular case, over these past two centuries by sudden ruptures and discontinuities – keeps eroding the paths that could render the source text recognisable to the reader: hence the importance of the translator’s historical consciousness and the necessity of articulating historical research with the translation process, since any translation of historical material that disregards the intelligibility of historical processes lacks the authority to stake claims to accuracy and credibility.


Althusser, Louis (1971) Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans B. Brewster, London, New Left Books.

Bethell, Leslie (1984) Colonial Brazil, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Borges de Macedo, Jorge (1963) Problemas da História da Indústria Portuguesa no Século XVIII, PhD diss, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Casas Pardo, José (ed.) (1992) Economic effects of the European expansion, 1492-1824, Stuttgart, Steiner Verlag.

Cronin, Michael (2000) Across the Lines: Travel, Language, Translation, Cork, Cork University Press.

Fletcher, J. S. (1919) The Story of the English Town of Leeds, New York, Macmillan.

Gentzler, Edwin (1993) Contemporary Translation Theories, Clarendon, Multilingual Matters.

Glover, Michael (1976) “Beresford and His Fighting Cocks”, History Today 26, no. 4: 262-8.

Lopes, António (2009) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (1.ª parte) [“Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817” (1st part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses, no. 18: 93-133.

--- (2010) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (2.ª parte) [‘Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817’ (2nd part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses no. 19: 175-204.

Maxwell, Kenneth (2004) Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750-1808, London, Routledge.

Newitt, Malyn (2004) Lord Beresford and British Intervention in Portugal, 1807-1820, Lisbon, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.

Pijning, Ernst (1997) “Passive resistance: Portuguese diplomacy of contraband trade during King John V’s reign (1706-1750)”, Arquipélago – História 2, no. 2, 171-191.

Polezzi, Loredana (2004) “Between Gender and Genre: The Travels of Estella Canziani” in Perspectives on Travel Writing, Glenn Hooper and Tim Youngs (eds), Aldershot, Ashgate: 121-37.

Tilloch, Alexander (1807) The Philosophical Magazine: Comprehending the Various Branches of Science, the Liberal and Fine Arts, Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce. vol. 27. London, R. Taylor.

books.google.pt/books?id=fp9JAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed 15 April 2011)

Warre William, and Edmond Warre (1909) Letters from the Peninsula, 1808-1812, London, John Murray.

Williams, Raymond (1965 [1961]) The Long Revolution, Harmondsworth, Penguin.


[1] Ref. No. E 140/34/1. Records of the Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Exhibits: Farrer (and another) v Hutchinson (and others). Scope and content: Letters to Thomas Farrer from his brother-in-law, James Hutchinson (Jnr.), in Lisbon. Covering dates: 1815-1817.

[2] Manuel J. G. de Abreu Vidal. Análise da sentença proferida no juízo da inconfidencia em 15 de Outubro de 1817 contra o Tenente General Gomes Freire de Andrade, o Coronel Manoel Monteiro de Carvalho e outros... pelo crime de alta traição. Lisboa, Morandiana, 1820; José Dionísio da Serra. Epicedio feito, e recitado em 1822 no anniversario da sempre lamentável morte do General Gomes Freire de Andrade. Paris, 1832; Joaquim Ferreira de Freitas. Memoria sobre a conspiraçaõ [sic] de 1817: vulgarmente chamada a conspiração de Gomes Freire. London, Richard and Arthur Taylor, 1822.

[3] He outlived Thomas (who died circa 1820) and was appointed executor of his brother-in-law’s estate.

[4] A process E. Gentzler (1993: 37) calls ‘domestication’.

[5] A customs office in Britain where detailed records of exports were kept.

[6] On the relation between travel and translation see Lesa Scholl (2009) “Translating Culture: Harriet Martineau’s Eastern Travels” in Travel Writing, Form, and Empire: The Poetics and Politics of Mobility, Julia Kuehn and Paul Smethurst (eds), London, Routledge; Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (1998) Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters; and Susan Bassnett (2002) Translation Studies, London, Methuen.


Les sens dans la traduction du « texte » filmique

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The Translator Made Corporeal: Translation History And The Archive

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Exchanges Journal: Call for submissions

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MultiMeDialecTranslation 7 – Dialect translation in multimedia

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Dialogue interpreting. A guide to interpreting in Public Services and the Community

By Natacha Niemants (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy)


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Cfp: Translation meets Book History: Intersections 1700-1900

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Giovanni Nadiani in Memoriam

By Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin (Univ. of Eötvös Loránd, Hungary & Turku, Finland)

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Traurig und mit großer Dankbarkeit gedenken wir unseres Kollegen und Freundes Giovanni Nadiani. Gern erinnern wir uns an seine vielseitige wissenschaftliche Arbeit für die Dialektforschung und Übersetzungswissenschaft. Maßstäbe gesetzt haben die zwei internationalen Konferenzen zu Dialektübersetzung und Dialekten in Multimedia, die er in Forlì 2007 und 2010 in hervorragender Weise organisiert hat. Neben der Wissenschaft zeigte Giovanni auch eine ausgeprägte literarische Begabung, wie die Veröffentlichung mehrerer Sammlungen von Dialektgedichten und von Theaterstücken im Dialekt eindrucksvoll belegt. Er war einer der Gründer unseres Teams, das bisher sechs MultiMeDialecTrans -Symposien organisiert hat und weiter organisiert. Giovanni Nadiani mit seinem freundlichen Wesen wird uns allen in bester Erinnerung bleiben.

Das MMDT Scientific Team
Koloman Brenner, Ungarn
Klaus Geyer, Dänemark
Irmeli Helin, Finnland
Mihaela Koletnik, Slowenien
Herta Maurer-Lausegger, Österreich

It is with sadness and a great sense of loss that we share the news of the death of our colleague and mutual friend Giovanni Nadiani in August 2016, after a prolonged illness.  We salute with gratitude his diverse contributions in the academic world, especially in research into dialects and translation. In this respect, the two highly successful international conferences under the themes of Translation of Dialect and Use of Dialect in Multimedia that he organised in Forli, Italy, in 2007 and 2010 served as important milestones. Our MMDT Scientific Team has already organized six MultiMeDialecTrans Symposia with Giovanni among the founders of this Symposium. His work will be continued in these symposia. Yet, Giovanni was not only an academic scholar; he had outstanding literary talent, manifested by his anthologies of poems in dialect and his plays written in dialect. Giovanni Nadiani was a friendly and co-operative person whose memory will always remain in our hearts.

Kollegamme ja yhteinen ystävämme Giovanni Nadiani poistui keskuudestamme pitkällisen sairauden murtamana elokuussa 2016. Kiitollisina muistelemme sitä monipuolista ja tieteellistä työtä, jota hän teki murteen tutkimuksen ja käännöstieteen parissa. Erityisen tärkeitä virstanpylväitä olivat ne kaksi kansainvälistä, suuren menestyksen saavuttanutta konferenssia, jotka hän järjesti Forlìssa 2007 ja 2010, ja joiden teemana olivat murteen kääntäminen ja murteen käyttö multimediassa. Giovanni ei ollut vain tiedemies ja tutkija, vaan myös erinomainen kirjallinen lahjakkuus, josta osoituksina ovat hänen murrerunokokoelmansa ja murteella kirjoitetut näytelmänsä.  MMDT Scientific Teamimme on järjestänyt jo kuusi MultiMeDialecTrans –symposiumia, ja Giovanni oli yksi sen perustajista. Näissä symposiumeissa hänen työnsä jatkuu edelleen. Ystävällisen ja avuliaan Giovanni Nadianin muisto säilyy lähtemättömästi sydämissämme.

Babel. Festival di letteratura e traduzione

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Call for Chapters: Redefining Translation and Interpretation in Cultural Evolution

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By Christopher Taylor (University of Trieste, Italy)

Keywords: audiovisual translation

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inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
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The present volume contains eight diverse approaches, by eight scholars from various European countries, to the analysis of a single audiovisual text entitled In Excelsis Deo. The text is in fact Episode Ten of the highly successful American television series The West Wing and while it contains inevitable intertextual connections with preceding and subsequent episodes (the chief of staff’s drug problems, Christmas preparations at the White House, the tragic murder of a gay schoolboy, some barely hatched love stories), it also features a self-contained story of a Korean War veteran who is given an unofficial military funeral through the machinations of a member of the White House staff. The analysis of this text, which is particularly rich in the kind of linguistic, semantic, pragmatic, cultural and technical challenges found in audiovisual translation (AVT), will also embrace the important area of audiovisual access for the sensorially disabled, namely the deaf and hard of hearing and the blind and sight-impaired. Through a process of careful re-examination and coordinated analysis, it is hoped that the similar or diverse methodologies, priorities or perceptions that emerge from the various contributions will provide stimuli for anyone working in the AVT sector, especially those in the media industry and in higher education.

The editor’s idea of subjecting a single text to examination on several related fronts first arose after reading Mann & Thompson’s 1992 book ‘Discourse Description: diverse linguistic analyses of a fund-raising text’, in which the authors invited a dozen or so renowned linguists to analyse the same text (Zero Population Growth – a letter seeking donations for a cause) in their own different ways. The result was 409 pages of analysis of a text running one and a half pages.

The idea of doing the same thing with a multimodal film text, by inviting a number of  noted experts in the field to contribute, marks a new departure in the area of audiovisual texts and translation. The analyses should be even more exhaustive than those collated in the Mann-Thompson volume as attempts are made to find a way through the web of semiotic resources that reflect the thoughts and ideas of the audiovisual text’s creator and how meaning is made through the various semiotic modes represented.

Thus the main objective is to investigate to what extent different approaches to the analysis of the text, whether for translation purposes, didactic considerations, linguistic description, and so on, reveal similar or diverse methodologies, priorities or perceptions.

In other words it will be interesting to see, for example, how the eye-tracker looks at the text, or at least how someone looks at the text when wearing their eye-tracking hat, or how the linguist looks at the text, how the translator looks at the text, how the subtitler or dubber looks at the text, how the audiodescriber looks at the text, and so on.

Those familiar with the ‘Pear Tree’ project (Mazur and Kruger, 2012) will have seen, for example, how cultural perspectives can affect the perception of a film, and it will be interesting to see how the preparation of translations into different languages may require different approaches and techniques, and how the hierarchy of superordinate and subordinate elements may change.

Whatever the purpose of the analysis, examining such variables as patterns, complexity, register, rhetorical structures, cohesive devices, functions, and so on, has provided us with a great deal of material to compare and confront. Conclusions have been drawn and we are now in a position to at least offer guidelines to others embarking on the various tasks that are the subject of the separate chapters.

Thus the main cohesive structure of the volume revolves around the idea of the single text, as a search is made for a common thread, or threads, running through the various analyses. Is there substantial agreement as to what constitute the key elements in the multimodal whole, whatever the purpose of the inquiry, or is it the case that for a particular purpose certain semantic resources are prioritised? What general principles are discernible in a single text token?

The present-day reliance on rapid communication and the preponderance of multimodal and multimedia products over all other forms of communication in this ‘iconic age’, all fueled by the digital revolution, has led to a vastly increased need to mediate between countries, media, languages and cultures. This phenomenon is particularly relevant in Europe with its mix of languages and cultures and its massive use of audiovisual material of all kinds. The sheer size of this phenomenon imposes a huge burden on the translation industry, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in the attempt to provide access to AVT products for all European citizens by breaking down the linguistic and cultural barriers.

This question of accessibility has gained further relevance more recently where attention has turned to subjects such as subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) and audiodescription for the blind and sight-impaired. Most European governments have pledged to provide audiovisual access to these groups but progress is often slow and in many countries the process is still in its infancy. This aspect will be addressed both in terms of same-language intralingual transposition and interlingual translation through, for example, audiosubtitles for the blind.

Until recently many practitioners of AVT were self-taught and either had talent or not. Accordingly they became either well-reputed professionals or perpetrators of the often very poor translations that have even been the object of ridicule in, for example, web-site exchanges. Finally, in more recent times, practitioners are beginning to be recruited from among newly-emerging university graduates with AVT experience, those who have followed courses based on local and/or internationally published material and who have benefitted from the expertise of a still fairly restricted number  of qualified teachers. Given the enormous interest now shown in the field, and the predicted boom in the number of AVT courses being offered in higher education, it is time to produce some scientifically based reasoning and some proposals that will provide the basis for a coherent body of reference to be used in undergraduate as well as post-graduate university courses.

This body of research is designed to give some more impetus to the current rise in interest regarding AVT and first and foremost, to shed light on the processes involved in translating a television series. It is also hoped, however, that the fallout from this work may be useful directly or indirectly to all end-users of audiovisual translation, whether they be television viewers, cinema audiences, deaf and blind subjects, web navigators, and so on. The material is also aimed more generally at the media companies and service providers, and to teachers and students in higher education.

The partners in this initiative, all established experts in the field of audiovisual translation, many of whom have also worked in the industry as screen translators, subtitlers or audiodescribers, hope to fill a gap that is currently missing in the audiovisual sector. They wish to achieve a comprehensive understanding of what lies at the core of successful audiovisual translation, whether it be for dubbing, subtitling or voice-over, and what is really required of subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH) and audiodescription for the blind. The objectives therefore, as explained above, are to analyse a single text from a variety of linguistic, cultural and practical viewpoints with a view to achieving a greater understanding of what constitutes audiovisual translation and transposition and secondly to create an illustrated methodology for students and practitioners of AVT. The contents of the work should impact on the current audiovisual scenario across Europe by promoting high standards, quality assurance and standardized procedures to ensure best practices in all countries.

The contributions

As the ‘West Wing’ text has been analysed by eight audiovisual translation (AVT) experts from universities throughout Europe and from various disciplines (linguistics, translation, psychology, IT, media studies) it has involved seven different language/culture combinations, each concentrating on a particular aspect of AVT. From the language point of view, the work consists of considered analyses and reasoned proposals for translation into Spanish, Italian, Catalan, Swedish, Polish and Croatian. Grafted onto these language combinations the following aspects are analysed: dubbing strategies and techniques, subtitling strategies and techniques, including the involvement of professionals, voiceover, the didactic ramifications of AVT, the use of eye-tracking technology in subtitle production, audiodescription for the blind and partially sighted, audiosubtitling, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, multimodal text analysis, dialogue analysis, the examination of intercultural issues, the question of ‘re-speaking’ as an AVT mode, and a consideration of the feasibility of creating a film referencing system that traces and categorises visual elements in the same way as verbal elements.

The major innovation to be found in this volume is that such a large number of experts from different countries have never before carried out an analysis of a single multimodal text. The text in question has been chosen carefully because of the array of features it contains that challenge the audiovisual translator. It contains high speed dialogue, culture-bound references, witticisms, well-rounded characters, all the conventional ingredients of the television series as a genre, the meta-language of the voiceovers, a host of important and effective visual references, pathos and continuity.

The countries represented by the contributors to the volume have been chosen taking into consideration the different translation traditions in Europe: dubbing, subtitling, voice-over, which is key to the development of respective accessibility strategies.

Pilar Orero approaches the question of accessibility for the sensorially disabled, more specifically audiodescription for the blind and sight-impaired population. She makes the important point that certain television series, of which ‘The West Wing’ is a recognized example, have now received considerable critical acclaim as well as enormous commercial success. It is therefore important that access be provided for the sensorially disabled to these products, though this is still often lacking. In particular Orero looks at three aspects of the episode In Excelsis Deo, namely character, location and plot. For the blind audience the identification of the main characters, the clarifying of the various settings and then the following of the plot, both the ‘stand-alone’ story of the Korean War veteran and the other stories which are carried over from previous episodes, are fundamental reference points. For example, the key character in this episode, Toby Ziegler, is introduced in the opening scene and his position in the White House hierarchy needs to be quickly established. Other main characters are also present at the beginning of the episode. The locations are all in Washington D.C. and the connection between the institutional settings (The White House, the Korean War Memorial, Arlington Cemetery) and other places (a call girl’s flat, a makeshift camp for derelicts, a bookshop) needs to be made clear. The dialogue list/screenplay of the episode, while by no means an exact substitute for an AD, can provide useful information of this type and a careful study of its contents, and also the director’s indications, can lead to identifying the most important features to include in the description.

As is typical of such series every episode begins with a resumé of what has gone before. Orero suggests that this time, along with the succeeding scrolling of the credits, is an opportune moment for an introductory element to precede the audiodescription (AD). Even if this inevitably means a certain amount of overlap with the spoken words, this kind of ‘invasion’ is justified in these circumstances. Intertitles giving information on times and places, should be read aloud in accordance with all current guidelines. Treading the controversial waters of how much subjectivity or personal interpretation to include in the AD, Orero suggests that Toby Ziegler’s feelings towards the dead veteran should be made explicit, as this is the leitmotif of the whole mini-story.

Frederic Chaume takes a look at the Spanish dubbed version of In Excelsis Deo and begins by explaining that the translated version of The West Wing ‘has been acknowledged as one of the best dubbings of a drama series in that country’. This reflects, as he points out, the excellent technical work and excellent acting of the original. He dissects the translation, the dubbing and the final Spanish performance, going through all the elements that a translator for dubbing should know about. It is, as he says, a stereotypical text for  teaching. The main basis for the analysis is the concept of norms that dubbers follow and that audiences expect and recognize. Although ‘no empirical evidence has shown what a good dubbing is’, those who work in the industry or in the AVT teaching profession point to certain yardsticks such as lip synchrony, isochrony, natural dialogue production, ideational and interpersonal meaning, iconographic equivalence, fidelity, and so on. and these are all covered by Chaume in relation to The West Wing.

The ‘tricks of the trade’ are illustrated in terms, for example, of bilabial substitution – at a certain point the word ‘padre’ is introduced, because it is phonetically equivalent, regardless of the fact that there is no mention of a ‘father’ in the original script -  and this replacement is justified. Chaume is essentially very complimentary towards the whole dubbing performance in In Excelsis Deo, though he also points out examples of errors, mismatching and calquing. These, however, are explained in terms of the inevitable traps of ‘dubbese’. He also indicates the importance of the ‘walk and talk’ strategy used in the original in every episode and which is picked up by other authors in this volume (Orero, Perego).

Kristijan Nikolić takes a critical look at the subtitled version of In Excelsis Dio in Croatian. He begins by interviewing the actual subtitler, who worked on almost the whole series of The West Wing for the Croatian national broadcaster. The interviewee confirmed that subtitling a fast-paced, culture-bound TV series with some similarities to documentary formats, posed considerable challenges to the translator/subtitler. The first crucial point to emerge from the subtitler’s point of view is that the very first episode is the most difficult, in that it is necessary to ease into the series in order to understand how to shape things as the series progresses. It is then important to make decisions as to how to deal with the many cultural references, that is to leave them in English, find a Croatian equivalent, translate the terms literally or eliminate them entirely.

Nikolić, who then takes up the analysis, refers to Pedersen’s categories of cultural expressions (see this volume) namely ECRS (extra-linguistic cultural references) and to Diaz-Cintas and Remael’s distinction between total and partial reduction when time constraints compel the subtitler to find space in the densely packed dialogue. He asks the crucial question of how the subtitler can decide? In agreement with the interviewed professional, he emphasises the importance of having or finding knowledge of the source text culture as it applies to the series in question. In this case it is important to know, for example, that Medical School is not medicinska škola (nursing school) and that the Secretary of Labour in America is equivalent to a minister in the Croatian political system.

Another question to arise is that of the use of acronyms and abbreviations such as the NSA (National Security Agency). Bodies of this kind rarely have an exact equivalent in other cultures and political systems and the subtitler may be tempted to leave it out or paraphrase it. Yet, as in this case, if the term, both in its abbreviated and full form, is referred to repeatedly, it will then be necessary to go back and make sure the reference is clear. Examples such as those outlined above, and an interesting instance of how to translate gay in a language that has no equivalent register, form part of a rounded analysis of the difficulties involved in subtitling In Excelsis Deo in Croatian.

Delia Chiaro, while discussing the Italian dubbed version of In Excelsis Deo, points out that the series was not a huge success in Italy, perhaps due to unfortunate timing and the fact that the subject matter might not have attracted a large audience. Nonetheless the series was translated by several television companies and Chiaro takes a critical look at a number of the translation solutions attempted. She identifies examples of dubbese such as the now standard translation of the English language wedding vow “I do” with ‘Lo voglio”. The choice is based on lip synchronization but is simply not said at Italian wedding services.

Chiaro correctly devotes considerable attention to the question of terms of address and the perennial problem of pronoun use when translating from English into languages that make a register distinction depending on who the interlocutors are. She examines this usage with reference to a number of one-to-one relationships that are a constant feature of the series and in need of careful handling.

In discussing the handling of culture-bound terms, she introduces the concept of chunking up, or down, or sideways (Katan, 2004) and her own concept of “lingua-cultural drops in translational voltage”. These terms refer to the choices translators make to either use a hyperonym to deal with a specific term e.g., ‘medaglia/medal’ for ‘purple heart’ or vice versa when ‘Christmas services’ is substituted with a more specific ‘messa di natale/Christmas Mass’, or use a target language equivalent or leave the term untranslated as is the case with real names.

Finally, while generally applauding the work of the Italian ‘dialoghista’, who Chiaro interviewed for this chapter, she makes some specific criticisms. For example, there is a flattening effect in some stretches of discourse, there is censorship in the translation of the term ‘hooker’, and the voice chosen for the child who addresses the President is much more ‘childlike’ than in the original. But what emerges from this chapter is an accurate picture of what goes on in the mind of the translator and what happens in the dubbing studio.

Iwona Mazur and Agnieszka Chmiel tackle the question of voice-over, a translation mode used in their native Poland, and in other countries particularly in eastern Europe, for TV fiction as well as for documentaries, news features and so on. They rightly lament the fact that voice-over had long been considered a poor relation in the audiovisual translation world, but point out that it has now gained its rightful place alongside subtitling and dubbing as a translation mode worthy of study. Nevertheless, they also point out how certain voice-over practices are criticized in the West, such as the use of a single male voice to cover all characters in a film, a usage that caused an American critic to wonder why Marilyn Monroe flirted breathily in a thick baritone voice.

The authors explain how the usual voice-over practice was to allow the original speaker to begin talking and then come in several seconds later with the translation and to end the voice-over a couple of seconds before the speaker completed his or her talk. In the meantime the volume would be turned down to allow the translated version to be heard. This is still largely the case everywhere that voice-over is used, but Mazur and Chmiel report that in Poland the volume is now being kept quite high throughout the voice-over. They also quote Woźniak’s use of the term voice-in-between referring to the practice of inserting the voice-over between gaps in the discourse, as an alternative approach.

The authors then turn their attention to the voiced over Polish version of In Excelsis Deo. Intriguingly the Polish title for The West Wing translates as Presidential Poker. They discuss the particular problems that voice-over translators have to face, some of which are common to all types of audiovisual translation, while others are specific to this genre. They discover that the Polish version is 31% shorter in terms of the numbers of characters. This is due to the usual need to omit, to reduce, to create isochrony and to remain within strict time limits, but the idea of measuring this discrepancy in terms of characters is interesting. Polish lexical items are longer than English words and a simple word count might have skewed the results.

They also note that the type-token ratio is higher in Polish, which at first sight may seem surprising but, as they explain, this can be put down to the inflected nature of Polish and the counting of lemmas. The authors then concentrate on the problem of culture-bound terms, metaphor, irony and other ‘critical points’ and discuss the strategies adopted ranging from normalization to foreignisation, the former being the most used, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of this particular example of voice-over. Mazur and Chmiel also talked to a professional audiovisual translator about this text, which provided  a useful perspective on the topic.

Jan Pedersen begins his chapter by discussing the ever fewer differences remaining between subtitling norms in the Scandinavian countries, such as the preponderance of one-liners in Denmark as opposed to the preference for two-liners in Sweden. However, he analyzes the text In Excelsis Deo according to the current Swedish specifications, focusing in particular on cultural questions.

As an academic researcher in Stockholm, as well as being a professional subtitler, Pedersen has developed his own method of dealing with culture-bound translation problems, the bain of all translators, and which he refers to as extralinguistic cultural references (ECRs). His ‘toolkit’ for dealing with ECRs is based on a taxonomy of seven basic strategies which, he claims, can enable a competent subtitler to solve any cultural conundrum or ‘crisis point’ (cf. Gottlieb’s ten strategies for all subtitling problems). These strategies range from the more straightforward approaches of retention, direct translation and the use of ‘official’ equivalents, to the trickier options of generalization, specification and substitution. Omission is also considered a valid option in certain circumstances, mostly dictated by time and space constraints. Examples are provided of all these strategies as well as a consideration of what Pedersen calls ‘influencing parameters’. The latter explain why culture-bound terms need to be rendered in one particular way instead of another. Again examples are provided in terms of transculturality (how familiar are the ECRs in both source and target cultures), centrality (how salient is the ECR at macro or micro level), polysemiotics (the interplay between image and dialogue in the identification of an ECR) and paralinguistic factors such as audience type, time of viewing, national translation norms, etc.). Pedersen ends his chapter with a number of particularly thorny examples, especially concerning one case where there is an evident error in the original script.

Elisa Perego also discusses the walk-and-talk phenomenon in her chapter but starts from a consideration of script writing. After extolling the merits of Aaron Sorkin as a screenplay writer, a view shared by audiences and critics alike, she points out how it is here that The West Wing gains its specificity. She uses the expression ‘strong urgency’ to describe the spoken dialogues that run through the whole series. While no attempt is made by Sorkin to reproduce natural dialogue, the characters are rendered believable by skilful scriptwriting. These are high-powered government officials and they are provided with the fast-paced, at times witty, repartee that marks them out as important, intelligent and efficient operatives. As Perego says, ‘they treat every single word as a precious component, making them count’ and adhering faithfully to the Gricean maxims of brevity, truth, relevance and clarity.

Her linguistic analysis of the walk-and-talk process highlights how the frequent use of substitutions and ellipsis in particular scenes follows from the fact that the script has been so carefully prepared that everything that is said is built on what a previous speaker has said, and this within a shared physical context and with shared background knowledge. Clear examples are provided to support these and other findings.

Finally Perego turns her attention to the problems this kind of language use poses for audiovisual translators and for audio describers for a blind audience. For dubbing, the fast-moving dialogue can be tailored in the studio and actors can be couched in fast delivery. But for subtitlers the time constraints and rapid switching of characters creates difficulties, and important decisions have to be made regarding elements that can be sacrificed while maintaining the ‘strong urgency’ effect. Audio description relies on gaps in the dialogue in order to be able to verbalise important visual elements. These gaps are often non-existent, so how can it be done? With these problems in mind Perego ends her chapter with the thought that observing how different audiovisual translators face these difficulties may help us determine whether audiovisual translation strategies are homogeneous or depend on the language combination in question. Food for thought.

Anthony Baldry, following on from his ground-breaking work on multimodal transcriptions and his MCA relational database, turns his attention to The West Wing episode In Excelsis Deo to introduce some new ideas on semiotic referencing systems. He begins by posing the question “Why is it that film analysts and their readers do not use a referencing system which indexes the visual components of a film systematically on a par with the referencing found in a film script or transcript?” He discusses the interplay of screenplays, storyboards and transcriptions of films, perhaps written by amateur enthusiasts, in terms of their providing a single integrated multimodal transcript. His basic aim is to provide a tool for multimodal text analysts to be able to locate where a specific effect occurs and to identify recurrent patterns in multimodal texts. There are many scenes and extracts in the episode in question that rely exclusively, or largely, on visual input, particularly the poignant final scene where the camera switches between a White House carol service and an official Arlington Cemetery burial. The salient reference points are purely visual but descriptions of such scenes remain verbal. Baldry suggests that we as viewers think in both linguistic and visual terms when watching a film or television series, yet although a film is a ‘visual story’ the screenplay is still incontrovertibly a written artefact. It may contain written instructions as to what can be seen (it is a dark night and Mary is feeling the cold as she watches the train enter the station), but it is still locked in the confines of a page, be it paper or electronic. However, Baldry points out that the use of storyboards and animatics mark a beginning in providing visual instructions to a film director and bring him or her closer to a dual approach to the story.

This conundrum of how to describe/analyse/translate multimodal texts by using only the linguistic medium has been bothering scholars for some time. Anthony Baldry has been at the forefront of studies to obviate the verbal bias for many years and this chapter represents one of his latest forays into the field. With each new approach, as he gets nearer to perfecting the ‘multisemiotic transcriptions as film referencing systems’, which is also the title of this chapter, we all get nearer to being able to make more complete sense of multimodal texts.


Katan, David (2004) Translating Cultures: an introduction for translators, interpreters and mediators, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Mazur, Iwona, and Jan Louis Kruger (eds) (2012) Pear Stories and Audio Description, Special Issue Perspectives, Vol 20, Issue 1.

‘Walk and Talk’ in Italian

Dubbing Cool Politics

By Delia Chiaro (University of Bologna, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

This study examines the reasons why the television series The West Wing did not have the huge success in Italy that it had had elsewhere.  Over and above the supposition that the series lacked in appeal for simple marketing mistakes such as poor scheduling and the public’s lack of engagement with matters of US politics, it is likely that issues concerning translation may have also had an adverse impact. One of the hardest hurdles facing the translator of the series concerned the management of dialogue that often consisted of witty repartee delivered at fast speed while actors were on the move ‘walking and talking’. Following a brief and critical overview of the Italian dub of the episode In Excelsis Deo, a variety of lingua-cultural issues that the translation and dub had to deal with will be explored. An interview with the dubbing translator reveals how references to sex, violence and religion are flattened throughout the original script’s to the Italian screen.

Keywords: dubbing, censorship, verbally-expressed humour, US television series

©inTRAlinea & Delia Chiaro (2016).
"‘Walk and Talk’ in Italian"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2196

1. Introduction

Seasons 1–4 of The West Wing were first broadcast in Italy in July 2002 by Rete 4, one of the privately owned Mediaset channels. Later, in 2004, Fox, a channel available on the Sky Italia pay TV package, broadcast re-runs followed by the fifth season in 2007. In 2009 and 2010, Premium (Mediaset’s pay TV package) channel Steel aired Seasons 6 and 7. Between 2009 and 2010 The West Wing returned to Rete 4 where Seasons 5 to7 were broadcast once more. In 2012, Sky Italia and digital channel Arturo re-ran the entire series from scratch.

Despite its huge success in the US earned, amongst other things, for its cutting edge style portraying a ‘politics is cool’ ethos, the Italian version passed by the general public largely unnoticed. A potential reason for its debacle in Italy may well lie in the concerns of the series that are extremely technical and highly specific to US politics and thus possibly of interest only to those knowledgeable and taken with such matters. Like numerous contemporary serial dramas, each episode of The West Wing consists of a main plot stretching over an entire season or more that simultaneously encompasses smaller storylines which begin and end within a single episode as well as sub-plots which continue across several episodes. While the main story line is indeed concerned with complex matters of US politics, the subplots are often not directly connected with politics at all, in fact, typically they will touch upon a number of personal or social issues such as homosexuality or drug and alcohol abuse. Furthermore a number of romantic storylines, e.g., Josh and Donna; Danny and C.J.; Sam and Laurie and so on,  that presumably make the series appealing to a wider public, nevertheless did not manage to attract Italian viewers to the series.

However, apart from its extreme cultural specificity regarding highly complex political operations  that may not especially attract mainstream Italian audiences, scheduling was to some extent mishandled too. In fact, a possible reason for the series being overlooked could well be because it was broadcast at very inconvenient times. For example, Season 7 was screened between 5 and 6 a.m. followed by re-runs at 2 a.m. – hardly prime time viewing. Furthermore, episodes were frequently cancelled and time slots changed without warning, thus making recording difficult. Typically for Italy, apart from inappropriate viewing times, The West Wing  (TWW) was screened in a way that was out of step on a monthly and yearly basis too. In fact, scheduling of episodes was such that Season 1 went out during the month of July, so that the Christmas episode In Excelsis DeoBuon natale Presidente[1] (‘Merry Christmas Mr. President’) was likely to have been broadcast at the height of summer and thus quite out of tune with surrounding reality. This is not at all unusual on Italian TV where Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas episodes of series are often broadcast in high summer but such programming simply reflects an indication of carelessness and lack of regard for audiences.[2] Yet, Italian trailers publicized TWW as the highly acclaimed series which it was, making the reason for the total mismanagement that appears to have ensued rather bewildering. Additionally, even for night owls, the translation of the title may well have been misleading, especially for older viewers. The Italian version was broadcast as West Wing – Tutti gli Uomini del Presidente thus picking up on Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 award-winning movie All the President’s Men in which reporters Woodward and Bernstein, respectively played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, unearth material that led to the Watergate scandal. Of course, TWW does not take place in the offices of The Washington Post  but, as the title suggests, in the West Wing of the White House, something which may have been disappointing for someone expecting to watch a modern thriller. However, the Italian title follows a consolidated norm that involves a) keeping the original title without the article which is b) followed by an explanatory phrase as in Desperate Housewives that becomes Desperate Housewives: I Segreti di Wisteria Lane –‘the secrets of Wisteria Lane;’ ER – ER: Medici in Prima Linea –‘Doctors on the Front Line’ and so on

The Italian dubbing process normally consists of four basic steps; firstly the script is translated; secondly the translated dialogue is adapted so that it sounds like natural sounding Italian that matches the lip movements of the source language actors; thirdly dubbing actors record the new script, and finally it is mixed into the original soundtrack (for a fuller description of the process see Chiaro 2009, 144—6). The adaptation  for the dub of Season One was carried out by a highly experienced AIDAC[3] associate Daniela Altomonte who accepted to be interviewed and whose comments on the translation strategies and lingua-cultural choices adopted for this particular episode are reported wherever relevant throughout this chapter. Altomonte, a dialoghista  or ‘dubbing translator’ whose task it is to make sure that the target dialogue sounds natural, worked, as is the norm in Italy, from a word-to-word translation of the original script produced by a translator. In the case of TWW, the scripts were translated by Alessandro Rossi, an expert not only in translation, but more significantly, someone who is highly conversant in geo-politics and the US constitution. Thus, this first season benefitted from the know-how and experience of two top-class professionals and it is indeed a pity that their talent and efforts went largely to waste.[4]

This chapter begins by reviewing the Italian version of In Excelsis Deo (IED) with regard to issues pertaining to the translation of lingua-specific features such as terms of address, greetings, fillers and so on, after which the area of the culture-specificity of the episode and its impact on the dubbed version is examined. Subsequently, features that overlap language and culture, namely idioms and verbally expressed humour will be also be examined. Finally, a brief discussion of censorship will precede the conclusion and closing remarks.

2. Dubbing lingua-specific features in In Excelsis Deo

Doppiagese or ‘dubbese’ is the term used to describe a variety of Italian that is adopted in the (Italian) dubbed dialogues of filmic products (see Antonini and Chiaro 2004 and Bucaria and Chiaro 2007: 95). While the term is not supposed to be in any way disparaging, it is worth highlighting that Italian dubbing does, however, adhere to conventions that often result in expressions that do not exist in naturally occurring Italian (see Pavesi 1994;  Chiaro 2008; Antonini and Chiaro 2009). To quote a common example, fictional wedding vows translated from English filmic products in which the bride and groom are asked if they will take their partner to be their ‘lawful wedded husband/wife’[5] to which the traditional response is ‘I do;’ in Italian, for reasons of lip synchronization ‘I do’ becomes lo voglio—literally, ‘I want it.’ In a real-life Italian wedding ceremony the reply would be a straightforward  — ‘yes’. However, although viewers are aware that much dubbese is essentially atypical and unlike naturally occurring Italian, research shows that they are willing to accept it as part and parcel of the general suspension of disbelief undertaken when partaking in filmic products (see Antonini and Chiaro 2009). Significantly, filmic products produced in Italy and in Italian tend to follow the norm that is present in dubbed dialogues with an inclination for script-writers to prefer the dubbese formula lo voglio to a more realistic in autochthonous filmic materials too.[6] This is not surprising considering the large number of products imported from the US that are translated from English with the result that Italians are exposed to a vast quantity of dubbese. It thus stands to reason that not only Italian filmic products, but also naturally occurring Italian is to some extent influenced by dubbese.

In IED, as in any other Italian dub, the most significant pragma-grammatical modifications occur in the area of terms of address and in the huge area of seemingly minor words and phrases that span from expressions of agreement and disagreement to greetings, ubiquitous fillers and beyond (see Pavesi 1996).

2.1. Terms of address

The fact that English does not have a specific personal pronoun with which to express politeness, courtesy and social distancing, nor a specific one to denote familiarity, creates the need for firm translational strategies in filmic products in languages such as Italian, French, German and so on which do have a pronominal system to denote social distance, vicinity, or politeness. In the absence of personal pronouns dedicated to politeness and distancing, audiovisual translation needs to take into account the way in which English uses a wide range of terms of endearment, titles, names and so on, so that viewers can capture the intended societal dynamics that exist between speakers (see Pavesi 1996). In this particular series, choosing between the more polite and distancing Lei form (third person singular) and the more familiar tu form (second person singular)  is especially problematic because the characters are part of a team operating in a physically close working environment which includes the most powerful person in the world, the President of the US. Not only do people of various levels of rank work shoulder to shoulder with the President  but in an enclosed space, emotional relationships of various intensities are fostered between people who, nonetheless, differ in their workplace roles and, consequently, social status. Additionally, English has a predilection for the copious use of first names in conversation (see Pavesi ibidem) thus rendering it seemingly a more informal language than Italian, a language in which it is not common to repeat the name of one’s interlocutor while conversing. This complexity needs to be negotiated in the pursuit of a convincing dub.

According to Altomonte it was initially decided that all characters would use the polite Lei form when addressing the President while he would use the more familiar tu form when addressing them. Furthermore,  Altomonte adds, that with IED being one of the earliest episodes, it may have been aired containing inaccuracies in the area of terms of address. Basically, a strategy for handling terms of address is primarily  proposed by the dubbing translator, after which it is the task of the dubbing supervisor to have the final say on what is actually aired.[7] This episode, in fact, contains several cases of inappropriate distancing between characters through use of the ‘wrong’ pronoun as well as instances of shifts made by speakers who sometimes move from Lei to tu in a seemingly haphazard manner although it is difficult to understand whether the choice is a deliberate translational strategy or, indeed an inaccuracy. Furthermore, the Italian dub is generally lacking in the texture of nuances created through the diverse modes of allocution present in the original.

In Italian, asymmetrical relationships (e.g. doctor/patient; bank manager/customer; teacher/student and so on) require either that both parties use the polite Lei form, although the elder or more socially empowered of the speakers (such as a teacher in the classroom or a doctor or nurse with an elderly or very young patient) may use the tu form. However, the President’s team of workers are mostly all on first name terms with each other despite the hierarchy existing between them and this reflects the familiarity and intimacy nurtured in many of the workplace relationships depicted.  

Leo - Chief of Staff

The relationship between President Bartlet and his Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, is one of companionship as they share details about each other’s private lives and obviously have a rapport that goes beyond the workplace – in this episode, for example, Bartlet invites Leo to spend Christmas with him and his family. Interestingly, despite their close friendship, Leo addresses Bartlet as ‘Mr. President’ and ‘Sir’ while Bartlet addresses Leo by name. In a sense, the English reflects the asymmetrical power relationship that exists over and above the fact that the two are clearly close friends. Leo’s reverence  towards Bartlet also highlights his professionalism and respect for his friend who also happens to be the President of the US. The Italian dub opts for a different linguistic relationship between the two, with Leo using the informal tu form with the President and addressing him with his nickname ‘Jed’ where the English consistently adopts ‘Mr. President’  thus reflecting a relationship of equal standing, which, in a sense is not far from the true nature of their bond.

The same distance is also maintained in the Italian dub of the  interaction between Leo and Press Secretary C.J. by having them interact with each other using the Lei form despite the fact that in the original they are on first name terms and are clearly friends – C.J. offers to cook for Leo at Christmas, implying that they are on very familiar terms.  However Leo does not accept her offer replying jokingly ‘What are you, my mother?’ The Italian dub ‘Lei non è mica mia madre –You are not my mother’ mixes two registers, namely the formality of  Lei with the very colloquial mica – literally ‘at all’) and thus,  besides not being funny, is quite inappropriate under the circumstances. Again, another inapt use of distancing Lei occurs in Leo’s use of this form when addressing his deputy Josh Lyman and  Sam Seaborne, Deputy Communications Officer.  Although Josh and Sam are Leo’s assistants, they are so close to Leo that they go out of their way in an attempt to prevent a scandal breaking out regarding Leo’s past drinking problem and experiences in rehab. In a discussion regarding the somewhat unethical methods used by Josh and Sam in doing so, Leo’s use of the Lei form is quite untimely.

The Italian dub also has to deal with the way Leo’s other subordinates relate to him language-wise. Margaret, his assistant, is verbally very much his equal. In a scene in which she is bossing Leo into signing a pile of Christmas cards, at one point Leo snaps ‘Who the hell is this guy and why do I care if he has a Merry Christmas?’ to which Margaret responds ‘Just sign the damn thing.’ The retort is one of familiarity and lacking in the reserve that one would normally use when addressing a superior. The Italian dub reflects quite the opposite spirit: ‘Lei pensi a firmare e basta – Just sign it, end of’ [basta literally means ‘enough’]. Notably, the Italian is also softened by removing the word ‘damn’ (see 5).  Like  Margaret, many others also use the Lei form when addressing Leo even  though their relationship in English is one of familiarity. For example, when Leo sees reporter Danny Concannon holding a goldfish and remarks ‘That’s a nice goldfish?’  Danny replies ‘Isn’t it?’ which in the Italian dub becomes the polite form ‘Trova?’ (literally ‘Do you find?) thus accentuating distance.

Josh and Donna

In the first series of TWW the relationship between Josh and Donna, his personal assistant is clearly hovering on the verge of romance, thus, despite its asymmetrical nature, dialogues between the couple reflect their equal standing at least in terms of emotional commitment. In fact, Josh and Donna partake in much flirtatious verbal sparring which contains no signals of asymmetry in the original, while the dub has Donna adopt the Lei form more typical of a P.A. talking to her boss. The three utterances in Table 1 have been extracted from a scene in which Donna gives Josh her Christmas present wish list – an action which clearly denotes familiarity as people do not generally hand out wish lists to strangers or to their superior at work. The original utterances are relaxed and highly colloquial ‘Just feel free…’; ‘Where you going?’ and ‘So you’ll think about…’  The dub, on the other hand, contains a more formal use of language including the use of subjunctive imperatives pertaining to the Lei form, such as Scelga –‘pray choose’ in place of ‘just choose;’ se vuole – ‘should you want to’  for ‘feel free’ and so on  thus much more distancing than the source dialogue and consequently less appropriate under the circumstances.

 Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation

Just pick something off the list, and, you know, feel free to pick two things.

Scelga una cosa dalla lista. Ma se vuole può scegliere due.

Pray, choose something from the list. You may choose two if you wish.

Where you going?

Dove va?

Where you going, pray?

So you’ll think about the skis?

Non dimentichi gli sci!

Pray, do not forget the skis!

Table 1. Donna addressing Josh

When Josh gives Donna her Christmas present, a book on skiing, she is clearly moved by what he has written in a note inside and the couple give each other a tight hug. As can be seen in Table 2, the couple adopt a familiar style which, is only partly reflected in the Italian. For example, Josh uses the familiar tu form when addressing her and he calls her Dony an abbreviation of her name and an invented term of endearment.[8] In Italian donna is the word for ‘woman’ so it does sound odd when used as a first name in dubs as it may sound as though the speaker is calling his/her interlocutor ‘Woman’ a disparaging form of address. However the diminutive Dony does sound most peculiar.  Furthermore, Donna does not mirror Josh’s familiarity but continues to use the Lei form which is clearly odd and inappropriate under the circumstances.


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


Donna, don’t get emotional. Donna, don’'t get... You know, let's try and maintain some sort of...

Non c’è bisogno che ti commuovi Dony, ti prego, non fare così… Dony…cerchiamo di mantenere un certo…

You needn’t get emotional Dony, I beg of you, don’t get…Dony… let's try and maintain some…


You see!? You spend most of our time being, you know, you. And then you write something like this to me. Thank you.

Ma tu guarda!… Lei passa le giornate ad essere…insomma…se stesso…e poi mi scrive una dedica così!…Grazie!

You see. You spend your days being…yourself…and then you write me a dedication like this. Thank you.

Table 2. Josh and Donna


Toby is Communications Director and hence a very important and powerful figure at the White House, however, as stated previously, professional roles often merge with emotional relationships, as well as a variety of other variables which are, of course, reflected in the dialogues. Dolores Landingham, the President’s executive secretary is an elderly woman who is clearly respected by Toby both because of her professional standing as well as her age and gender. However, in one of the final scenes of IED, Mrs. Landingham, who is never addressed by her first name by any of the members of staff, manages to treat Toby like a child while maintaining politeness. She addresses him as ‘Toby’ while he addresses her as ‘Mrs. Landingham’ (my italics). Furthermore, Mrs. Landingham tells Toby what he ‘should not have done’ scolding him like one would a naughty child, repeating his name while she does so (see Table 3) ‘You shouldn’t have done that Toby.’ Toby meanwhile hangs his head in shame just like a small child caught by a parent doing something against the rules. The Italian dub has Mrs. Landingham use the polite Lei form and while she still dresses Toby down, she treats him as a peer, an adult rather than a child. It becomes an admonishment rather than a telling-off.

The very  last line in the episode is uttered by Mrs. Landingham: ‘Toby, I’d like to come along’ which in Italian becomes a much more formal request  ‘Toby? Le dispiace se vengo anch’io?— Toby, would you mind if I come too.’ Mrs. Landingham is already dressed and has decided to go to the funeral; Toby has no choice in the matter as she is the more dominant of the two. The Italian dub suggests the reverse.


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation

Mrs. Landingham

Good morning Toby.

Buongiorno Toby.

Good morning Toby.


Good morning Mrs. Landingham. Buongiorno, signora Landingham. Good morning Mrs. Landingham.
Mrs. Landingham The President would like to see you. Il Presidente le vuole parlare. The President would like to talk to you.
Toby I know

Lo so

I know

Mrs. Landingham

Did you use his name to arrange a military funeral for a homeless veteran? Ha usato il suo nome per predisporre un funerale militare per un veterano senzatetto? Did you use his name to arrange a military funeral for a homeless veteran?
Toby Yes Yes
Mrs. Landingham You shouldn't have done that Toby.

Non lo avrebbe dovuto fare.

You shouldn't have done that.


I know Lo so I know
Mrs. Landingham You absolutely should not have done that. Sarebbe stato molto meglio se non lo avesse fatto. It would have been preferable if you had not done that.
Toby I know

Lo so

I know

Table 3. Toby and Mrs. Landingham

In the scene at the Korean War Memorial, where Toby has been summoned by the DC police, his neutral ‘Excuse me’ upon first approaching the police officer is translated with the polite form Mi scusi presumably in reverence of the official’s social status. Whereas in the original, Toby is quite relaxed with the police officer, in the dub he is much more courteous and distanced.  Toby’s lax uses of ‘yeah’ – are translated with a polite prego (literally ‘pray’) and an insertion of the Lei form while a casual ‘listen’ with the 3rd person singular polite imperative senta.


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


Yeah…Listen, this isn’t a crime scene, is it?

Prego / Senta non si tratta di omicidio, vero?

Pray, this isn’t homicide ,is it?






Yeah, thanks

Grazie a Lei

Thank you to you

Table 4a and b. Toby and the police officer

Mrs Landingham

One of the most emotional and significant scenes in the episode is the one in which Mrs Landingham recounts the loss of her twin boys in Vietnam to the President’s Personal Aide the twenty-something Charlie Young. In this scene, Mrs Landingham addresses Charlie using the Lei form, an odd choice considering Charlie’s age, but also the circumstances. Once more we have a situation of high intimacy (as with Josh and Donna above) in which one of the speakers who is bearing her soul simultaneously maintains social distance to someone who could be her grandson,  through the choice of form of address.

Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation

You know, they were so young, Charlie, they were your age. It’s hard when that happens so far away, you know

Charlie…avevano la sua età. Sa, è brutto quando queste cose accadono

Charlie…they were your age. You know [polite form], it’s horrible when these things happen…

Table 5. Mrs Landingham and Charlie

2.2. Terms of agreement and disagreement

Much has been written regarding the Italian dub of the term ‘yes’ (see e.g.,  Pavesi 1994, 1996; Antonini and Chiaro 2009.) Owing to issues regarding lip sync, in which it would be wide of the mark to replace spread lipped, semi-closed mouthed with a round lipped, wide mouthed ‘yes’ or ‘yeah,’ it has become customary to dub the term with già. The choice of già is so common that it also occurs when lip synch is not an issue, such as when dubbing from Spanish which has the same word for ‘yes’ as Italian. There are, however, several variations to the già solution. IED contains esatto, certo, giusto, prego – ‘exactly’, ‘certainly’, ‘right’, ‘please’ and even itself despite Altomonte’s declared preference for the term già.[9]

The casual ‘nope’ on the other hand is consistently translated with a more formal no.


The informal greeting ‘Hey’ is regularly substituted with ciao although the Italian script does suggest ehi on one occasion which is ignored in the actual recording. Ehi is frequently used in Italian dubbese, presumably because of the good lip synch with ‘Hey,’ while not being totally absent in naturally occurring Italian, although used with a stronger function than a simple familiar greeting i.e., it may indicate surprise at seeing someone or else it can be used even to warn or reprimand someone, a sort of ‘Hey, watch out!’

2.4. Fillers

Generally speaking fillers are omitted in the dub of IED. Nine occurrences of ‘you know’ are absent in the dub thus rendering the Italian conversation less hesitant, lacking in repetition, redundancies and false starts – in other words less natural sounding. If we consider, for example, Mrs. Landingham’s description of how her twin sons were killed in Vietnam (Table 5) while the dub is equally (if not more) passionate than the original as the lack of uncertainty provided by ‘you know’ is substituted with extra pausing and more dramatic acting. However, the second occurrence of ‘you know’ in the reported exchange, is shifted to the head of the utterance in the dub and translated with a very literal, as well as polite and distancing ‘you know,’ i.e., sa. Rather than a filler which allows the speaker to mentally clarify what she is about to say next, the Italian sa gives the utterance a more explanatory function.

Despite the fact that the term ‘OK’ is common in naturally occurring Italian and would facilitate lip-synch, the term generally become capisco – ‘I understand’ – a clearly more formal choice than the original. The term ‘no way’ also becomes more formal with scordatelo — ‘forget it.’

3. Culture specific references

Culture specific references refer to entities that are typical of one particular culture and that culture alone, however, it is essential to bear in  mind that these references can occur in different forms, in other words they may be completely or chiefly visual (for example the screen shot of the skyline of a city);  completely verbal (for example references to units of measure or currency, to a well-known personality and so on) or else a combination of verbal and visual such as a reporter commenting on a game of American football as it happens on screen. Referring to written English, Leppihalme (1997) labeled these entities ‘culture bumps’ precisely because they often cause a jolt or a bump in the non-native speaker’s cognition in an otherwise smooth running text. Transferring the concept of culture bumps to translation, these features will cause the translator to compromise strongly with the reader – or, in our case, the viewer who may well have to come to terms with a mismatch between what s/he sees and what s/he hears(dub) and/or reads (sub). Thus Antonini and Chiaro choose the metaphor of electrical current and talk of ‘lingua-cultural drops in translational voltage’ to describe the discrepancy between what the audience sees on screen and the words they hear and/or see (according to whether they are enjoying dubbing or subtitling) and go on to classify culture specific references into ten specific categories namely:  institutions (e.g. judiciary, police, political and military); educational; place names; units of measurement; monetary systems; national sports and pastimes; food and drink; holidays and festivities;  books, films and TV programs; celebrities and personalities (2004: 39). As in any imported series, TWW and, of course, the episode at issue, is choc-a-block with not only, US culture specificity, but, to complicate matters, White House culture specificity too.

Thus, as might be expected, IED contains references to US place names, its monetary system, festivities (in this case the episode takes place in the two days before Christmas), food and drink, celebrities and personalities, but more importantly to issues pertaining to law enforcement and matters regarding the wars in Korea and Vietnam. In order to deal with these references the  dubbing translator, Daniela Altomonte, largely opted for the strategy of replacing the reference with a hyperonym belonging to the same semantic field as the original reference – a strategy that Katan labels ‘chunking upwards’ (2004:147). The decision to choose this strategy is to help out the viewer who, according to Altomonte  is ‘ignorante e distratto’ – ‘uninformed and unfocused’ and needs relevant information to be conveyed efficiently even if lacking in detail. A more specific translational choice represented by chunking either ‘downwards’ or ‘sideways,’ (i.e.; respectively translating with more specific references or same level equivalents in the target language),  ‘non arriva all’orrecchio dello spettatore’ – ‘will not reach the viewer’s ear.’ Furthermore, Altomonte also claims that it is the ‘duty’ of the dubbing translator to allow viewers to relax in their cinema seat or armchair at home therefore, if they start asking themselves questions,  they will miss part of the film.[10]  In other words viewers require ‘un aggancio immediato’ – ‘[need to be] hooked right away.’

3.1.Visual culture-specificity

Hard as it is to extrapolate the purely visual from the verbal in a poly-semiotic text, Italian viewers are in fact presented with a number of visuals which will be perceived on the one hand as foreign, but at the same time extremely familiar owing to the fact that they are likely to have a wide experience of other filmic products representing similar sights. The Christmas atmosphere, conveyed by the predominance of the color red and the ubiquitous decorations present in the episode (trees, lights, wreaths, gift packages and so on) exemplify this. And it is the very lushness of US Christmas with which viewers will be familiar from other screen products that to the European common imaginary, render the entire background particular to Yuletide in North America and North America alone.

3.2.Visual culture-specificity with verbal anchoring

The significance and the visual impact of the scenes set at the Korean War Memorial and at Section 43 of Arlington Cemetery are likely to remain quite foreign to Italian viewers, yet of course, in order to appreciate the episode in its entirety, comprehension is essential. Viewers need to understand that Toby may also be a veteran, possibly (judging from his age) from Vietnam,  as well as the link with Mrs. Landingham who, we learn later on in the episode lost her twin sons in the same war.

The ironic choice of the choir in the Mural Room singing ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ to accompany the juxtaposition of the Christmas Eve celebrations and the military funeral is another essential feature for a complete understanding of the episode. As the funeral takes place with the military salute, the rifle shots and the intricate folding of the star spangled banner that had covered the casket, knowing viewers will capture the link between the carol about a little drummer boy visiting the infant Jesus in Bethlehem with the ‘rup pum pum pum’ chorus that evokes the drums of war. The scene at the cold winter cemetery is continually juxtaposed with the warmth of the Mural Room and the choir, the Christmas decorations, the red and the gold.  This combination of visuals and sounds creates a bitter-sweet irony of contrasts regarding giving and taking; joy and grief; birth and death— themes that overlap and recall the storyline of the episode.

3.3.Verbally expressed culture-specificity

Several lexical items specifically pertaining to the semantic field of US warfare have been chunked upwards in the translation. For example, the very culture-specific Purple Heart medal awarded to soldiers wounded or killed in war is replaced with the more generic medaglia al valore – ‘medal for bravery’ and references to V.A. become a very general ‘Associazione veterani’ which, however, being visually anchored with the scene at the War Memorial coupled with references to Korea should clarify the allusion. The same strategy is adopted to replace the specific ‘IRS’ (Internal Revenue Service) with ‘Ufficio Imposte  tax office;’ and  ‘The Goodwill’ with beneficenza – ‘charity.’ Similarly, the reference to ‘Georgetown’ becomes a generic ‘università –university’ while  ‘carolers’ becomes a more non-specific coro – ‘choir,’ and ‘index cards’ that are typically used by US schoolchildren as prompts are transformed into standard  fogli – ‘sheets.’

However, chunking sideways has been generally preferred more than chunking upwards with many references left in the original. All the personalities mentioned, i.e., Al Roker, Jose Feliciano, Sammy Sosa and Stephen J. Gould remain, although the dubbing translator did add explanatory footnotes for the actors and dubbing supervisor. The ‘coroner’ remains the same – presumably Italians have seen enough police genre products to know what a coroner does. Furthermore, a sarcastic reference to the Keystone Cops – ‘Like I’m not gonna have enough problems without the Keystone Cops’ becomes a much weaker (and unhumorous see 4.2.) E sia l’ultima volta che vi mettete a giocare agli investigatori – ‘and let this be the last time you play at detectives.’ Notice too the change of registers as we go from the colloquial ‘Like I’m not gonna…’ to the formal (i.e., subjunctive) ‘that this be…’

Using explicitation is another frequent ploy. We find that  ‘Ten bucks’ becomes molto economico – ‘very cheap;’ ‘The DC Police’ La polizia di Washington ‘the Washington police’ and  references to the north-easterly wind ‘off the Chesapeake’ is translated with Vento freddo e umido…da nord est – ‘Cold, damp wind from the north-east.’

Furthermore, there are two interesting translational compromises regarding the domestication of two cultural usages. The first refers to the US/UK custom of sending flowers to the bereaved. In this episode the flowers sent by President Bartlet to the family of a young victim of violence are substituted with un telegramma – ‘a telegram.’ Secondly, a reference to the President attending ‘Christmas services’ is substituted with la messa di natale – Christmas mass. Interestingly, Jed Bartlett is indeed a devout Roman Catholic, but presumably his press officer, CJ, had deliberately kept her press release neutral.

4. Borderline features

Certain lingua-cultural features of the dialogues undoubtedly do not conform to the categories discussed in sections 2 and 3. Idioms, metaphors, allusions and humour,  along with songs, poems, rhymes and gestures, require viewers to be familiar with a number of ‘knowledge resources’ (Attardo 1994) which clearly crosscut both language and culture. The two main types of borderline features found in IED are idioms and witticisms.

4.1 Idiomaticity

IED is brimming with idiomatic expressions, many of which are extremely up to date and tending towards slang. It is this very idiomaticity which gives the dialogues verve and contributes to the rapid ‘walking and talking’ for which the series is famous. This idiomaticity is mainly flattened in the dub which is delivered, as in most Italian products, slowly and pronounced with almost artificial clarity. One of the features which causes flattening (see 6) – that is the absence of linguistic particularities – is indeed the disappearance of idioms in favor of less poetic language.

From the teaser right to the end of the episode, audiences witness heavily idiomatic English. For example, the teaser  begins with members of staff walking and discussing plans for the Christmas celebrations when Sam makes a reference to the new millennium as ‘[the ]Pageant of peace, season of hope, coming of the new millennium.’ The ironic remark is translated with a straightforward ‘Provi a chiedermi qualunque cosa sull’avvento del Nuovo Millennio – ‘Try and ask me anything about the coming of the new millennium’ thereby omitting the clever idiomatic expressions of the original. And while there are plenty of similar omissions, there are also convincing substitutions. For example, one of the secondary storylines in this episode regards the issue of what could be the right punishment for committers of hate crimes. C.J. openly expresses her opinion that perpetrators should be punished more severely than others and she is reprimanded both by Leo and Sam and advised to neutralize her comments in public.


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


You told me to float a test balloon.

Mi ha detto di sondare il terreno.


You told me to test the ground.


Float it. Don't shove it down anyone's throat. I don't know which way we're gonna come down on this.

Certo, invece lei è partita per le Crociate! Non so come usciremo da questa storia.

Yes, but you set off on a Crusade! I don’t know how we’ll get out of this story.

Table 6. Leo and C.J.

C.J.’s  ‘float the test balloon’ metaphor is picked up with Leo’s retort ‘Float it…’ which is lost in the translation in which the idiom is substituted with a perfectly adequate Italian idiom sondare il terreno, literally ‘to test the ground.’ Interestingly, in this exchange, the forceful idiom used by Leo ‘shoving [it] down people’s throats’ is softened with the Italian ‘Crusades’ metaphor (see the discussion on censorship in 5). Again, earlier in the episode, when Sam had also told C.J. to be more impartial about the subject, especially in public, he uses a motoring metaphor ‘putting your foot on the gas’ when telling her to go easy:


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


I'm not sure I'd put my foot on the gas so hard with hate crimes legislation.

Ci sei andata giù pesante sulla riforma della legislazione.


You went down heavily on the reform of the legislation.


First of all, I barely grazed the gas. Second of all, why not?

Primo, non ci sono andata giù pesante, secondo, perché non avrei dovuto?

Firstly, I did not go down heavily, secondly, why shouldn’t I have?

Table 7. Sam and C.J.

Now, what is interesting about English idioms is that the speakers tend to allude to, play and tamper with them rather than utter them in their entirety. So, when C.J. is advised not to put her foot on the gas so hard, she cleverly replies that she ‘barely grazed’ it. She is also able to pick up the metaphor further on in the interaction with ‘Ah. I'll keep my foot off the gas.’ The dub uses the metaphor andare giù pesante – literally ‘to fall down heavily’ –  with which Italian C.J is unable to play, but simply repeat in its totality and this diminishes the effect of the verbal repartee.

Again, in the closing lines of the episode, when Toby is being reprimanded by the President for having used his name to arrange an honor guard funeral and tries to justify himself by saying that Hufnagle had been ‘a  Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Second of the Seventh. The guy got better treatment at Panmunjong’, Bartlet replies: ‘Toby, if we start pulling strings like this, you don’t think every homeless Veteran would come out of the woodworks?’ Both the ‘pulling strings’ and the ‘woodworks’ metaphors are omitted in the dub – ‘Se cominciamo ad occuparci di queste cose tutti i veterani senza tetto reclameranno qualcosa – if we start looking after all these things all the homeless veterans will want something.’ This is not to criticize the solution, but simply to say that the interaction is lacking its intended dynamism.

4.2. Humour

TWW is typical of contemporary US serials which, while belonging to one particular TV genre, will tend to incorporate features pertaining to other genres creating a product which can be labeled ‘mixed-genre.’ For example, with a medical drama series such as House M.D. (FOX, 2004 – 2012, US) which clearly deals with medical professionals, hospitals and surgeries – things which are by nature linked to sickness and disease, it naturally follows that such a series will predictably play upon emotions such as tension and anxiety – and it does. However, in places House M.D. is also both visually and verbally funny. This mixture of genres occurs in many other dramatic series such as, for example, The Sopranos (HBO,1999-2007, US) a series containing much violence and The Big C , a series about a woman who has terminal cancer (Sony, 2010-13, US). Both series not only include instances of verbal humour, but many comic interludes too. Vice versa, lighter series such as Ally MacBeal (FOX, 1997-2002, US) and Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004, US), contain their share of drama by dealing, for example, with issues such as cancer and death within a predominantly comedic framework. No longer strictly confined to drama or romance, series now habitually tend to expose viewers to a rollercoaster of divergent emotions constantly contrasting drama with a substantial amount of both visual and verbal humour. And TWW is no different with much light relief provided by the characters’ verbal repartee.

However, the verbally expressed humour in IED is never of the punning, double entendre variety but rather of numerous instances of irony and above all, of abundant good lines. A good line is a clever witticism or a sharp and clever remark which is not necessarily dependent either on linguistic or cultural ambiguity. Cinematic and TV dialogues are full of such lines. Good lines are possibly unlikely to arise in naturally occurring conversation, but on screen, leading actors and ‘good guys’ definitely get to utter them. A good line can be exemplified in the famous ‘You talkin' to me? Well, I’m the only one here’ uttered by Travis Bickle/ Robert De Niro; (Martin Scorsese Taxi Driver; 1976; US) as he looks at himself in the mirror. Travis Bickle talking to his image in a mirror is certainly odd, but purely in terms of language it would be hard to spot any verbal ambiguity in the utterance itself. While being incongruous with reality, it would be difficult to justify these good lines in terms of linguistic ambiguity and therefore unlike puns they present no particular translational challenges.

4.2. Irony

Unlike the verbal acrobatics necessary to create puns, irony, in linguistic terms is quite straightforward to contruct and should therefore create few translational problems (see Chiaro 2010). This is not to imply that irony itself, as a trope, is in any way simplistic. If it were then readers and recipients of irony in general would not be deceived into taking it at face value. In fact, the ambiguity of irony lies in its indistinctness and the way in which it subverts  truth values and conversational maxims. However, it appears that despite its linguistic simplicity translating irony is  not always as straightforward as it would seem. For example, Toby decides to arrange a state funeral for Hufnagle, the homeless veteran, and while he  is on the phone trying to get through to the right office he is interrupted by White House Media Consultant, Mandy. Toby is about to lose his patience with the operator when Mandy says ‘This might seem trivial under the circumstances’ and then tells him that the Santa hats for the Christmas celebrations clash with the Dickensian costumes. Toby replies ‘It might seem trivial?’ This ironic remark is totally lost in the dub as it is translated with the curt and dismissive ‘Ti aspetti che faccia qualcosa?— You expect me to do something?’

At other times, however, the irony is successfully retained. For example when Bartlet decides to go Christmas shopping in a place called ‘Rare Books’ when asked if he knew what they sold there, Josh replies ‘Fishing tackle?’ and the President retorts ‘Funny boy.’ The irony is retained in the translation, especially in the President’s ironic Che simpatico! Again when Josh and Sam try and convince Laurie to give them names of her Republican clients, shocked by the request she looks at Josh and says ‘So you’re the brains of the outfit.’ An ironic idiom which in Italian becomes ‘allora la mente del gruppo sei tu — the mind of the group’ which is as equally ironic although less idiomatic.

4.3 Good lines

However, it is the good lines which make most of the humour in the episode. Josh and Donna’s banter consists of fast-talking, witty teasing and there are copious examples in the episode. For example, Table 8a reports an interaction in which Josh typically torments Donna by telling her straight out that he has not bought her a Christmas present, to which she replies ironically that she knows that he has been ‘agonizing’ over the matter. Josh picks up Donna’s irony and agrees adding that he is also agonizing over how to find 10 dollars to pay for it. However, the line ‘That and how I scrape together the ten bucks’ is not ironic, but simply a clever response to Donna’s irony. The dub is less neat than the original as, although Donna’s irony remains, Josh’s retort is much weaker as ‘tra l’altro –among other things’, lacks in the cohesion created by Josh’s ‘That and how…’.  Table 8b reports another witty exchange between the would-be lovers. This time Josh’s good line, referring to Donna’s expression is ‘Like I just killed your hamster?’ – the hamster is for some reason replaced with a cat in the dub.. Another good line, this time uttered by Donna, occurs after she receives the book and while they are hugging (see 2.1.1ii ) she defuses the embarrassing situation with ‘Skis would have killed you?’ The Italian dub  ‘Gli sci erano fuori discussione? – Skis were out of the question?’ is more formal but possibly just as incongruous.


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


As you can see I have not yet bought your Christmas present.

Come vedi non ti ho ancora comprato il regalo.

As you can see I have not yet bought your Christmas present.


Yes, and I know you're agonizing over how to best express your appreciation and affection for me at this time of the year.

Mi rendo conto che (per lei) non sarà facile trovare qualcosa che possa esprimere l’affetto e la riconoscenza che prova per me.

I understand that for you it can’t be easy to find something that can express the affection and appreciation you feel for me.


That and how I scrape together the ten bucks.

E che tra l’altro dev’essere anche molto economico.

And which, among other things, has to be very cheap.

Table 8a. Josh and Donna’s banter a)


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


Could you stop looking at me with the face?

La vuoi smettere di guardarmi con quella faccia?

Could you stop looking at me with that face.


It’s my face.

Ho solo questa..

I only have this one.


Like I just killed your hamster?

Sembra che ti ho ucciso il gatto.

It’s as though I’ve killed your cat.

Table 8b. Josh and Donna’s banter b)

5. Censorship

Regarding issues of censorship on Italian TV, research shows that products tend to undergo substantial editing via translation of features such as taboo words, references to sexual practices, death and religion (see Bucaria 2007, Chiaro 2007). According to Altomonte ‘La censura in tivù viene imposta –Censorship is enforced on TV [scriptwriters/dubbing translators]’ adding that the Mediaset group is more lenient than state owned RAI regarding language that might be considered distasteful.  Altomonte goes on to exemplify that the term puttana – Italian for ‘whore’– is forbidden on RAI channels yet her own adaptation of IED, commissioned by Mediaset, includes this very term in her original copy in place of the term ‘hooker’ uttered by Josh to high class sex worker, Laurie. However, the term that is actually adopted in the dub is not the less refined puttana but the higher register, and more neutral term, prostituta.  In the same scene, the reference to ‘kinky sex’ is also neutralized in Italian with certi giochetti, a euphemism literally meaning ‘certain little games’. Another example of censorship occurring to the adapted script, (i.e., unknown to the dubbing translator and thus changed without consultation), is the case of the exclamation ‘Oh, Jeez’ which appears as Oh Gesù in the copy, but is neutralized to Oh no! on screen.

One of the themes in this episode regards the debate on hate crime legislation.  The concept of ‘hate crime’ itself is softened in Italian to become crimini di intolleranza ‘intolerance crimes’ – needless to say the concept of hatred is more adverse than that of intolerance. An important sub-story of the episode regards the death of a ‘gay high school senior,’ Lowell Lydell, who was ‘…beaten up, then they stripped him naked, tied him to a tree and threw rocks and bottles at his head’ (see Table 9). The Italian version is much weaker than the original as the violence described is lacking in the force provided, first, by the additional ‘naked’ present in the original that is eliminated in the dub. Second, the syntactic structure of the target utterance defuses the dynamism of the ‘stoning’ which is aimed at the victim’s head and not, as the target text suggests, randomly towards any part of his body. Again ‘rocks’ are bigger and heavier than ‘stones’ yet the dub sassate suggests that sassi – ‘stones’ were used and not pietre – ‘rocks’.  Altomonte claims that the reduction was necessary owing to ‘lack of space’ and that the four actions are ‘very lengthy’ to express in Italian and justifies her choice ‘the lesser of two evils’ (il male minore)– the greater evil being a longer more complete, possibly out of sync, albeit more powerful description, against a synthetic one with good timing even though rather less forceful.[11] Again, at a press conference C.J. expresses her controversial opinion regarding hate crime legislation referring to Lydell’s having ‘got his brains beaten out.’ This phrase is moderated  in the dub by the neutral ‘subisse l’agressione –underwent aggression.’  This moderation is not only created by the choice of a semantically ‘weaker’  (and, of course, unspecific) noun agressione, but also through a less forceful syntactic structure consisting of the curt verbal phrase,  subisse l’agressione. The final result is that the  Italian version lacks in graphic impact. Thus, combined with the term ‘hate crime’ used by the reporter substituted with the euphemism questo tipo di crimine -- ‘this kind of crime’ followed by a simple ‘aggression’ in the response, we have a censored dialogue.


Original Dialogue

Italian Dub

Back Translation


[Lowell Lydell was] ‘…beaten up, then they stripped him naked, tied him to a tree and threw rocks and bottles at his head.’

Prima è stato picchiato … poi spogliato, legato ad un albero; l’hanno preso a sassate e gli hanno rotto delle bottiglie in testa.

‘First he was beaten … then stripped, tied to a tree; they threw stones at him and broke bottles over his head

Bobbi (a reporter)

Do you think that this will revisit the debate on hate crime legislation?

Verrà rivista la legislazione su questo tipo di crimine?

Will the legislation on this type of crime be revisited?


Yes, I do. Though I suppose the best time to do that would have been the day before Lowell Lydell got his brains beaten out and not the day after. Who's next?

Immagino di si. Anche se forse si sarebbe dovuto fare prima che Lowell Lydell subisse l’aggressione, non dopo. Altre domande?

I imagine so. Even if it should have been done before Lowell Lydell underwent aggression, not after. Any more questions?

Table 9. C.J.

However, while Altomonte cannot be deemed responsible for the bowdlerization of the term puttana and the exclamation Oh Gesù discussed above, it would appear that in this case, we are looking at a case of self-censorship, albeit ‘necessary’ according to the dubbing translator.  Other small ‘cuts’ can be seen in the disappearance of words, minor taboo items such as ‘hell’, ‘damn’ and so on (see 2.1.1 i)

There is however, one example of compensation in the episode when Danny and C.J. finally manage to arrange a dinner date. C.J. declares ‘You understand we’re having dinner, right?’ in which it is perfectly clear from her intonation and demeanor that she is excluding a sexual encounter. The dub, on the other hand, explicitates the underlying meaning of her utterance with Non finiremo a letto. – ‘we won’t end up in bed.’ Compensation yes, yet it weakens the cat and mouse courtship inherent to the couple’s ambiguous repartee.

6. Dubbing walk and talk

The highly favored ‘walk and talk’ technique (see Perego in this issue) in which film or TV characters converse while walking from one place to another clearly complicates the job of those involved in the process of its dub. One of the features of walk and talk is that dialogue often tends to be less than clear simply because the actors are walking and thus the audio recording that has to deal with a different breathing pattern from that of the more static ‘talking heads.’ Translating walk and talk for the screen is extremely challenging. Subtitles will need to find a compromise between the speed of delivery and viewers’ required reading times which will inevitably lead to vast reduction and audiences having to guess that they are missing much of the verbal action. Dubbing, on the other hand, should ideally have actors deliver dialogues on the go so as to retain the tempo of people on the move, but of course, given the cramped space of the average dubbing booth, this is surely out of the question. But the main problem with the Italian dub of IED is the same problem of most Italian dubs, namely that the language is too clear, too formal, too artificial. These three features coupled with the same voices across numerous products is what gives strength to critics of (Italian) dubbing.

In fact, one of the criticisms of this particular episode is indeed one linked with voice quality. For example, Jessica Hodges, the pretty little girl that the President picks on to ask a question is dubbed in a very high-pitched stereotypical child’s voice whereas in English, third grade Jessica has quite a mature way of speaking. She is, of course, a young child with a young child’s voice, but the dub gives her an overly childlike, unnatural way of speaking. Similarly, instances of laughter are overacted and in general, dialogues tend to be slightly off key, in the sense of being more histrionic than necessary. And this is the true difficulty with the Italian dubbing of US products. The laid-back acting style of north American actors is often substituted with performances on the brink of being over-the top. Furthermore, with dubbing actors re-cycling themselves across a variety of different genres, audiences soon become familiar with their voices so that, if one was to turn one’s back on the TV screen, it would be hard to distinguish between a product aimed at teens and one aimed at adults – not only, but it is certainly possible to discern a dubbed product from a home-made one. It is in this sense that dubbing has a flattening effect. However, despite these drawbacks, the dub of IED is a very good one, as we have seen, with perfectly adequate solutions for thorny problems such as idioms and humour.

7. Conclusion

For reasons ranging from poor scheduling to the public’s lack of engagement with matters of US politics The West Wing did not have the huge success in Italy that it had had elsewhere. This chapter provides a brief and critical overview of the Italian dub of the episode In Excelsis Deo, examining a variety of lingua-cultural issues that the translation and dub had to deal with. It also discusses censorship and the overall effect of  managing dialogue consisting of witty repartee delivered at fast speed.

Despite the fact that dubbing, by default has a flattening effect on the original dialogue as social, regional and idiosyncratic linguistic variation disappears in favor of a more standard form of language, overall, the dub of In Excelsis Deo is successful. It succeeds in involving the viewer in the narration. And even if matters regarding US legislation on hate crime and the ins-and-outs of Lillenfield’s scheming may not be perfectly clear to Italian audiences, who is to say that they are any more comprehensible to English-speaking audiences? After all, how many native speaker viewers of House M.D. really understand the medical jargon? And is Tony Soprano’s wheeling and dealing patently clear to all? White House politics is probably no different – the most important thing is for audiences to engage in the plot which, when all is said and done, recycles the same narratives as always but in a fresh and exciting form and framework. And if the politics is less than transparent, it may be worth reflecting on Egoyan and Balfour’s well known quote: ‘Every film is a foreign film’ and so is every serial.


Antonini, Rachele and Delia Chiaro (2009) “The Perception of Dubbing by Italian Audiences”, in Audiovisual Translation: Language Transfer on Screen, Jorge Díaz Cintas and Gunilla Anderman (eds), London, Macmillan Palgrave: 97—114.

Antonini, Rachele and Delia Chiaro (2004) “The quality of dubbed television programmes in Italy: The experimental design of an empirical study” in Cross-Cultural Encounters: Linguistic Perspectives, Marina Bondi and Nick Maxwell (eds), Rome, Officina Edizioni: 33—44.

Attardo, Salvatore (1994) Linguistic Theories of Humor, Berlin, Mouton de Gruyter.

Bucaria, Chiara (2007)  “Humour and other catastrophes: dealing with the translation of mixed TV genres”, Linguistica Antverpiensa. Special Issue Audiovisual Translation: A Tool for Social Integration, 6: 235—54.

Bucaria, Chiara and Delia Chiaro (2007) “End-user Perception of Screen Translation: The Case of Italian Dubbing”, Tradterm, 13: 91—118.

Chiaro, Delia (2007) Not in front of the children, an analysis of sex on screen in Italy”, Linguistica Antverpiensa. Special Issue Audiovisual Translation: A Tool for Social Integration, 6: 255—76.

Chiaro, Delia (2008)   “Issues of Quality in Screen Translation: Problems and Solutions’’ in Between Text and Image: Updating Research in Screen Translation, Delia Chiaro, Christine Heiss and Chiara Bucaria (eds), Amsterdam, John Benjamins.

Chiaro, Delia (2009)  “Issues in Audiovisual Translation”, in The Routledge Companion to Translation Studies, Jeremy Munday (ed.), London, Routledge:  141—165.

Chiaro, Delia (2010) “Translation and Humour, Humour and Translation” in Translating Humour in Literature, Delia Chiaro (ed.), London, Bloomsbury.

Katan, David (2004) Translating Cultures: An Introduction for Translators, Interpreters and Mediators, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Leppihalme, Rivta (1997),  Culture Bumps, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters.

Pavesi, Maria (1994), “Osservazioni sulla (socio)linguistica del doppiaggio” in Il Doppiaggio. Trasposizioni Linguistiche e Culturali, Raffaella Baccolini, Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli and Laura Gavioli (eds.), Bologna, CLUEB: 129—142.

Pavesi, Maria (1996), “L’allocuzione nel doppiaggio dall’inglese all’italiano”, in Traduzione multimediale per il cinema, la televisione e la scena, Christine  Heiss, Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli (eds.), Bologna, CLUEB: 117—130.


[1] The original adaptation initially suggested the title  Buon natale, Presidente! — literally ‘Merry Christmas (Mr.) President’—  followed by a secondary title Veterano Toby — ‘Veteran Toby’ —  but the final choice went to Buon Natale Presidente (see the DVD on sale in Italy: West Wing : Tutti gli uomini del presidente – Prima stagione. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment). Naturally, the allusion to the chorus of the carol Angels from the realms of glory is not retained in the translated title so that all references to the death of Hufnagle and the Landingham twins will thus be missed.

[2] Several blogs and forums express disappointment regarding the mishandling of the series in Italy;  see especially:  http://www.serialtv.it/community/index.php?showtopic=36965&st=60 and http://dvd.forumcommunity.net/?t=3346917  — both sites accessed 20 October 2011.

[3] Associazione Italiana Dialoghisti Adattatori Cinetelevisivi:  http://www.aidac.it

[4] I would like to thank Francesca Altomonte for allowing me to have access to the original transcription and to the ‘work-in-progress’ notes of her adaptation of In Excelsis Deo and also for generously contributing with her invaluable thoughts and opinions and, most of all, for her time.

[5] The traditional vows are : ‘(Bride’s Name), do you take (Groom’s Name) for your lawful wedded husband, to live in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love, hono(u)r, comfort, and cherish him from this day forward, forsaking all others, keeping only unto him for as long as you both shall live?’

[6] For a tongue-in-cheek clip that illustrates the conventions of Italian dubbese see  http://www.aidac.it/eng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=58&Itemid=89&lang=en

Accessed 25 October 2011.

[7] The dubbing supervisor or direttore di doppiaggio for the first series of The West Wing is Silvia Pepitoni.

[8] It is quite common for Italians to invent affectionate forms of address simply by adding an /i/’ (transcribed with a ‘y’) at the end of a name  e.g. Reby, Mery, Ketty, Patty, Roby, Giusy , and so on

[9] It has been noted that while not reflecting naturally occurring Italian, già is commonly adopted in Italian filmic fictional products too, thus indicating the influence and overflow of dubbese in Italy.

[10] Ho il dovere di dialoghista di fare rilassare lo spettatore in poltrona al cinema o a casa … se la persona si pone la domanda si perderebbe una parte del fil– It is my duty as a dubbing translator to allow the viewer to relax in their armchair at home or at the cinema …if people ask questions they will miss a part of the film.’ (my translation).

[11] …non c’era lo spazio … che fosse ritmicamente corretto … quattro azioni lunghissime in italiano. Scelgo il male minore … lo spettatore immagina la scena , è vero che è ancora più brutta ma è il male minore.  – ‘there wasn’t enough room … the rhythm was right … four very long actions in Italian. I chose the lesser of two evils … the viewer imagines the scene, it’s true that the scene was even uglier, but this [translation] is the lesser of the two evils’ (my translation).

Multisemiotic Transcriptions as Film Referencing Systems

By Anthony Baldry (University of Messina, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

Film analysts often rely in their work on the transcripts that fans have produced for a TV series and made available online. However invaluable the labour of love of these dedicated aficionados may be, film analysts’ transcript requirements are not fully met by this type of transcript. Existing online transcriptions of The West Wing TV series are a good example of the difficulties that arise when using them, all of which raises questions about the imbalanced nature of the referencing systems that are used in TV series transcripts. Why, on the one hand, is referencing to characters so systematic and accurate, while reference to time, place and theme at best sporadic? Can transcripts be made more suited to analysts’ needs? Can transcript culture be strengthened? The article investigates these issues proposing new types of transcript that film analysts could usefully use, from both episode and series perspectives, in their investigations of TV series. The paper bases its arguments on detailed comparisons between TV series transcripts and other related genres and concludes that developing a better theoretical framework for the TV transcript genre than those currently available is an essential premise to its future developments as a useful tool for film analysts.

Keywords: audiovisual translation, multimedia translation

©inTRAlinea & Anthony Baldry (2016).
"Multisemiotic Transcriptions as Film Referencing Systems"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2195

1. Introduction

Transcripts of TV series have seldom been the subject of critical analysis on the part of film analysts despite the use they make of them. Film analysts are, of course, a heterogeneous and constantly growing group, each with different transcript requirements. They include: film critics, as well as those who use TV transcripts for corpus analysis, subtitling, dubbing and audio description. To this, we need to add an increasing number of teachers (foreign language teachers in particular) who use film and TV series transcripts in their classroom teaching and for their students’ project work (Sindoni, 2011, Coccetta, 2016 in press).

However, by far the greatest contingent of film analysts are film buffs and TV series fans. In particular, those of them who write about a TV series or a film in their blogs, forums, wikis and fanzines all rely on transcripts in various forms whether pre-existing transcripts written by others for a specific TV series or simply their own notes containing dialogue snippets they themselves have transcribed. The need to refer accurately to what is said in an episode – often accompanied by admissions that certain details have not been checked – is a further indication of fandom’s understanding of the significance of transcription and, in the author’s opinion, a disguised plea for better transcription practices.

Certainly, fans’ TV episode recaps point to a strong awareness of transcripts and transcribing. Significantly, such recaps are a hybrid genre inspired by visual-verbal precursor genres from the pre-digital age. They owe much to fotoromanzi, the soap opera magazines that allowed you to while away the time during pre-digital train journeys and other forms of travel. However, revisiting a TV series is also a powerful, heart-tugging exercise more in tune with scrapbooks, and the ‘lost’ memories they evoke, when rediscovered after many years in a loft or garage cupboard. As we shall see below, fans' recaps have considerably affected the way online transcripts are evolving as a genre.

Given fandom’s intense activity, it is hardly surprising that the majority of post-airdate TV series transcripts, posted on the Internet, are produced by the fans themselves for use by other fans. The transcript of the In Excelsis Deo’ episode described in this article[1], like other transcriptions of the episodes in The West Wing series, is no exception to this ‘rule’ and is a product of the digital world of virtual communities.

As well as containing the words actually uttered in a particular episode, these transcripts – referred to below as episode transcripts – contain a surprising amount of ‘extra’ information that makes them an invaluable tool for all film analysts: just as no telephone works without a telephone directory and no writer works without dictionaries or reference books, so no film analyst – whether a young kid working on a school media project or a journalist commenting on last night’s episode of a famous TV series – will want to be without a film transcript as a backup, that at the very least, allows significant lines from an episode to be cut-and-pasted rather than (re)transcribed.

Nevertheless, however praiseworthy they may be, fans’ episode transcripts could do a much better job. While their character-related referencing ‒ i.e. who says what ‒ may be systematic and meticulously accurate, on the other hand, other types of referencing are, at best, sporadic. Despite their merits, we should not be blinded by episode transcripts’ limitations. While the growth of the TV transcript genre, as we shall see below, has caused it to distance itself from other types of transcription, such as radio broadcasts, the TV transcript genre has not yet entirely shaken off the conventions inherited from precursor forms of transcript. Three weaknesses, summarised in the next three subsections, stand out.

1.1  Timepoint referencing

While screenplays and film scripts, cannot, by definition, pinpoint the exact moment when an exchange takes place, since they have not yet been turned into films, on the contrary, the mere fact of being post-airdate implies that TV transcripts could include such timepointing. Invariably, they never do.

This first type of omission relates to the way in which what is written in a transcript links up with what is said in the TV episode – or rather the difficulties that the absence of any such links creates for analysts. For example, an analyst might, want to understand how things are said, for example, how an actor’s skilled use of voice quality, facial expressions, eye movements and hand gestures interprets specific words. The potential for enlightenment, and fun, in doing so is, alas, killed off by the difficulties of tracking down where specific words in the transcript are actually uttered in the video. It takes, on average, eight minutes to find the exact location in the West Wing ‘Pilot’ video of the words “rode his bicycle into a tree” and to discover the emotional tones – irony, laughter, sarcasm – with they are actually delivered in the video. No wonder fans’ recaps and podcasts about The West Wing contain apologies about not checking up on specific details. Unconvinced? Use the http://www.flasharc.com/– link to see how quickly you can find the exact point where these words are pronounced.

Now ask yourself, given that presents — goldfish and books in the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode— are used in The West Wing to construct affective relationships, how long would it take you to reconstruct this particular strategy when examining gender relationships in an entire episode or a whole series? Certainly, transcript tracking — the search-based study of the patterned nature of wordings explored in Part II of this article — requires little time or skill. Word searches, e.g. in the database of pdf transcripts on the West Wing Transcripts website, are all that is needed to identify the whereabouts of all mentions of, say, ‘goldfish’ in The West Wing series and to demonstrate that they are associated with the flirting that goes on between CJ and Danny. Goldfish, it turns out, are sexier than you might think.

While flirtatious overtures are by definition part of all TV soaps, political or otherwise, they are not merely linguistic in nature, involving instead, as already suggested, actors’ skilled use of voice quality, facial expressions and posture. Without a transcript that identifies the exact points where goldfish, and other such devices, occur in a video, video tracking of such overtures (again discussed below in Part II) – takes a very long time. Still unconvinced?

Try reconstructing Danny and C.J.’s flirting in the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode using the following link: http://www.flasharc.com/boy.

Alas, the ties between transcripts and the videos they transcribe form a far from perfect marriage. Regardless of whether you are investigating The West Wing, Dr. House, Dr. Kildare or Dr. Who, or any other TV series, you will conclude that using a traditional post-airdate transcript to carry out comparative examination of episodes entails constant yet rather awkward switching between video and transcript. Even though in the goldfish case, only three episodes are involved in the entire series, the absence of timepointing – a vital resource when cross-referencing written and spoken forms of dialogue – hinders attempts to understand how verbal exchanges, gestures, mutual gaze, laughter and much more besides are cross-modally blended in a particular episode’s interactions.

1.2. Episode or series? The effects of a TV series’ cult status on transcripts

Fandom knows best. While a TV lecture makes its cultural impact in a single ‘go’, a TV soap (political or otherwise) does so over many years – in some cases over a lifetime. So, fandom means talking about an entire series – not just about individual episodes. This changes the focus from what people say, to what they stand for ‒ their short and long-term convictions and attitudes on particular social issues [2].

Transcripts need to take in the series perspective and do, in part, already do so. The Raspberry Lime Ricki blog (https://raspberrylimericki.wordpress.com/) is a good example of the shift from word-based to theme-based transcription that this perspective entails. In keeping with its mission statement, it provides sweet, tart, and refreshing insights into sexism for the first sixteen episodes of The West Wing, using a misogyny meter to award plus and minus points. The verdict for the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode is:

“Total Misogyny Points: 37. A pretty heavily misogynistic episode”

This type of transcription targets episode meanings rather than character wordings. Within each episode recap, the goal is to track sexist/non-sexist perspectives on women by applying objective criteria, such as the Bechdel test, in a systematic way. The blog’s incorporation of a search mechanism ‒ https://raspberrylimericki.wordpress.com/?s=west+wing ‒ allows Ricki’s individual recaps to be tied together, thus transcending the episode perspective and aligning transcription with the series perspective.

Ricki’s own dilemmas about her transcribing technique are eloquent testimony to the changes afoot in transcription practices and fandom’s awareness of this issue:

I started watching and taking notes. Then I went downstairs and watched while doing dishes, so I couldn’t take notes, so I tried to remember after the fact what I’d just watched, and then I started over, and then I took some notes in one notebook and some notes in another and I know a bunch of you are going, “Notes? She’s taking, like, pen and paper notes? For a blog post?” Yes. Hello. I’m a nerd. Welcome to my blog. […] And then I was like, there’s no way I’ll be able to fit the series in one blog post. How about I do season by season? And then I was like, that’s crazy, right?

1.3. Visual and verbal referencing in transcripts

New needs, new types of transcripts. Fans are game-changers in this respect as the third and final ‘issue’ regarding omissions in TV series episode transcripts underscores. Ask yourself: as a film analyst, do you think visually or linguistically about films? Traditionally the transcript genre is conceived of as discourse-oriented, despite the fact that, somewhat ironically, TV series transcripts relate to a story being told visually. As well as a paradox, this is a worrisome omission.

But not for fandom. Despite the risks of possible copyright infringement, fandom’s outlook on this matter can be summarised by the slogan Recap and screencap! Take, for example, the Persephone Magazine. Women. Pop culture. News. Unicorns site, which self-describes as “an online destination for bookish, clever women around the world”. Note the three-way division of the post entitled Ladyghosts: The West Wing, Season 1.10 “In Excelsis Deo” http://persephonemagazine.com/2011/03/ladyghosts-the-west-wing-season-1-10-in-excelsis-deo/.

The first and third parts respectively contain ten and three photos – all presented as realistic moments of high tension and conflict, such as when Laurie shouts in Scene 17 at Josh and Sam to get out of her house.

The second part, on the other hand, relates to Scene 10 in which Mrs. Landingham tells Charlie about the death of her twin sons. This consists of a single still embedded in a (partial) written transcript of the scene. Both are tied together cross-modally by the writer’s comments: “Are we all feeling warm and fuzzy now? Very good. I’ve got you all warmed up so I can yank the rug out from under you” after which the recap focuses on the photo’s highlighting of Mrs. Landingham’s sad eyes – a detail that instigates a change in our perception of the depth of the episode’s (and recap’s) emotional force.

As the Persephone example shows, had the visual element been suppressed − regularly the case with episode transcripts − desired messages could not have been made. So recap and screencap posts come in ‘various shapes and sizes’ but invariably rely on an episode transcript both as a backup and as a source for quotations. Collectively, recap and screencap posts are also an admission of the need for visual-verbal transcripts. However minimally, by linking fragments of online transcripts to photos, they represent a start to the development of multisemiotic TV series transcripts. As such, they, too, are a genre-changing strategy. Further examples that pertain to the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode, such as posts that embed a video clip from the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode, are mentioned below in Part II.

1.4. What this article attempts to do

The TV series transcript is a much-neglected genre deserving more attention than has been the case. In particular, English linguistics needs to eat humble pie and learn from fandom’s example, which has sent out many signals as regards transcription practices – some clearly intentional, others perhaps less so. Collectively, fandom’s experimentation with new forms of transcript creates new perspectives on TV series and different ways of interpreting their social and cultural impact.

It also raises a basic question: whether – as teachers of English, as text and genre analysts, or ‘simply’ as inspired fans – film analysts can really rely on the partial, stop-gap solutions to transcription that, as indicated above, fandom has invented. Are not more thorough, more systematic solutions required?

Below, with reference to the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode, we attempt to address ways in which the transcript experiments described above can be turned into more systematic ‘solutions’ that benefit all film analysts. In other words, research into what TV transcripts are, and what they might be, is viewed as beneficial not only within the confines of specific academic disciplines, such as English linguistics or translation studies, but hopefully well beyond.

Accordingly, Part I of this article (Sections 2 and 3) is concerned with transcript design vis-à-vis individual episodes. In particular, it provides a detailed investigation of some of the possible additional transcripts that can be envisaged for this episode of The West Wing and, by extension, other episodes in this and other TV series.

Part II is concerned with the role that a specific episode plays within a series. All the transcripts proposed are envisaged as parts of series-oriented storyboards. A storyboard is an advanced form of transcript, a dynamic ‘product’ obtained when using simple software tools to interpret codings embedded in separate transcripts. Individual transcripts can thus assembled, dynamically, in different combinations according to the perspective required, and are particularly useful when aggregating data from an entire TV series. Thus the second part of the paper (Sections 4 and 5) investigates the empowerment that series-level analysis brings, suggesting that this dictates the need for a further round of research to establish whether new forms of transcript can help consolidate, fine-grained comparative studies of TV series.

Part III (Sections 6 and 7) contains a brief discussion of, and conclusions about, how a transcript needs to be defined in the Internet age and why transcript theory needs to be worked on more fully.

Part I: New types of transcript: episode level

2. Solving the timepointing issue

The introduction of systematic timepointing can perhaps be best illustrated in terms of three levels of analysis: phase, scene and mini-scene timepointing. Each of these levels reuses (and extends) information in existing episode transcripts, suggesting that, with a little more effort, much more could be achieved when using a transcript.

2.1. Phase timepointing

We may begin with an analysis of Figure 1, an example of a phase transcript. This transcript’s function is to provide an overview of an episode’s major phases that includes reference to the points in the episode video where these occur. The example shown in Figure 1 has added timepoints to information found ‒ though in a rather ‘hidden’ way ‒ in the episode transcript’s Teaser-and-Act referencing system. Specifically, the words in Column 2 have been ‘lifted’ directly from this transcript.

Figure 1 uses the term phases in keeping with phase theory, which points to the organisation of a film in terms of its meaning (Baldry and Thibault, 2001, Baldry 2004 [2015]). This type of transcript functions as a simple and initial overview, a very basic where-to-find it guide. It might well contribute to series level studies in research and teaching projects as it allows overall episode structure to be compared in an entire series or across series, for example, the nature and incidence of night vs. day scenes, camera technique, lighting resources used and so on.

Figure 1

Figure 1: A phase timepoint transcript

However, this is not its main goal. Its real purpose, instead, is as an adjunct to an existing online transcript, a quick-and-dirty solution to avoid the classroom embarrassment and hassle often experienced, for example, by English language teachers when they need to find a specific point in a video during a classroom lesson. As such, it is easily and, above all, quickly constructed. It is a simple a timepointing tool that reuses as much existing information as possible. It includes descriptions of settings, taken from the episode transcript, that teachers (and others) could re-use.

However, Figure 1 clearly illustrates the uneven nature of many online episode transcripts: not everything that should be transcribed, is transcribed. In this case, the transcription of the Prologue is missing, i.e. the initial part of every episode in The West Wing series, where an off-screen speaker announces: Previously on the West Wing and which proceeds with a 30-second visual-verbal recap of previous episodes.

Unlike the credits, containing only written discourse, the Prologue phase in The West Wing includes verbal exchanges – which a transcript ought, by definition and tradition, to transcribe. This omission is all the more surprising as prologues provide thematic continuities that are part of a TV’s soap’s raison d’être.

To highlight this problem, the first row in the transcript in Figure 1 has been intentionally left blank. Given their significance in the series level perspective, Prologues are further discussed in Part II (Section 5) as a way of filling this particular ‘blank’.

2.2. Scene timepointing

Even though they take longer to construct, the majority of film analysts will prefer to use a transcript that incorporates the more traditional notion of scenes. Figure 2 is thus a scene transcript that reconstructs this episode in this way, bearing in mind the need to provide precise timepointing – a must for many analysts. At the very least, a scene transcript provides a support for, if not an alternative to, film analysts’ use of descriptive labels such as the Feliz Navidad scene or the Bookstore scene to identify the various parts of this episode. While the latter are fine when discussing specific scenes in specific episodes, the former are more likely to prevail when the referencing of scene types (such as those relating to Christmas festivities and buying presents) needs to be made across an entire series.


Figure 2

Figure 2: A scene timepoint transcript with location references

However, when constructing scene timepoints (see Figure 2), we come up against another typical ‘omission’ of episode transcripts: the individual scenes are not indexed numerically. However, “All is not lost” (Milton Paradise Lost, Book 1, Line 106). Though not in a numerical form, referencing of each individual scene exists de facto in all the one hundred and fifty-odd episode transcripts on the West Wing Transcripts site, as they contain ‘CUT TO:’ and ‘FADE IN’ ‘markers’ that implicitly define where one scene ends and where a new one starts.  

Meant to be a descriptive device, they are a convenient and time-saving metatextual shortcut when constructing an index for individual scenes in an episode. There are sixteen CUT TO ‘references’ in the transcript in this episode as well as five FADE IN ‘references’ whose existence makes it possible to number scenes using a simple search-and-mark procedure. On this basis, it also becomes possible to work out timepoints and construct a scene transcript such as the one shown in Figure 2 in a systematic way.

A brief comment on the omission of scene numbering in TV series episode transcripts is in order as it appears to be at odds with the tradition in the humanities, which uses scene numbering in printed plays and critical commentaries. No theatre critic would, for example, reference Out, damn’d spot! Out, I say! with a wording that ran along the lines of: ‘part of an imaginary conversation-cum-flashback scene towards the end of the play recalling the night Lady Macbeth and her husband conspired to murder King Duncan in which she incriminates herself to eavesdroppers and reveals the pangs of conscience she had ridiculed in her husband’. As a reference system Macbeth Act 5, Scene 1, Line 26 has stood the test of time in many literary forms including poetry as the reference to Milton above shows.

Bringing scene numbering and scene timepointing together in a single scene transcript makes life much easier though it is, alas, unlikely that fandom will adopt such indexing until the series perspective in transcribing is more fully established. This is despite the fact that we are merely taking a leaf out film-making’s book, where script supervisors (a.k.a. continuity supervisors) are employed to do this housekeeping work:

“recording and accessing all information regarding the screenplay and any scenes which have already been shot.”[It is is their job is] “to keep running totals of scene timings and pages counts in order that the script runs approximately to overall time.”  (www.startintv.com/jobs/script-supervisorcontinuity-supervisor.php)

A final comment on this issue. Inherent in the traditional notion of scene is the idea of location. CUT TO and FADE IN ‘references’ are immediately followed in the online transcript by locational co-texts, making it relatively easy to extract the information provided and re-present it systematically in the form of a Location Index.

One such index is embedded as a legend in Figure 2’s scene transcript. It  uses abbreviations that facilitate digital searches across an entire series — useful as described in Section 4 for film analysts whose investigations into scene types in an entire TV series might well start with location patternings (e.g. day vs. night, indoors vs. outdoors and so on).

Hence, potentially as a transcript model, the scene transcript goes beyond the mere emulation of the ‘textual housekeeping’ that characterises film-making and many literary publications and becomes, instead, part of the series level perspective further discussed below in Part II.

2.3. Mini-scene timepointing

When does a scene transcript stop being an adequate solution to the timepointing needs described in Section 1? When do we need a further support? An answer to this question is partly dependent on how deep you need to dig into the dialogue in a TV series. In this respect, the third and final timepointing referencing system proposed here relates to mini-scenes. That the mini-scene is central to The West Wing series is beyond dispute. How the term mini-scene is defined and who needs to analyse them — both essential premises for such transcriptions — is much less clear.

A mini-scene timepoint transcript is likely to be valuable for those researching into text and film theory as it involves a level of detail mostly designed for those concerned with the textual models that underlie the type of discourse used in a TV series. But beware: while it might be thought that only text theorists will explore these lofty heights, the level of detail reached in fans’ discourse analysis says otherwise and represents a constant surprise and example that theorists should heed.

For those unfamiliar with The West Wing series, The West Wing TV series represents an innovation in filming with scenes made up of a series of ‘mini-scenes’ that share the same location:

Historically, dramas devoted an entire scene to communicating a single new plot development, and thus the show moved forward one step at time, one scene at a time. Giving a whole scene to every significant character interchange would make it almost impossible for The West Wing to do multiple plotlines. Therefore Sorkin and Cleveland choose to break single scenes into separate dramatic ‘mini-scenes’ that are unrelated to each other narratively but which share the same time and space. Characters come and go in pairs, each couple intent on its own conversation but each occupying center stage for only a brief moment. (Smith 2003: 127-8)

In other words, The West Wing series is based on a ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’ principle, likely to fascinate the fans – and not just those who apply the Bechdel test to find out whether an episode is ‘politically correct’ i.e. whether it contains at least one scene featuring at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man.

This organisational principle raises many questions: Are there never three interactants participating somewhat vocally in an exchange (e.g. bawling out at each other)? Are there never any introspective soliloquies? Is there a ‘three’s company’ rule for visual presence offsetting the ‘two’s company rule’ applied to verbal interaction? What about those mini-scenes where there is no interaction at all? 

Figure 3

Figure 3: A mini-scene timepoint transcript

Figure 3 is a mini-scene transcript (Figure 3) that provides the detail needed to clear up these issues.

First, as we are dealing with people rather than places, this type of transcription re-uses data in the episode transcript to build up a Character Index (Figure 4) in the manner used to create a Location Index. Again, it uses initials rather than full names given the visual convenience that this brings when analysing such transcripts, dynamically, with software tools such as Microsoft Excel or, better still, Microsoft Access with its relational characteristics that accord well with the storyboard principle of assembling specialist transcript tables in diverse ways.

Figure 4 shows how interactions, and turn-taking patterns, can be expressed in terms of abbreviating formulas as CJ+D, in this case a mini-scene consisting of exchanges between CJ Cregg and Danny, where the abbreviation before the plus sign indicates the first character to speak, while the character shown after the plus sign relates to who is addressed and, by implication, who normally continues or completes the verbal interaction. By exclusion, the notation means that the interactants identified in this way are the only ones to speak – though, of course, quite frequently they will not be the only characters present during a mini-scene.

Image 4

Figure 4: Character Index

Already, the Character Index points to the need to envisage more complex dyadic structures than a simple ‘two’s company principle’ as individuals address groups. These interactions can, nevertheless, be transcribed in the same way – as CJ+R, B+CS and B+K where R refers to reporters, CS to carol singers and K to (school) kids and so on.

Additionally, thanks to the Number[Number] annotation, mini-scenes (and their turn-taking patterns) are associated in this type of transcript with scene structure. In this annotation, the number inside the square bracket refers to mini-scene numbering while the number outside relates to the numbering given in the scene transcript (Figure 2). This tells us, for example, that Scene 1 consists of 4 mini-scenes, numbered 1[1] CJ+DN; 1[2] S+LA; 1[3] L+B, 1[4] J+L. Using the Character Index, it is now easy to work out that this particular scene consists of four different pairs of speakers.

Dyad types can also be transcribed. Orange background colouring has been used to indicate combinations of female speakers, which, as Ricki points out, allows this particular episode to pass the Bechdel test. She mentioned one of these – transcribed here as 2[1] MA+CJ –  where Mandy and CJ discuss Dickensian costumes. However, it is not the only one. There is just one other, 5[2] CJ+BR, where CJ and Bobbi discuss hate crime legislation.

A mini-scene transcript thus facilitates analysis of thorny social issues. For example, it helps make the point that while there are just two women-only mini-scenes in this episode, in contrast there many men-only mini-scenes highlighted in bluish-grey. Surprised by this? Maybe not.

Note, however, how background colouring, undertaken in this case manually, but achievable automatically with the right software tools, makes hidden patterning clearly visible. In other words, the reference to ‘multisemiotic transcriptions’ in this article’s title relates, in particular, to the resources used, in addition to language, at the metatextual referencing level, an innovation in TV series transcription whose theoretical status is further discussed in Part III.

Other examples of this form of referencing – a combination of annotational symbols, colouring and the resources provided by tables – are used in the mini-scene transcript shown in Figure 3. They allows us to see, at a glance, that not all mini-scenes in the episode are interactional.

These non-interactional mini-scenes – presented in Figure 3 with background highlighting in green and labelled as [0] for ease of identification in the episode’s overall mini-scene patterning – are scene setters. They frame a scene ensuring the subsequent interactional mini-scenes are bound to each other. Figure 5 gives the full list of types of scene-setters, the most frequent type being establishing shots.

 Image 5

Figure 5: Scene-setter index

The first non-interactional mini-scene, labelled 1[0] PLG, is a good example of the scene setting function of this type of mini-scene. Intriguingly, the desired continuity in Scene 1 – where PLG stands for Prologue – comes not from identification with a specific place or specific time (the classic way of defining a scene) but instead from its recapping of previous episodes. Nevertheless, it is still, a scene setter. It is also non-interactional in the sense that the wording Previously on the West Wing, which follows the combined audio and visual logos (drumbeat + US flag shown against the White House silhouette) is directed to viewers and is not part of an exchange involving the episode’s characters.

Highlighting scene setters visually is a device that allows us to further detect breaks in expected patterns. Indeed, we can see at a glance that six scenes – 5, 6, 8, 12, 19 and 20 – do not begin with a scene setter that ‘smooths’ our way in. Given that a mini-scene transcript, like the other transcripts presented so far, is also a timepoint-based transcript, it is now easier to work out why this is the case.

Take, for instance, Scene 6 which begins abruptly, precisely as it is designed to highlight Bartlet’s irritation with Mandy’s insistence on PR work with journalists at a time when he is simply longing for Yuletide peace and quiet. In other words, the basic unmarked NIMS^IMS pattern in (i.e. non-interactional mini-scenes followed by interactional mini-scenes) is broken up by a marked IMS^IMS pattern. The latter deliberately, and meaningfully, punctuates the former in a contrapuntal way – one of the dialogic ‘special effects’ used throughout The West Wing series.

Similar marked vs. unmarked patterning applies to the small number of cases — sixteen out of over a hundred interactional mini-scenes — where the talk is between three rather than two people. Represented in Figure 3 with background pink highlighting, their distribution is no longer hidden and is instead clear at a glance. We immediately note that their highest incidence occurs — rather unsurprisingly — in Scene 17 where essentially Sam, Josh and Laurie take turns at shouting at each other. Even so, the calmer moments in this scene involve a single addressor and a single addressee, even though three characters are visually present throughout.

On the contrary, in Scene 15, despite the large number of mini-scenes — eleven in all — there are no three-way exchanges even though three people are present for much of its duration. Figure 6 highlights the disjunctive nature (Baldry, 2000) of visual and linguistic interactions in this scene, one of the finest in the episode, and nicely illustrates a basic strategy in The West Wing’s structure: the more the verbal pulls people apart dividing them into two’s, the more the visual pulls them together bonding them into groups.

The fine balancing act between disjunctive and conjunctive elements when analysing what goes on in the verbal and what goes on in the visual (Baldry 2000) may be further appreciated from the analysis given by Charles Papert on the SteadiShots.org website as regards the shot plans associated with Scene 2 in the In Excelsis Deo episode usually referred to as the Feliz Navidad scene: www.steadishots.org/shots_detail.cfm?shotID=145.

The roundy-round at the beginning required very specific timing to get certain lines delivered on-camera--you can see Rob Lowe “helping” clear himself twice. Once off and running through the lobby, it’s a dodging match of Xmas trees, ‘xtras and, uh, xylophones (?) until we get into the relative peace of the final hallway.
On a number of occasions such as this one I had to fly the rig sideways through doorways; although the doors were built slightly oversized from standard, this still left just a few inches on either side of mattebox and mag. With the rig in front of me I would take my best shot and close my eyes as we passed the threshold, hoping we wouldn't clip off any expensive Panabits! (Charles Papert “Feliz Navidad”, www.steadishots.org. Retrieved 17.05.2016)

What this steadicam operator – but also experienced film analyst – calls roundy-round shooting, functions to create a ‘dust cloud’ of characters visually twirling around each other and linguistically quibbling about relatively trivial themes. The mini-scenes in question 2[1-5] involve both three-party and two-party interactions. The whirling and twirling comes to an abrupt end when the characters filing down corridor, as a single visual group, make a sudden about-turn, again as a single visual group when they learn that the Washington police are looking for Toby (mini-scene 2[6]). After, this momentary excursion into something more serious the subsequent mini-scenes 2[7-10] return to trivial themes that culminate in the ‘storm-in-a-teacup conflict’ created by secret service names.

Analysts exploring visual-verbal contrasts in The West Wing, will notice the contrapuntal, disruptive rhythm of Toby’s constant and rather nervous head turning in many parts of Scene 15 e.g. in MS: 15[6-8] reproduced in Figure 6. Sometimes, this occurs in relation to the person being addressed. Sometimes his head turns towards the third person present. Most significantly, at other times he looks at neither, as if stressed out by the circumstances and not knowing who to look at or who to talk to next. In their podcast for this episode – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wingin-it-west-wing-podcast/id980633414?mt=2 – Andrea Howat and Sallie Gregory, rightly speak of Toby’s ‘visual stumbling’ in this scene, speculating that it contributed to bringing actor Richard Schiff an Emmy award for his interpretation of Toby in this episode.

Figure 6

Figure 6: A fragment from an episode transcript recast as a mini-scene transcript

Figure 6 shows how data from the various transcripts can now be combined and presented systematically in a way that enhances the usefulness of the original episode transcript. It includes scene and mini-scene numbering (MS), timepoint referencing (TP) and indications about the interactants. Note that, the reference to George: (G) in a red font and round brackets indicates where George talks to himself, a break in the overall dialogic pattern in this episode that otherwise rigorously respects turn-taking rules. It is another dialogic special effect, in this case indicating the nature of George’s rambling mind and the tenderness and delicacy that Toby, usually aggressive and blunt in his interactions, needs to adopt when talking to him.

With its focus on the timepointing of mini-scenes, the mini-scene transcript has the merit of facilitating the analyst’s job of understanding the relationship between micro and macro levels in this episode, in other words how details fit into the overall scheme of things. Indeed, we might well conclude that the mini-scene transcript has systematically formalised critical insights that various analysts have perceived vis-à-vis the dialogic organisation of The West Wing series.

Overall, the dialogic structure is characterised by constant change in partners in the very brief short-lived encounters that make up The West Wing’s episodes:

The tracking shot in the West Wing often begins by focusing on a small action, often by a bit player (e.g., carrying a gift basket) or on an object (a small wall decoration). The camera almost immediately picks up one or two of the central characters moving through the White House office space. The camera follows as a couple of principal players march quickly through the hallways, discussing one or more topics. Then one of the characters forks off and is almost immediately replaced by another principal, who initiates another discussion. […] In this way the camera stages a series of pas de deux, with partners pairing off and then cutting in in one prolonged dance. (Smith, 2003:131)

This view tends to assume that the mini-scene is defined by changes in interactional partners. Alas, confounding this perspective is the fact that, with respect to the following or previous mini-scene, about twenty percent of the mini-scenes listed in Figure 3 do not involve such a change. Thanks to the use of yellow background highlighting and italicised purple fonts, this type of mini-scene, its distribution in the episode, and the theoretical inconsistencies this entails can now be spotted ‘a mile off’.

A definition of mini-scene based solely on changes in interactional partners thus runs counter to the overall dynamics of the discourse that pervades the entire episode and series. One example is Scene 7, which adopts the same interactional partners throughout. We might be tempted to argue that this is the one case in the episode where there are no mini-scenes. However, this does not stack up, as there are other scenes where exactly the same happens e.g. Scene 10 and yet others, such as Scenes 13 and 16, where there are only minimal changes in interactional partners, usually a scene closure device at the tail-end of the overall scene.

However, the matter is cleared if we accept that topic-changing by interactants also counts in the definition of a mini-scene – and that it is part of the ‘special dialogic effects’ deployed, as we have hinted at above, in this and other episodes in The West Wing series. On this point, Smith states:

While this reliance on mini-scene is characteristic of The West Wing it is not unique to the series. John Wells’s ER, for instance, also uses mini-scenes to break up the business of an individual scene into separate conversations. However, Sorkin’s dialogue in The West Wing and in his other show Sports Night (1998-2000) is distinctive in that it breaks up single conversation between two characters into multiple topics, thereby conveying information quickly while mirroring the complexity of the West Wing world. (Smith, 2003, p. 128, my emphasis)

This begs the question: Is a mini-scene a structural unit, based on who does the talking, or a functional unit based on what they say and mean? In the following section, we will argue that a mini-scene is usually both, but that occasionally it will be only one or the other. Specifically we will argue that the mini-scenes in this episode can be classified into sub-types, according to the degree to which they are structural and/or functional. In other words, this presupposes a division into: interactions that involve only partner changing vis-à-vis the previous mini-scene; those that involve only topic changing vis-à-vis the previous mini-scene and those (the vast majority) that involve both.

We will also argue that the more a mini-scene acts as a functional unit, the more it will focus on high drama i.e. unplanned moments of contrast and conflict that upset the daily routine in the White House, while the more it is a structural unit, the more it will help planned events to flow smoothly and happily along in the episode. However, in order to grasp this nettle fully, we need a map of how the themes that underlie events in this episode play out.

3. Towards theme-based transcripts

The previous section called for a thematic episode transcript. However, before we discuss the uses to which such a transcript can be put, we need to explain how it is constructed. Figure 7 is a Theme index, providing a summary description of each theme used in Figure 8, which plots out the distribution of interactional mini-scenes in this episode in terms of nine event-related themes – a map of how the multiple plotlines play out in a dynamic storyboard that reveals the way plotlines in one episode interweave with those in the rest of the series.

 Figure 7

Figure 7: Theme Index 

Figure 8 is such a theme transcript. Justifying the selection of themes and their distribution in an episode is never any easy task. What do we include and, more to the point, what do we exclude? Misogyny, for example, though clearly present is, not as it were, a theme that was designed to be pursued in the episode. However, gender relationships and sexually oriented encounters/discourse were intended. Hard as it is to distinguish between intended and unintended, various clues show that such selection is likely to be more objective and less arbitrary than at first sight might seem to be the case. Again, the transcripts we have so far developed give a helping hand as they provide the necessary statistical basis for selection.

First, if we accept that the Prologue is indicative of series level thematics – i.e. beyond what will happen just in the current episode – then we have to include Themes 3 and 6. Similarly, we can use frequency as a criterion for selection. As the bottom line in Figure 8 suggests, Theme 1 accounts for a third of the overall mini-scenes. If we further take first mention into consideration, on the grounds that the first topic in a scene’s interactional encounters is likely to be most significant, we need to include Themes 2 and 4.

This leaves Themes 5, 7, 8 and 9. The discussion about secret service names (Theme 5) and the millennium (Theme 7) are significant precisely because of their triviality. They act, structurally, as dialogic counterfoils to moments that are more serious.

 Figure 8

Figure 8: A theme transcript with mini-scene distribution

Of all the themes, Theme 9, is the least frequent: just one mini-scene 10[2] in which Mrs. Landingham talks about the death of her twin sons. We could, in theory, lump this together with other themes that deal with death, namely Themes 2 and 4. However, we have already noted one fan’s comments on the heart-tugging that goes on in this mini-scene. Another is Howat’s and Gregory’s description of it in their podcast as a ‘killer backstory’.

We have thus included it separately, as it is a very special ‘theme-cum-scene’, both structurally and functionally. It is the point that comes closest to a soliloquy in the entire episode, as Charlie is more an embarrassed listener than a true interactant. It also sets up the linkage with Themes 2 and 4 as Mrs. Landingham poignantly requests Toby to let her come with him to the war veteran’s funeral, the episode’s climax.

This leaves Theme 8 which we have called leave-taking, perhaps the hardest theme of all to justify. Note, however, that while the characters in The West Wing are portrayed as very powerful people, they constantly express a desire to get out of the White House and move into the real world. The stronger this desire, the harder it becomes − as the plot creates barriers that prevent them from doing so.

This is why Bartlet wants to sneak out to the bookstore, why Josh boasts he will be in Bermuda in twenty-four hours and why Toby, desperate to escape the triviality of the Xmas festivities in the White House, becomes impatient on the phone when information is not forthcoming about the more serious matters going on in the world outside.

In this episode, leave-taking is both a how-the-hell-do-we-get-out-of-here existential theme in its own right, as well as a structural device, an exeunt strategy, used by a long line of playwrights (Shakespeare instructs). A detailed mini-scene analysis helps us pursue thematic tracking and, in particular, helps us to understand how the dialogic structuring of mini-scenes interacts with the societal themes presented in the episode.

As Figure 9 (extracted from Figure 6) shows, Scene 9 uses all the different types of mini-scene we have identified above. The transitions from mini-scenes 9[1] to 9[2] and from 9[5] to 9[6] are distinguished from each by the theme change criterion while the transitions from 9[3], to 9[4] and then to 9[5] are distinguished from each other by the interactant partner change criterion. In this scene, only the transition from 9[2] to 9[3] is distinguished by both criteria.

 Figure 9

Figure 9: Thematic tracking

However, this type of transcript helps us to understand that it is not by chance that, in this episode, the words “exit strategy” echo all the way down the White House corridors as the dialogue unfolds. The walk-and-talk action is imbued with leave-taking, which, in part, explains why mini-scenes function in the way that they do. Just as there are scene setters, there are scene closers based on the notion of escape as Figure 10 shows.


Fifure 10

Figure 10: Mini-scene closure

Remarkably, there are also occasions in this episode where exit strategy is both part of the episode’s dialogic structure and its reflection on escapism. Take, for example, Scene 19, which begins abruptly (i.e. with no establishing shot) with a mini-scene involving CJ and the reporters.

Paradoxically, this scene opener is, in fact, a scene closure, a way of telling the reporters (and the audience) that the ‘lid is on’ and that the White House is shutting down for Christmas. However, note the hidden irony in the line shown in red characters, the subtlest of ways of pointing to the constant frustration of the President’s escapist desires and his permanent struggle with his staff in this respect.

Figure 11

Figure 11: Mini-scene exit strategy

These hidden patterns and their constant overlapping is the raison d’être of a post-airdate storyboard, which relies, however, on specialist transcripts that ultimately facilitate its identification of hidden meanings.

As mentioned above such a storyboard is a dynamic structure which uses combinations of the various transcripts we have illustrated so far to assemble patterns in a dynamic way. It helps us grasp the episode’s overall organisation within a TV series. In particular, it can highlight the conflict between public and private persona, the leitmotiv of the episode and the entire series, that many analysts – whether fans, teachers, subtitlers or critics – have tracked down and will, in all probability, want to track further.

Already a theme transcript facilitates tracking, within a single episode, helping us to understand, for example, how information about the stoning and subsequent death of a gay kid in Minnesota, and related ‘hate-crime’ legislation, unfolds in four steps distributed over six mini-scenes:

1) news of the stoning reaches the White House (4[4]);
2) the White House confirms its knowledge to the Press and agrees that crime legislation needs to be revisited (5[2]);
3) news of the boy’s death reaches the White House (8[6]);
4) disputes between the White House staff on how to react emerge, with C.J. in conflict with others, including Danny, a reporter, on the matter (9[1], 18[1,3], 19[2]).

A theme transcript also helps us understand how the three deaths described in the episode are ‘glued’ together in terms of three wars: the death on a park bench of a Korean War veteran; Mrs. Landingham’s twins killed in the Vietnam War and the death of a gay boy, a victim of what is presented as the USA’s domestic Crime War.

In other words, the theme transcript for this episode highlights public/private death and grieving contrasts and, in so doing, is a first step in understanding social hierarchies, a recurrent issue in the series. It does this by revealing how information management functions at both macro (thematic) and micro levels (mini-scene dialogues), as it records the structuring and sequencing of information within the episode’s entire framework.

Done manually this is a chore; however, experience shows that initial manual analysis quickly leads to computer-assisted shortcuts, making the task less daunting than might first appear to be the case. Indeed, a thematics-oriented post-airdate storyboard will be worth the candle if it helps us, for example, to pinpoint in what ways the thematic range of a TV series reflects the upheavals and changes in society in general.

Part II: New types of transcript: series level

In the first part of this paper, we analysed the benefits of introducing timepointing in transcripts that allow phase, scene, mini-scene and thematic perspectives to be explored.

Together they form a referencing system, which in its turn forms a possible basis for computer-based search systems that help analysts contextualize mini-scenes, and in particular specific types of mini-scenes across an entire TV series and thus within higher-order meaning-making units such as scenes, episodes and episode seasons.

When time-based, visually-oriented transcripts of this type will potentially help text analysts locate where a specific effect occurs (and, more significantly, where it recurs) in the overall structure of a film, where a specific transition pops up, how the scenes fit together and even how transcripts can help identify recurrent patterns in face-offs.

By face-offs, we mean confrontations involving real or potential face-threatening acts. As we can see from the dialogue snippets given above and below, face-offs are the hallmark of TV film series: from soap operas that portray everyday events and conflicts of family life to cartoon versions thereof, such as The Simpsons; from whodunit detective stories such as Colombo to science fiction series such as Star Trek and Dr. Who; and from medical dramas such as Dr. House and ER to political dramas such as The West Wing.

More complete referencing systems, and above all timepoints, represent a key move towards fine-grained cross-series comparisons that involve face-offs.

The referencing systems described in this article are, of course, designed to be digital and, therefore, accessible by Internet tools in ways that are compatible with the job that many film analysts have of comparing episodes within the same TV series, or with episodes from other TV series.

Many ideas for possible transcripts may well go beyond the digital resources currently available. As such, they have the status of blueprints for future tools. Even so, progress is being made in this respect. One such example is the MWS-Web tool being developed by a research team, including the author, which provides online supports for film analysts through its capacity to concordance online episode transcripts directly (i.e. without the need to download them) in ways that, as illustrated below, home in on underlying discourse patterns[3].

4. Exploring digital transcripts

Currently, in order to obtain an overview of the thematics of a TV series it is necessary to summarize an episode’s thematics and then link the summaries of individual episodes around a specific theme. This is what many fan sites do including the Raspberry Lime Ricki blog, The West Wing Wiki site, the IMDb (http://www.imdb.com) and many others such as the West Wing Transcripts site.

The following summary is taken from the latter site:

As Christmas Eve approaches, President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) eagerly sneaks out of the White House for some last-minute Christmas shopping, while a haunted Toby (Richard Schiff) learns more about a forgotten Korean War hero who died alone on the district’s cold streets wearing a coat that Toby once donated to charity. In other hushed corridors, Sam (Rob Lowe) and Josh (Bradley Whitford) ignore Leo’s (John Spencer) advice and consult Sam’s call girl friend (Lisa Edelstein) concerning her confidential clientele when one political rival hints at exposing Leo’s previous drug problem. C.J. (Allison Janney) wonders aloud about the President’s public response to a notorious hate crime while her personal resolve weakens as persistent reporter, Danny (Timothy Busfield) continues to ask her out.

As Figures 8 and 12 show, this summary describes some of the thematics but not all. It fails in particular to describe their distribution over an episode or a series in relation to the characters who construct and interpret them. When reconstructing thematic patterning in an entire series, an alternative to these summaries is a post-airdate storyboard, a fragment of which is shown in Figure 12.

This shows a three-row representation of how the information given in Figure 8 might well be extracted by software to create a series-level thematic storyboard. Figure 12 gives only one such block, but when completed by similar blocks extracted, for example, from the twenty-two episodes that make up the West Wing’s first season, it becomes possible to grasp thematic patterning more fully.

Figure 12

Figure 12: A row from a series-level thematic storyboard

We thus have a start to a form of transcription that allows us to have the best of both worlds: thematic tracking at episode level but also at series level.

Even so it is still hard to spot Charlie’s ‘bad news’ function in all the three scenes in which he speaks in this episode namely: 1) when in 14[5], he tells the President it is time to leave and get back to duty; 2) when in 8[6] he informs the President about the gay boy’s death; 3) when in 10[2] he triggers Mrs. Landingham’s sad memories about her twin boys’ death on Xmas Eve 1970.

It is even harder to reconstruct the West Wing view of ethnic minorities, which we would expect to be significant in such a politically-oriented series. Charlie, of course, represents an ethnic minority. Apart from him, the only other coloured person with a speaking part in this episode, excluding seven-year old Jeffrey’s one-line exchange with Bartlet in 8[3], is the officer-cum-detective in 3[1] investigating into the war veteran’s death.

The association with death of both these characters is so specific in this episode as to raise suspicions as to whether such a correlation exists over the entire series. This is where a web concordancer ‘comes in handy’. Figure 13 reports part of a quick check-up search using MWS-Web’s concordancing functions that require no downloading of episode transcripts from the web. It thus exemplifies the possibility of associating two recurrent characters and the death theme, in this case Bartlet and Charlie and shows that in the entire West Wing series, there are only three examples of this association for each of these two characters, in other words, suggesting no racial bias at all.

Figure 13

Figure 13: Concordance comparison of co-texts in The West Wing series

At a series level, a storyboard such as the one illustrated in Figure 12, used in conjunction with other tools, allows patterns to be more easily spotted and checked out across an entire TV series. Unlike a transcription, multimodal or otherwise, which helps an analyst to explore a single text, a combined websearch and concordancing approach can help establish patterns that are common to a much larger set of multimodal texts (Baldry 2007:180).

This is just a first step towards understanding (inter)semiotic theme-based patternings in film texts. The construction of hypotheses are somewhat akin to the previsualizations mentioned below in Section 6. Armed with a post-airdate thematic transcript and a tool for searching and concordancing transcript archives, a film analyst now appears to be in a position to check for patterns that extend to the entire series and can think in terms of possible patternings.

This is a further confirmation of the validity of not discarding the current generation of post-airdate transcripts but, instead, of finding ways of using the information they contain to better effect. In this case, the existence of transcripts for entire TV series is essential.

However, this also raises the question about the role of post-airdate transcripts. Specifically, how can they become springboards for further analysis? One way of answering this question might be to explore the search functions of existing transcript archives, such as the West Wing Transcript resource, in terms of individual words or expressions. For example, we might investigate a prominent word in this episode: ‘flamingo’ using the West Wing Transcript’s internal search engine, which produces the result shown in Figure 14.

 Figure 14

Figure 14: Websearch results compared: searching with site tools

While a significant and welcome development, this type of search inevitably confirms the limitations of such sites. For example, no co-text is explicitly provided. The consequence is that, in order to establish that ‘flamingo’ is not a reference to an animal, colour, or other contextually-determined meaning in any of these cases, but is, instead, always the US security service’s code name for one of the characters, C.J., the analyst has to open up each transcript individually and scroll down the script in a pdf document searching for this keyword.

While this is a possible, though awkward, procedure that establishes that all three occurrences of the word ‘flamingo’ do indeed refer to C.J., it becomes an unmanageable solution when using keyword searching to reconstruct thematic structures in The West Wing TV series ‒ the more sophisticated type of searching mentioned above. A search for the word ‘death’, for example, reveals its presence some 70-odd times in The West Wing series, far too many for the analyst to handle by opening up individual transcripts.

A much better way of using episode transcripts lies in reconstructing thematic patternings in combination with the use of an online concordancing tool, such as MWS-Web, designed expressly to search entire web archives and to report findings in a much more complete way. Thus, when we refine the search to ‘Flamingo is a’, the result in the centre of Figure 15 is (correctly) returned by MWS-Web in just one step, without the need to open up many different pdf documents.

 Figure 15

Figure 15: Websearch results compared: searching with MWS-Web

Yet a further step is to compare this for completeness’ sake with a search for ‘Secret Service’ in other online post-airdate transcripts in order to track changing attitudes to Secret Services over time.

For example, in the fifty-odd years of its existence (1963-2013), and hundreds of episodes, an  MWS-Web search of transcripts (http://www.chakoteya.net/doctorwho/) for the entire Dr. Who series reveals only four such references.

Similarly, in the 24-year period (1987-2010) of transcripts for The Simpsons (http://www.snpp.com/), again a much longer airtime period than The West Wing (September 22, 1999, to May 14, 2006), there are only five references.

A further ‘twist’ is to compare these results for fictional stories with the real thing: the CNN’s Live Program, which comments on political events, much of it coming from the (real) White House (http://edition.cnn.com/transcripts). In this case there is a much higher incidence of results over a much shorter period, which closely reflects (and in part explains and justifies) the ironic comments made in this episode as regards code names used by the US Secret Service.

Figure 16

Figure 16: Thematic comparisons: Dr. Who, The Simpsons and CNN Live Event

We may conclude that this type of investigation rewards hours of patient transcription. The combination of transcripts and online concordancing tools allows patterns across TV series and news sites to be established very quickly. Without online post-airdate episode transcripts, none of this would be possible, which is why building on them, rather than replacing them, is so important. Creating perspectives that might otherwise have remained hidden is a significant result of this approach.

5. Face-offs: visual and verbal transcription

The combination of tools described in the previous section hints at the possibility of using visual-verbal transcripts to explore significant social and ethical problems, effectively turning computer-assisted transcript analysis into a support for sociolinguistic analysis. Let us explore this hypothesis a little further. Let us suppose that one of a film analyst’s needs is to reconstruct gender and power relationships in a TV Series. How can we respond to the question: Men or women: who’s the boss in The West Wing?

On the upside, the resources available to film analysts on the Internet do not end with transcripts and video clips. Still images of face-to-face dyads appear on YouTube. They highlight the negotiation that takes place between two, rather than three or more, people in The West Wing series that has already been mentioned. They do so verbally and visually.

Web searches, such as the one reproduced in Figure 17, reveal the combined visual-verbal referencing widely used by the YouTube site – a key frame from a clip plus a ‘title’, in this case a quote. This may be a very small step towards combined visual-verbal referencing, but nevertheless one that is recognizable as a ‘step in the right direction’.


Figure 17

Figure 17: Multimodal referencing: verbal quotes + visual thumbnails

On the downside, such searches point to the imperfect and incomplete nature of the referencing that leaves much to be guessed[4]. In this case, for example, the question of who is being quoted, the man or the woman, remains teasingly ambiguous. The post-airdate transcript for The U.S. Poet Laureate episode (Third Season, Episode 61), like the YouTube clip (https://youtu.be/-vl9WfOdSkM?t=72) itself, clears up who is doing the talking and who is ‘wearing the trousers’, as C.J.’s shouted reply is: So far up your ass!

Visual-verbal summaries are an emergent genre that focus on specific frames. We have already remarked on fans’ scrapbook-like selections of pin-ups with respect to the photo of Mrs. Landingham’s eyes. To this, we now need to add the audio pin-ups of podcasts and the thumbnails that appear in YouTube.

We argue that face shots are thus an emergent visual transcript, analogous to shot plans as regards the comments they draw. There is clearly a need to support the analysis of the In Excelsis Deo episode with a frame-based visual-verbal transcript – at least, for specific scenes.

In particular, within the WestWing series, Scene 1 functions as a summary of some of the conflicts that go beyond individual episodes. This points to the inherent duality that characterises TV series as referring simultaneously both to an entire series as well as to a single episode in a way that, with some exceptions, is not characteristic of feature films, lectures, documentaries and many other genres.

We thus suggest that Scene 1, the Prologue scene in every episode in The West Wing series, is a good candidate, already a professional summary in itself and thus ready for further development as a dedicated visual-verbal face-shot summary.

Figure 18 is a face-shot transcript for the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ Prologue. We note that it does indeed consist of close-ups on faces. In theory, as there are fifteen interactional turns (excluding the narrator), there ought to be a sequence of fifteen face shots, corresponding to each speaker. This is not the case, as we see when we analyse the five main shots, which actually occur – at the timepoints given in seconds in the bottom row of Figure 18.

Figure 18

Figure 18: Face-shot transcript of the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ Prelude

There are three types of exception: first, the camera tends to stay on the ‘victim’ of events and circumstances, in this case most clearly in the first and last frames, which allows the look of disappointment to be firmly fixed in the viewer’s mind. That is, the camera’s fixed position identifies with the victim whether or not s/he is the speaker. This happens, for example, in 1[1] and 1[4]. In the first case, the message is reinforced by Danny’s ludicrous holding of the goldfish bowl complete with goldfish.

Something different happens in Frames 3 and 4 (1[3]), providing a second type of exception. In this two-second mini-scene, the camera aligns with the listener (Bartlet) and looks over his shoulder at (Leo) speaking; it then switches to align with the listener Leo and looks over his shoulder at Bartlet who says just one word because the visual and cognitive focus is still on Leo, one of the main victims in this episode, and who continues to be so visually in 1[4].

Finally, at Second 18, another mini-scene (1[2]) starts, which further sets up the male-female power relationships aspect of the gender relations theme, introduced in (1[1]), but which uses a third type of exception: Here Sam reaches out to grab Laurie’s sandwich, the camera’s focus being on the hand reaching out. This is an anticipation of Sam’s and Josh’s failed attempts to recruit Laurie to their defence of Leo, a matter shown to be beyond them in Scene 17, mainly because Leo and Laurie, too, are portrayed as pawns in political manoeuvrings and hence victims, as well as promoters, of power games. They are like the goldfish in the bowl, looking for exit strategies but are ultimately trapped. 

Part III: Defining a TV series transcript: a question of perspective

Defining a TV series transcript ought to be a fairly straightforward matter. Most dictionary entries will typically explain that a transcript is “a written, printed, or typed copy of words that have been spoken” in radio programmes, court proceedings or political speeches. The rise of speech-to-text software has transformed the work of transcription in medicine and journalism in the Internet age but has not affected the underlying goal, to turn spoken words into written ones.

However, this type of definition stacks up less well with the digital transcripts of TV series whose referencing systems contain a more substantial reference-oriented metatextual level, not mentioned in dictionary definitions, which distinguishes them from many other types of transcript. The virtual communities of the Internet age have accelerated this process – for example in their promotion of visual as well as verbal referencing – placing TV series transcripts on a quite different evolutionary track as compared with other types of transcript.

Progress along this ‘new track’ is likely to grow in the digital age, further realising the TV transcript genre’s multisemiotic potential, at both textual and metatextual levels. In this part of the article, we explore this hypothesis suggesting that pre-airdate genres’ high degree of visual-verbal specialisation could well be paralleled in the digital age by post-airdate genres.

6. Transcripts as a post-airdate genre

Film-making involves a cross-modal, verbal-to-visual transposition from a written to a visual story, a form of ‘translation’, or transposition whose infinite complexity is a good illustration of how Kress’s concept of transduction can be used, in social semiotic theory and beyond, to refer to the remaking of meaning across modes (Kress 1997: 41).

In fact, a TV series transcript is just one of the many text types that are part of the wider set of texts used by different communities in the creation, viewing and interpretation of a TV series. Each of these texts reworks and builds on the meaning of the previous step in the chain. The process of turning a screenwriter’s initial idea into a film is thus the first step in a well-established series of text types that exist in relation to each other in a step-like transition, each dependent on the previous stage in the chain for their existence and each essential input for the subsequent stage.

The starting point is, of course, the screenplay which as:

An exercise in visual storytelling […] isn’t simply a matter of shot selection and composition. […] Only the most inexperienced screenwriter includes camera directions in a screenplay because such things are the responsibility of the director and director of photography once the film is in production. […]  The fundamentally visual nature of film narrative has led to an interesting paradox. The screenwriter must fully imagine the film that he’s writing. But – and here’s where the paradox comes in – only a small part of what the screenwriter imagines should actually appear in the screenplay, which must evoke a sense of place and character rather than catalogue it down to the minutest detail. What’s more, only a small part of what appears in the screenplay will ever make it to the screen in anything like its original form. (Gurskis, 2007: Introduction, xiii)

The film industry uses a stage-by-stage process involving various visual genres, such as shot plans, storyboards, animatics and previsualizations¸ as well as verbal genres that go beyond screenplays. Thus, as well as being turned into the visual genres used mainly by the film crew, a screenplay will also be turned into a film script to be used by actors as a guide to the delivery of their lines.

The left-hand column of Figure 19 shows a small fragment from Sorkin’s final draft of the script for The West Wing ‘Pilot’. Even this is not the final version of the dialogue as the post-airdate transcript, in the right-hand column shows, with its record of what was actually said in the filmed episode.

The contrast exemplified in Figure 19 is particularly revealing. There are obvious similarities between the two texts. Yet despite this, a post-airdate transcript is rather different from a pre-airdate script, in both form and function. With its clear description of the movements of characters with walk-on parts, the pre-airdate script can certainly lay greater claim to being a this-is-what-the-actors do-as-well-as-say representation than the post-airdate type shown on the right-hand side of Figure 1.

More significantly, this comparison shows that, while pre-airdate scripts and post-airdate transcripts may look the same, significantly, they do not do the same job. Nor do they have the same effect. As regards emotional knife-twisting, the final dialogue in the post-airdate transcript is far more biting.

Figure 19

Figure 19: Pre-airdate draft (left) vs. post-airdate transcript (right)

Even so, Figure 19 shows that beyond references to where it takes place, who is present and who walks down the corridor, few visual aspects of this scene are recorded in either the transcript or the script.

With the final draft script, this is not a problem as scripts are not the main source of visual representations of the episode being filmed, a role carried out instead by pre-airdate storyboards, a form of visual transcript that supports the process of turning screenplays into finished films.

Various types of storyboards were, in fact, adopted extensively in the filming of The West Wing. Simon reports:

As in films if a [TV series] production has stunts or FX /special effects, producers and directors may want boards to work them out. Sometimes the openings are boarded. I boarded the first opening for Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All to provide the technicians, who were doing the camera moves and special effects, with a visual of the creator’s idea. Amblin’s seaQuest DSV, The Cape, Star Trek, Babylon S, and The West Wing all used storyboards for special effects and stunt scenes. (Simon 2007: 219)

Indeed, Simon’s account also includes examples of storyboards (not shown here for copyright reasons) used in The West Wing (Simon 2007: 28-9). Storyboards are a sequence of illustrations that guide film-makers when they shoot a scene as they indicate the scene’s dynamics, its unfolding in time. In their turn, they incorporate shot plans, which illustrate spatial dispositions of actors and props, (see, for example, Papert’s description of the shot plan for Feliz Navidad scene given above in Section 2.3).

All this illustrates our observation that these visual forms of transcript, together with a discourse-oriented screenplay, constitute an indispensable set of pre-airdate intertexts collectively guiding the production of films. Though functioning, collectively, as a single, integrated multisemiotic transcript, with cross-referencing mechanisms, each contributes individually, with its own internal coherence, to specific functions in the film-construction process.

From a historical perspective, each also represents a step in the evolution of pre-airdate transcripts. As Simon further notes:

Previz, or previsualization, refers to the use of computer-generated sequences to replicate soon-to-be shot live-action sequences. They are the modern-day animatic. Most previz studios work from storyboards provided by a production, but they do have to produce boards on their own at times.  (Simon 2007: 219)[5]

All this throws light on the issue as to whether the TV series post-airdate transcripts should be defined as an independent genre or part of a set of related genres. Of course, a TV series transcript can never be an entirely independent genre as, somewhat like a film subtitle, it is intrinsically tied to the film it transcribes. However, while the story of pre-airdate visual and verbal transcripts is one of increasing integration and computerization, including sophisticated simulations, on the contrary, the story of post-airdate transcripts appears to lag far behind.

However, appearances are also deceptive. Like pre-airdate texts, TV series transcripts exist in relationship with other texts. They are neither starting points, nor endpoints in the production of post-airdate texts. Alas, in contrast to the planned sequence of pre-airdate texts, with post-airdate texts this relationship is never explicit. It can, however, be detected.

This, however, requires careful detective work that sifts through the texts produced by TV series analysts, fans in particular. Andrea Howat’s and Sallie Gregory’s joint podcast recap of the ‘In Excelsis Deo’ episode, mentioned above in Section 2.3, is instructive in this sense.

Its scene-by-scene commentary of Sorkin’s emotional knife twisting of viewer’s emotions is peppered with ad lib remarks about the need to check up on details of what the dialogue actually says.

The ‘notes’ the podcasters refer to would appear be rather more copious than perhaps they would like us to believe. The extensive and highly accurate quoting of Sorkin’s dialogue suggests their reliance on a written transcript (regardless of who actually wrote it)

The same goes for their reconstruction of the visual story. With great insight, they point out that Josh watches Donna read the note in the Christmas present he gives her and make the following comment:

And then Josh gives Donna the book, the Christmas book and he wrote a note inside. It’s just a wonderful a moment [….] but the best moment is after he gives it, when he leans around his door in his office and watches her read it again. That’s the real kicker of the moment. [..] I don’t know what the note says but watching him watching her that’s what does it. […] And you know that they never do those extra shots for no reason. Like time is money. It always tells part of the story. It’s definitely a building moment.  (Wingin It: The West Wing Podcast series. Podcast 80. Timepoint: 30.48)

Were all the eighty-nine podcasts in the Wingin It: The West Wing Podcast series, all equally insightful and detailed, really based on memories and recollections? The level of detail provided suggests otherwise and implies at the very least that the ‘note taking’ referred to in this podcast series, while not as complex a process as shooting a film, is nevertheless far from unsubstantial.

In keeping with what has been stated in multimodal research about transduction (Kress 1997) and transmedia (Lemke 2013), we note that, in contemporary society, many different text types are constantly being merged and brought in our daily activities, as it were, ‘under one roof’. In this view, we can conceive of a transcript as a master document with a strong potential to interlock with other Internet genres.

8. End points or starting points?

Despite the fact that The West Wing series is dialogue rich, Scene 21, the final scene in the In Excelsis Deo episode, contains no dialogue. As further proof that TV episode transcripts go well beyond the word-only definitions of a transcript, it includes the following summary of  what is going on:

The episode ends with a montage of juxtaposing shots of the military funeral for Walter Hufnagle and the activity in THE MURAL ROOM. Throughout, we can hear the boys’ choir sing ‘Little Drummer Boy.’ The hearse arrives at ARLINGTON CEMETERY, SECTION 43. Toby, Mrs. Landingham, and George get out of the car. George is holding a bouquet of flowers. The honor guard carries the casket to the grave. They begin the ritual of folding the flag that covered the casket. THE MURAL ROOM. Sam and C.J. join Mandy and Bartlet. Then, Charlie and Leo join. ARLINGTON CEMETERY. The honor guard starts to shoot their rifles in salute. Toby flinches with the first shot. Mrs. Landingham with the second. THE MURAL ROOM. Donna and Josh join the group. ARLINGTON CEMETERY. The honor guard starts to hand the tightly folded flag to Toby who gestures uncomfortably to George, who is then presented with the flag. George gently places the flowers on the casket. They all stand to leave.

The scene lasts for just under 4 minutes which raises questions about this episode’s suitability for disabled viewers – despite the praise usually meted out for The West Wing by the blind and partially sighted:

I grew up on the great classic comedies of the 1970s: “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “M.A.S.H.” I spent far too many summer vacation hours lazily watching programs from “Love Boat” to gameshows. […] I was a pretty typical American TV watcher. Yet, there was always a disappointing aspect to TV programs […] There was always the question: “What’s going on?” And too often, there wasn't anyone willing or able to answer it for me. After all, as a blind person, I missed the visual information these programs presented: telltale facial expressions, audience laughter not triggered by dialogue, the silent entrance of a new character and, of course, the complete shift of setting. […] As a consequence, I have what may be unhealthy love for the work of Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter whose shows from “Sports Night,” to “West Wing,” to “Studio 60” were heavily dialogue-driven. (Paul Schroeder, Watching TV Blind: A Love-Hate Relationship. http://www.afb.org/blog/afb-blog/watching-tv-blind-a-love-hate-relationship/12. Retrieved 05.05.2106)

There is a clear need, and ample time, for an AD (audio-description) voiceover to be incorporated as part of any AD adaptation of this episode. This will inevitably entail re-use both of the episode transcript (regardless of whether the descriptive summary of Scene 21 reported above is actually used) and, quite possibly the supplementary table transcripts we have provided.

Although concerned with the very different genre of Internet lectures, the adaptation of TED Talks (Cámara and Espasa 2011) to the needs of AD is a good example of the fact that in today’s digital world, a transcript is no longer the final stage in the film-text production chain.

Hence, in their paper, Cámara and Espasa (2011) present what they call AD units which are, in fact, modified table-based versions of original Ted Talk transcripts re-arranged in such a way as to recast and reconstrue them as intermediate texts in the transduction process.

Cámara and Espasa’s goal in their paper is to show how AD adaptation might be achieved. The examples they give are the basis for an analysis of the crucial problems that arise. Specifically, the result of their work is a reworked transcript divided into units, with each unit or step in the meaning-making process represented as a table consisting of rows some of which present what is said in the lecture and others what is shown. Subsequent rows assess the need for AD to describe those visuals not described by the speaker and propose the AD text to be added. 

In some ways, the tables that Cámara and Espasa (2011) provide are akin to the transcripts described above. Quite apart from raising questions about what AD adaptation this West Wing episode would require, they provide further evidence of film analysts’ redefinition of transcripts. Their evidence shows that film transcripts are neither solely end-products, nor solely associated with writing down what was said. They are much more than this.

7. Conclusions

The study of transcripts as a genre is in its infancy. With its rather tentative exploration and exemplification of nascent forms, such as manually produced multisemiotic transcripts and software-produced storyboards, this paper has suggested that transcript culture is changing.

While online repositories of digital videos such as YouTube, TedTalks and the various fan sites quoted all point to the need to take a new look at transcripts, even so changing transcript culture to accommodate specific desiderata, such as timepointing, is no easy task. Typically, the picture is uneven. While TedTalks transcripts are exemplary in this respect, those of TV series are not.

To encourage greater awareness of this unevenness, and the need for adjustments, this article has attempted to describe the wider picture, by taking a step backwards and providing a behind-the scenes view of the complex world of film scripts and transcripts, as this helps to identify and clarify the gap between what most transcripts currently offer and what film analysts really need.

Reference systems used in scripts and transcripts will inevitably evolve and certainly need to do so if they are to meet the needs of today’s sophisticated text management society. This article has thus explored the characteristics of post-airdate TV transcripts in relation to the videos that they transcribe as well as in relation to the pre-airdate genres that guide the film production process.

This helps explain that rather than technical barriers, cultural barriers are a more significant consideration. In particular, the article has suggested the need for research that brings together examples of the awareness (among fans in particular) that the TV transcript genre is unlike many other types of transcript and needs to be rethought.

As well as redefining transcripts, no longer seen as an isolated text type but rather as one that interacts with other related genres, the article has proposed an integrational approach in which old and new work together. In this view, new types of tools, including new forms of transcripts but also computer-generated post-airdate storyboards, support existing post-airdate transcripts in a way that encourages a series-analysis perspective.

However, what in the end matters is whether the reader can reflect on the ideas about, and illustrations of, transcript analysis, as expressed in this article and relate them to the other articles in this Special Issue of Intralinea and, beyond that, to the wider issue of the ways in which our society re-contextualizes films and adapts them through the linguistic and multimodal ‘engineering’ called transcription.

Such reflection could very well extend to an understanding of the underlying processes governing society’s access to texts. This will involve a clear understanding of the functions of support texts (subtitling, audio description, annotating, referencing, storyboarding and so on). Ultimately, this article has attempted to encourage readers to reflect on how these textual processes interact and mutually affect each other from a variety of perspectives.


Francesca Coccetta (University of Venice) Deirdre Kantz (University of Pavia), Ivana Marenzi (Leibniz University of Hannover), Maria Grazia Sindoni (University of Messina) and Chris Taylor (University of Trieste) are thanked for comments on earlier drafts of this article. Any remaining shortcomings and oversights are to be attributed to the author.


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Thibault, Paul (2000) “The multimodal transcription of a television advertisement: theory and practice” in Multimodality and Multimediality in the Distance Learning Age, Anthony Baldry (ed.), Campobasso, Palladino: 311-85.

Vasta, Nicoletta (2001) Rallying Voters: New Labour’s verbal-visual strategies, Padua, CEDAM.74


[1] This chapter makes use of transcripts for Episode 1.10 In Excelsis Deo and The West Wing pilot, both of which can be found in the West Wing Searchable Episode Transcripts section of the West Wing Transcripts website (www.westwingtranscripts.com), described there as ‘dedicated to providing a resource for loyal fans of NBC’s The West Wing’. The screenplay script for The West Wing pilot can be found at http://www.dailyscript.com/ scripts/West_Wing_Pilot.pdf. Both sites last accessed 09/04/2016.

[2] By definition, TV series fans want to explore the characters’ changing relationships and beliefs over time and talk about them with other fans. In the case of The West Wing, this is transcendental in nature – beyond rather than over time ‒ as fans are still producing their own West Wing stories long after the end of the TV series. See the West Wing Fanfiction Central (www.westwingstories.com/) database for stories (fanon) written by fans about the characters appearing in The West Wing series that are extensions to the episodes (canon).

[3] Developed by a team involving the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Istituto per le Tecnologie Didattiche (CNR-ITD) Palermo, the L3S Research Center, Leibniz University of Hannover, Dip DISGESI, University of Messina, MWS-Web is the online follow-up to the MWS and MWS-ACE tools developed in the Living Knowledge (http://livingknowledge.europarchive.org/) and Act (mca.unipv.it/) projects. For further information contact: Davide Taibi: davide.taibi@itd.cnr.it. Sites last accessed 10/07/2015.

[4] Both MWS-Web and West Wing Transcript search engines will locate this quote through the word ‘outrank’, which appears 4 times in the entire series. Though each search tool provides different and very useful information, they perform differently. Of the two, only MWS-Web can ignore the spelling mistake in the quote (‘technichally’) and find the exact line with a single search, that is without the need for secondary searches or query refinement.

[5] As Simon further explains: ‘Storyboards may also be used to test the viability of a finished commercial product without the great expense of shooting it. These drawings are shot on video and edited together just like a live shoot. This footage is then dubbed with music and voices. This is called an animatic […]. The animatic may then be shown to test groups around the country. Productions benefit from boards in many ways. They may cost money in postproduction, but that cost is much less than the hidden expenses caused by a lack of proper planning or any miscommunication’ (Simon, 2007:29). For a side-by-side comparison of an animatic and a finished cartoon and exemplification of the function of animatics as transcripts that define a film’s overall rhythms, in particular, spatial and temporal relationships in narrative sequences, see The Boondocks: The Complete Third Season Episode Clip - Fried Chicken Flu Animatic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v =sqARB4gNj3w). Site last accessed 29/04/2016.

Dubbing a TV Drama Series

The Case of The West Wing

By Frederic Chaume (Universitat Jaume I, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords

The Spanish dubbing of The West Wing has been acknowledged as one of the best dubbings of a TV drama series in Spain. This article focuses on the dubbing of Episode #10 from The West Wing (1999), entitled “In Excelsis Deo”, a Christmas special episode brimming with cultural references, intertextual references, register switchings, close-ups, and all the ingredients that are usually accounted for in dubbing. This study shows an analysis of the quality of dubbing in just one episode of this mainstream American TV series dubbed into Spanish. In order to do so, a qualitative analysis according to the episode’s adherence to a checklist of dubbing standards, compiled in Chaume (2012), but taken from some other authors (Whitman-Linsen, 1992, among others), has been carried out. 

Keywords: audiovisual translation, dubbing, multimedia translation

©inTRAlinea & Frederic Chaume (2016).
"Dubbing a TV Drama Series"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2194


The Spanish dubbing of The West Wing has been acknowledged as one of the best dubbings of a TV drama series in that country (http://laciudaddorada.blogspot.com.es/2010/08/doblajes-y-otra-vez-si-wire.html, http://www.mediavida.com/foro/82/the-west-wing-ala-oeste-casa-blanca-383793, http://www.rebeldemule.org/foro/tv/tema8134.html, etc.). All seasons were dubbed in Soundtrack (Barcelona), later known as Soundub, and recently acquired by the international company SDI Media, a firm that bought the four Soundub branches in the Iberian peninsula (Madrid, Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela and Lisbon). DVDs distributed in Spain include both the dubbed and subtitled versions of the seven seasons, as well as the usual extra contents.

TV drama series occupy an important share of many TV stations’ listings, and some of them have conquered both film critics and the audience as a quality production. This is the case of The West Wing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_West_Wing). TV series have also recently aroused the interest of researchers in Audiovisual Translation (AVT) with more and more case studies under scrutiny: Herbst (1994), Fuentes Luque (1997/8), Zhao (2002), Bucaria (2007), Baños-Piñero and Chaume (2009), Romero Fresco (2006), (2007) and (2009), Quaglio (2009), which can be added to TV cartoon series which imitate this fiction genre: Martínez Sierra (2008), Botella (2010).

This article focuses on the dubbing of Episode #10 from The West Wing (1999), entitledIn Excelsis Deo”, a Christmas special episode brimming with cultural references, intertextual references, register switchings, close-ups, and all the ingredients that are usually accounted for in dubbing. This episode is the stereotypical candidate to teach dubbing in a classroom, as will become clear in the conclusions after a checklist of dubbing standards is presented and validated. The article could be expanded to consider how the dubbing of Episode #10 compares with other dubbed series in Spain, in order to make a systemic comparison among other similar products, but due to the characteristics of the commission the analysis needs to be restricted to just one episode.

1. Dubbing TV Series

To date, the AVT literature has established a rather simplistic distinction between dubbing and subtitling countries. Especially after the advent of the DVD, one cannot speak about only dubbing and subtitling countries anymore. While it is true that many countries stick to a predominant mode on their screens, most dubbing countries also increasingly do subtitling, and many subtitling countries do dubbing. Not only are cartoons for younger children dubbed around the globe, but there is also an interesting upward trend in dubbing TV series in traditional subtitling countries: Portugal, Denmark and Norway are beginning to dub some teen TV series and teen pics (Chorão 2013; Tveit 2009), and Turkish and South American soap operas are also now dubbed in Greece and in the Arab world.

In Spain, and in most dubbing countries, TV series are generally dubbed, although another interesting upward trend is observed in the replacing of dubbing by voice-over in some productions addressed to teenagers – especially on MTV, in Spain, with well-known examples such as A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (2007-2008), maybe the first reality to be voiced-over on Spanish screens, up to Man vs. Food (2008-), for example. Technically speaking, dubbing consists of replacing the original track where any audiovisual text’s source language dialogues are recorded with another track on which translated dialogues have been recorded in the target language. The remaining tracks are left untouched.

Dubbing TV drama series is nowadays associated with quality production, as films have always been. Canonical and cult TV series are considered to have a similar status to art house movies (Lost 2004-2010, The Mentalist 2008-2015, The Sopranos 1999-2007, The Office 2005-2013, Modern Family 2009, to mention just a few). TV series which have been a success in the US (and to a lesser extent in the UK) are introduced amid much hype on most TV stations around the world. Dubbing these series is then a matter of prestige for dubbing companies. If one takes a look at some Spanish dubbing companies’ web pages, one can immediately notice whether they have been involved with these dubbings, because they are ostentatiously highlighted on their website. TV drama series are considered to be canonical, both because of their success in the US (or the UK) and because of their share ratings in the target culture. Thus, dubbing these series gives prestige to dubbing companies and raises confidence in prospective clients. And this also means that every effort will be made to produce a dubbing according to the prevailing norms of the target culture.

2. Dubbing The West Wing into Spanish

The many agents involved in the postproduction process of dubbing are a factor that should be taken into account when looking at dubbing, as what is presented to the audience is not the responsibility of one single person: producers, film directors, distributors, TV stations, dubbing directors, voice talents, sync assistants, dialogue writers and, last but not least, translators, can have a say in a dubbing. In the case of The West Wing, the Spanish dubbing was carried in Soundtrack (now SDI Media), the translation was carried out by Ricard Sierra, the dialogue writer was José Luis Porras, and the dubbing director was José Luis Campos. Ernesto Aura, Juan Antonio Bernal, Juana Beuter, and Jordi Ribes, among others, have been the voice talents in Spanish.

3. The analysis

Texts – original or translated – are produced according to certain rules or genre conventions within a specific culture and time. In any text, the absence of an expected element may be received by the reader as a negative mechanism. In Translation Studies terminology we usually put it another way: translations are subject to norms. Lip-synching, natural dialogues, coherence between text and image, loyalty to the original text, good acting by voice talents, and a fair sound quality are considered to be the norms guiding canonical dubbings. The lack of lip-synch or isochrony in dubbed films or TV series in a tradition in which synchrony is normative or regulated, the writing of non-credible unrealistic dialogue lines, the lack of coherence between text and images in a dubbing, a noticeable detachment from the meaning of the original version, bad acting on the part of voice talents, and poor sound quality, are all aspects that may turn a dubbed product into a commercial fiasco. Lotman (1982:125) christened this concept with the term ‘minus-mechanism’, although particularly with reference to literary texts. For example, the absence of rhyme in a genre where it would conventionally be present would be a minus-mechanism. In the same way, the macro-genre of audiovisual translated texts also has a specific canon. Translated audiovisual genres (films, television series, cartoons or documentaries) should follow certain specific conventions that help audiences recognise them, and watch them in a particular way, thereby maximising their success.

This article analyses Episode #10 of the TV series The West Wing according to the aforementioned quality standards in dubbing. However, it is not easy to reach a consensus on a list of quality standards, since they will inevitably be subjective. A particular dubbing may work well for some and be a failure for others. A comparison with similar AV products would make the outcomes of this article much more interesting, since these standards could have been checked in a broader corpus. Nevertheless, the analysis of just one episode of this series was the objective of this project.

No empirical evidence has shown what a good dubbing is. The following list of dubbing standards is, then, a tentative proposal and is based on the list presented in Chaume (2012: 14-20).

3.1 Lip-synch

Matching the translation with the onscreen actors’ mouth articulation (lip-synch) and body movements (kinesic synchrony), and especially matching the duration of the original actor’s utterances and pauses with the translation (isochrony) is considered to be a cornerstone of dubbing; in other words, compliance with synchronization norms is mandatory. We might therefore state that a fine red line is crossed when the length of the translation does not match the duration of the dialogue lines uttered by the screen actor or actress. Also, a good dubbing will show a fine lip-synch in close-ups, extreme close-ups and detailed lip shots. However, other lip and even other kinesic synchronies do not break this tacit agreement, despite Fodor’s insistence in his pioneering 1976 study. Fodor advocates replacing bilabial consonants with bilabial consonants, labio-dental consonants with labio-dental consonants, and even rounded vowels with rounded vowels. He also recommends that the dubbing actor should imitate the gestures of the screen actor in order to come as close as possible to the original as far as verbal mimicry is concerned. Fodor’s study (1976:32-36) compares the mouth move­ments of various languages, inhaling and exhaling and head movements but, with the exception of close-ups, extreme close-ups or detailed lip shots, norms described in the professional contexts of European dubbing countries show that his approach is somewhat exaggerated and his advice is not followed in professional practice.

In Episode 10 of The West Wing, isochrony is an absolute priority. All dialogues are finely substituted by Spanish dialogues lasting exactly the same time. Of special interest are close-ups, which have most definitely been translated according to the canon, as far as isochrony is concerned. The close-up of Mrs. Landingham, the mother who lost her twins in Vietnam, is portentous. All sentences and all pauses match her lips perfectly, and this contributes to creating and maintaining the suspension of disbelief so characteristic of dubbing. These sentences are an example of how the duration of Spanish and English sentences is kept the same:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
You know, they were so young, Charlie Sabes, eran tan jóvenes, Charlie
They were your age Tenían tu edad
It’s hard when that happens so far away Es algo muy duro cuando eso pasa tan lejos
Because with the noises and the shooting, they had to be scared Porque con las bombas y los disparos, debían de estar muy asustados
It’s hard to think that, right then, they needed their mother Es duro pensar que justo cuando necesitaban a su madre...

Table 1. Isochrony between length of English and Spanish sentences

As far as lip-synch is concerned, as we know, only labial consonants (including bilabials and labiodentals) and maybe open vowels are looked for in the translation, so that words containing these consonants and vowels replace their counterparts in the original version. Obviously, due to the systemic linguistic differences in a language pair, instead of looking for coined equivalents containing the same consonants – something that is not always possible – translators play with words, and change word order, so that labial consonants appear in the dubbing exactly in the same place where the onscreen actor utters them in the original language. These sentences also prove that lip-syncing is a priority in dubbing:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
I begged them but they wanted to go Su padre y yo les suplicamos
It’s hard when that happens so far away Es algo muy duro cuando eso pasa tan lejos
Because with the noises and the shooting, they had to be scared Porque con las bombas y los disparos, debían de estar muy asustados
It’s hard to think that, right then, they needed their mother Es duro pensar que justo cuando necesitaban a su madre...

Table 2. Lip-synch between labial consonants in English and Spanish sentences

The first example is proof of how creative a translator or a dialogue writer can be. The first bilabial, /b/, is substituted by another bilabial /p/, from “padre”, a word that is not in the original text. The translator, or the dialogue writer, has added this information (it is their mother who begged the twins not to go to the war), but it does not betray the meaning of what is explained in that sequence. Although it was the mother who told her twins not to go to the war, the translator, or the dialogue writer, prefers to say that both their father and mother did, simply because adding the word “father” (“padre”) provides a bilabial in the exact place where the English bilabial /b/ (in “begged”) was. At the same time, it is easy to check that labial consonants rotate, i.e. translators play with all bilabials (/m/ /b/ /p/) and labiodentals (/f/ /v/) to find a good option in the target text. Therefore, the word “far” is substituted by the word “pasa” (“happens”) at exactly the same place, just because “pasa” has a bilabial consonant. Or the verb “be” is substituted for the intensifier “muy” (“very”) for the same reason.

However, this is not usual in TV drama series, and especially in The West Wing, because, on the one hand, there are many (interior) shots against the light and also, close-ups, extreme close-ups and detailed shots of the lips are not the usual types of shots in this series. On the contrary, medium shots and knee-shots (Hollywood shots) are largely preferred. In these shots, lip-sync is not mandatory, and translators and dialogue writers only take isochrony into account, which still has to be complied with. But another striking characteristic of this TV series also reduces the importance of isochrony: most of the time characters talk while they walk. To keep the attention of the audience and to make the series more dynamic and less boring, directors have decided to use a kind of talk-and-go process through all the episodes. It means that the camera has to follow the actors and actresses while they walk, and it also implies that the camera cannot always focus on the characters’ mouths and faces. Therefore, isochrony is not always a constraint in the translation. Nevertheless, when it is, the result has been solved according to the canon, i.e. always matching translated sentences with the onscreen characters’ articulatory movements – as far as dialogues and silences are concerned.

3.2 Credible and realistic dialogue lines

The writing of credible and realistic dialogues, of speech naturalness (Romero-Fresco, 2009), emulating the oral registers of the target language, sometimes involves trespassing the limits of language usage, something which is also a desirable general objective in any translation (such as, for example, avoiding structural and lexical calques in the translation). Translation oscillates between two poles: its adequacy in relation to the source text and its acceptability in the target culture. In the case of translation for dubbing, another key to good dubbing quality is to ensure that the target language sounds realistic, credible, and natural; i.e., dialogues must sound natural in order not to take us away from the storyline. That is to say, the translation must be acceptable according to the canonical standards (norms) of an audiovisual text translated into the target language as far as dialogues and turn-taking are concerned. The aim of achieving the above mentioned suspension of disbelief, or the positive disposition of the audience to ignore the limitations of the medium, must be attained by using an oral register that can be defined as false spontaneous, prefabricated speech (Chaume, 2012; Taylor, 1998). This is not only an issue in dubbing and subtitling; in film production one of the most widespread criticisms of some films is the artificiality of their dialogues.

In our episode, we can easily agree with the idea that target dialogues are credible and natural. There are some good excerpts of register matching and natural short sentences:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
I mean it Va en serio
No, man No, tío
Sure Claro
Sam was a reluctant accomplice Sam lo ha hecho a regañadientes

Table 3. Examples of natural dialogues in Spanish (colloquial register)

Even with high registers, when needed:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
the least embarrassment and turmoil el menor bochorno y alboroto
your absence in the other room is conspicuous su ausencia […] empieza a notarse

Table 4. Examples of natural dialogues in Spanish (formal registers)

These examples show how the translator and the dialogue writer know how to emulate oral discourse: when needed, they substitute colloquial words and phrases for colloquial words and phrases in Spanish (va en serio; no, tío are really good examples of colloquial register in Spanish). But when needed, they can also imitate cultivated registers too, with words that belong to high registers in Spanish, or even to written discourse, like bochorno y alboroto. These words would not sound natural in colloquial exchanges – as turmoil does not either in English – but they do sound appropriate in this situation, both because the situation requires them and because they are equivalents to the English term in terms of register.

There are, however, examples of register mismatching as well:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
I’ve got a crush on you (colloquial) porque me gustas (standard)
dial it down (colloquial) suavices (formal)
a hooker (slang) una puta (taboo)

Table 5. Examples of register mismatching

Whereas the two first examples show a lower register in English (crush and dial down, compared to gustas and suavices respectively), the third one shows a taboo word in Spanish (puta), where the English used a slang word (hooker). Maybe unintentionally, this can balance the final result in terms of tenor of discourse.

Nevertheless, one can also find examples of calques throughout the episode. Some of them are listed in the following table:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
How about a big “Good Morning, Mr. President” when he comes in? ¿Qué tal un gran “Buenos días, Sr. Presidente” cuando entre en la sala?
That sounded weak to me Eso me ha parecido muy suave (instead of eso suena muy bajito)
It’s hard when that happens so far away Es algo muy duro cuando eso pasa tan lejos
You a veteran? ¿Es usted un veterano?
I’m gonna ignore your list Voy a ignorar tu lista
I should get dressed now Ahora tengo que vestirme
Oh, jeez! ¡Oh, vaya!

Table 6. Examples of syntactic and lexical calques

These examples show phrases and sentences that sound awkward in Spanish. The use of articles where they are not needed (un veterano), the syntactic calques, which can be understood, but are totally unnatural in the target language (ahora tengo que vestirme for simply voy a vestirme; es algo tan duro cuando eso pasa lejos for es más duro cuando encima pasa lejosQué tal un gran “Buenos días, Sr. Presidente” cuando entre en la sala instead of Le podéis decir: “Buenos días, Sr. Presidente” cuando entre en la sala), the lexical calques (ignorar, suave) remind the analyst of the fact that this is a dubbing, and dubbing (and translation in general) unavoidably permits the original language to meld with the target language. It is part of translation itself, and only prescriptive eyes would condemn these calques. Obviously, teachers must teach how to write in their target languages without calques, and research can help us know what to avoid, but calques form part of this prefabricated discourse which is an inherent part of dubbing (and of translation in general), and those who know what professional practice is like, also know that this will always happen. And, in fact, it is part of the discourse of dubbing, part of the so-called dubbese, which perhaps is also unconsciously expected in the audience’s minds, or at least, well tolerated when watching a foreign film.

Therefore, prefabricated orality is common to most original and dubbed audiovisual programmes based on a script that is to be interpreted as if it had not been written, especially fictional texts. In the case of dubbing, this prefabricated orality has been termed with the neologism mentioned above: dubbese. The omnipresent dubbese is notorious in this translation as well. Despite the dialogue writer’s skills to avoid a clumsy awkward text, the traces of the original dialogues in the foreign language can always be perceived in the translation.

Constraints on dubbing and subtitling at times involve sacrificing the grammatical correctness of target text dialogues. Hatim and Mason (1997:78-96) show that in subtitling, interpersonal meaning is usually lost: pragmatic meaning encapsulated in pronouns of address, question tags, phatic elements and hesitations, most of them semantically empty, are lost in translation. However, this need not be the case in dubbing, where there is more space to reproduce all interpersonal features. Few hesitations and false starts are appreciated, as happens in the original version, but phatic elements are abundant:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
Did he? (phatic elements) ¿Ah, sí?
Sure Claro
All right? ¿Vale?
Really? ¿De verdad?
You know Ya sabe
It’s a gold fish. Isn’t it? (tag questions) ¿A que sí?
Toby (vocatives) Toby
C.J. C.J.
I’m just saying... (hesitations) Solo estoy diciendo que...
I tried not... Intentaba que no...
I have no way of... No tengo manera de...
I was... Estaba...
You don’t... you don’t know me (repetition) Usted... usted no me conoce

Table 7. Rendering of interpersonal meaning

3.3 Coherence between images and words

It seems obvious that there should be coherence between what is heard and what is seen, i.e., between words and images, and likewise, between the plot, on the one hand, and the dialogues, on the other. This means that the target text should be coherent not only from the semantic, but also from the iconographic, or visual, point of view. By keeping the network of conceptual relations in our text, we can guarantee both loyalty to the content of the source text, and an overall understanding of the target text. Dubbed dialogues may be incoherent not only from a linguistic or semantic perspective, but also from an iconic viewpoint. Remael (2000), Díaz Cintas (2003), and Chaume (2004, 2012) present numerous illustrations of how this coherence is threatened by the constraints at work in dubbing and subtitling.

The translator takes the image into account not only as an analogous component that constrains the translation process, but also as an aid to resolving these very restrictions (Martínez Sierra 2008, 2009). Reduction in subtitling and synchronization in dubbing may force the translator to compromise the degree of cohesion in the target text.

Icons are easily identified in this episode (the American flag, the statues dedicated to soldiers, the tombstones, for example), and others are explained even in the source text (the goldfish, the crackers). Titles and captions are also signs belonging to the linguistic code, but conveyed through the visual channel. Whereas linguistic signs transmitted through the acoustic channel are usually dubbed, linguistic signs transmitted through the visual channel tend to be read aloud, at the same time as the title is shown on screen. This is the norm in Spain. Following the norm, titles and captions in the series are read aloud in all cases:

English Version (captions, not read aloud) Spanish Dubbed Version (read aloud)
In Excelsis Deo In Excelsis Deo (read aloud in Latin)
Thursday December 23, 7.30 a.m. Jueves, 23 de diciembre, 7:30 de la mañana
The West Wing El Ala Oeste de la Casa Blanca

Table 8. Titles and captions



Image 1. Titles and captions

The translation of the series title might seem striking: The West Wing should be translated by El Ala Oeste, but most probably the distributor felt that this would mean nothing to the Spanish audience and decided to add an explicitation, i.e. de la Casa Blanca (literally, of the White House). This is another example of the domesticating process so typical of dubbing and videogames. The words in Latin, [Gloria] In Excelsis Deo, that is, Glory to God in the highest, is the title and beginning of a hymn known also as the Greater Doxology, and according to the Roman Catholic Church, these were the words that the angels used to announce Jesus Christ’s birth to the shepherds. Since this is Latin (closer to Spanish) and belongs to the Christian tradition, translators appropriately decided to keep it in Latin.

Diegetic linguistic signs, i.e. notices belonging to the story, are not read aloud. The following example shows a notice indicating where the action takes place inside the cemetery, and has not been translated:


Image 2. Diegetic notices

3.4 A loyal translation

Loyalty or fidelity to the source text is a concept challenged in some academic circles today, since the cultural turn has shown that ideology can shape the source text meaning and that the hidden or explicit agenda of the market, institutions, agents involved or even the audience, can completely turn a source product into a totally new one in the target language (Vidal Claramonte, 2009; Richart, 2012). Loyalty, however, is usually understood as fidelity to content, form, function, source text effect, or all or any one of the aforementioned, depending on the job in hand (Nord 2014). It is an a priori standard of quality of any audiovisual translation – and of any translation – since consuming the same text in the target language and culture is something taken for granted when consuming a translation. The concepts of loyalty (Nord 1991) and fidelity (Hurtado 1990; Munday 2001) have a long tradition in translation theory. The shift in interest from the source text to the target culture as a reference point in translation assessment has meant that the notion of fidelity has lost ground in the theoretical arena of the discipline, or rather, it is understood as fidelity to the norms governing the target system. However, in general terms, the viewer expects to see the same film that the audience sees in the source language; in other words, that the true story be told in terms of content, and on most occasions, of form, function and effect – and with no censorship.

Interestingly, thresholds of acceptability can once again be noticed in certain settings which would be considered intolerable in others. While the spectator would not consent to changes in the plot and content of an audiovisual work, changes in other areas would be tolerated. These include:

  • acceptance of linguistic censorship and self-censorship – practised to a greater or lesser extent by most television stations and dubbing and subtitling companies, as well as by translators themselves
  • mismatched registers – translations that, because of the inclusion of lexical and structural calques from the source language, sound nowhere near idiomatic; these are particularly overbearing in teen pics and TV series
  • the astonishing changes to some film titles
  • and even the semiotic distortions caused by the use in the translation of certain characteristic features of the target culture (over adaptation) in a typically foreign atmosphere and place.

Since, as has been stated above, drama series have more or less the same status as art films, censorship is not foreseeable in the translation, and over adaptation is not recommended either. A very good example of this foreignising trend, i.e. of rejecting over adaptation, is found when the translator preferred “Santa Claus”, to translate the name Santa, instead of the more local Papá Noel, the most preferred term to refer to Father Christmas in Spanish:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
Who’s playing Santa? Santa Claus (instead of Papá Noel)
Purple Heart (type of medal) Corazón Púrpura (type of medal)

Table 9. Examples of foreignising translation in cultural references

Nonetheless, the general trend in the series seems to localise as many cultural references as possible. In that sense, we can find two different translation solutions in the target text: either finding an explicitation of the reference, or substituting the reference for a local one. These two possibilities are shown in the following examples:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version (explicitation of CR)
Yeah, because of the northeasterly wind off the Chesapeake El viento del noroeste de la bahía
Moroccan spine Tapas de cuero de color marrón
Keystone Kops  (incompetent fictional policemen, featured in silent film comedies) Detectives de pacotilla
They hang around Capitol and P Normalmente suelen estar por la zona norte
Did you know that the recordings of “Feliz Navidad” outsold the recordings of “Merry Christmas”? ¿Sabes que los villancicos en castellano se venden más que los ingleses?


English Version Spanish Dubbed Version (localisation of CR)
The IRS works for me Hacienda trabaja para mí
Little Drummer Boy Cantan el tamborilero

Table 10. Examples of domesticating translation in cultural references

Since reception studies are scarce in audiovisual translation, we still do not know which thresholds of acceptability audiences tolerate, and which they reject. Here perhaps, the reviled concept of audiovisual genre has its raison d’être and will be seen as a useful parameter in defining this threshold: certain audiovisual genres allow what would never be acceptable in others – over adaptation can be found in cartoons more frequently than in TV drama series, lip-synch can be overlooked in cartoons but not so often in TV drama series, etc.

Temperatures are also adapted (83 degrees Fahrenheit has been translated as 28 grados). And the books that the president is browsing in the shop are also translated:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version (localisation of CR)
The Fables of Phaedrus Las Fábulas de Fedrus (though it is Fedro in Spanish)
The Nature of Things La Naturaleza de las Cosas

Table 11. Examples of intertextual references

One can also notice that the titles of the books are mistranslated. The first one, The Fables of Phaedrus, has been translated as Las Fábulas de Fedrus, but the famous classical writer is known as Fedro in Spanish. The second one has a mistake both in English and in Spanish, since the actual name of the book is On the Nature of Things (Sobre la naturaleza de las cosas). These books are only known by people having a classical background, and perhaps both the scriptwriters (and directors) and the translators (or dialogue writers) did not do a thorough research of the names of these books in English and Spanish.

In conclusion, most cultural references are either explained – using a hyperonym or broader term – or they are localised, domesticated, using the equivalent reference in Spanish. Even the term Santa Claus, although sounding foreign, is quite well known and widespread in the target culture.

Mismatched registers have been dealt with above (see 3.2.). But in this section it is mandatory to include mistranslations too. There are just very few of them, something which means that the translation and ulterior dialogue writing has been done carefully:

English Version Spanish Dubbed Version
I guess there were no enough beds for Walter No había ninguna cama para Walter (he takes it for granted)
A crime is a crime Un crimen es un crimen (instead of delito, falta)
President of America Presidente de América (instead of Estados Unidos, but this mistranslation is usual in Spanish, though)
I need to know if she would divulge the name or names of any influential Republican members of Congress… Necesito saber si divulgaría (instead of revelaría, filtraría) los nombres de miembros Republicanos influyentes del Congreso…

Table 12. Examples of translation errors

3.5 Clear sound quality

Other factors fall outside the control of the translator, the dialogue writer and even the dubbing director. The recording and mixing of the translated dialogues put down by the dubbing actors and actresses also seek to achieve a realistic effect and to fulfil the technical and acoustic conventions that characterize the activity of dubbing, which has become conventional over the years. In the case of a TV drama series like The West Wing, and in the case of Spanish dubbing this means that:

  • dialogues from the original version are never heard, not even in the case of a specific paralinguistic feature, such as a cough (when this happens, the spectator notices and is distracted from the film);
  • dialogues were recorded in soundproof studios (as with the source text dialogues, in a process known as editing or post-synchronization), so their acoustic quality is extremely good, which enables the dialogues to be appropriately received; notably, there is always an absence of noise and interferences in the final recording, so that the sound that reaches the viewer is as clear as possible;
  • the volume of the voices is also higher than in normal speech, to facilitate greater comprehension, i.e., there is always a fairly high volume and clear voices with tight articulation;
  • certain sound effects such as reverberation are used in cases in which the characters have their backs to the camera or are at a distance, to create the effect of a slight echo, etc.

The viewer has been conditioned to accept that s/he is watching a film and that in general, s/he will be listening to voices in stereo and with a clarity alien to real-life situations. Even when characters walk off towards the horizon, we can still hear their voices perfectly and understand what they say. We may be shown a completely dark room at the White House, for instance, but the cinematographic illusion has reached the point where, to a great extent, it is accepted that we are able to distinguish the facial features of all characters in the room, and even see their gestures. There are plenty of examples in this series.

When we enter the cinema, we know that what we are going to see/hear is not exactly real, but rather the language of film, with its grammatical rules and its own particular logic (the aforementioned suspension of disbelief). Clear sound quality is part of this.

3.6 Acting

The performance and dramatization of the dialogues is also beyond the control of the translator and the dialogue writer, although the dubbing director and the voice talents have their say in that phase. Conventionally, dubbing actors and actresses – voice talents – are required to perform in such a way that they sound neither faked (overacted) nor monotonous (underacted). Overacting is without a doubt one of the factors that also cause the viewer to cross this tolerance threshold referred to previously in this article. Voice talents, in their enthusiasm to dramatize the target text dialogues, or perhaps also because of their origins and training in the theatre, sometimes emphasize intonations and pronunciations to such an extent that if we hear a conversation from any big screen or television film, without knowing where the sound is coming from, we immediately know that they are cinema or television dialogues, and not real conversation. Whitman-Linsen explains:

[...] role interpretations are overdone, over dramatic, overladen with emotion. The voices sound phony and theatrical and out of keeping with body expression. Everyday conversations are enacted as if they were dealing with tragic deaths of family members and the outbreak of atomic wars. People just do not speak like dubbers seem to imagine they do. Whether aimed at over- or underacting, the criticism is often justified (Whitman-Linsen 1992:47, my emphasis).

Neither overacting nor underacting is the case in The West Wing. Dramatization is done in a very professional way, which is particularly common in drama series and art films. An adequate performance is more easily achievable by ensuring the oral register is realistic in the dialogues. Indeed, the ultimate aim of dubbing is to create a believable final product that seems real, that tricks us as viewers into thinking we are witnessing a credible story, with easily recognised characters and realistic voices. As voices in the industry state: “Good dubbing today looks like the story was recorded in the language you hear” (Wright and Lallo 2009: 219).

The rendering of phonetic performance is impeccable, as occurs with dubbing in general – although in this case, the original does not allow itself features of colloquial pronunciation either.

One striking feature of Spanish dubbing (and of dubbing, in general), is that foreign names are hispanized, as far as phonetics is concerned. Thus, English phonemes which do not exist in Spanish are substituted by Spanish phonemes – sometimes allophones – resembling those phonemes. But the result is really astonishing, since what we hear is the typical Spanish pronunciation of English words. In this line, for example, New Hampshire is pronounced as /níu xampʃi/, and Andrew is pronounced /a:ndrju/, in a Spanish-like fashion.

This study shows an analysis of the quality of dubbing in just one episode of a mainstream American TV series dubbed into Spanish. Inevitably, a quality assessment always implies a subjective viewpoint. In order to avoid this, a qualitative analysis according to the episode’s adherence to a checklist of dubbing standards, compiled in Chaume (2012), but taken from some other authors (Whitman-Linsen, 1992, among others) and from personal experience in professional practice, has been carried out. This analysis can then be replicated.

In general terms, in this episode we are faced with a domesticating dubbing, which keeps some cultural references from the original culture, and which sounds awkward as far as dialogues are concerned sometimes, but which shows a perfect lip-synch, a canonical isochrony, many explicitations and even cultural adaptations to make the plot understood, a neat sound quality, magnificent acting, a loyal translation with very few and irrelevant errors, fresh dialogues and a high level of coherence between what we see and what we hear. In general terms, it corresponds to standard practice in Spain, but this dubbing particularly stands out for its superb acting, fresh dialogues and perfect isochrony, as seen in the analysis. A canonical outcome which can be – and is – considered as a high-quality dubbing according to Spanish dubbing standards.


Baños-Piñero, Rocío, and Frederic Chaume (2009) “Prefabricated Orality. A Challenge in Audiovisual Translation”, Intralinea. Online translation journal 6.

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Bucaria, Chiara (2007) “Humour and other catastrophes: dealing with the translation of mixed-genre TV series”, Linguistica Antverpiensia, 6: 235-254.

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Fodor, István (1976) Film Dubbing: Phonetic, Semiotic, Esthetic and Psychological Aspects, Hamburg, Helmut Buske.

Fuentes Luque, Adrián (1997/8) “La traducción de los títulos de películas y series de televisión”, Sendebar 8/9: 107-114.

Hatim, Basil, and Ian Mason (1997) The Translator as Communicator, London, Routledge.

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A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (Sally Ann Salsano, Riley McCormick, 2007–2008)

Lost (J.J. AbramsJeffrey LieberDamon Lindelof, 2004–2010)

Man vs. Food (Dan Kornfeld and Tony Biancosino, 2008–)

Modern Family (Steven LevitanChristopher Lloyd, 2009–)

The Mentalist (Bruno Heller, 2008–2015)

The Sopranos (David Chase, 1999–2007)

The Office (Greg DanielsRicky GervaisStephen Merchant, 2005–2013)

The West Wing (Aaron Sorkin, 1999–2006)

Audio Describing the TV series The West Wing

Towards a Coherent Practice

By Pilar Orero (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords

The exercise of audio describing The West Wing offers excellent opportunities to reflect on the accessibility of TV drama series. This genre has great popular acceptance, financial success, and though it belongs to the much maligned popular TV media, has conquered art and film critics as a quality multimedia production. This success has not been matched with the minimum accessibility requirements. The West Wing to mention one -but we could list recent hits such as The Office, The Sopranos, Mad Men, or Lost- is not accessible to the visually impaired. A new horizon opens with NETFLIX new accessibility policy with 100% subtitling and starting to offer audio description in the two new series: Daredevil and Grace and Frankie. TV series have suffered the same fate throughout academia with little research interest, and particularly in Audiovisual Translation: only four studies (Bucaria 2007, Fuentes Luque 1997/8, Herbst 1994, Zhao 2002) have been found to deal with TV series in the free access Bibliography of Translation Studies BITRA[1]. This article was part of a brilliant publication idea by Christopher Taylor. Based on the same audiovisual input -- the Christmas special episode In Excelsis Deo from The West Wing (1999) – many audiovisual methodologies were studied. This contribution focuses on the audio description of TV series in general, and with examples mainly from the abovementioned The West Wing episode. It looks at issues such as: continuity, location, time, characters, emotions, sound, AD function and strategies. [2]

Keywords: audio description, narrative, characters, location, collocation

©inTRAlinea & Pilar Orero (2016).
"Audio Describing the TV series The West Wing"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2193

1. Accessibilty of TV Drama Series

TV drama series is nowadays associated with quality production and financial performance. TV series share shelves in video clubs alongside art house movies. Gifted scriptwriters, directors and actors are now proud of taking part of a genre which was until recently considered as only light entertainment (Monaco 1977:557). Series which have become a commercial success, as is the case of The Sopranos, enjoy a high recognition amongst critics, and have won numerous awards. Some films have been the departing point for TV series, such as M*A*S*H (Altman 1970), The Godfather (Coppola 1972) or Goodfellas (Scorsese 1990) and vice versa, as is the case for Dr Who with two films Dr Who and the Daleks (Flemyng 1965) and the sequel Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (Flemyng 1966).  This new quality status for TV productions has led to a profitable system of distribution, with the possibility of watching episodes through IPTV (broadband), TV (broadcast) or DVD. International success has also meant a direct impact on media accessibility i.e. language accessibility, if we consider that subtitling is a palliative technique that allows those who have no access to media for language reasons. A good example is that from the TV series Lost (2004-2010), where the final episode was broadcast simultaneously in US and Spain. There was a thirty minute delay in the signal for Spain, to allow for the creation of subtitles. Subtitles translated into Spanish were broadcast live with a considerable time delay, often with omissions. There was an instant complaint on social networks and subtitles received coverage in the national press, where quality issues were the subject of considerable criticism[3]. Interestingly, a new set of subtitles were produced and used for subsequent broadcasts of the programme.

The production of access services to media content is far from being straight forward. Issues are related to the quality in the many translation approaches: dubbing, subtitling, voice-over or accessibility: real live subtitles by respeaking or audio description (AD). Time is also an important consideration. Finally, production and distribution also play a crucial role in the quality of the end product, with different versions of subtitles often produced for the same film or TV series, which vary in relation to the format which is distributed and commercialised: TV live, IPTV (both Video on Demand and Stream Video on Demand), podcast (Hassell 2009), DVD, Blu-ray or from any of the crowdsourcing possibilities such as fansub. In Spain for example, cinema subtitles and DVD subtitles for the same movie are produced by different companies, which leads to different results, the same situation is for audio description with ONCE producing their own closed service and public versions produced by commercial content providers. This situation is not unique in Spain. The Dr Who AD broadcast for TV by BBC was versioned for the DVD release, hence two slightly different ADs are now on offer. This fact should be taken into consideration when studying AD as what is presented in the DVD is not the same as what is broadcast on television, and ultimately not the responsibility of one single person: neither the translator, the audio describer or the voice artist. It is more likely that a team of people have been working in the production chain, and so target text should not be identified with an individual. This is more poignant when the mode of translation is that of revoicing. Dubbing, voice-over and audio description written target texts go through one further process; that of being read by professional voice-talents, who also will on many occasions adapt the text, producing many surprising changes which are often recorded in academic papers holding the translator as the culprit. 

2. The Audio Description of TV Drama Series

Many drama series are audio described, and it may be interesting to report on the work of the BBC a referent for media accessibility. At the time of writing this article, TV series Dr Who, How not to live your life, Doctors, Casualty, the soap opera EastEanders, sitcom series Gavin and Stacy and children’s series such as ChuckleVision or Horrible Histories have AD in real time via broadcast, but also via broadband (IPTV) with free access through the BBC webpage iplayer. Some of those audio descriptions are stored on the iplayer webpage[4], and audio descriptions are also released in in-house produced commercial DVDs. Technical requirements will mean a slight variation in the AD, such as that already mentioned for Dr Who. In some cases, such as the costume drama series Jane Eyre (White, 2006), there was AD in all the episodes broadcast, but on only two episodes on the DVD. Lack of homogeneity in the presentation, availability and the way to tagg accessible services on offer are some issues, and one of the objectives of the EU project Hbb4All (http://www.hbb4all.eu)[5] which has been pointed at in many publications (Matamala and Orero 2011, Remael et al 2014). Technology may come to the rescue here. Consuming audiovisual media trough streming has grown both in subscribers and pirates alike, for films and TV series. This is being driven by the broader trends of media consumption over the Internet, increasing broadband penetration, higher download speeds and growth in connected devices[6]. The unification of services under one platform has many advantages, such as offering multiple languages, and also 

The feature which differentiates the AD of TV series from that of film or theatre is continuity. Series are a part of a whole and often ongoing work, while films are self contained and finished – even in sequels. The fact that a production team is behind the whole series, and its potential implication in accessibility, could present the first opportunity for a coherent approach to audio description, rather than the casual approach which is nowadays the norm. Looking at the different narrative units in the episode could offer possible approaches to be considered when audio describing a series.

3. Structure of the episode In Excelsis Deo

One obvious difference for the practical audio description of TV series, compared to that of films, is that series have a different structure from that of a film, and even formal aspects such as credits have a different function (Matamala and Orero 2011, Matamala 2014).

Episodes are dependent units which form a season, which in turn are part of a series, and they have a formal structure which should be understood when considering possible audio description approaches. The drama TV series is organised in the following units: series credits, re-cap, opening credits, three acts, end of episode, final credits and distributor and producing logos. In this section the visual text of each unit is analysed with some general comments regarding audio description.

3.1 Series credits

The episode begins with a sequence, common to all episodes, where an opaque US flag allows for some sunrays to shine and reveal the view of the west wing of the White House, in Washington DC, US. The title at the bottom of the screen reads THE WEST WING.


Sequence 1. Three frames from the opening credits in sequential order

Since this opening is common to all the episodes, it should have a standard AD formula which is repeated for each episode. During this short sequence the theme music can be heard, allowing for audio description to be read on top of the music.

3.2 Re-cap

The frames from Sequence 1 are followed by the re-cap where one can hear spoken: “Previously on the West Wing.” This leaves no time to include any extra information in the form of audio description, though as will be seen in section 4.1 other strategies such as compensation could be adopted. The re cap for this episode contains the following dialogue exchanges:


Sequence 2. Danny walks into J.C. office carrying a goldfish bowl

The dialogue is as follows

C.J. What are you holding?
Danny Josh said you liked goldfish
C.J. The crackers Danny. The cheese things that you have in a party

Sequence 3. Sam and a high-class prostitute are sitting in a dinner

Sam You got a thing tonight – a date?
Prostitute He calls me, he tells me what to wear, the rest of it’s a big surprise.
Sam I’m just saying, your night job stinks. (Fine) And I’m taking your sandwich

Sequence 4. Leo and the President are standing in the President’s office

Leo There’s going to be trouble
President Lillienfield?

Sequence 5. Josh and Leo are having an exchange

Josh You were maybe into something that wasn’t acceptable
Leo Pills
Josh Were you in treatment.
Leo Records kept by these facilities are confidential Josh.
Josh He’s got them

As the re-cap doesn’t provide any time for an audio description. If it is decided to offer the complementary visual information through audio description, compensation will be the only available strategy. These effect of dialogues, from five different scences, will act as an audio introduction Fryer and Romero (forthcoming) to the episode, and the user will rely on this information to follow the present episode.

3.3 Intertitles

The re-cap, formed by flashes of four selected excerpts, has the function of providing context for the development of this episode. It is followed by the following two frames.

Sequence 6. Two intertitle credits

There is a unanimous AD recommendation strategy: to read them aloud (Benecke & Dosch, 2004; Ofcom, 2006; Orero & Wharton, 2007; Puigdomènech, 2007; Remael, 2005; Snyder, 2006; UNE 153020, 2007, Vercauteren 2007). Then we move to a short sequence, before the actual opening credits and the start of the episode.

3.4 Opening scene

After the intertitles, music with bells can be heard as a means of presenting the festive context in which the episode takes place. It presents the main characters from West Wing and lays the building blocks of the two themes which will be fully developed in this episode: The two conflicting sides of the same theme: Christmas. The joy of meeting the loved ones versus the sadness from the loss of those who have died. This short interlude also has the function of creating suspense, with a police call requesting Toby for an interview.

Sequence 7. WestWing main characters in the Christmas decorated set

The re-cap provides the context for the episode within the rest of the series, and also the specific theme for the episode [i.e. Christmas].  

3.5 Opening credits

The same music and presentation style is shown as with the first credits -see sequence 1-  and is common to the whole series. The opaque US flag shows the eight main characters of the series.

Each character is presented in the same style: the picture of an actor is seen through the flag, followed by a still frame in black and white with the name of the actor. The credits finish with a picture of the eight characters sitting with the president.

Sequence 8. Opening credits for the series

This is followed by the rest of the credits rolling - five guests invited for this episode, the name of the creator, music composer, co-producer, and producer – which are shown over opening scenes; images of the Arlington Cemetery, one of the main plot locations of the episode.


Sequence 9. Opening credits for this episode

Issues such as when to read, how many to read, and how to read the credits are important considerations. There are many options: Read all, read some, or a selection of the credits. They can be read all together at the beginning (Orero 2011), or synchronised with when each character is presented. The choice will be settled as the style for the whole series. Special attention should be paid to the overall effect of mixing AD with the name of characters, to avoid cohesion problems (Braun 2007, 2008, and 2011, Taylor 2004). Audio description of credits should be decided for each product, since in some cases it is possible to read the titles synchronically, while in other cases it may produce confusion. An example will be the synchronic audio description of the first frame in Sequence 9:  “Paul Austin: a man pushes a wheelchair”. This may lead to believe that Paul Austin is the man pushing the wheelchair.

3.6 Three acts

After the opening credits the episode begins, and as such is marked in the dialogue list:


FADE IN: EXT. KOREAN WAR MEMORIAL – DAY  à  Early morning, we pan through the monuments, memorials, benches, and visitors. Toby approaches a police officer standing in front of a bench, where a man, covered with blankets, lies.

Table 1. Dialogue list for introduction of act 1

Two more acts follow with the following information


FADE IN: INT. HALLWAY – DAY à  Sam is standing in the hallway reading some papers, when C.J. rounds the corner and approaches. They talk on the way through the hallway to their offices.

Table 2. Dialogue list for introduction of act 2



Toby approaches a large group of homeless people in a soup line ran by volunteers. Toby is very uncomfortable and unsure of himself. He tries to get their attention.

Table 3. Dialogue list for introduction of act 3

Finally when the episode finishes we have the final information

The episode ends with a montage of juxtaposing shots of the military funeral For Walter Hufnagle and the activity in THE MURAL ROOM. Throughout, we can hear the boys' choir sing 'Little Drummer Boy.' The hearse arrives at ARLINGTON CEMETERY, SECTION 43. Toby, Mrs. Landingham, and George get out of the car. George is holding a bouquet of flowers. The honor guard carries the casket to the grave. They begin the ritual of folding the flag that covered the casket.
THE MURAL ROOM. Sam and C.J. join Mandy and Bartlet. Then, Charlie and Leo join.
ARLINGTON CEMETERY. The honor guard starts to shoot their rifles in salute. Toby flinches with the first shot. Mrs. Landingham with the second.
THE MURAL ROOM. Donna and Josh join the group.
ARLINGTON CEMETERY. The honor guard starts to hand the tightly folded flag to Toby who gestures uncomfortably to George, who is then presented with the flag. George gently places the flowers on the casket. They all stand to leave.
* * *

Having a dialogue list is of great help, since considerable information regarding where the action takes place, directions for the actors, and even descriptions of emotions are available. A dialogue list can also be helpful when focusing on the most prominent events, thus helping to select the most relevant information (Orero and Vilaró 2014).

Since the episode is clearly divided in three acts, this is also reflected in the video edition and montage, hence there is time before each act to read the information on offer in the dialogue list, and perhaps add more, as if it was an audio introduction. Special attention should be paid to the amount of information added and offered, and this is a question of further research. How much detail can be retained and memorised requires urgent attention, since there is little point in filling in all the available space which may provide further information of little value, and provoke fatigue in the viewer (Orero 2011). This is a poignant issue in West Wing, since dialogue exchange is very dynamic and rich information relating to the plot. It contains puns and clever remarks, and therefore one AD approach could be to offer very simple and basic information to avoid unnecessarily tiring the viewer.

4. Some further considerations when audio describing In Excelsis Deo

Looking at existing guidelines on AD, as for example Bernd Benecke’s 2004 we find specific comments regarding TV series:

Translation: "Films with a lot of dialogue, especially TV series, may lead to an exception (...from the rule that you do not infere with the dialogue). It is often impossible to give all the necessary information in the few and then mostly short gaps, in particular if you want to give some extra information about the look of the characters. In such cases we decided to select dialogues that appear to be less important and overlay them with the description. Of course this must happen always warily and with a lot of respect for the film. Technically this is only possible with TV (and DVD) programmes where you do a mixing of soundtrack and description. You can't do it with live-events[7]. (Benecke 2004)

Joel Snyder[8] also offered the following solution to the problems posed by series, and their high dependency in previous descriptions, and information.

i.e., a website that offers the “basics” and can be accessed at any time, even during a show.  It would serve the same function as pre-show notes prior to a live performance:  providing detailed description for which there’d be no opportunity to provide during the showing/weaving it in and around the original soundtrack.  On a DVD, the enhanced description material    could be keyed to certain elements ala a phrase or image that’s “hyperlinked” to additional material.

Louise Fryer (2016) in her recent book comments on TV series and the challenge posed by keeping up a global coherence in a long running AVT product saying “The potential prob­lems become heightened with other genres such as series and serials, whether for TV or for films that elapse over a longer time span or a larger number of episodes.” (Fryer 2016: 113)

Still more localised problems can be found in this episode which should be taken into account before embarking on a definite audio description approach, which could be applied for the whole series. In this section we conduct a detailed study of the key questions when drafting an audio description (Vercauteren 2007).

4.1 Continuity

The re cap is one of the basic features of the TV series. It offers key information regarding running themes and gives context to the overall plot. It also serves as a reminder of the characters and their relationships. The re-cap in West Wing offers four glimpses from the previous episode. The audiovisual text offers a fast dialogue in couples:

  • CJ and Danny,
  • Sam with a prostitute,
  • Leo and the President, and finally
  • Leo with Josh.

The four dialogues make reference to the two leading stories, which will be developed further in this episode:

1- The possible romantic relationship between C.J. and the reporter Danny Concannon.

2- Congressman Peter Lillianfield’s accusation of drug abuse by staff in West Wing. This leads Josh to think of Leo McGarry's history of drug and alcohol problems, and subsequent rehabilitation, and the certainty that it will soon be leaked and made public. 

According to the policy or guidelines adopted in the production team, this audiovisual context could have two different AD strategies:

a- Omission - With the effect that audience will be left with only one channel of information: listening to dialogues.

b- Compensation –  The explicit information regarding the two leading stories will be read later while the opening credits are rolling, since there is ample time to offer extra information.

4.2 Date and time

This section is linked to what Vercauteren (2007) defines as “when”. The action takes place over two days: the 23rd and 24th of December. This is clearly marked by the intertitles which, as already mentioned in section 3.3, should be read aloud.

Sequence 10. Intertitles indicating the day when action takes place.

During the two days marked by the intertitles, the action is developed in linear time. We begin in the morning on Thursday 23rd and the action has a logical development all the way to the last scene on Friday 24th December when Toby is at the cemetery and misses the Christmas singing by the tree with his work colleagues.

Sequence 11. While colleagues listen to the choir Toby is at the cemetery

The only distortion regarding time and events which poses an added challenge to the audio description is that of the re-cap, or the verbal references to previous events, these verbal flashbacks – prolepsis in narratological terms- are exclusively carried out through dialogues, hence theoretically posing no challenge. An example of a reference to the past is when Mrs Landingham narrates the story of her twin sons who died in the Korean War, reinforcing thus one of the sub-plots of the episode, and justifies her presence at Arlington cemetery in the last scene, along with Toby – see second frame in Sequence 11.

Nevertheless if there was any visual image which becomes a leitmotif in the series, or a key to further developments, it is advisable to call attention to it the first time it takes place, what has been called “anchoring” in order to be able to recall it efficiently in future episodes (Braun 2008, Vilaró & Orero 2012).

4.3 Location

This section is linked to what Vercauteren (2007, Remael & Vercauteren 2007 and 2012) defined as “where”. Action takes place and plot develops in the different rooms of the West Wing of the White House. The name of the rooms is provided by the dialogue list. Other locations are:

  • the flat where the prostitute lives,
  • a bookshop
  • the homeless center and the suburb of Washington where Toby goes to look for Walter Hufnagle’s brother,
  • and the Arlington Cemetery section 74.

All the locations are clearly marked in the dialogue list, making very easy to offer the correct name of place. A further consideration will be to add details regarding Arlington Cemetery, with the life-size human figures dotted along the park, in full field uniform. While this may be a common sight for the US audience, it may need to be explicitated when translated.

In some instances, such as the final scene at the cemetery in Image 1, there is the following object which should be considered for AD purposes as written information, and read aloud, as the case with intertitles in section 3.2.

Image 1. Image indicating precise location where action takes place

4. 5 Emotions

The audio description of this episode offers little challenge, given the fact we count with the invaluable information provided in the dialogue list. In some cases the information on offer beyond the transcription provides more than direct references to identifying the speaker, or where the action takes place, and it also chooses the most relevant information when a series of options are on offer. This is the case for the last scene of the episode, where three issues are shown by the visual narrative: staff gathering round the Christmas tree to sing carols, the choir singing, and the burial protocol at the cemetery. We can read the following info in the dialogue list:

The episode ends with a montage of juxtaposing shots of the military funeral for Walter Hufnagle and the activity in THE MURAL ROOM. Throughout, we can hear the boys' choir sing 'Little Drummer Boy.' The hearse arrives at ARLINGTON CEMETERY, SECTION 43. Toby, Mrs. Landingham, and George get out of the car. George is holding a bouquet of flowers. The honor guard carries the casket to the grave. They begin the ritual of folding the flag that covered the casket

But beyond this information, many more issues are at stake, and many details can be additionally offered as there is no time restriction. A literal description of the military funeral protocol is on offer in the dialogue list, but the sheer number of white stone graves dotted across the green lawn could be included, describing the dazzling contrast of colours that is created. The number of white tombstones and its implication has an impact giving rise to emotions. These are provoked further by the intended contrast of the desolated scene at the burial ceremony with the audio–track of members of staff at West Wing singing merrily by the tree, the Christmas carols representing the spirit and security they feel. Antagonistic images are shown in Sequences 11 and 12 with a clear parallelism between the two rows of people standing in Sequence 11. This final sequence has been edited to create an impact on the viewer and it should be taken into consideration when drafting the audio description. While audio description tends to stay at a literal level, that is describing what meets the eye, in this case the symbolic function should be described (Orero 2012, Davila and Orero 2014).

The dignity shown by Walter Hufnagle’s brother, George, during the ceremony is also startling. He has been previously described in the dialogues as “…a little slow. I mean, he's all right and everything. He's just a little slow” and is homeless “dozens of homeless people are huddled around fires trying to keep warm. He approaches an older man, GEORGE HUFNAGLE. Like others, George is sitting by a fire”. Given this background George’s behaviour through the ceremony is impeccable, and perhaps this should be commented in the audio description (Mazur 2014).

Sequence 12. Burial protocol at Arlington cemetery

While reading visual narrative is acceptable in audio description beyond mere description, we can for this series rely in the information regarding emotions and facial gestures offered in the dialogue list.

4. 6 Characters

Continuity is one of the major defining features of the genre. It has a direct impact on the audio description and character building within the narrative. And as argued by Monaco (1977: 541):

Television has an advantage in building character over every other narrative medium, except for the novel saga. This is also why television is not so much a medium of stories as of moods and atmosphere. We tune in not to find out what is happening ( for generally the same thing is always hapenning), but to spend time with the characters.

Characters are responsible for the development of the plot, hence special attention should be paid to the description of their depth and trait changes from episode to episode. As already mentioned previously, this series relies heavily on its dialogue, which offers a vast array of information beyond the plot. We learn for example of Leo’s personality and generosity from the exchange between Josh and Donna:

If one of us was in trouble, he [Leo] would be the first person to-

And later between Josh and Sam

We owe Leo everything. I mean everything.

Beyond dialogue, as previously mentioned, we can also conduct some visual narrative reading of images which reveal character traits. The audio description can be developed further by adding extra information. For example, Toby offers insights into his personality as we see more than the extra comments underlined in the dialogue list:

The honor guard starts to shoot their rifles in salute. Toby flinches with the first shot. Mrs. Landingham with the second.
ARLINGTON CEMETERY. The honor guard starts to hand the tightly folded flag to Toby who gestures uncomfortably to George, who is then presented with the flag. George gently places the flowers on the casket. They all stand to leave.

But at the risk of being accused of interpreting, we could also read the following four frames where in the first, Toby helps George Hufnagle’s brother to get out of the car, showing care and compassion. In the second Toby takes a tear from his cheek. The third frame shows Toby’s concern for George Hufnagle, since he is going to be presented with the flag and may not know what to do, and Toby doesn’t know how he will react. The last frame is a still of a series where Toby looks at what the other two men are doing, and raises his hand to his heart, but this action is perform with insecurity and indecision. 

Frames 1, 2, 3 & 4 where we can see extra character traits for Toby.

As already mentioned in the previous section, we could also offer character traits for George Hufnagle beyond the fact he is homeless man and has some learning difficulties, which is all we learn from the dialogues. Audio describing characters is one of the thorniest and most interesting issues in audio description (Ballester 2006, Fresno 2012, Orero 2011, Vercauteren and Orero 2013, Benecke 2014) and though at this stage we have raised some possible strategies for  audio description, much is still to be learnt regarding memory, number of adjectives and order, and saturation of information, to mention a few topics.   

4. 7 Sound   

Most definitions of audio description remain at the level of rendering missing visual information. Given the fact that the audiovisual text is multimodal and multisemiotic

there is a coherence between the visual and the auditory channels. Some articles have been published on this issue (Igareda 2012, Remael 2012, Szarkowska and Orero 2014) and clearly there is an instance in this episode that clearly illustrates the need for an audio description of some sounds, it also raises the issue of the need to preserve silence as an important symbolic element (Orero, Maszerowska and Casacuberta 2016).

In the final scene at the Arlington cemetery, the guards, as part of the protocol, fire three times (see second frame in Sequence 12). This action is superimposed on the carol being sung by the choir. Moreover both Toby and Mrs Landhingham are shaken by the noise, as can be read in the dialogue list

ARLINGTON CEMETERY. The honor guard starts to shoot their rifles in salute. Toby flinches with the first shot. Mrs. Landingham with the second

And also seen in the following frames

Frames 5 & 6. Toby and Mrs Landingham are shaken by the shooting

Hence it is important to describe the sound before it can be heard in order to offer a context and an explanation. The shooting breaks the existing running sound, which is the peaceful and harmonic carol, with the resulting effect acting as a shattering contrast.

4. 8 Audio describing absence of information

As already mentioned in Section 3.3 there is general agreement regarding written information which appears on the screen: it should be read. This should be performed when we face the intertitles, titles, and even to point to the exact location where an action takes place, as shown previously in Frame 3.But in this episode there is a sequence which creates a problem, and that is the moment when Josh gives Donna his Christmas present: a book. She opens the book and reads the dedication written by Josh. The sequence in the dialogue list is as follows:


Okay. [Danny walks away as the camera moves to Donna, who is sitting at her desk opening her Christmas gift from Josh. He watches on as she reveals a book.]


"Heimlich Beckengruber on The Art and Artistry of Alpine Skiing."


It's got a molted calf cover and original drab boards.


I don't know what to say.


I wrote a note inside. [Donna opens the book and begins to read what Josh has written. She is obviously affected by his words.]


Donna, don't get emotional. Donna, don't get... You know, let's try and maintain some sort of... [He's looking around the bullpen embarrassed. Oblivious to his concerns of propriety, Donna closes the book, stands up, and approaches Josh.]


[tearfully] You see!? You spend most of our time being, you know, you. And then you write something like this to me. Thank you. [She pulls him into a tight hug. Josh, forgetting impropriety, hugs her back.]


I meant it.


Skis would have killed you?


[pulls back] Yeah.

While Josh himself in his dialogue offers an accurate audio description of the book he has given to Donna as an object: “It's got a molted calf cover and original drab boards,” he doesn’t reveal the content of the dedication. She opens the book and reads, but the screen does not shown what is written, see Frame 7.

Frame 7. Donna opens the book and reads a dedication, no close up is offered

The fact that a few seconds go by and there is no dedication to be read aloud, in this case – and exceptionally – the audio description should read the absence. That is “Donna opens the book and reads the dedication, though this is not offered on the screen” or something similar of this type. This is because there is a filmic convention (Perego 2014) of offering a close up of whatever is written. In this case the director has played with this, breaking the convention for the creating the effect of suspense. Donna seems shaken by the written words, but we have no access to them and neither do the visual impaired audience. Tension is released when she finally reads the dedication “Skis would have killed you”. This example returns to the reflection on the function of audio description and the many modalities of communication in the audiovisual text, and also its narratological structure and its symbolism (Fryer 2010, Kruger 2010).

5. Final remarks

The episode finishes with the final credits rolling, which offer the titles over the black screen. Again, how many credits should be read aloud, and how much information regarding the logos are decisions to be made by the broadcaster who will have signed the AD contract for its accessibility. How much time and detail is offered for the logos is also a matter of company policy. For example in frame 10 the Warner Bros logo should perhaps have the same AD as that on DVDs and cinemas, since it is the same logo. But as already mentioned at the beginning of this article, media accessibility can be defined best by its lack of homogenous treatment.

Frames 8, 9 & 10. Final credits

6. Translating audio description

This article has been written not taking into consideration the possibility of translating the audio description (Jankowska 2015). This interesting process (Orero 2007) is epigonic to the actual process of translation of the source text, be it by subtitling, dubbing or voice-over. For each case a different type of audio description will be adequate. In the first case audio subtitling, or audio subtitling with audio description (Braun & Orero 2010) will be the candidate. When the series is dubbed, audio description, as that described in this article, will be suitable. Special consideration should be paid to translating issues, such as localization and the different approaches to deal with reality (Matamala & Rami 2009, Maszerowska and Mangiron 2014). Finally when dealing with voice-over, Szarkowska (2011) proposes using speech technologies which is a very interesting possibility with added financial attractiveness and should not be dismissed. Audio description can be studied from many perspectives, all complementary, and studies dealing with audio description technologies related to film or TV genre should also be a part of the immediate research agenda.

Dialogue list availability offers the possibility of translating both the dialogues and the extra information added in brackets, which could be used as an audio description. A table has been created, where all the added information from the dialogue list, has been classified. The purpose of this classification is to have at a glance the type of information which is on offer. The resulting table offers the possibility of a comparative study on the nature of audio descriptions, and also to ascertain the AD textual type. It will be interesting to compare the different ADs created with or without dialogue list information, and its translations.

Looking at the list of dialogues there is a column of actions with the most entries, against emotions with the least. This perhaps reinforces Monaco’s (1977) comment regarding television as a medium where emotions are not fully developed:

Television is not only better equipped than most other media to deal with subtle development of character; it is also conversely poor equipped to succeed with other basic dramatic elements. Because it is much less intense than cinema (it gives us less visual and aural information), action and spectacle come off more poorly than in the movie or theatre. And because it is certainly less intimate than live theatre, It can’t deal as well with the high drama of ideas and emotions. (Monaco 1977: 542)

7. Conclusion

The article has presented the many common, formal features present in a drama TV series: the textual typology, narratological units, the organization and presentation of information, and also the different modes. A descriptive analysis of all the information available has paved the way for proposing different AD strategies which could be taken into consideration when embarking in the audio description for a series.

The article has not looked into the issue of the voice reading the audio description. This is poignant and not much information is offered by any academic publication. When dealing with the audio describer the role seems to stop when the script is created. Guidelines regarding voices used --sex, age, and variety -- are hard to come by. For TV series there are two possibilities, to extend the Ofcom (2015) recommendation for audiodescription of series to the delivery since using the same person, as recommended

“Ideally, the same people should be used to describe a series of programmes, both to ensure a consistent style (e.g. in terms of level of detail) and because the description forms a part of the programme for users” (Ofcom, 2015: PointA.34). In this case the same voice being used for a long period of time has the risk of becoming one more character. It also has the dubbing effect risk. When the voice used for describing a soap opera is used for another AVT product there is a instant transportation of one programme to the other, as is the case with East Enders  (2015) and The Great British Bakeoff (2015). Watching the latter with audio description had the instant association to East Enders as if the audio describer was a character from “the square” which had moved to “the tent”. The use of different voices may break with the association of a voice to a programme. Perhaps the same effect of dubbing countries may take place and audience gets use to the same voices as in Spain for example where Marlon Brando has the same voice as Cary Grant, Richard Harris and Tony Curtis.

Looking at the special issues, which are at present under research from different perspectives – characterisation, emotion, time, continuity, etc. – the article has finished with some reflection on the possible ways of tackling audio description, taking into account the source text and the many translation possibilities. The material presented shows the field of audio description, some of the many research avenues, and the urge to engage other academic fields in this research since there is much work to be taken on board before we can draw some meaningful conclusions and really useful guidelines.


[2] This research is supported by the grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation FFI2012-39056, the Catalan Government funds 2014SGR027, and also the EU Projects HBB4ALL # 621014 (www.hbb4all.eu) and ACT # 2015-1-ES01-KA203-015734 (www.actproject.eu).

[5] The same could be said about subtitles, and more poignantly for West Wing since they only have subtitles in the first 5 series, from series 6 only French and Spanish subtitles are on offer. No SDH subtitles were on offer in any of the series.

[7] "Sehr dialogreiche Filme, vor allem aber Fernsehserien führen dagegen zu einer Einschränkung. Es ist dort oft unmöglich, die notwendigen Informationen auf die wenigen und dann meist kurzen Dialogpausen zu beschränken, insbesondere, wenn auch noch ausführlichere Beschreibungen der Personen eingefügt werden sollen. In solchen Fällen haben wir entschieden, nicht unbedingt notwendige Dialogstellen auszuwählen und sie mit der Beschreibung zu übersprechen. Natürlich muss dies immer behutsam und mit viel Respekt vor dem Film geschehen. Technisch ist dies auch nur bei Fernsehausstrahlungen kein Problem, da ja eine völlig neue Mischung von Filmton plus Audio-Description gemacht wird. Bei Live-Vorführungen ist ein Übersprechen nicht möglich! [Benecke’s translation.]

[8] In a private communication July 2010.

Text of Many Colours: Subtitling The West Wing into Croatian

Subtitling The West Wing into Croatian

By Kristijan Nikolić (University of Zagreb)

Abstract & Keywords

This article deals with the subtitling of The West Wing in Croatia, showing the subtitler’s perspective of this process and exploring translating culture in subtitling. The process of subtitling is characterized by constraints, both temporal and spatial. While subtitling a fast-paced TV-series such as this one, the subtitler should keep in mind that viewers should be able to follow the programme, and s/he should adapt the subtitles accordingly. The audiovisual text used as a background for this paper is the 10th episode of the first season of “The West Wing” entitled “In Excelsis Deo”, which is ridden with instances of possible adaptation challenges. The article is based on an interview with the subtitler of “The West Wing”, which was broadcast by the Croatian public broadcaster (HRT), and on theoretical research or rendering culture in subtitling.

Keywords: subtitlers, Croatian TV, fast-paced TV series, culture, audiovisual translation

©inTRAlinea & Kristijan Nikolić (2016).
"Text of Many Colours: Subtitling The West Wing into Croatian"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2192

1. Introduction: the subtitler’s perspective

The TV series The West Wing (1999-2006) was broadcast by Croatian Radio and Television[1] almost simultaneously with its broadcasting in the United States and it had a large following among viewers. It was translated as Zapadno krilo, which is the correct Croatian translation of the part of the White House in which the US President’s office is located, as in the original title. To be able to better understand the issues behind the subtitling of this TV-series, I conducted an interview with Mr. Damir Štefotić, the subtitler who subtitled all seasons of this TV-series for the HRT, except for the last one. Mr. Štefotić has been working as a subtitler for 16 years and what follows is an interview conducted in May 2011:

Q1. What were the most complicated issues in the subtitling of this TV- series?

Answer: The TV-series is wonderful, among other things, because it is full of interesting and amusing dialogues, but it is also extremely fast-paced, which is a big problem in adapting it for subtitles. There were several problematic issues I encountered in the subtitling of this TV-series:

a) Fast-paced dialogue exchanges: a lot of text in a short time. All the characters talk a lot and they talk quickly, very often cutting one another off. It was sometimes difficult to decide what to include in the subtitle and what to leave out.

b) It is of the utmost importance to be well-equipped with knowledge of the American political system and the jargon the characters use (lots of acronyms; frequent references to various political and state institutions; references to committees and councils which usually do not have an equivalent in Croatia; references to politicians and NGOs which are not necessarily well-known outside the United States; the way the two-party system functions in the USA, etc.)

c) Even though this is a drama, and a TV-series that could be dubbed “serious”, there are many jokes, witticisms, proverbs and other culture-specific terms for which it was necessary to find suitable equivalents understandable to the viewers.

Q2. On a scale from 1 to 10, which mark would you give to the complexity of subtitling this TV-series and why?

Answer: Very complicated, 9. This has been perhaps the most complicated material I have ever subtitled. As I have already said: with a lot of text, it is difficult to decide what goes into subtitles and what not. Furthermore, the text is rather complicated and a subtitler has to conduct extensive research in books, dictionaries and on the Internet.

Q3. Which of the episodes of The West Wing was the most complicated to subtitle?

Answer: The first episode of the first season was the most difficult to subtitle. I had to get into the story and one should not forget that this episode was broadcast at a time before the Internet and Google. Not to mention the fact that old technology was used in subtitling at that time, as well as complicated subtitling software.

Q4. How did you decide which culture-specific terms to leave in the original and which to paraphrase or replace with a cultural equivalent more accessible for the Croatian viewer? Namely, on the basis of what were you choosing strategies while subtitling, on your intuition about what viewers might know or not know, or on something else? If so, what did you rely on?

Answer: It’s a good question. I often had to rely on my own intuition about what viewers might know, although I supposed that people who watched the TV series probably knew something about the subject matter. I think those curious, but not informed about the subject matter and not very interested in the goings-on at the White House, gave up following the TV-series after the first couple of episodes. I also sometimes talked to my colleagues-subtitlers about it, as well as with the fans of the TV-series, and that helped a bit in the decision-making process.

Q5. Did you know anything about the  target viewers? Did the HRT send you any feedback?

Answer: I didn’t get any feedback from the HRT, but from friends and acquaintances who watched the TV-series. It was allegedly very popular in the Croatian President’s office, at least that’s a rumour that reached me at some point. The TV series was definitely not easy to follow for an average viewer not particularly acquainted with the subject matter and there are no action scenes in it or spectacular scenery, which would attract a wider TV-audience.

2. Subtitling a fast paced TV series ridden with elements of culture

The issue of spatial and temporal limitations in subtitling is discussed in Ivarsson and Carroll’s seminal book on subtitling entitled Subtitling (1998).

Some people talk nineteen to the dozen with words tumbling out so fast that they manage to say in a few seconds three to four times as much as there is space for in the two subtitle lines below the picture. Just visualise an excited crowd and a cacophony of voices and the problems associated with them! In such cases the dialogue obviously has to be condensed, which means selecting what to translate and what to omit. These two processes are undoubtedly the most difficult elements of the art of subtitling (Ivarsson and Carroll 1998:85).

Since the publication of Subtitling, there has practically been no article or book written on subtitling that doesn’t mention this problem since it is indeed rather obvious. Díaz Cintas and Remael write about “total” and “partial reduction” in subtitling (2007:146). For them, “partial reduction is achieved through condensation and a more concise rendering of the ST. Total reduction is achieved through deletion or omission of lexical items” (ibid.).

In a TV series such as The West Wing this problem is even more evident since the subtitler is faced with a number of culturally specific terms, called ECRs, or extra-linguistic cultural references, by Pedersen (2007 and 2011), or ECs, elements of culture, (Nikolić, 2012). Pedersen’s classification was used in the analysis of the elements of culture extracted from In Excelsis Deo since it is considered comprehensive enough for the study of culture in subtitling. As we can see in section one of this paper, the Croatian subtitler mostly had to rely on his intuition, since there are very few surveys of viewers (Gambier 2003:184) on which a subtitler could rely, and that was the case when this TV series was subtitled into Croatian. However, when a subtitler relies on intuition, it is possible that their intuition may not meet the expectations and knowledge of the viewers. Intuition is a rather individual matter and may include aspects such as prejudice on the part of the subtitler. For instance, a subtitler may hold prejudice against his/her viewers and consider them rather ill informed about many cultural references present in the source text. This may lead to paraphrasing and explicitation in instances when that is unnecessary. On the other hand, a subtitler may think too highly of his/her TV viewers, and may expect them to be quite familiar with the elements of culture of the ST. Even if a subtitler knew that for instance 30% of the viewers of the tenth episode of the first season of The West Wing were familiar with most cultural references and 70% were not, the decision making process in subtitling would not be easy since there would be 30% of viewers who would possibly be unhappy with the choices made in translation. This leads us to the conclusion that the subtitler is doing his/her job wrongly, at least partly, at all times.

However, decisions have to be made in subtitling rather quickly and TV series must be subtitled for the target audience. When subtitling a TV series, a fact confirmed by Mr. Štefotić in section one of this paper, the most difficult episode is episode one when the subtitler has to shape the style and the register that will be used in subsequent episodes. Furthermore, the subtitler needs to “slow down” the fast-paced paced dialogue that is used in such a TV-series. Namely, the translation must fit into the country and client norms as regards the duration of subtitles. In the case of Croatia, the standard is 4-7 seconds for a two-liner, and 2-4 for a one-liner (Nikolić 2005). In the case of this TV series, a subtitler is faced with the same problem of guaranteeing the viewers consistency in following the programme. Consistency refers to using the same translation for an element of culture, for instance, throughout the TV-series, in all its episodes, which means that the subtitler has a difficult job when faced with an element of culture for the first time. Let us use the example of NSA, National Security Agency, which might have been mentioned for the first time in one of the episodes of The West Wing. The subtitler must decide whether to use the abbreviation the first time around, or perhaps to use the full form. If the full form is used, the question is whether to use the Croatian translation or the English original. While subtitling a TV-series such as The West Wing, the subtitler is constantly faced with such choices. Country norms are of course not invented just to make the subtitler’s life difficult, but to enable viewers to follow even the most dialogue-ridden programmes. Lack of consistency may be rather frustrating for the TV-audience, and one of the means of ensuring consistency is commissioning only one subtitler for the subtitling of a whole series, which is not always possible. As we can see in section one, this was the case at HRT with The West Wing in Croatia, excluding the last season. However, this practice is no longer pursued very often at commercial broadcasters, which usually give shorter deadlines and usually several subtitlers work on the subtitling of a TV-series. Communication among subtitlers, especially today when Internet and e-mail are standard methods of communication is not difficult and subtitlers can now, in 2016, work on one TV series more easily and effectively than during the subtitling of The West Wing. Notwithstanding this, subtitlers are pressed with short deadlines and that presents a rather serious obstacle for effective communication among subtitlers. Subtitlers may even manage to achieve consistency at the level of terminology, which is important in a TV series, but it is unlikely that they will achieve consistency at the level of style.

Lexical consistency is difficult to achieve in subtitling documentaries and other non-fictional programmes, since the subtitler must be careful in the process of reducing the amount of text in the translation. For instance if a subtitler omits the translation of the already mentioned NSA in the second minute of the documentary, faced with temporal and spatial restrictions, and the NSA is mentioned again in the 15th and 22nd minute of the documentary, they have to go back to minute two and include this element of culture in the translation, which is time-consuming. The West Wing contains many factual elements of culture, which may be, as in a documentary, mentioned throughout an episode or in more than one episode, while these factual elements of culture are intertwined with fictional dialogues and events. In such a “documentarial” TV-series, the subtitler is also faced with another challenge: distinguishing between fictional and non-fictional. This implies thorough checking and double-checking of all elements of culture, and words that look like elements of culture, but are actually fiction. An example of this issue of fiction that resembles fact is the American TV-series Alias (2001-2006) that was broadcast on HRT. The TV-series is entirely fictional, while it is at the same time full of elements of culture, such as locations and institutions, and potential elements of culture. The potential elements of culture are those that resemble the elements of culture, although they are actually a product of the scriptwriter’s imagination, and distinguishing between the two may be a subtitling challenge in some TV-series and films. For instance various abbreviations, that may be fictional or not, or names of associations and organizations. In the case of Alias, there were a number of organizations used in the script that actually do not exist.

Since the tenth episode of the first season of The West Wing entitled In Excelsis Deo, as well as all others, contains much more text than can be subtitled because of the already mentioned restrictions and country norms regarding the duration of subtitles, parts of the ST must be reduced, either “partially” or “totally” (Díaz Cintas and Remael 2007:146). Croatian subtitling country norms do not prescribe, i.e. limit, the number of speakers per subtitle and the subtitler may include as many dialogue exchanges as he/she wishes, unlike in some other countries where there may only be two speakers per subtitle, for instance in Scandinavian countries (Pedersen 2007:86). However, if all dialogue exchanges, especially the short ones, were included in the subtitle, the viewer would have difficulty in following the programme. Therefore, the easiest things to exclude are the short answers, such as “yes” or “no”. These may be totally reduced, as well as the number of speakers. If there are two speakers whose dialogue should be inserted into a two-liner of five seconds, and there are two more who only say “yes”, or “no” in those five seconds, which is frequent in In Excelsis Deo, the other two may also be totally reduced, excluded. But let us turn our attention to the elements of culture and their reduction and rendering in general in the tenth episode of The West Wing’s first season: in In Excelsis Deo.

3. Subtitling American culture into Croatian

Pedersen distinguishes between “transcultural”, “monocultural” and “infracultural ECRs” (Perdersen 2010:73), adding that “knowing when a cultural item is monocultural is half the battle for producing culturally fluent subtitles” (75). In the case of In Excelsis Deo, one of the challenges is to determine whether an element of culture belongs to one Pedersen’s three categories of ECRs. The bigger problem, if not one of the biggest in this instance, is to “give a new life” to the monocultural elements for which there is no standard or accepted Croatian translation. Another issue is the question of how to subtitle the already rather familiar elements of culture such as, for instance, the Federal Reserve, which are very often translated as Federalne rezerve, i.e. literally translated into Croatian, although the term actually refers to the US central bank. Let us examine some of the elements of culture that appear in In Excelsis Deo.

As Mr. Štefotić points out in his interview, one of the prerequisites for the following of this TV-series is a substantial degree of cultural literacy as regards American culture. In the very beginning of In Excelsis Deo, Steve Gould is mentioned. Steve Gould is an abbreviation for Steven Charles Gould, an American writer. The viewer has to know who Steven Gould is to be able to fully understand the mention of this author and all connotative meanings this name may carry. The subtitler may not totally reduce this name since there may be viewers who are familiar with it, not to mention that there may be those who have read books by him. If such a relatively unknown name, which is again a personal impression, is mentioned more than once, it may become a serious issue in the process of subtitling the episode, especially if dialogues don’t reveal anything more than the name and the scriptwriter presupposes the familiarity of this name with the general public. In such instances, the subtitler may at least resort to explicitation, if temporal and spatial limitations allow for it, add author Steve Gould in the translation. On the other hand, adding words such as author in such fast-paced subtitles means that another part of the text needs to be omitted in TT and is not straightforward.

Several seconds later in the episode, the term D.C. is mentioned. The Croatian subtitler will, whenever possible, resort to substituting this term with Washington, since Washington stands for the capital of the United States for the Croatian viewer, unlike for the American, to whom it may mean The State of Washington, one of the 50 states that form the United States, or George Washington, one of the founding fathers of the United States. All other “Washingtons” would have to be further explained to the Croatian viewer, Washington State would have to be Savezna država Washington, or at least država Washington, since the Croatian viewer may easily mistake it for D.C. Savezna država Washington would be the most appropriate and a safe choice for the subtitler, however, it is rather obvious what sort of a challenge that is for the subtitler, given the spatial and temporal restrictions of subtitling. A subtitler may choose to reduce the dialogue by as much as 50 % if it is fast-paced (Gottlieb 2005:20) and in this TV-series this may indeed be necessary. Therefore presuming, like Mr. Štefotić, that those unfamiliar with the subject matter of this TV series simply give up watching it, the subtitler may decide to use the D.C. from the ST in his/her TT.

The fourth minute of In Excelsis Deo brings yet another frequent subtitling issue and that is a monocultural element of culture used as an abbreviation: “You’re gonna call the V.A.”? The V.A. stands for “Veteran Affairs” or “The United States Veteran Affairs”. In Croatia, there is a similar body, a ministry instituted upon the completion of the Croatian Homeland War of the 1990s which is in charge of the War veterans. The subtitler may also resort to cultural substitution in this instance. However, this is impossible in this case as there is neither an official nor an unofficial abbreviation for Minstarstvo hrvatskih branitelja, which is the full form of the Croatian ministry in charge of war veterans. The subtitler will in such an instance use the full translated form of the V.A., which would be Ministarstvo vetereana or a similar expression and will resort to the method of “cutting off” or partial deletion, which means cutting off the “unnecessary” parts of the dialogue from the previous or the following subtitle (or both) to gain more time to be able to insert the full form of the Department. The question “You’re gonna call the V.A.”? is followed by “V.A.?”, another question by another speaker. The subtitler may also resort to the total reduction of the second question if he/she concludes that it is absolutely necessary that the viewers clearly know what V.A. means, and in the case of this episode it is, since one of the stories of this episode is the story of a homeless war veteran.

Marine batallion is mentioned in the fourth minute of In Excelsis Deo. Since this culturally specific item, Marine, is rather frequent in American TV-series and films, especially in those concerning war, it is usually translated into Croatian as marinac, since the marine is a special member of the American Army infantry specialized in naval assaults. This is an example of a culturally specific element of culture that has become so familiar to the Croatian viewer that it has a Croatian translation.

The beating up of a gay high-school senior, which is mentioned in In Excelsis Deo and is one of the topics of this episode of The West Wing, is a hate crime that is not very common in Croatia, because gay high school seniors usually don’t ‘come out’, but it is not incomprehensible. The issue as regards subtitling here is terminology. Namely, in Croatian, there is no politically correct term for a homosexual except for homoseksualac. The noun gay is then usually replaced with homoseksualac, or it is sometimes left in the original form: gay, written in italics as a foreign word. All other terms denoting a homosexual in Croatian are either terms of almost endearment, such as homić, or, more often, they are derogatory terms, such as for instance peder and tetka. The word gay is mentioned more than once in this episode of The West Wing and one can only imagine the difficulty the subtitler has when replacing gay with homoseksualac, namely a word with three letters in the ST that can be uttered very quickly in such a fast-paced TV-series, with a 13-letter one in the written form of TT. This example highlights one of the many difficulties a subtitler is faced with because of the differences between languages and also because of the dangers if the subtitler is not aware of which terms are politically correct and which are used derogatively. Although this instance is rather obvious, that is the subtitler will probably know which term to use, there are other instances when the issue of using politically correct form is not particularly straightforward.

The term Secretary of Labor, mentioned in the 14th minute of this episode, may easily be mistranslated into Croatian. This term is usually translated as tajnik into Croatian, for instance the UN Secretary General is glavni tajnik UN-a in Croatian. This element of culture underlines the importance of the need for thorough knowledge of the American political system when subtitling The West Wing, but not only The West Wing since elements of the US political system are often referred to in TV-series and films in which one would not even expect it, for instance in low-budget action films. The subtitler must know that the secretary is actually a minister in the Croatian political system and that it would be best to replace it with ministar rada. However, a more critical subtitler may say that this is too domesticated, and that perhaps, since the American political system is different from the Croatian, this element of culture should be foreignized, and translated as tajnik. It is quite likely that almost every subtitler who is knowledgeable about the American political system would translate this term as ministar in Croatian. However, one may wonder whether this term must always be fully domesticated. If it appears in situations, texts, aimed at experts, for instance diplomats who are well aware of the American political and governmental system, foreignization may be a more obvious choice.

Medical school is mentioned in the 16th minute of In Excelsis Deo and it is a textbook example of an element of culture that may easily be mistranslated in Croatian. Because of the differences between the Croatian and the American educational systems (Nikolić, 2012) the subtitler may easily mistranslate Medical school as medicinska škola, which is in fact a nursing high-school in Croatia. This does happen, especially in DVD translations, which are usually of appalling quality. The reason is usually not quite so much the lack of knowledge, as the pressures subtitlers are faced with because of the lack of time, namely because of short deadlines and low fees which push them to work hard and fast.

The Washington Monument is mentioned In Excelsis Deo as well and although this is not a significant subtitling problem, this element of culture demonstrates the importance of the need Mr. Štefotić says he relied on, the knowledge of the audience. Mr. Štefotić says that he believes that this TV series’ viewers were more familiar with the subject matter. The monument has a strong symbolic value in American history and culture and that may not be rendered in translation, as the connotative meaning is left out. This TV series is teeming with elements of culture such as this one, and the subtitler can only hope that viewers have the background knowledge that is necessary to follow such a programme.

There are other elements of culture which demand special attention in subtitling in In Excelsis Deo, to name just a few: James Adams, Georgetown, The Nature of Things, Rare Books, Life of Epicurus, Chesapeake, Purple Heart, Republican, civics lesson, IRS, Keynote Kops, Mural Room, and others, not to mention idiomatic expressions such as “to float a test balloon”. This makes the subtitling of this TV series into Croatian like walking in a mine field[2]. The differences between the two cultures, the American and the Croatian, are surely among the reasons for that.

4. Differences between American and Croatian culture

Some of the differences were illustrated in the previous section. The underlying difference between American and Croatian culture, relevant for the subtitling of The West Wing, is the difference between the two political systems.

The institution of the president is not a strong position in Croatia in terms of the power the president is given, since the situation changed after the constitutional changes were introduced at the beginning of the 2000s, giving the president only limited powers, while most of the executive powers are in the hands of the government led by the prime minister. Even though many Croatians respect the institution of the President, the fact is that it is nothing like the role of the president in the United States. The President of the United States is effectively the head of the US Government, and that means that he has different powers and plays a role similar to that of the Croatian government.

However, the differences between the two cultures are not perceptible only in the sphere of political culture. As Mr. Štefotić says in section one of this paper, this TV-series is full of amusing dialogues, which also means jokes that may be culture specific and difficult to subtitle, not to mention the historical and geographical references, some of which were mentioned in the previous chapter. Cultural differences, as we have seen in this paper, stem from areas such as education and place names, but they may also be reflected in all walks of life, for instance in terms of address, family relations, habits, customs, and many others.

The cultural specificity of this TV-series is one of the most challenging aspects of subtitling it into Croatian, even though it is not always clear which aspects of it are clearly “monocultural” (Pedersen: 2010:73), since many aspects of American culture have permeated other cultures or have at least become well-known or relatively well-known to other cultures. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of subtitling this TV-series into Croatian is to determine, on a very practical level, the degree of familiarity of the Croatian viewer with American culture, while the subtitler is left mostly with only one resource in that process: personal intuition.

5. Conclusion

Without a clear picture of what viewers may and may not know, subtitling as a process is often based on individual expectations and observations of the subtitler, as has been confirmed by Mr. Štefotić, the Croatian subtitler of The West Wing. Now in 2016 reception studies in AVT are more common than they used to be at the time of the creation of Croatian subtitles for In Excelsis Deo. Yet, reception studies are rarely used by practicing subtitlers as a source of information or learning material, and this gap could be bridged by offering short courses to subtitlers presenting results of such studies, that may help subtitlers to rely less on intuition only.

This paper has shown, relying on Pedersen’s classification of cultural elements in AVT, the difficulties subtitlers are faced with when rendering, especially monocultural or culture-specific elements of culture. The interview with the subtitlers was used to try and shed more light on the practical aspects of subtitling and to see whether what is theoretically difficult, is indeed the biggest challenge for the subtitler. This paper shows that subtitlers rely on intuition when it comes to dealing with culture-specific elements in subtitling, rather than research or study of these elements. Broadcasters in Croatia are not particularly interested in conducting research into audience needs and expectations as regards subtitling, and the subtitler doesn’t have a choice but to rely on his/her own resources, and intuition, as Mr Štefotić confirms.

Another layer of analysis of the translation of In Excelsis Deo could be the study of the amount of the text that is reduced or left out in the TT. Yet, such analysis should perhaps be useful only if conducted in combination with an eye-tracker that would determine what these reductions mean to the viewer and how they react to reductions. Namely, subtitles are an integral part of the image and the parts of the ST that are omitted in TT may be explained by that image.

Given the spatial and temporal constraints of subtitling, especially in a TV-series such as this one, subtitling may seem like one of the worst jobs there are, since it involves fast decision making and cutting sometimes large amounts of ST, whilst it has to enable full understanding of the programme to viewers. However, as confirmed by Mr. Štefotić, subtitling a TV-series such as The West Wing may also be quite rewarding, which is why he describes this TV-series as “wonderful”. Although challenging, subtitling a high-quality TV-series such as The West Wing enables the subtitler to be the mediator between two cultures in the true sense of the word, and it may also be a learning process for the subtitler, both cultural and linguistic, and the viewer. Subtitling, on the other hand, may be a lonely job, and what is “wonderful” for one subtitler may be quite horrible for another, and that very individual aspect may influence the TT to a great extent. Mediation between cultures is a serious, responsible and difficult task, as may be seen in the example of In Excelsis Deo. After studying literature on rendering culture in subtitles, conducing the interview with the subtitler of this TV series into Croatian, and studying concrete examples from the Croatian version of In Excelsis Deo, one may conclude that subtitling, especially a TV series such The West Wing, is a hard, intellectual, cognitively demanding job with a value which should not be undermined. This explains why subtitling has already been the topic of scholarly investigation for several decades.


Alias. 2001-2006. Creator: J.J. Abrams. Perf. Jennifer Garner, Ron Rifkin, and Carl Lumbly. Touchstone Televison, Bad Robot. TV-series.

Díaz Cintas, Jorge and Remael, Aline. 2007. Translation Practices Explained, Audiovisual Translation: Subtitling. Manchester. St. Jerome Publishing. Print.

Federal Reserve System. http://www.federalreserve.gov/ (Date. of access: July 11, 2011). Web.

Gambier, Yves. 2003. “Introduction: Screen Transadaptation, Perception and Reception”. In The Translator, volume 9, special issue, Screen Translation. Manchetser. St.Jerome Publishing. 171-189. Print.

Gottlieb, Henrik. .2005. Screen Translation, Eight Studies in Subtitling, Dubbing and Voice-over. Copenhagen: Center for Translation Studies, Department of English, University of Copenhagen. Print.

HRT. Croatian Radio and Television. http://www.hrt.hr (Date. of access: June 16, 2011). Web.

Ivarsson, Jan and Carroll, Mary. 1998. Subtitling. TransEdit: Simrishamn. Print.

Nikolić, Kristijan.2005."The Differences in Subtitling Between Public and Private Television". In Translating Today. Issue 4. 33-36. Print.

---.Diss.The Perception of Culture Through Subtitles: A Study of thePerception of British and American Culture in a Sample of Croatian TV Audience. University of Vienna (2012). Print.

Pedersen, Jan. 2007. Diss. Scandinavian Subtitles: A Comparative Study of Subtitling Norms in Sweden and Denmark with a Focus on Extralinguistic Cultural References. Stockholm. Stockholm University. Print.

---.2010. “When do you go for benevolent intervention? How subtitlers determine the need for cultural mediation”. In New Insights into Audiovisual Translation and Media Accessibility: Media for All 2. Díaz Cintas, Jorge, Matamala, Anna, and Neves, Josélia (eds.). Amsterdam and Philadelphia. Rodopi. 67-80. Print.

---.2011. Subtitling Norms for Television: An extrapolation focussing on extralinguistic cultural references. Amsterdam and Philadelphia. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Print.

Tourist, The. 2010. Dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Perf. Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, and Paul Bettany. GK Films, Columbia Pictures, and Spyglass Enternainment. Film.

Štefotić, Damir. 2011. “On subtitling The West Wing for the HRT”. Interview.

West Wing, The. 1999-2006. Creator: Aaron Sorkin. Perf. Martin Sheen, Bob Lowe and Allison Jenney. John Wells Production, Warner Bros. Television. TV-series.


[1] http://www.hrt.hr/ (Date of access: 5th April, 2016).

[2] The former head of the Croatian Radio and Television’s Subtitling Department, Ms. Bojana Zeljko-Lipovšćak, compared subtitling with walking in a mine field, trying to say that often the subtitler walks onto a mine, i.e., makes a mistake such as mistranslation on misunderstanding of the context.

In Sweden, we do it like this

On cultural references and subtitling norms

By Jan Pedersen (Stockholm University, Sweden)

Abstract & Keywords

What would the VA say if Al Roker was a Keystone Kop at Panmunjon? Subtitling is not just a matter of linguistic transfer; building bridges between cultures is every bit as important. This article is based on a subtitled translation of the episode of The West Wing which is the basis for this issue of inTRAlinea. The episode has been subtitled using established Swedish subtitling norms for television. These norms are of two kinds, partly technical, dealing with expected reading speed, subtitle density and condensation, and also translation-related. In this article the translation norms under discussion are those that govern the translation of extralinguistic cultural references (ECRs), i.e. references that are expressed verbally, but which refer to cultural items outside of language, such as names of people and places (like Al Roker or Panmunjon). A model for rendering such references in subtitled translations is presented; it consists of two parts: a taxonomy of translation strategies, and a series of parameters that influence the choice of translation strategy. This model is applied to the ECRs in the episode, using Swedish subtitling norms. The results are presented and complex cases are discussed further, as we find out how we can make a target audience understand the connotations of those bungling Keystone Kops.

Keywords: cultural references, subtitling, norms, translations strategies, west wing, audiovisual translation

©inTRAlinea & Jan Pedersen (2016).
"In Sweden, we do it like this"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2191

Scandinavia has for good reasons been described as a bastion of subtitling (Ivarsson & Carroll 1998). In this part of the world, there is a very long and solid tradition of subtitling, with other forms of audiovisual translation (AVT) being marginalized. Dubbing and voice-over are almost exclusively used for pre-literate audiences, and while there is some versioning of off-screen narration, subtitling is so prevalent as to dwarf any other mode of interlingual AVT. For further details on this, and a discussion of AVT for accessibility purposes, the reader is referred to Pedersen (2010a).

Subtitling is a norm-governed activity and the norms that govern Swedish subtitling are laid out in guidelines and other prescriptive documents, and they have also been investigated in a major study (Pedersen 2007a; cf below). This study conclusively showed that Scandinavian subtitling norms are converging, so that Swedish subtitling norms for television are very similar to those of its neighbouring countries. The study also produced a descriptively based model for how cultural references are rendered. This article tests that model by applying it, and other professional subtitling norms, to The West Wing episode ‘In Excelcis Deo’. Rather than investigating the subtitles that were used when the episode was aired and judge to what extent they comply with the norms, new professional subtitles were created by the present author, who apart from being a translation scholar, is also a professional subtitler. The reason for this is partly that such investigations have already been carried out (cf. Pedersen 2011), and partly that this approach gives full access to the subtitling process and tests how the model works as professional tool and it also illuminates the reasoning behind any and all of the complicated translation decisions that are made by the subtitler.

When a proficient translator goes about his or her task, there are stretches of text that are fairly smooth and straightforward, and where the processes involved call for what Lörscher (1991: 81) calls non-strategic behaviour. There are also, however, text features that call for strategic behaviour; features that need the translator’s full attention and where she or he will have to carry out more conscious decision-making. I call these features ‘translation crisis points’ (TCPs; cf. Pedersen 2007a: 89 ff or Remael & Vercauteren 2010: 158 ff). Examples of these in the text that this issue of inTRAlinea is concerned with are puns and other witticisms, high-speed dialogue, the semiotic interplay between dialogue and the visual signs and so on and so forth. One very striking type of TCP is the ubiquitous cultural references that are found in the text. The rendering of cultural items is the main focus of the analysis, and the translation that was created for this article. Hence, after a preliminary section on technical norms in Scandinavia, the rest of this article is devoted to the norm-guided rendering of potential verbal cultural translation problems that I call ‘extralinguistic cultural references’ (ECRs).

Technical considerations for this part of the world

Technical subtitling norms used to differ substantially in Scandinavia. This is due to the fact that for a long time, public service companies were the sole providers – and commissioners – of subtitles, and they developed their own styles, norms and software. The development was not completely dissimilar among the neighbouring countries, but the norms developed in parallel, rather than as a result of much cooperation. It was not until the advent of de-monopolization in the early nineties that the Scandinavian norms started to converge. Multinational TV channels used multinational subtitling agencies that saw the whole of the region as one market. It made sense for these new agents to harmonize the norms for the region, in order to benefit from joint tasks, such as using centrally cued master template files for the subtitled translations. This can be seen to have had an impact on the Scandinavian mediascape from the middle of the nineties, and after the new millennium some of the new norms were used in public service broadcasting as well, as the national broadcasters started to outsource their subtitling. Even though minor differences may still be found, the three important norms described below have converged almost completely (Pedersen 2007a: 65ff).

Expected Reading speed

This is the speed with which the reader is expected to read a subtitle, rather than the speed with which a reader actually reads a subtitle, on which there is precious little research. It used to be the case that the Swedish national broadcaster, SVT, worked with a very low reading speed in order to make the subtitles accessible to every single viewer, and to some degree, this is still their vision. However, just like Danish and Norwegian subtitles, Swedish TV subtitles nowadays adhere to the 12 cps rule, which says that a viewer is expected to read 12 characters (including blank spaces and punctuation marks) per second. This leads to exposure times of three seconds for a subtitle of one line (with 36 characters, which is normal), and 5­–6 seconds for a two-liner, as these can be read proportionately faster. The exposure times are getting shorter, however, and in DVD subtitling, it is not uncommon to see reading speeds of 16 cps or higher. The reading speed is supposed to be an absolute norm that should not be affected by the pace of the dialogue, but in practice, it is common to see lower subtitle exposure times, and thus higher expected reading speeds during very rapid dialogue, such as the opening scene in ‘In Excelsis Deo’.

Condensation rate

Condensation (or reduction) rate is a measure of how much shorter a subtitled text is as compared to its source text, using a simple word count. Sweden started to use the electronic time code for cueing fairly late, and that meant that manual cueing was still a common practice in Sweden until the mid- to late 1980s, when Denmark had been using electronic cueing for a decade already. Manual cueing is not as exact as electronic, which meant longer exposure times and more condensation of the verbal message. This difference has now almost completely disappeared, as shown in Pedersen 2007a, where no significant difference was found between Sweden and Denmark. The prevailing norm is now that about 30% of the original dialogue gets ‘lost in translation’. Losing 30% of the dialogue does not equate to losing 30% of the information being transmitted, however, given that much dialogue consists of redundant oral features and much of the information is also communicated in other ways via the audio and visual channels. The condensation rate is of course affected by the pace of the dialogue in the TV programme, and for The West Wing, with its sometimes very rapid dialogue (as in the aforementioned opening scene), some stretches of the text will have a higher condensation rate. On the other hand, there are slower passages, particularly in Toby’s quest for the homeless veteran, where there is hardly any condensation at all.

Subtitle density

The subtitle density is the number of subtitles in a film or TV programme in relation to its length. This is the only area where a significant difference can still be found between the Scandinavian norms, even though the difference is much smaller than it was as late as 1995. Typically, a Danish film would have 850 subtitles per film; whereas there would be fewer than 650 in the Swedish version of the same film. The difference is now much smaller, but a Danish target text (TT) will still typically have about 10 per cent more subtitles than a Swedish one (Pedersen 2007a:78). This difference is mainly due to the fact that Danish subtitlers tend to respect cuts in the source text (ST) more. This leads to a situation where Danish subtitlers tend to have more rapid one-liners, whereas the Swedish subtitling norm calls for more full two-liners. The harmonization of subtitle density, which imposed heavy block subtitles on Danish viewers, is what turned out to be the most unpopular of the changes that took place in the 1990s. The subtitling of The West Wing episode was done according to the Swedish norm, and thus contains quite a few full two-liners.

Extralinguistic Cultural References (ECRs)

When subtitling a text which is as culturally embedded as The West Wing, it quickly becomes apparent that more than linguistic transfer is called for. Cultural mediation is at least as important here, and the focus of this chapter is on describing the process of cultural mediation in subtitling when it comes to extralinguistic cultural references (ECRs). This process can be hard to investigate empirically, as it involves what is often un- or semiconscious decisions in the subtitler’s mind. In the present article, however, the subtitler’s decisions are available to the analyst, as the two are one, and the subtitles where created especially for this article. There is another way of gaining access to these decisions, however, which involves empirical investigation of subtitling products rather than the subtitling process. Granted, this does not give direct access to the process, but if the data is comprehensive enough, the results can be very reliable, as explained below.

I have developed a model for analysing the process of how ECRs are rendered in subtitling and why they are rendered in the ways that they are, and this also works the other way around. The model that helps researchers describe how ECRs are rendered can also be used as a resource for subtitlers to find out how ECRs can be rendered. The model was developed within the paradigm of descriptive translation studies and is thus empirically based. This means that, instead of prescriptively telling subtitlers how to go about their business, the model is based on a description of how actual subtitlers go about their business. This can then be used for instruction as to how the business of subtitling is performed, thus using empirical description as the basis for didactic instruction, and this is the main point of this article.

The model is based on the Scandinavian Subtitling project (Pedersen 2007a), which involved a corpus of 100 Anglophone films and TV programmes and at least one version each of the Danish and Swedish (plus quite a few Norwegian) subtitled translations of said texts. The texts come from many different genres, fiction as well as non-fiction, and from a mix of commercial and public service broadcasters. The findings of this project led to the model applied below. The model is tripartite: it contains a definition and delimitation of ECRs, a set of parameters that influence how ECRs are rendered and a taxonomy of strategies for rendering them. It could be seen as a tool kit for solving culture-based translation problems.

The model was used in Pedersen 2007a to reconstruct Scandinavian subtitling norms for translation shifts, using coupled pairs analysis (Toury 1995: 38).These norms say that Scandinavian subtitles tend to be source-oriented, though not extremely so, and they also give fairly clear indications on which translation strategy to use under which circumstances (Pedersen 2007a: 250-265), as will be outlined below. References to Scandinavian subtitling norms below are thus based on that study.

ECRs in general and in The West Wing

Extralinguistic Cultural Reference (ECR) is defined as reference that is attempted by means of any cultural[1] linguistic expression[2], which refers to an extralinguistic entity[3] or process. The referent of the said expression may prototypically be assumed[4] to be identifiable to a relevant audience[5] as this referent is within the encyclopaedic know­ledge of this audience. In other words, ECRs are references to places, people, institutions, customs, food etc. that you may not know even if you know the language in question. (Pedersen 2007a: 91)

The episode of The West Wing analysed here contains an abundance of ECRs, from several domains, and they have been rendered in accordance with Swedish TV norms. The main domains involved are obviously government, but also professional titles, entertainment, weights and measures, and due to the President’s visit to a rare bookstore, literature is also a noticeable domain. Typically, when dealing with ECRs, names make up the lion’s share of the data, and this episode is no different; there is an abundance of personal names, but also many geographical and institutional names. It should perhaps be mentioned that it is fairly common for an ECR name to belong to more than one domain. For instance, José Feliciano (1:07)[6] is a personal name, but he also belongs to the entertainment domain.

For a viewer to make sense of an utterance that contains an ECR, the viewer must be able to access the ECR in some way, i.e. understand to whom or what the ECR refers. By definition, an ECR cannot be accessed through linguistic knowledge alone; instead, a viewer can access an ECR in one of three ways:

  1. Encyclopaedically and intertextually, that is through the viewer’s cultural literacy of the world and other texts.
  2. Deictically, that is through deixis in the context or co-text.
  3. Through intervention from the subtitler, working as a cultural mediator. (Pedersen 2010b)

It could be argued that the greatest concern for the subtitler is to ascertain when i) and ii) do not apply and s/he will have to step in and actively guide the viewer. We will return to this issue presently, but let us first look at the tools that a subtitler has at her or his disposal for rendering ECRs.


The subtitler has basically seven ways of rendering an ECR. Three of these are minimum change strategies, and these are used when the referent of an ECR can be accessed either encyclopaedically or deictically. The minimum change strategies only involve surface-structure changes; no semantic material is added or removed. There are three more, which can be termed interventional, and which are used when a subtitler has decided to assist the viewer in accessing an ECR. Finally, the strategy of omission can be seen as being neither minimum change nor interventional. The strategies can be seen in the simplified taxonomy tree in figure 1, below.

Figure 1: Simplified taxonomy tree of ECR transfer strategies (based on Pedersen 2007a: 154)

Retention is by far the most common way of rendering an ECR in Scandinavia (Pedersen 2007a: 201). It means just transferring the ECR to the subtitles, with no, or only small adjustments to meet target language expectations, e.g. Lowell Lydell (8:30) rendered as ‘Lowell Lydell’.

Direct translation is not nearly as common as retention, but it is frequently used on ECRs that lend themselves to translation in Scandinavia (Pedersen 2007a: 210). In the text, there is the name of the bookstore Rare Books (19:38) which is translated directly into ‘Sällsynta Böcker’ in the Swedish subtitles.

Official Equivalents are not so much true strategies as prefabricated equivalents that subtitlers are required to use, unless circumstances make it impossible. A typical example would be rendering 83 degrees [Fahrenheit] (13:52) as ‘28 grader’ [centigrade], as the Celsius scale is officially adopted in Scandinavia. An official equivalent can be based on any of the other strategies in the taxonomy or on something completely different. The point is that the equivalent has either become entrenched through established usage or brought into existence through some administrative decision. An example of the latter is the title of the series (that is The West Wing (0:05)) which has to be rendered as ‘Vita Huset’ [the White House] in Swedish, as the Swedish distributors have decreed that this is what the series is to be called in Sweden.

Generalization means replacing the ST ECR with something that is more general, either by using a superordinate term (typically a hypernym or a meronym) or by using a paraphrase. The result is always something that is less specific and it often leads to what Leppihalme calls ‘reduction to sense’ (1994: 125). Generalization is mainly used for two reasons. It is either used as an interventional strategy to guide the viewers, or it is used to save subtitling space, whereby long and cumbersome phrases may be rendered by a briefer and more general TT solution (Pedersen 2007a: 212). Sometimes these two reasons are combined, as in example (1) where Toby laments the lack of respect the veteran gets:

TOBY: An hour and twenty minutes for the ambulance to get there. A Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Second of the Seventh. I got better treatment at Panmunjong.

Ambulansen kom efter 80 minuter.

Han var marinkårskorpral. Jag blev
bättre behandlad i själva kriget.

Back translation:
The ambulance arrived after 80 minutes.
He was a Marine Corps Corporal.
I was treated better in the war itself.

The rather lengthy and complicated military ECR a Lance Corporal, United States Marines, Second of the Seventh was generalized as ‘marinkorpral’ [Marine Corporal]. This solution leaves out the details of the military references that would be hard for the TT viewer to process, and it also saves space. It also, of course, removes much of the local flavour of the ST, but then again, to render the connotations of the heroics carried out by the Second Battalion of the Seventh Marines within the brief space of the subtitle is a virtually impossible task. We will return to the other ECR in (1), i.e. Panmunjon, in example (6) below.

Specification is the complete opposite of generalization. Instead of ‘chunking up’ (Katan 2004: 199) the subtitler ‘chunks down’ and makes the TT message more specific than the ST message. This could be done for reasons of idiomaticity, as when holiday cheer (6:17) becomes ‘julglädje’ [Christmas cheer], but the strategy is more importantly used to aid the viewer in understanding the relevant function or connotations of the ST ECR. An example of this would be when Stephen J. Gould (1:10) is rendered as ‘forskaren Stephen J Gould’ [the scientist (or researcher) Stephen J Gould]. This is a very felicitous strategy for adding the information that might be lacking in the encyclopaedic knowledge of most TT viewers, without subtracting any ST information. Unfortunately, it is also very space-consuming, which means that it is a rarely used ‘luxury’ strategy, particularly in comparison with generalization, which aids the viewer and saves space, but at the cost of information loss. Scandinavian subtitling norms thus favour generalization rather than specification (Pedersen 2007a: 209).

Substitution means that the subtitler does not transfer the ECR at all, but substitutes it with something else. The replacing item can be a different ECR, either a similar one from the target culture (TC) or a more well-known ECR from the source culture (SC) or one from a third culture; this is called cultural substitution. It can also be something completely different that just works in context; this is called situational substitution. The latter option is basically a last resort when all other strategies would fail, and the subtitler just tries to come up with coherent subtitles. Fortunately, this is an extremely rare strategy in Scandinavia (Pedersen 2007a: 216). Cultural substitution, on the other hand, has a long history in Scandinavia and used to be a common way of rendering ECRs, particularly in Denmark (cf. Pedersen 2007b). These days in Sweden, the use of cultural substitution is limited to a few domains, one of which is government, and it is thus possible to replace the Secretary of Labor (14:45) with ‘Arbetsmarknadsminister’ [literally ‘labour market minister’]. This is the minister responsible for the work of the Labour Department in Sweden and thus a minister with similar tasks to that of the ST ECR.

Omission can, according to Leppihalme (1994: 93), be used responsibly, after testing and rejecting all other options, or irresponsibly, for lack of trying or caring. It should be pointed out that using omission responsibly is the only ethical way of translating. The media-specific constraints of subtitling make this a not uncommon strategy, particularly when the dialogue is very high-paced. For example, in the very rapid-fire dialogue in the opening scene, when the staff are discussing the preparations for the White House Christmas celebrations:

MANDY: Now, we have José Feliciano, we have Sammy Sosa and his wife...
SAM: Did you know that recordings of Feliz Navidad outsold recordings of White Christmas?

-Vi har José Feliciano och Sosa.
-Folk älskar Féliz Navidad.

Back translation:
-We have José Feliciano and Sosa.
-People love Feliz Navidad.

The only way of creating coherence in this fast-paced dialogue, is by omitting the ECR White Christmas and focussing on the more important (and apparently more popular) ECR Feliz Navidad, as can be seen in example (2) above.

These seven strategies are basically the subtitler’s tool-kit for dealing with ECRs. Just as hammers are not used to insert screws, however, certain strategies are only used with ECRs from certain domains under certain circumstances if the result is to be felicitous. On the other hand, just as a hammer actually can be used to insert a screw, if you do not care too much about the result, the ECR transfer tool kit can be used just as carelessly. However, if quality is to be a priority, certain circumstances will have to be taken into account. I call these circumstances influencing parameters, as they influence the choice of strategies used.

Influencing parameters

Just as the strategies above explain how an ECR can be rendered, the influencing parameters explain why an ECR is rendered in a certain way. The influencing parameters all deal with various aspects of ECRs, the medium and/or other aspects of the translation situation. They are intertwined and each can work for or against the subtitler in a given situation. However, knowing about them helps the subtitler make an informed decision when it comes to the rendering of ECRs. Just as for the strategies above, the influencing parameters are based on empirical description, and they can also be used for didactic instruction, which is the case here.

Transculturality refers to the familiarity of the ECR. In other words, it is a way of gauging how well-known an ECR is to the ST and TT audiences. Transculturality works on a cline, from ECRs that are virtually unknown, to ECRs that are virtually universal. However, for practical reasons, it is helpful to divide the cline into three parts: transcultural, monocultural and infracultural. Transcultural ECRs are ECRs that most people know about in the SC and the TC (it is irrelevant whether the ECRs are known in other cultures as well) e.g. Christmas (4:57), to use a rather obvious example. Infracultural ECRs are generally known by neither of the two audiences involved; examples of these could be any of the book-binding terminology ECRs that the President shows off at the rare bookstore. Infracultural and transcultural ECRs do not normally cause translation problems, as they would either be accessible through the audience’s encyclopaedic knowledge (transcultural ECRs) or would have to be made accessible deictically in the ST, as the ST writers cannot expect their primary audience to be aware of them either (infracultural ECRs). Monocultural ECRs, on the other hand, may cause translation problems as these are ECRs that are known to the ST audience, but not to the TT audience, and these are the ones that should be made accessible ‘translatorically’, i.e. by making use of interventional strategies. Gauging transculturality can be difficult at times (for a longer discussion on this, please see Pedersen 2010b), but it is important to do it properly, as you either patronize your audience, if you explain too much, or leave them in the dark, if you explain too little. The ST can sometimes help when it comes to this, as it can have clues to the original author’s transculturality appraisal, in other words how well-known the author has thought a particular ECR to be to his primary audience. A good example of this is (3) below, which represents the conversation that young Charlie has with Mrs Landingham about her twin boys, who were drafted and subsequently killed in Vietnam:

MRS LANDINGHAM: They went off to medical school together, and then they finished their second year, and of course their lottery number came up at the same time.
CHARLIE: For the draft?

The function of Charlie’s remark in example (3) is to elicit some elucidation for him and probably those members of the ST audience who are too young to remember the system of drawing a lottery number based on birthdays that was used for induction into active duty in Vietnam. This indicates that the ECR lottery numbers is on the border between monocultural and infracultural from a Swedish perspective, which means that it is certainly not transcultural, and should thus be treated accordingly. In this case, the ECR is made accessible through the co-text so there is no real problem here.

Extratextuality deals with the question of whether an ECR exists outside the text (or series of texts) at hand. If an ECR is text internal, it refers to something that has been specially created for this TV series, in our case, e.g. President Jed Bartlet. If an ECR is text external it has a life of its own outside the series, even though it may still be fictional. This distinction is important in that text internal ECRs do not normally cause translation problems as they have no real connection to reality, whereas text external ones have, and that limits the ways in which such ECRs can be rendered.

Centrality is a way of expressing how important an ECR is to the text at hand, and this works both on the micro level and the macro level. Since the main storyline in our ST is about Toby finding the dead tramp and his subsequent quest to have him buried with dignity, the ECR Korean War Vet (8:56) is central on the macro level and it is very important to ensure that this and other connected ECRs are accessible to the TT audience. If an ECR is peripheral on the macro level, a subtitler has more freedom of choice in the rendering of it, unless it happens to be central on the micro level, i.e. important for local level discourse. Furthermore, if it is peripheral on the micro level as well, how it is treated is no longer very important. This is illustrated in example (4), where the President asks Josh to join him in his shopping excursion to the rare bookstore and Josh replies:

JOSH: An hour with you in a rare bookstore? Couldn't you just drop me off the top of the Washington monument instead?

En timme med er i bokhandeln?
Kan ni inte döda mig istället?

Back translation:
An hour with you in the book store?
Couldn’t you kill me instead?

The ECR in (4), the Washington Monument, is peripheral even on the micro level, serving only as a colourful ingredient in Josh’s sarcastic reluctance to join his boss. Since the pace of the dialogue is rapid, I have deleted the ECR here and rendered the reply as the Swedish equivalent of ‘Couldn’t you kill me instead?’, which is admittedly less colourful but much shorter and has the same function in the conversation.

Polysemiotics (cf. Gottlieb 1997) is a term for the interplay between the verbal audio (that is the dialogue), the non-verbal audio (that is sound effects and music), the verbal visual (captions and other relevant on-screen text), and the non-verbal visual discourse channels that make up the polysemiotic texts that subtitlers translate. The polysemiotics can help or hinder the subtitler. If an ECR is shown on screen, for instance, it would not do to omit it or replace it with something else. In our ST, there is a great deal of interplay between the dialogue and the image, which influences the rendering of almost every ECR.

The co-text is actually part of the polysemiotics, but it is extra important as it has to be coherent, and can also be useful in making an ECR accessible, as we saw in example (3), lottery number. Also, if an ECR has been rendered accessible once, it can be rendered through retention on subsequent appearances in the text.

Media-specific constraints come in two kinds for subtitling. First, there is what Gottlieb calls semiotic jaywalking (2001: 16) in that the translation normally goes from source language spoken form to target language written form in subtitling. Second, there are the time and space constraints. These were explained above under technical considerations, so there is no need to reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that the constraints are often severe in the highly-paced dialogue of our ST.

The subtitling situation (Pedersen 2011: 115) gives rise to aspects that are not in the text, but rather about the text. These can be found through asking clusters of questions about various aspects, such as translation norms (both national and local), broadcasting (high prestige broadcaster? primetime TV?), TT audience (age group? level of education? expert or general?), the ST (genre? skopos? style? register?) and pragmatic aspects (deadlines? salary?). Even though the last one tends to be very important in reality, it is of little importance here, as the subtitles were produced as part of the preparations for the present article. Instead, questions about broadcasting and TT audience get priority here. The West Wing was aired in Sweden by the national public service broadcaster at prime time, which means that the subtitles should be of the highest quality, which they undoubtedly were, even though they are not used as the base for the present article. Thus, cutting corners by not researching ECRs should not be an option here. The TT audience probably consists of people of relatively high education and reasonably high age, who have an interest in American politics. They could be assumed to be familiar with many of the ECRs in the series. This means that when the President says that his daughter ‘Zoey is starting Georgetown [sic!] in two weeks’ the ECR Georgetown (22:41) can be retained in the subtitles, as the Swedish audience may have heard of this ECR, and there is also some guidance from the co-text, since the structure of the utterance makes it clear that it refers to a university.

What would the VA say if Al Roker was a Keystone Kop at Panmunjon?

The model above will help to solve any ECR-related translation crisis point, and most of them will be solved very easily. Under the circumstances laid down by the parameters, and given the domain of the ECR, the national norms will in most cases give the subtitler a sense of which strategy to use, or at least help to narrow the choice down to a couple of strategies. However, there are a few cases where the answer is less obvious, and these are the most interesting ones. In our ST, I found four such ECRs, and they are: the VA (4:39), Panmunjom (38:55), Al Roker (0:59), and The Keystone Kops (33:42). I carried out a reception study/brainstorming session with 21 English linguistics and/or translation scholars at Stockholm university, who had a crash course in using the model and then came up with solutions to these ECRs, and their (and my) solutions form the basis for the discussion that follows.

The VA

Toby Ziegler is called away to identify the dead body of a homeless man found on a park bench. Toby does not know the man, but is dismayed by the delay in removing the body, and by the apparent indifference of the authorities, represented by an officer from the DC police.  Part of their conversation goes like this:

TOBY: And then you’re gonna call the VA, right?
TOBY: Tattoo on his forearm is Marine Battalion Second of the Seventh. This guy was in Korea.

Sen kontaktar ni väl veteranbyrån?

Hans tatuering är från marinkårens
andra bataljon. Han slogs i Korea.

Back translation:
Then you will contact the veterans’ agency, I presume?
His tattoo is from the second battalion
of the marine corps. He fought in Korea.

It does not take a great deal of research to find out that the monocultural VA (which has no direct explanation in the co-text) is an abbreviation of the Department of Veterans Affairs, thus fully identifying the ECR. The problem for the subtitler is how this should be rendered in the Swedish subtitles. According to Swedish norms, government domain ECRs are normally rendered through cultural substitution (Pedersen 2007a: 217), using a similar TC ECR. However, since Sweden has not been at war for some 200 years, there is no similar organization in Sweden. It was suggested that generalization be used, so that the subtitle simply said ‘the authorities’, which is also an option according to Swedish subtitling norms (cf. Pedersen 2007a : 263-264). That might prove a confusing solution, however, given that ‘the authorities’ have already been notified and there is a police officer and a man from the White House there. Another solution could be to use the Swedish Department of Defence as a substitute. The solution that was finally decided on was to construct an ECR through paraphrased translation, i.e. ‘veteranbyrån’ in example (5) above.


Toby finally manages to arrange a military funeral for the homeless man, and has to explain why to the President. He does this by explaining how disrespectfully the homeless man was treated, as we saw in example (1), above. This is reproduced here as example (6) for ease of reference:

TOBY: An hour and twenty minutes for the ambulance to get there. A Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Second of the Seventh. I got better treatment at Panmunjong.

Ambulansen kom efter 80 minuter.

Han var marinkårskorpral. Jag blev
bättre behandlad i själva kriget.

Back translation:
The ambulance arrived after 80 minutes.
He was a Marine CorpsCorporal. I was
treated better in the war itself.

The military ECR in this example has already been explained earlier in example (1). The problematic ECR here is instead Panmunjom, which admittedly is a Korean ECR, but it is also a monocultural SC ECR, because of the American involvement in the Korean War. It is used here to imply that American soldiers were treated better in a war zone than back home, which is basically the point of this whole storyline. In the transcript, the ECR co-text erroneously says ‘the guy got better treatment at Panmunjom’, but that is clearly not what comes through the verbal audio channel. There are two problems here: i) Toby is too young to have fought in Korea (and he also tells the homeless man’s brother that he has not been there) ii) Panmunjom is the site of the truce talks in Korea’s demilitarized zone, so the connotations of active fighting are not very strong. The ST is thus contradictory. Did the actor (Richard Schiff) bungle his line, or did the scriptwriters (Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland) not care too much about veracity here, and wanted to give the impression that Toby had in fact been to Korea, and then chose Panmunjom as the most recognizable Korean War ECR? That issue is impossible to resolve. The problem can, however, be solved from the subtitler’s view, by using generalization, and letting the subtitle read ‘Jag blev bättre behandlad i själva kriget’ [I got better treatment in the actual war].

Al Roker

In the fast-paced opening scene alluded to above, the White House staff discusses the Christmas arrangements and the following conversation comes up just before the one in example (2) above:

SAM: Who’s playing Santa?
MANDY: Al Roker.
SAM: (raising eyebrows) Playing Santa?
MANDY: What’s wrong with that?
SAM: (slight pause) Went on a diet.
TOBY: How do you know these things?
SAM: I read.
MANDY: We’ll pad him if we have to.

-Vem ska vara tomte?
-Al Roker. Varför inte?

-Han har bantat.
-Då får han ha lösmage.

Back translation:
-Who will be Santa?
-Al Roker. Why not?
-He has dieted.
-Then he will wear a false belly.

The monocultural ECR Al Roker (famous African-American TV personality and NBC weatherman) is central on the micro-level, as it is used for the joke, and also as the centre of this rather lengthy, if rapid, conversation. The joke is based on Sam’s non-verbalized objection that it would be odd to have an African-American man playing Santa. Mandy’s question is then either truly naïve or is daring him to verbalize his bigotry, and Sam finally saves face by hinting that Al Roker is now too thin to be Santa. The most obvious Swedish solution in a case like this would be to use specification to add the information that the TC viewers do not have. However, choosing to specify ‘den svarte Al Roker’ [the black Al Roker] would clearly have been unacceptable. Generalization through the use of a superordinate term would not work either, for the same reasons. A paraphrase in Sam’s third line with something like ‘inte för att han är svart, utan för at than är för smal’ [not because he’s black, but because he’s too thin] was suggested, and that has some merits. However, that also verbalizes the ‘black’ objection, which is something that would spoil the joke, albeit less bluntly, and also, the media-specific constraints would not allow it. It was also suggested that cultural substitution be used, and that Al Roker be replaced by some other portly African American media personality who would be more transcultural, e.g. Forest Whittaker, James Earl Jones or Oprah Winfrey. The last one of these would probably be the most felicitous, as the joke would also be enhanced by adding sexism to the racism that is its unstated basis, plus the fact that Oprah Winfrey is known for her yo-yo dieting. There is of course the polysemiotic problem of the feedback effect from the original (Gottlieb 1997:93); the viewers do not hear Oprah Winfrey, they hear Al Roker. On the other hand, the pace of the dialogue is very rapid, and even native English speakers have problems keeping trace of everything that is said. There is also no credibility gap, since Winfrey is also a SC ECR, whereas it would have been contrary to Swedish norms to use a TC ECR here. Had I  been subtitling into Danish, I would not have hesitated to use Oprah Winfrey, as the norms are traditionally more open to this sort of substitution there (for a further discussion this, cf. Pedersen 2007b). But it is more in line with Swedish subtitling norms to just use retention (Pedersen 2007a: 259), and let the viewers fend for themselves. The ECR is, after all, not exclusively monocultural and it is also peripheral on the macro-level.

The Keystone Kops

After failing to carry out an elaborate blackmail plan to save the reputation of White House Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, Sam and Josh receive a severe reprimand from McGarry, who is not happy with their behaviour:

LEO: Like I don’t have enough problems without the Keystone Kops.

Jag har problem nog,
utan era klumpiga upptåg.

Back translation:
I have enough problems,
without your clumsy stunts.

The monocultural ECR the Keystone Kops refers to characters in a series of silent films from the 1910s. The Keystone Kops were notorious bunglers, and the phrase is often used in the US to refer to people who is incompetent. The ECR is clearly monocultural, as the Keystone Kops films were never aired in Scandinavia, and unlike e.g. Laurel & Hardy or Charlie Chaplin, the Kops are completely unknown to the vast majority of Swedes. Retention would thus be a misleading strategy here, since the ECR is used metaphorically. Substitution is an option, like using ‘Laurel and Hardy’, who are transcultural also and also express the idea of someone who is less than competent. It was also suggested at the brainstorming session mentioned above that ‘Kling & Klang’, the two incompetent policemen from Pippi Longstocking be used for the substitution (which has the added bonus of keeping the police reference and the alliteration). Unfortunately, Swedish norms do not allow that sort of domestication these days (Pedersen 2007a: 238). Instead, generalization through the use of a paraphrase was used, as this is more in line with the current Swedish norms. Current guidelines tend to recommend generalization or praphrase in cases such as this, and that is also in line with my own results (Pedersen 2007: 212).


This article has shown Swedish subtitling norms in action when used on the present episode of The West Wing. The subtitling was carried out in accordance with the technical norms and the solutions were all based on subtitling norms that are active in Sweden today. Thus, retention has been used most frequently on the monocultural ECRs, and then generalization, substitution, omission, direct translation, substitution, and specification in that order in accordance with Swedish subtitling norms (cf. Pedersen 2007a: 201). This illustrates how the model can be used not only as a tool for analysis, but also as a working tool for subtitlers. The strategies give the subtitler the subtitler the means by which to solve ECR-related problems and the parameters, in conjunction with the knowledge of subtitling norms, help the subtitler produce translation solutions that are felicitous and which will be accepted by her or his audience.

The article has shown that there are always ways of solving translation problems caused by cultural references, even though not all connotations can be transferred on all occasions. If the subtitler is aware of the whole range of strategies available, and also considers the circumstances under which the problem appears, a well-informed decision can be made. The fact that some references are harder than others to render in a felicitous way should not be seen as a problem, but instead as something that makes subtitling the interesting task that it is.


Gottlieb, Henrik (1997) Subtitles, Translation & Idioms, Copenhagen, Center for Translation Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Gottlieb, Henrik (2001) Screen Translation: Six Studies in Subtitling, Dubbing and Voice-Over, Copenhagen, Center for Translation Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Ivarsson, Jan and Mary Carroll (1998) Subtitling, Simrishamn, TransEdit.

Katan, David (2004) Translating Cultures: An Introduction for Translators, Interpreters and Mediators (2nd edition), Manchester and Northampton, MA, St Jerome.

Leppihalme, Ritva (1994) Culture Bumps: On the Translation of Allusions, English Department Studies 2, Helsinki, University of Helsinki.

Lörscher, Wolfgang (1991) Translation Performance, Translation Process, and Translation Strategies: A Psycholinguistic Investigation, Tübingen, Gunter Narr.

Pedersen, Jan (2007a) Scandinavian Subtitles: A Comparative Study of Subtitling Norms in Sweden and Denmark with a Focus on Extralinguistic Cultural References, Doctoral Thesis, Stockholm University, Department of English.

Pedersen, Jan (2007b) “Cultural interchangeability: The effects of substituting cultural references in subtitling”, Perspectives. Studies in Translatology 2007:1, 30 – 48.

Pedersen, Jan (2010a) “Audiovisual Translation – In General and in Scandinavia”,  Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 2010:1, 1 – 22.

Pedersen, Jan. (2010b) “When do you go for benevolent intervention? How subtitlers determine the need for cultural mediation”, Díaz Cintas, Jorge, Anna Matamala & Josélia Neves (eds.) New Insights into Audiovisual Translation and Media Accessibility, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 67 – 80.

Pedersen, Jan (2011) Subtitling norms for television: an exploration focusing on extralinguistic cultural references, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Remael, Aline & Gert Vercauteren (2010) “The translation of recorded audio description from English into Dutch”, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 18: 3, 155 — 171.

Toury, Gideon (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies – and Beyond, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins.


[1] In a very wide sense of the word, including e.g. geographical names.

[2] Regardless of word class, syntactic function or size.

[3] Including fictional ones.

[4] As implied in the speech situation.

[5] E.g. a TV programme’s primary target audience.

[6] In this chapter, examples from the ST will be given in italics with a time reference in minutes and seconds.

Audiovisual dialogue economy in The West Wing

By Elisa Perego (University of Trieste, Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

The article explores how the feel of the West Wing is reproduced through language in the screenplay of A. Sorkin. In particular, it gives a linguistic account of the walk-and-talk technique, a prominent story enhancer that emphasizes the hectic life of characters and functions as a language economy device. The article also illustrates the most relevant linguistic features used in episode 10 of the series and it reveals that artificiality is preferred to linguistic realism and naturalness. In fact, the type of audiovisual product in question, the limited time available to convey much information, and the need to be sharp and effective do not allow for the natural inconveniences of real interaction to be included in the screenplay.  

Keywords: walk-and-talk, film language, economy, spoken and written language

©inTRAlinea & Elisa Perego (2016).
"Audiovisual dialogue economy in The West Wing"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2190

The West Wing has often been praised for its accuracy in depicting the inner workings of the White House and for its fictional realism. Former White House staffers served as consultants for the show and enabled executive producer Aaron Sorkin, who created the series and wrote its screenplay, to capture the feel of the West Wing. Describing how this is achieved through language is the aim of this contribution, which will give an account of the witty screenplay of Sorkin. In particular, the walk-and-talk technique, whereby characters converse in the hallways of the West Wing in a fast and snappy mode, will be described as the most outstanding narrative feature which contributes to making this American political drama serial unique, with distinctive language peculiarities (cf. also Chiaro in this volume). Further linguistic insights will be accounted for to describe the nature of the dialogues in episode 10 of The West Wing. In particular, the intentionally partial attempt to imitate real conversation, and the deliberate linearity and polished nature of the exchanges, which is typical of written registers, will be highlighted and exemplified.

1. Screenplay and screenwriter

Screenplays are a specific text type (Cattrysse, Gambier 2008: 39), i.e. a specific genre or category of discourse (Swales 1990: 33), used for specific purposes, meant for specific receivers, having a specific format. Screenplays are the product of a long and complex writing procedure that includes several stages, and they are a central point of reference for the development and fine-tuning of all the technical and organizational operations that have to be carried out in any film production (Costa 2009: 161). Screenplays provide a very analytical description of the film: they give a precise account of dialogues and actions, locations and costumes, special effects and visual effects. They belong to the pre-production phase of filmmaking (Costa 2009: 150; “Pre-production”, n.d.). Before serving the film (or TV show) director, who will direct actors and film crew throughout the whole filmmaking process, screenplays are considered by possible financers and stakeholders. In this respect, they have a very important practical function: they enable prospective producers to consider whether to finance the film itself. Screenplays can be the product of the work of a single writer as well as of multiple writers, each working on a different stage of the screenplay’s development. The process of writing and rewriting screenplays can be very long, but it is always decisive in the success of a film or a TV show.

If films and TV shows are carefully written by qualified and skilled individuals, though later directed by others, who is the actual film author? Is it the director, or is it the screenwriter? Nowadays, most screenwriters are unknown to the audience even though they are vital to the realization of any film or TV series. This fault can be attributed to the importance that is typically accredited to film directors, who are are seen as the real creators of cinematic works of art (Parent-Altier 2007: 12). The identity problem of film director vs. screenwriter is so complex, controversial and debatable that we will not deal with it here. Suffice it to say that the two figures do not (necessarily) share tasks, functions and skills. Directors work on the set, screenwriters deal with the meticulous and rigid writing process on a daily basis. The "work of art" of directors is concrete and tangible: it provides an audiovisual product that travels around the world. On the other hand, from the audience’s perspective, the work of art of screenwriters is ethereal and intangible: it is completed on the set. And even though screenplays are deemed crucial, screenwriters are not given the credit they actually deserve, and they are often debased. This is particularly so in the TV industry, with just very few exceptions.

2. The screenplay of Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin is one of these exceptions. An acknowledged screenwriter, he has an unmistakable style and is recognized for the quality of his writing, which is meticulous, subtle, vivid and imaginative (The West Wing Script Book, n.d.). These are features that may occasionally be missed during the rapid-fire pace of The West Wing: Sorkin is the master of the choppy dialogue that is the trademark of his style, and the most adequate formula to support the widely used walk-and-talk shooting technique that characterizes the series.

The walk-and-talk device has been popularized by Aaron Sorkin himself who developed it on The West Wing, even though it had been widely used before in many US television dramas (Martin, 2010 “Walk and Talk”, n.d.). Technically, the walk-and-talk sequences consist of single tracking shots of long duration involving multiple characters engaging in fast conversation – but never watching where they are going – as they move rapidly through the set; characters enter and exit the conversation as the shot continues without any edits (Aaron Sorkin, 2011). Characters talk fast, and when there are two of them walking and talking, a third character can join them and enable one of the original characters to leave the conversation while the remaining two continue the walking and talking. The screenplay slug lines (i.e. the scene heading occurring at the start of every scene) make this explicit:

FADE OUT. END ACT ONE. ACT TWO FADE IN: INT. HALLWAY – DAY:  Sam is standing in the hallway reading some papers, when C.J. rounds the corner and approaches. They talk on the way through the hallway to their offices.


The group exits the Oval Office. CUT TO: INT. HALLWAY – DAY à C.J. is talking to a staffer and handing her some papers. Danny approaches and follows C.J. as she starts to walk to her office.


The walk-and-talk sequences can be extended, as in the following excerpt, although they are often short and sharp exchanges coming one after the other, and spaced out by quick exchanges made while standing still. The rhythm can be hectic and pressing, with very short urgent turns which are perfectly interwoven and organized, without hold-ups in the delivery:

CUT TO: INT. JOSH'S BULLPEN AREA – DAY: Donna approaches Josh in the very festively decorated bullpen, as several staffers are busy working around them.
DONNA Good morning, Josh.
JOSH Good morning Donna, and a Merry Christmas to you and your whole Protestant family.
DONNA Thank you.
JOSH As you can see I have not yet bought your Christmas present.
DONNA   Yes, and I know you're agonizing over how to best express your appreciation and affection for me at this time of the year.
JOSH That and how I scrape together the ten bucks.
DONNA I've prepared a list. [She gives him a small piece of paper as they continue to walk.]
JOSH Of Christmas gift suggestions?
JOSH   [reads] 'Ski pants, ski boots, ski hat, ski goggles, ski gloves, ski poles.' I'm assuming you already have skis?
DONNA Page two?
JOSH Right. [They cut the corner into a HALLWAY.]
DONNA Just pick something off the list, and, you know, feel free to pick two things.
JOSH I should feel that freedom?
DONN Yeah.
JOSH Thanks.
DONNA I want to learn how to ski.
DONNA I like the equipment.
JOSH Okay.
DONNA Where you going?
JOSH I, uh, need to speak to Leo.
JOSH He wants to talk about your Christmas present.
DONNA Really?
JOSH Yeah.
DONNA So you'll think about the skis?

Yeah. I'll give that a lot of thought. [Donna walks off. Josh waits until her back is turned before crumpling up her list and throwing into a wastebasket. Josh then enters MARGARET'S OFFICE. Nobody inside.]


Technically, the walk-and-talk technique enables characters to keep the conversation moving forward while an operator walks backwards in front of them allowing for a continuous moving medium two shot (Figure. 1):

Figure 1. Medium two shot in The West Wing: the frame depicts the head and torso of two characters. The bottom of the frame typically cuts them off somewhere around the waist

The main purposes of the walk-and-talk storytelling device are to give energy to the scenes and to make the exchange more visually interesting. The walk-and-talk technique is a useful medium for quick-fire humour and is intended to underline the busy lives and importance of the characters. It suggests that there is so much to do and so little time to do it that even traveling time must be used to serve additional functions (TV tropes, n.d.; Martin, 2010). Besides achieving two purposes simultaneously (traveling towards an objective and exchanging information through dialogue), the nature of the walk-and-talk technique enables scriptwriters to compress information and avoid long expository dialogues, thus embracing the vital economy principle which distinguishes film language. Undoubtedly, language contributes to conveying the unstoppable sense of urgency which blends with strong character development against a background of day-to-day activities being accomplished in the highest office in the country.

3. The language of The West Wing

Although such strong urgency specifically distinguishes the walk-and-talk fragments, it is actually present in the whole screenplay. Watching episode 10 of The West Wing (“In Excelsis Deo”, written by A. Sorkin and R. Cleveland, directed by A. Graves) and flipping through its script, we can observe only a few passages where characters take time while talking and indulge in longer turns. Mrs Landingham’s touching explanation to Charlie, who is concerned by her unusual sadness, is one of the few instances. She slowly explains that her sons decided not to avoid the draft and declined the offer of a deferment to finish med school. This time drama is conveyed through an extended monologue (vs. quick-fire dialogues):

They didn't want one [a deferment]. Their father and I begged them, but they wanted to go where people needed doctors. Their father and I begged them, but you can't tell kids anything. So they joined up as medics and four months later they were pinned down during a fight in DaNang and were killed by enemy fire. That was Christmas Eve 1970. [beat] You know, they were so young, Charlie, they were your age. It's hard when that happens so far away, you know because, with the noises and the shooting, they had to be so scared. It's hard not to think that right then they needed their mother... Anyway, I miss my boys.

Other instances of medium-length turns are the briefings given to the White House Press Corps, though they are representative of a variety of language written to be spoken as if written: briefings are instances of planned discourse:

There's been no change in the President’s 10 a.m. departure time so we're still looking at about noon. This is a half day for us, so I'm gonna make it a half day for you too. There is no more news from The White House. The lid is on. Have a Merry Christmas.

Most dialogues, however, prefer language economy devices. They treat every word as a precious component, and choose powerful and informative wordings and constructions. Exchanges are ‘short, sharp and tight’ (Carter et al. 1997: 196) – in other words, they seem to accomplish the four Gricean maxims in full, whereby speakers ideally have to be brief, truthful, relevant and informative (Grice 1975). They integrate well with the audiovisual components of the product, and as a result, they easily capture the viewer’s attention. This effectiveness is achieved mainly by resorting to a balanced blend of selected features of the written and the spoken register as well as avoiding wordy phrasings and meaningless modifiers, thus encouraging shorter formulations. This is made possible by careful editing, which cannot take place when interlocutors co-construct real life conversation. We know that “[it]n narrative films, dialogue may strive mightily to imitate natural conversation, but it is always an imitation. It has been scripted, written and rewritten, censored, polished, rehearsed, and performed. Even when lines are improvised on the set, they have been spoken by impersonators, judged, approved, and allowed to remain” (Kozloff 2000: 18). In The West Wing, the attempt to imitate conversation is partial. Many features from the grammar of conversation i.e. performance phenomena (Biber at al. 1999: 1052-1066), are deliberately left out.

This is not necessarily representative of film language in general: in some cases, when not pruned from the scrip, “actual hesitations, repetitions, digressions, grunts, interruptions, and mutterings of everyday speech [are] deliberately included” (Kozloff 2000: 18). Take this example from Annie Hall (W. Allen 1977, USA; screenplay by W. Allen and M. Brickman), a classic.

INT. LOBBY:  Alvy, dressed, puts things into a gym bag. One knee is on the bench and his back is turned from the entrance. Annie walks toward the entrance door dressed in street clothes and carrying her tennis bag over her shoulder. Seeing Alvy, she stops and turns.


Hi.  Hi, hi.


(Looking over his shoulder) Hi.  Oh, hi.  Hi.


(Hands clasped in front of her, smiling) Well, bye. (She laughs and backs up slowly toward the door)


(Clearing his throat) You-you play ... very well.


Oh, yeah?  So do you.  Oh, God, whatta- (Making sounds and laughing) whatta dumb thing to say, right?  I mean, you say it, "You play well," and right away ... I have to say “you play well”.  Oh, oh ... God, Annie. (She gestures with her hand) Well ... oh, well ... la-de-da, la-de-da, la-la.


Annie and Alvy have just met. The passage is an essence of local repetitions, pauses and hesitations, discourse markers and interjections, lexical bundles, questions and imperatives, and short elliptical response forms. Things do not seem to differ even after the characters start being more intimate:

He starts kissing Annie's arm.  She gets annoyed and continues to read.


Alvy, I ...


What-what-what-what's the matter?


I-you know, I don't wanna.


(Overlapping Annie, reacting) What-what-I don't ... It's not natural! We're sleeping in a bed together.  You know, it's been a long time.


I know, well, it's just that-you know, I mean, I-I-I-I gotta sing tomorrow night, so I have to rest my voice.


(Overlapping Annie again) It's always some kind of an excuse.  It's- You know, you used to think that I was very sexy.  What ... When we first started going out, we had sex constantly ... We're- we're probably listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.


(Patting Alvy's band solicitously) I know.  Well, Alvy, it'll pass, it'll pass, it's just that I'm going through a phase, that's all.




I mean, you've been married before, you know how things can get.  You were very hot for Allison at first.


The dialogues flow, they are fast, but they encompass the typical problems of online ordinary speech: overlaps (marked even in the screenplay’s slug lines), hedges and discourse markers are abundant, as are sound, word and clause repetitions, starts and repairs. The style is informal – which shows grammatically in the use of verb and negative constructions (it’s, it’ll, don’t), and in the choice of non-standard features (gotta, wanna). Speakers never become inarticulate but they constantly take time and make this clear by resorting to filled and unfilled pauses, which signal hesitations, efforts on the part of the speakers to plan what to say next, unfinished turns, need to keep the floor or to launch a new utterance.

If films can occasionally afford to ‘waste time’ replicating natural speech performance phenomena, TV series, and The West Wing in particular, are subject to strict time limitations per episode and therefore have to rely on time-saving features and forms of grammatical reduction. Hence the preference for deictics, ellipsis, substitutions, contracted and condensed forms, which all contribute to creating a sense of informality and a casual tone in spoken discourse, at the same time making it succinct and pertinent. The need to save time and be short and sharp determines a preference for both interactions based on fast exchanges as opposed to long turns, and monologues or voice-over narrations. The latter however are characteristic of several films and TV series. Suffice it to think of the initial monologue of Alvy Singer in Annie Hall or the constant voice-over narration of Will Freeman in About a Boy (P. & C. Weitz 2001, UK). Other instances of voice-over narrations are found in the comedy-drama series Desperate Housewives, where the eyes of the dead neighbor of a group of women follow their lives and narrate the show, and in the American TV drama Dexter, to mention just a few examples. A brief excerpt taken from the opening of episode 10 of The West Wing includes most of the features mentioned above in a few lines:


The President will stand next to the tree with flag on the left and the Carollers will be off to the side.


With the Santa hats on?


No. Dickensian costumes.




Maybe we'll have both.


You think?


You think they'll clash?




Someone tell me why I'm standing here.


To weigh in on this.

Everything in this exchange is built on what the previous speaker has said. Consequently, repetitions can be avoided with the desirable effect of saving time. The conversation is built on a shared physical context, which facilitates the use of substitute forms and different types of ellipsis. It is built on a shared background knowledge and therefore both viewers and on screen interactants can easily draw on implicit meaning. Specifically, in this excerpt we note a series of elliptic replies, where the missing content is recoverable from the preceding utterances (With the Santa hats on? <that is Will the Carollers be off to the side with Santa hats on?> and: Dickensian costumes <that is No. The Carollers will be off to the side with Dickensian costumes>). We observe the use of substitute forms which rely on the linguistic context (Maybe we’ll have both <i.e. Maybe we’ll have Santa hats and Dickensian costumes>) and of deictics which point extra-textually and situate the speaker (Someone tell me why I’m standing here <that is Someone tell me why I’m standing in the Northwest lobby of the White House>). The very frequent omission of function words (Might <that is They might>) and the regular use of situational ellipsis (You think? <that is Do you think?>) contribute to the pungency of the dialogues and to giving edge to their style. A further touch of colloquialism is given by the choice of informal lexical items (to weigh in vs. more formal to become involved in an argument or discussion in a forceful way).

In a crucial paragraph on the principles of on-line production, Biber et al. (1999: 1066-1067) mention ‘keep talking’, ‘limited planning ahead’, and ‘qualification of what has been said’. Remaining with the previous excerpt, which is somehow representative of most of the entire screenplay, we can claim that the devices chosen by the scriptwriter enable characters to keep the conversation moving forward smoothly most of the time: no stops or communicative breakdowns ever take place and therefore speakers do not need to resort to repair strategies to retrieve the situation (for example hesitations, backtracking and restarting, leaving pieces of discourse dangling and incomplete, or giving the floor to another person). This has positive repercussions on the communicative effectiveness and leaves no room for misunderstandings. Secondly, heavy elaboration of structure and meaning, especially at the beginning and in the middle of a sentence, is avoided (cf. the typical non-elaboration principle that characterizes conversation: Biber et al. 1999; Chafe, Danielewicz 1987). This follows the rules of conversation, where there’s little time to plan ahead. Although most sentences are short, we can find exceptional cases where the sentence structure is simple and linear, but the constituents show a very elaborate nominalized configuration – a typical feature of written registers. A linear SVC[1] sentence can in fact be quite long:






a congressman is about to expose something about his past that's gonna be damaging to him

and so can an SVOiOd sentence:






could give


a name of an influential Republican who likes to have kinky sex

The principle of end weight, which is more extreme in spoken than in written English, is respected to facilitate the comprehension of receivers (both audience and on screen interlocutors) (Biber et al. 1999: 898). Regarding the third principle, whereby the lack of time to plan the discourse prevents speakers from producing linear structures (cf. also Halliday 1985 and the intricacy of spoken language vs. the linearity of written language), we observe that it is not accomplished in the screenplay. This reminds us of the shortness, sharpness and tightness of the dialogues mentioned before. The tight dramatic structure of the dialogues and their organization remind us of theatre dialogues more than of real conversation (Remael 2004). The contents depart from those of ordinary talk, where they are often ‘humdrum and banal’ (Taylor 2004: 8). Hold-ups in delivery, which are the most noticeable form of disfluency in conversation, are absent. There’s no room for linguistic digressions: what is being said is focused, intense and clear-cut; sudden, abrupt and loud; closely fitting, concise in style and lacking slack:

JOSH There's a thing that's gonna happen.
SAM What?
JOSH Lillienfield knows that Leo's a recovering alcoholic.
SAM Everyone knows that Leo is a recovering alcoholic.
JOSH Yeah, but they don't know that there were pills. There was Valium. He was in rehab.
SAM When?
JOSH Six years ago.
SAM He was Secretary of Labor six years ago.
JOSH Yeah.
SAM He was high when he was running the Labor Department.

In Halliday’s (1985: 87) words, “[t]he complexity of the written language is its density of substance, solid like that of a diamond formed under pressure. By contrast, the complexity of spoken language is its intricacy of movement, liquid like that of a rapidly running river”. The language of The West Wing encapsulates both qualities. It is solid in its structure, which cannot be modified, and which is formed under the pressure of the genre constraints. It is certainly liquid, like a rapidly running river, which has to flow fast along its artificially created course.

4. Translating Aaron Sorkin

Film language is a ‘variety of spoken discourse’ (Taylor 1999; Kozloff 2000; Freddi, Pavesi 2009). It emerges from the effort to imitate face-to-face conversation. It normally encapsulates a selected set of linguistic features that belong to the spoken register to give the impression of authenticity to a patently artificial product. The blend of spoken and written language features is usually balanced. Most films and TV series consciously weigh the features to include in the final dialogues to make them natural in their accepted artificiality. Those of The West Wing, though, seem to be closer to the written end of the spoken-written language continuum. Dialogues are linear and vivid, neat and polished. Although the dynamics of real conversation are maintained, every turn is clear and accurate, speakers never overlap, there is no trace of online planning pressure, information is packed and organized, and grammar is not intricate.

Though well thought out (or because of this), Sorkin’s writing may be a double edged weapon for audiovisual translators, especially when the walk-and-talk technique is employed, or any time dialogues are fast-paced. Sorkin’s ability to be short sharp and tight in English might put translators to the test, especially when the target languages are Latin languages. Most of the words and expressions are essential and omitting or condensing them might easily change the original meaning of the message or alter the style. The quick-fire nature of the dialogues might be particularly challenging when subtitling. The attempt to maintain most of the original dialogues might cause subtitles to be too long and not usable. On the other hand, the lack of those elements that subtitles usually omit without interfering with the original message (disfluencies and errors, orality markers such as voiced pauses etc.) are not there in most of the (walk-and-talk) dialogues of The West Wing and this requires a major adaptation effort to achieve communicative equivalence.

The audiovisual translation of The West Wing therefore poses a series of challenges and raises a series of questions: Can transfer (that is full expression with adequate rendering; Gottlieb 1992: 166) be used at all when subtitling? How can voice-over solve effectively the problem of very fast exchanges? Is there a specific audiovisual translation method (for example dubbing vs. subtitling) that facilitates a more effective and enjoyable translation? Dubbing for instance usually enables translators to rewrite the original text and to adjust it without necessarily having to struggle with omissions: is this an advantage or is it a limitation? Finally, how can audio description for the visually impaired audience find its way between dialogues, if dialogues are so tight? Can audio introductions make up for the lack of pauses between dialogues? These and many more questions emerge when thinking about Sorkin’s screenplays and their translation into different languages. To observe how different audiovisual translators face these problems might help us determine whether audiovisual translation strategies tend to be homogeneous in spite of the language pair involved and of the type of translation resorted to, or if they adapt to the method employed.  

5. Concluding remarks

An examination of both the screenplay and the show of The West Wing reveals accurate and recurring language choices that enable the screenwriter to generate the characteristic pungency of the dialogues. This is achieved through leaning toward language choices that depart from naturalness. The awareness of the rules of conversation is here exploited to deliver an enjoyable product that however does not attempt to imitate natural speech. Natural speech is characterized by a series of features deriving from the interaction between interlocutors, and by a series of features deriving from on-line production pressure. The various components of real dialogues that are captured and maintained in The West Wing are functional to building a deliberately artificial product rather than a product that resembles daily speech. The exchange structure for the negotiation of meaning between interlocutors is maintained, but it is made artificial by depriving it of all the natural inconveniences of real interaction. Unlike the typical approach in many recent films and TV series, no movement toward realism or naturalistic style can be detected. The dialogues are so well structured and polished that they may come across as too perfect and not necessarily genuine, even though they are appreciated by the audience and are especially fit for some circumstances (for example during the walking and talking flashes). The pace of the dialogues is so fast, however, that there is no time left for the viewer to focus on the extent of editing that led to the final scripted dialogues. The tightness and the speed of the dialogues themselves give character to the show, but may cause problems to audiovisual translators. Depending on the type of audiovisual translation in question, the problems that may arise regard the possibility to produce subtitles that stay on screen for a suitable span of time, voice-overs that keep up the pace of the original soundtrack, audio descriptions that find their way into a very thick network of dialogues. How a solution can be found to these problems – and much more – will be the subject of other articles of this Special Issue of inTRAlinea, and food for thought for future research.


Aaron Sorkin (2011). Retrieved from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Sorkin

Biber, Douglas, Johansson, Stig, Leech, Geoffrey, Conrad, Susan, and Edward Finegan, (1999) Longman grammar of spoken and written English, Harlow: Longman.

Carter, Ronald, Goddard, Angela, Reah, Daruta, Sanger, Keith, and Maggie Bowring (1997) Working with texts: A core book for language analysis, New York: Routledge.

Cattrysse, Patrick, and Yves Gambier (2008). “Screenwriting and translating screenplays” in The didactic of audiovisual translation, Jorge Díaz Cintas (ed.) Amsterdam/Philadelphia, Benjamins: 39-55.

Chafe, Walter and Jane Danielewicz  (1987) “Properties of spoken and written language” in Comprehending oral and written language, Rosalind Horowitz & S. Jay Samuels (eds), San Diego: Academic Press: 83-113.

Costa, Antonio (2009) Saper vedere il cinema (20th ed.), Milano, Bompiani.

Freddi, Maria and Maria Pavesi (eds.) (2009)  Analysing audiovisual dialogue. Linguistic and translational insights, Bologna, Clueb.

Gottlieb, Henrick (1992)  “Subtitling. A new university discipline” in Teaching translation and interpreting. Training, talent and experience, Cay Dollerup and Anne Loddegaard (eds.) Amsterdam: Benjamins: 261-274.

Grice, Herbert Paul (1975) “Logic and conversation” in Syntax and semantics: Speech acts. Volume 3, Peter Cole and Jerry L. Morgan (eds.), New York: Academic: 41-58.

Halliday, Michael A.K. (1985) Spoken and written language, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Kozloff, Sarah (2000) Overhearing film dialogue, Berkeley, University of California Press

Martin, G. 2010, The meaning and origin of the expression: walk and talk. [Online] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/walk-the-walk.html

Parent-Altier, Dominique (2007) Introduzione alla sceneggiatura (2nd ed),Torino, Lindau.

Pre-production. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-production

Pridham, Francesca (2001) The language of conversation, London: Routledge.

Remael, Aline (2004) “A place for film dialogue analysis in subtitling courses” in Topics in audiovisual translation P. Orero (ed.), Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins: 103-126.

Swales, John (1990) Genre analysis. English in academic and research settings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, Christopher (1999) “Look who’s talking: An analysis of film dialogue as a variety of spoken discourse” in Massed medias, Linda Lombardo, Louann Haarman, John Morley & Christopher Taylor (eds), Milano, LED: 247-278.

Taylor, Christopher (2004) “Subtitling, filmese and MCA” in Lingua inglese e mediazione interlinguistica ricerca e didattica con supporto telematico, Carol Taylor Torsello, Maria Grazia Busà, and Sara Gesuato (Eds), Padova: Unipress: 3-18).

The West Wing Script Book (n.d.) [Online] http://www.amazon.com/West-Wing-Script-Book/dp/1557044996

Tv Tropes: Walk and Talk. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WalkAndTalk

Walk and Talk. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walk_and_talk


[1] We follow the convention whereby S = subject, V = verb, Od = direct object, Oi = indirect object, C = complement, A = adjunct. 

Polish voice-over of “In excelsis Deo”

Technical constraints and critical points in translation decision-making

By Iwona Mazur & Agnieszka Chmiel (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

This article focuses on the analysis of technical constraints and critical points in the voice-over translation of a single episode of The West Wing, an American TV series set in the White House. The aim was to investigate how the mode of translation (voice-over for fiction genres) with its numerous constraints influences the translator’s decision-making. We first performed a quantitative analysis of technical aspects, including time constraints, text reduction and the quality of the recording. We found significant target text reduction (by 31 percent) and higher lexical variety of the target text, which suggests removal of repetitions and oral discourse markers. In the qualitative analysis we focussed on such critical points in the translator’s decision-making process as culture-specific items, metaphors, or irony, and tried to evaluate the decisions in the context of the observations made in the quantitative analysis. We found normalization to be the most frequently applied strategy in translating culture-specific items. This means that administrative and military terms from the American culture were frequently replaced with culture-free words, which led to some loss of the cultural context. Our analysis shows that in voice-over translation for a fiction genre the translator has to satisfy technical constraints first and only then can he strive to find the best solutions to the critical points created by the original text.

Keywords: voice-over narrator, culture-specific items, decision-making in translation, fiction genre, technical constraints, critical points

©inTRAlinea & Iwona Mazur & Agnieszka Chmiel (2016).
"Polish voice-over of “In excelsis Deo”"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: A Text of Many Colours – translating The West Wing
Edited by: Christopher Taylor
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2189

1. Introduction

On the audiovisual translation map presented by Gottlieb (1998), Poland was identified as a voice-over country, that is a country with voice-over as a predominant mode of audiovisual translation. This mode of audiovisual translation gained popularity in Poland in the previous decades mainly due to economic reasons. Nowadays, the majority of foreign audiovisual content broadcast by TV stations is still translated by means of voice-over – again, due to economic reasons, but also because viewers are used to and expect this type of translation. Subtitling and dubbing do exist – the former is the dominant AVT mode in cinemas, the latter is applied to animated films to facilitate their reception by young audiences. Alongside Russia, Bulgaria and some other Eastern European countries, Poland seems to use voice-over not only for documentaries (as is the case in some predominantly dubbing countries, such as Spain), but also for fictional genres, including feature films and TV series. The episode of The West Wing analysed in this special issue was thus translated by means of voice-over in Poland and as such was presented to the Polish audience.

The aim of this article is to analyse the translation of the said audiovisual material in the voice-over mode with a special focus on technical constraints and critical points in translation decision-making. We will base our analysis on a single episode of The West Wing entitled “In excelsis Deo”. We will identify the limitations the translator had to face in preparing a voice-over script for that episode resulting from both the technical characteristics of voice-over and the incongruence of American and Polish culture exemplified by certain culture-specific items (as well as from other aspects that may be challenging during the translation process). To that end, we will first present an overview of voice-over as a lesser known and much lesser researched audiovisual translation technique. We will then apply a quantitative and qualitative analysis to the translated episode to shed more light on the translator’s choices as determined by voice-over-specific limitations. The subsequent section will comprise a qualitative analysis of the translator’s decisions taken at critical points identified in the original text.

2. Voice-over as an audiovisual translation mode

Voice-over is considered to be the ‘ugly duckling’ of audiovisual translation (Orero 2006 after Woźniak, 2012) when it comes to both the number of research-based publications (for a detailed report see Franco et al. 2010) and the researchers’ opinions (see below). Voice-over as a term originally borrowed from Film Studies is defined in an abundance of ways (see Franco et al. 2010 for a detailed analysis), so it is necessary to specify what we mean by voice-over for the purpose of this paper. Díaz-Cintas and Orero define voice-over as:

a technique in which a voice offering a translation in a given target language is heard simultaneously on top of the SL voice. As far as the soundtrack of the original program is concerned, the volume is reduced to a low level that can still be heard in the background when the translation is being read. It is common practice to allow the viewer to hear the original speech in the foreign language at the onset of the speech and to reduce subsequently the volume of the original so that the translated speech can be inserted. The translation usually finishes several seconds before the foreign language speech does, the sound of the original is raised again to a normal volume and the viewer can hear once more the original speech  (Díaz-Cintas and Orero, 2006: 477).

Franco et al. 2010 add other important features to the above definition. Voice-over ‘is the revoicing of a text in another language, or a translating voice superimposed on a translated voice’ (2010: 23), is spoken in synchrony with original speech, recognisable words and actions (kinetic/action synchrony discussed in more detail below), derives from unedited material (production voice-over) or from edited material (postproduction voice-over); ‘can render content more closely to the original (voice-over translation) or less closely to the original (what the authors have decided to call free voice-over translation); reproduces mimetic features to a certain extent (accent, age, emotion, gender, intonation, orality markers, stress)’ (2010: 23). As we will see later, due to the specific use of voice-over in Poland some of these features do not directly apply to the Polish voice-over analysed in this paper.

In the context of Gottlieb’s classification of audiovisual translation modes, voice-over would fall predominantly into the isosemiotic category, that is it involves transfer between the same channels (the verbal auditory channel in the original including characters’ utterances transferred into the verbal auditory channel in the translation including the reading of the translated lines by the voice talent). However, it may also be diasemiotic, that is involving different channels since certain inscriptions, captions or letters shown to the viewer but not read out by the characters will be translated and presented orally by the voice talent, that is the verbal visual channel will be transferred into the auditory one. 

In the majority of countries voice-over is usually applied to the translation of programmes that come under the umbrella term of the factual genres (including news, documentaries, talk shows, debates, corporate videos, interviews, instruction videos, infomercials) (Franco et al. 2010). In Poland, voice-over (called wersja lektorska) is used predominantly in television for fiction genres as well, such as feature films and TV series. It thus differs from the voice-over used for non-fiction genres in the West.

3. Voice-over as an AVT mode for fiction films in Poland

In principle, Polish voice-over is delivered by one voice talent, irrespective of the number of characters and their gender. It is usually the male voice for fiction genres and either male or female for documentaries. In the rest of the analysis, we will focus on the characteristics of Polish voice-over for fiction films only. According to Polish scholars: ‘słowo dociera do widza podwójną drogą: w wersji tłumaczonej i częściowo interpretowanej przez lektora, oraz w wersji oryginalnej, która zostaje jednak znacznie wyciszona, stanowiąc w nowym przekazie zaledwie tło dźwiękowe’ [the word reaches the viewer in two ways: translated and partially interpreted by the voice talent, and in the original version with a significantly lowered volume so that it becomes just a sound background in the new message] (Hendrykowski 1982 after Tomaszkiewicz 2006).

Although the majority of Polish viewers express their preference for voice-over in the translation of audiovisual content in surveys and opinion polls (Bogucki 2004), Polish scholars shun this mode and consider it as inferior to subtitling and dubbing. Belczyk (2007) claims that low costs may be the only advantage. According to Garcarz: ‘Polscy widzowie (telewizyjni) nie wyrażają niestety gotowości do wprowadzenia wersji napisowej (dominującej w dystrybucji kinowej) na codzienny użytek w przekładach telewizyjnych’ [Polish TV viewers are unfortunately not willing to accept subtitles (that predominate in cinemas) as a translation mode on TV] (Garcarz 2006: 115). Tomaszkiewicz (2006) explicitly states that voice-over should not be used for fiction.

Similarly, voice-over for fiction genres is negatively viewed in Western countries. The New York Times asked through one of its headlines: ‘Why Is Marilyn Monroe a Polish Baritone?’ and described this audiovisual translation mode as follows:  ‘As actors and actresses open their mouths to speak, their words are drowned out by the voice of a seemingly omniscient Polish male off screen. Joan Collins’s put-downs on Dynasty are thus heard by Poles as a local baritone. Marilyn Monroe’s breathy come-ons in Some Like It Hot are heard as a deep monotone, and Jane Fonda’s seductive voice in Barbarella emerges as flat drone’ (Glaser 1991). The article even quotes Izabela Cywińska, former Polish Minister of Culture, thus explaining the predominance of voice-over: ‘It is a matter of laziness. The Polish people deserve better than these idiotic voices who invade films and characters’ (Glaser 1991). Regardless of personal views, voice-over seems to be an established mode of audiovisual translation in Poland and is starting to be regarded as an interesting object of scientific analysis. When approached without prejudice, it proves to be as complex as other audiovisual translation modes, subject to its own characteristic technical constraints that continue to pose challenges to translators.

Since the definitions of voice-over presented in section 2 pertain to voice-over as applied mainly to non-fiction genres while voice-over is used also for fiction genres in Poland, it is important to pinpoint some differences crucial for the understanding of the nature of Polish voice-over. There are also differences in the implementation of voice-over in countries that use it for films and TV series. For instance, there are typically two voice talents in Russian voice-over for films – a female voice for all female characters and a male voice for all male ones. In Poland, all lines are read by one male voice talent who in general does not reproduce mimetic features of the characters (such as accent, age, emotion, gender, intonation, orality markers, stress, as indicated above by Franco et al. [2010]). The voice is rather neutral and the viewers know that the characters are shouting or stuttering because they can hear the original soundtrack slightly decreased in volume in the background. In fact, if compared with Polish voice-over for films from decades ago, contemporary voice-over seems to leave the original soundtrack quite audible to make it an inherent part of translation (we elaborate on this rather thought-provoking comment in section 5.3). Other differences regarding various synchrony types will be discussed in more detail in section 5.

4. Methodology

The present study includes both quantitative and qualitative analyses of various aspects of the voice-over translation of one episode of The West Wing, the material that has been subject to manifold analyses in the present special issue of the journal. We are especially interested in seeing how the mode of translation (voice-over for fiction genres) with its numerous constraints influences the translator’s choices.

The Polish translation is authored by Alicja Mołoniewicz, produced by ITI Studio and commissioned by TVN, one of Poland’s nationwide private broadcasting corporations. The series was screened in Poland under the title: Prezydencki poker (back translation into English: Presidential poker). The first four seasons were aired by TVN and TVN7 as late night shows. The series was not very popular and subsequent seasons were not shown in Poland. The text of the translation was very difficult to access so we simply transcribed the episode available through one of Poland’s official online pay-as-you-go services offering television content. We thus arrived at a very small parallel bilingual corpus. Parallel corpora typically include original texts and their translations, thus lending themselves easily to direct comparisons between the source text and the target text (Bosseaux 2007; Kenny 2001). Our corpus included a text of the original scripted dialogues of the episode “In excelcis Deo” in English and its translation into Polish.

We first performed a quantitative and qualitative analysis of technical aspects of the VO, including time constraints, text reduction and the quality of the recording. Then we focussed on some critical points in the translator’s decision-making process, such as culture-specific items, metaphors, irony or grammar, and tried to evaluate the decisions in the context of the observations made in the first part.

5. Technical aspects of the VO

Since voice-over is under-researched it is usually considered less demanding for translators because they do not have to bother about lip-synchronisation (as in dubbing) or space constraints (as in subtitling). But, as we hope this study will show, voice-over sets various limitations that eventually determine the translator’s choices. This section will focus on time constraints in voice-over and various synchrony requirements it must meet (voice-over isochrony, kinetic synchrony and action synchrony). We will use the definitions provided by Franco et al. (2010) and identify differences in those requirements between non-fiction and fiction genres. Examples will be provided from the TV series in question.

5.1. Time constraints – isochrony

Time constraints are one of the most obvious limitations one can observe when watching voiced-over content. The spoken translation cannot be longer than the original lines. This parallelism between voice-over versions and their originals is referred to as isochrony (Franco et al. 2010: 121), or ‘the need to create a fluent translation that is going to be read aloud and which fits in the space available’ (Franco et al. 2010: 46). It is common practice to have seconds at the beginning and at the end of an utterance with no translation so that the viewer can hear the original soundtrack, the speaker’s voice, and so on. According to Orero (2004), the translation begins two seconds after the original and finishes a couple of seconds before the end of the original dialogue. According to Ávila (1997), the delay is approximately 4 seconds while Carroll (2004) presents a meaning-based approach and states that the delay might be equivalent to the unit of meaning (similarly to the delay in simultaneous interpreting during conferences). It also happens that the voice-over version might end simultaneously with the original or even be longer. Such post-synchrony is frequent in Polish voice-over. The translation typically starts a few seconds after the original and frequently ends later than the original.

5.2. Text reduction

The isochrony or post-synchrony requirement entails much reduction in the translation. As Orero and Matamala (2009: 25) rightly point out: ‘fluffs, hesitations, repetitions [are] eliminated from the target language version because otherwise it could not be understood.’ In fact, this makes the voice talent’s task easier on the one hand since no acting out is required and a redundancy-free text can be neutrally delivered. On the other hand, this means that the voice-over text aims to sound natural and spontaneous even if it is deprived of orality features.

The most frequently omitted elements from the original speech include (after Tomaszkiewicz 2006 and Belczyk 2007): nominative forms of address (Monica, you guys), phatic devices (oh, uhm, well, you know, you’re right, really?), repetitions, fixed situational phrases (welcome, goodbye, identification in a phone call), question tags (aren’t you?), false starters (He’s... I don’t know), terms of endearment (honey, darling), linking devices (because I don’t want it).

In the translated dialogue list of “In excelsis Deo” we have identified all of the above categories of text reduction. In addition, we have noted that most of the unfinished sentences have been omitted as well. For example I know you're not, but that doesn't... has been translated as Wiem o tym (‘I know that’). Also, some repetitions have been dropped, such as in the following exchange between Sam and C.J. when she finds out that her new secret service code is ‘Flamingo’ and when she thinks that it is a ridiculous looking bird: – You're not ridiculous looking. – I know I'm not ridiculous looking translated as  – Ty tak nie wyglądasz. – Wiem (‘You don’t look like that. – I know’). What is more, we have noticed quite extreme cases of condensation, for example I wasn't planning on doing that, but now that you suggest it has been translated as Niezły pomysł (‘Not a bad idea’). And finally, there were numerous cases where whole sentences were dropped, though without loss of meaning for a given exchange. For example, when the president is getting ready to do some last minute Christmas shopping one of his co-workers notes: I saw the black suburban in back. President's slipping away, huh? In the translation the first sentence has been omitted completely and the line rendered as Prezydent gdzieś się wymyka? (‘The president is slipping away?’)

We calculated some descriptive statistics to examine the reduction of text in the voice-over translation of The West Wing episode. We decided to compare the total number of characters rather than the total number of words since word lengths differ in the language pair under consideration. We deemed the number of characters a better measure of text length since we believe that, roughly speaking, the number of characters will be a better reflection of the time required to read a text than words that differ in length (English words are usually shorter than Polish ones and thus are faster to read; in fact, the actual mean word length in the English original was 4.09 characters and in the Polish translation – 5.08 characters). The total number of characters in English was 28,003 against 19,271 characters in the Polish voice-over version. Thus, the translation is approximately 31 per cent shorter than the original. If we consider that Polish is usually longer than English (since the words are longer and the average translation of an English text into Polish would be about 30 per cent shorter), this outcome certainly reflects various reductions that took place in the course of translation.

We also looked at a measure of linguistic variety, the type-token ratio (TTR), which is the ratio of different words that are used in a text (types) and all words in that text (tokens). TTR as used in a parallel corpus, like ours, can be used to ascertain the existence of one of translation universals – simplification (Laviosa 2003). We might expect a lower TTR value for the translated text, which would mean that the Polish translator used a smaller range of vocabulary and thus simplified the language (this measure obviously pertains to lexical simplification only, not to syntactic). Surprisingly, TTR for the English text was 21.18 and its STTR – standardised type-token ratio (measured to avoid corpus length as a confounding variable (Bosseaux 2007)) was 39.48. This proved to be lower than the measures for the Polish text: TTR – 40.24, STTR – 46.43. To explain the outcome, we have to take into consideration the language pair specificity. Polish is a highly inflective language, which means that all inflected forms of the same word will be treated as separate tokens. In English, this is not the case since inflection suffixes are few and far between. This difference alone can account for the higher TTR and thus higher lexical variety in Polish. Additionally, this may be also explained by the fact that the Polish translation is greatly reduced as compared to the English original and that reduction naturally applied to repetitions.

To investigate this potential explanation further, we compared the frequency of some content words in the corpus. This time, we compared the frequency of occurrence of lemmas (all inflections of a word are treated as the same word) (Kenny 2001: 34) rather than unlemmatised types (that is all infections treated as separate words)  to account for the structural difference between Polish and English. We selected two common nouns (prezydent – president, bezdomny – homeless) and four proper names (Josh, Toby, Leo, Sam). Table 1 shows that, with the exception of president, repetitions of these words were more numerous in the original rather than in the voice-over translation, thus further adding to the explanation of the higher type-token ratio in Polish and further indicating types of reductions performed by the translator.





prezydent (also: prezydencie – vocative, prezydenta – genitive, prezydentem – instrumental, prezydentowi – dative)




bezdomny (also: bezdomnemu – dative)




Josh (also: Joshem – instrumental)












Sam (also: Sama – genitive)




Table 1. Occurrences of selected words in the corpus

It seems that there is much need for reducing terms of address, utterances with phatic function, greetings and so on in Polish voice-over. According to Hendrykowski (1984 after Garcarz 2006), one of the most serious sins committed by voice-over translators is the repetitive transfer of meanings that are included in the original version as fully comprehensible without translation. These meanings include, but are not limited to, names pronounced by the characters and greetings. Majewski (personal communication after Garcarz 2006) confirms that unprofessional voice-over scripts usually include repetitions of the original soundtrack elements that are audible and comprehensible to the voice-over version users. He states that translators working with him for the Polish public television have always been instructed to leave such elements untranslated and audible in the original (personal communication). 

5.3. Voice-over as voice-in-between

Given such substantial text reduction, as described in 5.2, the translated dialogue list of “In excelsis Deo” is much shorter than the original one. As a result, we can expect that when read out by the voice talent it will not fully overlap with the original speech. In fact, this opens up new possibilities for the voice-over mode. Woźniak proposes that ‘in order to achieve maximum invisibility and unobtrusiveness of voice-over, the  principle of superimposition should be replaced with that of juxtaposition: in other words, voice-over should be transformed into voice-behind or voice-in-between’ (Woźniak, 2012: 216). She suggests that the original soundtrack should be clearly audible and the voice talent ‘should (…) be able to deliver the text in pauses and gaps in the original dialogue, or – if this is not possible – to reduce the impact by leaving whole sentences or coherent parts of them audible’ (Woźniak 2012: 216) (though it should not compromise the audibility of the voice talent). In this way the viewers can compensate for condensation and reductions in the translation.

Inspired by Woźniak’s analysis of the voice-over of Star Trek (Woźniak 2012), we decided to have a closer look at the voice-over of The West Wing episode and determine which portions of the original soundtrack are audible. Because of the space limitations of the article, we limit ourselves to one fairly short exchange from the episode when the president is meeting with children before Christmas. In Table 2 the audible portions are highlighted in bold.

Okay kids, remember the drill, in a big voice you'll say your name, your grade and then you'll ask the President the question that you and your teacher have prepared and written down on your index card. Okay, how about a big, 'Good morning Mr. President!' when he comes in the
room? Here we go.
Good morning Mr. President!
Oh that sounded pretty weak to me. Let's try it again.
Good morning, Mr. President!
That's better. Now who are all these people making a ruckus and tracking up my floor? You! What's your name?
Jeffrey Lucas.
And when are you gonna get taller, huh? What are you, fifteen, sixteen years
I'm seven.
Well, all right then, you're fine. All right, lets go. Come on, I'm a busy man. I am, after all, the President of Bulgaria.
Now, wait a second. That's not right. I'm not the President of Bulgaria. I am the President of the Great Kingdom of Luxembourg.
Now hold on, I know I'm the President of something...
Yes! Thank you. I am the President of the United States of  America. Now, who has a question?
Me! Me! Me!
Yes, ma'am.
My name is Jessica Hodges, and I'm in the third grade, and this is my question: What's your favourite part about being President?
My favourite part about being President?
I'm doing it right now. Who's next? All right.

Table 2. Audible portions of the original soundtrack

As the analysis shows, substantial parts of the original are audible through the voice-over. The exchanges between the kids and the president are quite fast with few gaps to be filled in by the translation. The voice talent’s voice covers some of the original speech, however the original soundtrack is loud enough and the audible portions long and coherent enough for the viewers who know enough English to be able to make sense of them and to experience the acting not only through the visual but also through the aural.

5.4. Kinetic synchrony, action synchrony

It might seem that since so much text has been reduced in the VO of “In excelsis Deo” (see section 5.2) and since the translation is not read out in full synchrony with the original (see section 5.3), both action synchrony (a requirement that translation must correspond to the action shown on screen) and kinetic synchrony  (a requirement that translation must match body movements) would be severely compromised (see Orero 2006 quoted in Franco et al. 2010). However, no such cases have been identified in the case at hand. This is perhaps because there were no quick shot changes that would affect action synchrony and the delays in reading out the VO script were not significant enough to have an impact on kinetic synchrony.

In the sections above we have focused on the technical constraints of the voice-over mode. In the next section we move on to discuss some of the critical points in the translator’s decision-making process and how it may be affected by the technical constraints.

6. Critical points of decision-making in the translation

When translating a text the translator sometimes stumbles upon a word, phrase or even a whole sentence that poses a particular challenge and requires an extra effort and a conscious decision. Such stumbling blocks, which we call critical points of translation decision-making (cf. Munday 2010), may include – but are not limited to – culture-specific items (CSIs), proper names, idioms, allusions, word play, slang, appraisal, metaphors or even forms of address and certain grammatical structures. They coincide to a great extent with ‘translation crisis points’ which ‘constitute turning points at which the translators have to make active decisions, and these points are thus indicative of overall strategy and to what norms the translator professes’ (Pedersen 2005: 1). Critical points in translation also overlap to some extent with Leppihalme’s ‘culture bumps’ (Leppihalme 1997), though it should be stressed that her culture bumps are limited to cases of intertextuality in translation, a limitation which does not apply in our analysis. The very term ‘critical points’ with reference to the translator’s decision-making was borrowed by us from Munday, who applies this concept to evaluation and appraisal in translation (Munday 2010; see also Martin and White 2005).

In what follows we present our analysis of critical translation points in The West Wing episode: we identify such points, present the translator’s solutions (with back translation into English) to the selected problematic source-language items, and then discuss and evaluate some of them in the light of the technical constraints discussed above. We have divided the identified items into several categories including: CSIs, metaphors, word play, irony, forms of address and grammar.

6.1. Culture-specific items

As expected, the first and by far the largest group of critical points identified by us are CSIs. Culture-specific items (for example Aixela 1996), also known as ‘cultural words’ (Newmark 1988), ‘extralinguistic cultural-bound references’ (Pedersen 2005) or ‘culture specific elements’ (Leuven-Zwart 1989) are understood here as ‘extralinguistic references to items that are tied up with a country’s culture, history, or geography and tend, therefore, to pose serious translation challenges’ (Díaz-Cintas and Remael 2007: 200). These may include geographical items (for example place names), ethnographic references (for example to objects from daily life, work, art and culture or descent) and sociopolitical references (for example to institutions and functions, socio-cultural life, military institutions and objects)  (Díaz-Cintas  and Remael 2007).

As the issue of translating culture-bound terms is very well covered in the literature, we will not give an extensive overview of the topic. Instead, in Table 3 we list the main translation procedures for CSIs, as proposed by various scholars (though we are aware that given the number of existing classifications, the list is not exhaustive), grouped under seven umbrella terms of importation, calque, extra information, normalization, deletion, addition, substitution, along with an exemplary definition of each of such terms (cf. Kwieciński 2001). 

Type of procedure



·         borrowing (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958)

·         loan word/transference (Newmark 1988)

·         borrowing/importation (Ivir 1987)

‘the process of transferring an SL word to a TL text’ (Newmark 1988: 81)


·         calque (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958)

·         through translation (Newmark 1988)

·         linguistic translation (Aixela 1996)

·         literal translation (Ivir 1987)

‘special kind of borrowing whereby a language borrows an expression form of another, but then translates literally each of its elements’ (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958: 32)

Extra information

·         definition (Ivir 1987)

·         addition (of cultural information) (Ivir 1987)

·         compensatory amplification – glossing (Malone 1988)

·         glosses (Aixela 1996)

‘the annotation of a text with elucidatory material’ (Malone 1988: 43)


·         neutralization (Newmark 1988)

·         functional equivalent (Newmark 1988)

·         generalization/particularization (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958)

‘procedure applied to cultural words, [and which] requires the use of a culture-free word, … for example Sejm – ‘the Polish parliament’…’ (Newmark 1988: 83)


·         omission (Ivir 1987)

·         compensatory reduction (Malone 1988)
·        deletion (for example Leuven-Zwart 1989; Aixela 1996)

‘the reductive strategy [which] consists in omitting source-text information interpretable as both circumstantial or tangential to the story and unlikely to make much sense, at least without inordinate glossing…’ (Malone 1988: 47)


·         addition - autonomous creation (Aixela 1996)

·         addition (Leuven-Zwart 1989)

the translator ‘put[s] in [in the target text] some non-existent cultural reference in the source text’ (Aixela 1996: 64)


·         adaptation (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958)

·         cultural equivalent (Newmark 1988)

·         substitution (Ivir 1987)

·         naturalization (Aixela 1996)

‘creating an equivalence of the same value applicable to a different situation than that of the source language’ (Vinay and Darbelnet 1958: 338)

Table 3. Types of procedures for translating CSIs

When placed on a Venutian scale the first three procedures would be closer to the foreignisation end of the continuum, whereas the last four would be considered more domesticating (with importation being the most foreignising and substitution the most domesticating) (cf. Venuti 1995).

For ease of analysis we have divided the identified CSIs into four categories: the U.S. administration and White House, Washington D.C. realia, the U.S. military and general CSIs, all of which are discussed below. Next to each translated CSI we specify the translation procedure applied.

6.1.1. The U.S. administration and the White House

In a TV show about a fictional president of the United States and his senior staff one could expect a lot of terms related to the U.S administration and the White House. And in fact, in the episode concerned we have spotted seven such items, which are presented in Table 4.

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

What's your secret service code name?
Jaki jest Twój służbowy pseudonim?

What’s your professional code name? (normalization)

He was Secretary of Labor six years ago.
Był wtedy ministrem pracy.
He was minister of labour then. (substitution)
You are a reporter. I'm the Press Secretary. It's an unavoidable conflict of interest.
Ty jesteś dziennikarzem, ja sekretarzem prasowym. Między nami istnieje konflikt interesów.
You’re a journalist, I’m the press secretary. There is a conflict of interests between us. (calque)
He was high when he was running the Labor Department.
Brał, kiedy był ministrem?

He was high when he was a minister? (normalization)

We don't need your cooperation, Laurie, one of your guys wrote you a check and the I.R.S. works for me.
Zresztą jeden z twoich klientów zapłacił czekiem. Urząd skarbowy już się tym zajął.
One of your clients wrote you a check. The tax office is already looking into it. (substitution)
And then you're gonna call the V.A. right? [The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs]
Zawiadomicie Biuro Weteranów?
Will you notify the Veterans Office? (normalization)
The President is in the Mural Room.
Prezydent już czeka.

The president is waiting. (deletion)

Table 4. Translation of CSIs related to U.S. administration and White House

The first three items are related to staff positions or functions (secret service, Secretary of Labour, Press Secretary). Interestingly, the translator is not consistent here, as all of the items are rendered using a different procedure (normalization, substitution and calque). Similarly, the next three items related to departments or offices are also treated differently: the Labor Department is normalised, the I.R.S. (Internal Revenue Service) replaced by its Polish counterpart, while the V.A. (the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) is again normalised (‘veterans office’). As for the last item in the table, the Mural Room, the translator decided to drop this reference altogether. Admittedly, in reality there is no such room in the White House (there is the so-called ‘Diplomatic Reception Room’ or ‘Dip Room’, which serves the same functions as the Mural Room in the show and looks very much like it), however a certain ‘presidential’ feel seems to be lost here. This observation also applies to the other items in the group – by applying mainly domesticating procedures, the U.S. administrative reality is not preserved for the Polish viewer, though the use of such procedures is understandable given the severe time constraints.

6.1.2. Washington D.C. realia

As the show is set in Washington D.C. one would assume that it would include many references to the city’s topography and landmarks. Table 5 lists those identified by us in the analysed episode. 

Original script
Polish voice-over
Back translation into English
A homeless Korean War Vet died of exposure out on the Mall last night. 

Bezdomny weteran wojny koreańskiej zmarł wczoraj z zimna na ławce.

A homeless Korean War Vet died of exposure on a bench last night. (normalization)

They usually hang out around Capitol and 'P,' I'd try there. 
Zwykle można ich spotkać przy Kapitalu. [sic!]

One can usually meet them around the Capital. [sic!] (importation)

You know Zoey is starting Georgetown in two weeks, I was thinking about getting this for her.
Zoey za dwa tygodnie zaczyna naukę w Georgetown.
All right. Zoey is starting studies at Georgetown in two weeks. (extra information)
To a place called Rare Books, you know what they sell?
Miejsce nazywa się Białe Kruki. Wiesz, czym handlują?
The place is called White Ravens [in Polish: rarities, rare books]. Do you know what they sell? (calque)
(...) Couldn't you just drop me off the top of the Washington Monument instead?
(...) Wolałbym się rzucić z Washington Monument.

(…) I’d rather jump from the Washington Monument instead. (importation)

Table 5. Translation of CSIs related to Washington D.C. realia

The first item, the Mall refers to the National Mall, an open-air national park area in downtown Washington, within which major landmarks are located, such as the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It also includes the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which in the episode is the place of death of a homeless Korean War veteran. This reference is lost in the translation, though the viewers can make the link themselves, as the stainless steel figures representing a squad on a patrol are clearly visible in the background when we see the dead body of the homeless man lying on a bench. This is a very good example of how the visual and the verbal interact in the film and where something that is understated in translation can be inferred from the image.

The second item in the table is a reference to Washington’s topography: by the way this location is specified we can infer that what is meant here is an intersection of two streets: Capitol Street and P Street. This information is misrepresented in translation, as the location is specified as ‘around the Capitol’ (which – to make matters worse – is mistranslated as ‘Kapital’  (‘the Capital’), though it may be the case that the word is simply mispronounced by the voice talent). However, it should be noted that this mistake is a low-risk one (cf Pym 2004), as it does not affect comprehension of the scene. What is more, providing a more accurate translation would unnecessarily add to the length of the translation.

Finally, the third example, Georgetown, being one of the top U.S. universities and given that the show is set in Washington, is absolutely transparent for the American viewer, but is not necessarily so for the Polish viewer. That is probably why the translator decided to make this item more explicit for the Polish viewer by adding the word ‘studies’, thus making the translation more domesticating and transparent.  

6.1.3. The U.S. military

As has already been hinted at in the previous section, the episode at hand features a homeless Korean War veteran – Walter Hufnagle – who died of exposure on a bench at the Korean War Veterans Memorial (see above).  His body is shown to Toby Zeigler (whose coat – which he had given to the Goodwill – with his business card left in the pocket the man was wearing). Toby, who is a communications director at the White House, arranges for an honour guard funeral for the deceased man. In the episode we also hear a story of Mrs Landingham’s twin sons, who died in Vietnam. We therefore have a number of CSIs related to the U.S. military, which are listed in Table 6.

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

Tattoo on his forearm is Marine Battalion Second of the Seventh.

Na przedramieniu ma tatuaż piechoty morskiej.

He has a marines tattoo on his forearm. (normalization)

A Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, Second of the Seventh.
Starszy szeregowy, drugi korpus piechoty morskiej.
A Lance Corporal, second marine division. (calque)
It's called the Purple Heart. It's for getting wounded in battle.
Medalem dla żołnierzy rannych w czasie działań wojennych.

It’s a medal for soldiers wounded in battle. (normalization)

Twins. Andrew and Simon. (...) They went off to medical school together, and then they finished their second year at the same time, and of course their lottery number came up at the same time. 

Bliźniaki. Andrew i Simona. Wszystko robili razem, obaj rozpoczęli studia na medycynie. Obaj jednocześnie po drugim roku studiów dostali powołanie.

Twins. Andrew and Simon. They did everything together, they went off to medical school together. When they finished their second year they were both drafted at the same time. (normalization)

Table 6. Translation of CSIs related to U.S. military

In the first two examples the division in which the soldier served is translated by normalization and calque (though it must be noted that not all of the elements of the original term have been translated). The Purple Heart, which is a U.S. military distinction awarded to those who have been wounded or killed in battle, is also normalised, with the name of the medal omitted. The final item is lottery number, which refers to a draft lottery system introduced in 1969 to determine the order of call to military service during the Vietnam War. This reference is subject to normalization and as such is completely lost in the voice-over. Had the reference appeared in a book or an article, a translator could have provided a detailed description of the system in a footnote, and by the same token better familiarise the readers with this portion of U.S. history. Because of the constraints of the voice-over mode, however, the viewers are deprived of the opportunity.

6.1.4. Culture-specific items (general)

In the episode we have also identified a few general CSIs, which are enumerated in Table 7.

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

Well, that's my coat. I gave that coat to the Goodwill. (…)

To mój płaszcz, oddałem go dla biednych.

That’s my coat, I gave it to the poor. (normalization)

A gay high school senior.

Uczeń szkoły średniej. Gej.

A high school student. Gay. (normalization)

It's important you remind the President throughout the day that he's allergic to eggnog.

Przypominaj panu prezydentowi, że jest uczulony na ajerkoniak.

Remind the President that he’s allergic to eiercognac. (substitution)

They made him say 'Hail Mary's' as they beat him to death. This was a crime of entertainment.
Kazali mu mówić 'Hail Mary', kiedy tłukli go na śmierć. Zabili dla zabawy.
They made him say ‘Hail Mary’ [left in English], as they beat him to death. (importation)
Like I'm not gonna have enough problems without the Keystone Kops.
Jakbym nie miał dość kłopotów.
Like I didn’t have enough problems. (deletion)
But the common sensibility, to quote Steven J. Gould...
Ale wg Stevena J. Goulda...
But according to Steven J. Gould... (importation)
Yeah, his name is Lowell Lydell, he's seventeen years old, he's in critical condition at Saint Paul Memorial Hospital (…).
Nazywa się Lowell Lydell, ma 17 lat. Leży w szpitalu Saint Paul i jest w krytycznym stanie. 

His name is Lowell Lydell, he is seventeen years old. He is in critical condition at Saint Paul hospital. (importation)

Table 7. Translation of general CSIs

We would like to draw the readers’ attention to three of them: eggnog, Hail Mary’s and the Keystone KopsEggnog was translated using substitution (‘ajerkoniak’ – ‘eyercognac’). Although both drinks are made from similar ingredients (mainly eggs, milk, sugar and liquor), they are not identical. More importantly, eggnog has an important connotation, which ‘ajerkoniak’ lacks: in the U.S. eggnog is mainly associated with Christmas and the festive winter season. In the episode, which takes place around Christmas, Mrs Landingham’s comment about the president being allergic to eggnog makes perfect sense, which is not conveyed in the Polish rendition.

In the second example, Hail Mary’s were left in the original in the Polish version, which is strange, especially since Poland is a Catholic country where the Polish counterpart of the prayer (‘Zdrowaś Maryjo’) is very well known. Chances therefore are that the translator simply did not recognise that the name refers to a well-known prayer, the effect being that some meaning of the scene has been lost, as the fact that the adolescent assailants made their victim say the prayer while they tortured him only adds to their cruelty.

Finally, the Keystone Kops is an allusion to silent film comedies of the 1920s, which featured incompetent policemen. Nowadays this phrase is used to criticise a group of people for their lack of coordination and the ensuing mistakes. Again, due to the limitations of the AVT mode, this reference is lost in the Polish voice-over, however without any loss of meaning of the scene for the Polish viewer.  

Table 8 summarises the types of procedures used in the episode (in absolute numbers and percentages).

Type of procedure

No. of items

% of items







Extra information


















Table 8. Translation procedures used in the episode

It turns out that by far the most popular procedure in the translation of the CSIs in the episode was normalization (39 per cent), followed by importation (22 per cent). Interestingly, only one item was made more explicit by the addition of extra information (but it should also be noted that only three items were subject to deletion). Such findings could be explained by the constraints of VO (see section 5) – it seems that as time is of the essence, the translator cannot afford more elaborate procedures, such as adding extra information. The effect of the translation of CSIs in the analysed episode was thus more domesticating, with a range of cultural elements getting lost in translation and the viewer being deprived of the possibility to learn about a foreign cultural reality. 

6.2. Metaphors

In the analysed episode we came across a number of metaphors (presented in Table 9) which could be potential critical points in the translation process.

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

C.J.'s gonna send up a test balloon at her briefing.

Niech C.J. poruszy sprawę na najbliższej konferencji prasowej.

Let C.J. touch upon the issue at the next briefing.

I'm not sure I'd put my foot on the gas so hard with hate crimes legislation.

Niepotrzebnie powiedziałaś o ustawie dotyczącej zbrodni z nienawiści.

You shouldn’t have talked about hate crimes legislation.

First of all, I barely grazed the gas. Second of all, why not?

Tylko wspomniałam. Poza tym czemu nie?

I just mentioned it. And why shouldn’t I?

Table 9. Translation of metaphors

An interesting metaphor – which is used several times in the episode – is related to stepping on the gas pedal in a car (put my foot on the gas, barely grazed the gas). It is used with reference to a situation where the Press Secretary C.J. openly expresses her personal opinion about hate crimes at a briefing, for which she is reprimanded by her colleagues. The metaphor is not preserved in the Polish rendition, nor is it replaced with a different one. Nonetheless the sense of the exchange is preserved. 

6.3. Idioms

The “In excelsis Deo” episode does not abound in idioms, however we noted one example, where the translator managed to turn one into a kind of a pun (Table 10).

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

This is a Christmas thing I'm doing Mandy; we don't have to make hay out of it.

Nie róbmy z tego szopki.

[Lit.] Let’s not make a manger out of it. [meaning: let’s not make a big deal out of it]

Table 10. Translation of idioms

In Polish there is a colloquial phrase ‘nie robić z czegoś szopki’ meaning ‘not to make a big deal out of something’. However, the word ‘szopka’ signifies a ‘manger’ in Polish, so given the scene in which it is used (the President sneaking out to do some last minute Christmas shopping by himself) this phrase gets a double meaning and is a great play on words.

6.4. Irony

Another possible critical translation point is irony. It may pose a particular challenge to an AV translator, as irony can be expressed not just by words, but also by non-verbal information such as body language, gestures, facial expression and tone of voice. In the episode concerned we detected one case of irony which – as it turns out – did in fact cause problems to the translator.

In the analysed scene Toby is on the phone trying to establish some facts about the death of the homeless man (see section 6.1.3. above), but he is constantly put on hold. While he is holding, Mandy – the White House media consultant who is in charge of  getting the White House ready for Christmas – comes into Toby’s office and we witness the following exchange presented in Table 11:

Original script
Polish voice-over
Back translation into English
Mandy: This might seem trivial under the circumstances. Mandy: W tej sytuacji to dość trywialne. Mandy: In this situation it is quite trivial.
Toby: What? Toby: Co? Toby: What?
Mandy: The Santa hats do clash with the Dickensian costumes Mandy: Czapki Mikołaja nie pasują do dickensowskich strojów. Mandy: The Santa hats do not match the Dickensian costumes.
Toby: It might seem trivial? Toby: Są trywialne? Toby: They are trivial?

Table 11. Translation of irony

Toby is being ironic when he says: ‘It might seem trivial?’. This is expressed by both the grammatical structure he is using (the modal verb ‘might’) as well as his intonation (with emphasis placed on the word ‘might’). None of these two features are preserved in the voice-over: the translator has replaced the modal verb with a ‘to be’ verb, while the voice talent read out this line using regular, rather flat intonation. In effect, the Polish viewer is deprived of the ironic effect. This example points to the fact that, firstly, the AV translator must not only concentrate on the dialogue list and the image, but also on how the words are uttered, and secondly, that there must be better cooperation between the translator and the voice talent as regards the way certain lines should be read out. However, since studios responsible for preparing VO versions try to cut their production costs, voice-over translators are less likely to be present at the recording to make last-minute improvements or to intervene when the oral rendition by the voice talent is unsatisfactory (Majewski, personal communication).

6.5. Forms of address

In Polish there is a distinction between second-person pronouns that are used depending on the degree of politeness, courtesy, familiarity or social distance between participants of a social interaction (the so-called T-V distinction). In Polish, the T-forms would include addressing the addressee using the pronouns ‘ty’ (you singular), ‘wy’ (you plural) as well as their first names (nominal phrases), whereas V-forms include such forms of address as ‘Pan’ (Mr), ‘Pani’ (Mrs), Panowie (Gentlemen), Panie (Ladies) or ‘Państwo’ (Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr and Mrs), all of which are expressed in English by one pronoun ‘you’. 

When translating a dialogue list from English into Polish, the translator is often faced with a dilemma of what forms of address to use to render the ubiquitous ‘you’ into Polish. They then have to use their common sense and intuition to assess the degree of familiarity between the speakers on screen and determine whether they would be on a first or rather third name basis in Poland. However, it should be noted that such assessment is not always successful in Polish film translations, and cases where characters address themselves using a T-form during their first encounter or when there is a substantial social distance between them are not a rarity (on translating English forms of address into Polish see also Szarkowska 2006). Table 12 presents interactions which could be potential critical points for the VO translator.

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

I brought it up because, I don't know, you seem a little down this week.

Mówię o tym, bo wydaje mi się pani trochę smutna.

I brought it up because you [V-form] seem a little sad.

George, did you know your brother fought in Korea?

George, wiedział pan, że brat walczył w Korei?

George [T-form], did you [V-form] know that your brother fought in Korea?

Laurie: Oh! What are you, the brains of the outfit?
Josh: Yeah, I am. And I got to tell you, I couldn’t care less about

your indignation right now.

Laurie: Pan to wymyślił?
Josh: Tak, nic mnie nie obchodzi twoje oburzenie.

Laurie: You [V-form] came up with it?
Josh: Yeah, I don’t care about your  [T-form] indignation.

Table 12. Translation of forms of address

In the first example we witness an exchange between a young man Charlie and his much older co-worker Mrs Landingham. Despite their working together, the translator decided that the age difference was big enough for Charlie to address her using a T-form, and thus – quite rightly – used a V-form instead. The next example, on the other hand, is quite conspicuous, as it is a mixture of both a T- and V-form, which is quite rare in contemporary Polish. The translator might as well have dropped the ‘George’ (cf. Text reduction in 5.2.), as it adds nothing to the exchange and takes up precious time. 

The third example is from a scene where Josh and Sam go and visit Sam’s friend Laurie who is an elite prostitute. They want to convince her to divulge some discrediting information about influential Republicans in order to protect the career of their friend and colleague Leo, the chief of staff. In the exchange Laurie addresses Josh using a V-form whereas he speaks to her using a T-form (despite it being their first encounter). This sounds slightly condescending, but perhaps the translator decided such a form would reflect the asymmetrical power relations, though it seems that a V-form would be more appropriate in this case.

6.6. Grammar

It may seem unlikely that for a translator with good linguistic expertise grammatical issues may pose a challenge. However, as the example in Table 13 shows, grammar can also be a critical point in the translation process.

Original script

Polish voice-over

Back translation into English

I never knew you had kids.

Nie wiedziałem, że ma pani dzieci.

I didn’t know you had (that is have) kids.

Table 13. Translation of grammar

Although from a grammatical point of view (sequence of tenses) the Polish translation is correct, given the wider context of this particular exchange (the lady says that her children are dead), the translator should take this information into account and adjust the translation accordingly, thus replacing the present form with a past one.

7. Conclusions

The above analysis of the technical constraints and critical points in the voice-over translation of The West Wing episode hopefully shows that voice-over is a rewarding subject of research in the area of audiovisual translation. The task of the VO translator is no less demanding than the task of a subtitler or a dubber. It is only that the requirements, constraints and challenges might be slightly different. In general, one of the greatest demands faced by a voice-over translator is that of reduction. The analysed translation is 30 per cent shorter than the original, which means that a considerable amount of the original text gets lost in translation. Even if this reduction does not entail content loss (when it involves reduction of proper names, greetings, and so on), it leads to a rather unnatural exchange of lines in a target language dialogue, which does not help much in creating the authenticity illusion. On the other hand, since part of the dialogue is omitted, the viewer can listen to the actors’ voices and experience some real emotions as opposed to the Polish voice talent’s deliberately flat and neutral intonation – this, in turn, adds to the authenticity illusion (created partially through the original and not only through the translation).

Bearing in mind the reduction and text condensation requirement, the translator’s task looks daunting in the context of all the cultural allusions present in the original version. Some of the original content and flavour is lost as the strategies most frequently applied to culture-specific items in this episode are normalization and importation. The former entails using culture-free words, which inevitably leads to the loss of the cultural context. The latter usually entails importing a proper name into the target culture. What gets imported is just the word, not the cultural connotation, which also leads to the loss of meaning and cultural context. This seems inevitable because any explicitation and addition of compensatory information is impossible due to time constraints. On the other hand, cultural substitution or full domestication would impair the authenticity illusion since the whole series is so deliberately set in the American political culture.

In general, the translator of “In excelsis Deo” did her best and provided solutions that – first of all – met the technical requirements and time constraints of the voice-over AVT mode and – secondly – led to as little loss as possible. It seems that the technical constraints have to be satisfied first and only then can the translator strive to find the best solutions to the critical points created by the original text. When dealing with the CSIs, the translator resorted to deletion only when importation or neutralisation were not possible. One of the greatest hurdles, apart from culture, turned out to be irony since it involves much more than just a text. Close cooperation with a voice talent would be required to find the best solution to such a critical point.

The Polish market of audiovisual translation has not changed much over recent years and it seems that voice-over is there to stay for good. Luckily, it offers great opportunities for translators to refine their skills and provide interesting translations. Moreover, as we hope to have shown, it also offers many new and exciting research avenues for the future. 


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By Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin (Univ. of Eötvös Loránd, Hungary & Turku, Finland)

©inTRAlinea & Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin (2016).
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2188

MMDT2012 war die fünfte Veranstaltung, die im Rahmen der Tagungsreihe Dialektübersetzung und Dialekte in Multimedia organisiert wurde. Es war das dritte Symposium in Finnland;  zwei Symposien fanden in Forlì, an der Universität Bologna statt.  Auf der Grundlage der Vorträge der vier ersten Konferenzen wurde jeweils ein Konferenzband veröffentlicht und der vorliegende Band repräsentiert den fünften in dieser Reihe.

Im ersten Band, der 2004 veröffentlicht wurde und der die Besprechungen von 2003 betraf, enthielten die meisten Artikel Analysen und Berichte über Dialekte, Dialektforschung und Dialektverwendung in schriftlicher Form, d.h. von der Belletristik bis hin zu Comics. Bei dem zweiten Symposium 2005 war schon eine deutliche Veränderung der Themen zu bemerken. Neu unter den Vorträgen und Beiträgen waren damals Themen bezüglich von Film, Theater und Musik, und diesen Trend spiegelt der Konferenzband von 2008 wieder. Die zwei ersten Konferenzbände wurden als gedruckte Werke herausgegeben, während die zwei folgenden als elektronische Publikationen in den Reihen der Universität Bologna „das Tageslicht der Welt erblickten“. Auch in diesen zwei Bänden ging der Trend weiter in die vorhin dargestellte Richtung. Es handelt sich um eine allgemeine Entwicklung und Ausbreitung des Begriffsinhalts der internationalen Kultur und – eventuell auch darum, dass die Kultur heute auch alltägliche Züge beinhalten kann und ihren Ruf als „elitäre Sphäre“ verloren hat. Die Kultur gehört jetzt jeden!

Der vorliegende Band beginnt mit einem Aufsatz bezüglich der Thematik der Zweisprachigkeit und der zweifachen Identität, die in der slowenischen Literatur in Österreich zu beobachten ist. Dafür hat Silvija Borovnik das Verhältnis zwischen den slowenischen und deutschen Sprachen und Di-alekten in der Literatur erforscht und dargestellt. Die zweifache Identität der Romanfiguren kann seitens des Autors durch Verwendung dialektaler Ausdrücke, Namen und  im Allgemeinen durch die Wahl der Sprache und der sprachlichen Varietät beschrieben werden, d.h. ob er oder sie in der Muttersprache oder der Zweitsprache schreibt.  Dadurch aber zeigt er/sie seine/ihre eigene zweifache Identität und entblößt sich gleichzeitig sogar für eine scharfe Kritik.  Georgios Floros schreibt über intralinguale Translation im Kontext einer Sitcom, die im Fernsehen auf Zypern läuft und sehr beliebt ist. Dabei handelt es sich um den Gebrauch des griechischen Dialekts (CGD), der auf Zypern gesprochen und in diesem Programm verwendet wird, und die Möglichkeiten der Untertitelung der Dialoge in der modernen griechischen Standardsprache (SMG), die die offizielle Varietät auf Zypern ist. In seiner Analyse stellt er fest, dass der Dialekt für die Untertitelung eigentlich keine semantische oder pragmatische Schwierigkeiten verursacht, während die kommunikativen Aspekte, die in einer Sitcom den Kern bilden, die standardsprachliche Untertitelung erschweren, und aus der soziokulturellen Sicht sogar fast unmöglich machen.

Irmeli Helin als Organisatorin des Symposiums MMDT2012 in Turku, beschreibt diese älteste Stadt Finnlands aus dem sprachpolitischen und übersetzungskritischen Blinkwinkel, wozu die Entstehung der finnischen Standardsprache und die Rolle der Translation darin sowie die Reformation im 16. Jahrhundert  als schriftsprachlicher Anreger gehören. Mihaela Koletnig und Alenka Valh Lopert analysieren den slowenischen Prekmurje Dialekt im slowenischen Film Oča (Vater). Sie betrachten besonders die Anwendung dialektaler Ausdrücke im Film und vergleichen sie mit dem entsprechenden, alltäglichen Dialekt, der in den betreffenden Gegenden in Slowenien gesprochen wird, und stellen fest, dass die Schauspieler im Film auf allen sprachlichen Niveaus wirklich und konsequent den authentischen Dialekt verwenden. Mit Melita Zemljak Jontes schreibt Mihaela Koletnik über Verwendung zweier slowenischer Dialekte  in der slowenischen Popmusik. Es geht auch hier um eine genaue linguistische Analyse auf unterschiedlicher sprachlichen Betrachtungsebenen. Diese Analysen zufolge wird die Schlußfolgerung dargestellt, wonach die im Dialekt geschriebenen und gesungenen lyrische Texte dem authentischen Dialekt außerordentlich gut entsprechen, mit einigen kleinen Abweichungen in einzelnen Songs.

Eliisa Pitkäsalo betrachtet und analysiert die Grenze zwischen Dialekt und Standardsprache in ihrem Korpus von einem Werk, das in der Sprache geschrieben wurde, die in der Grenzgegend zwischen Finnland und Schweden gesprochen wird, und die kürzlich den Status einer selbständigen Sprache erhalten hat, bzw. die Übersetzungen des Werkes ins Finnische und ins Ungarische. Einerseits betrachtet sie das Verhältnis des Meänkieli zum Dialekt im finnischen Nordbotten und andererseits die Probleme, denen die Übersetzer bei der Übertragung begegnen, und ob sie zu lösen sind. Dabei stellt sie fest, dass beide Übersetzer zum Ziel gesetzt haben, den Status der Sprache Meänkieli selbst hervorzuheben. Obwohl sie unterschiedliche Lösungen gefunden haben, konnten sie diese Tatsache betonen und so neben der Sprachkultur auch die Sprachpolitik beeinflussen.

Toini Rahtu schreibt über den Gebrauch des Dialekts in Zeitschriftinterviews. Sie betont, dass Journalisten oft Dialekt in ihren Artikeln verwenden, um den Charakter des Interviewten zu betonen. Dabei können die Leser wiederum den Dialekt auf ihre eigene Weise interpretieren und verstehen. Auch die Übersetzer müssen bei der Interpretation die Rolle der jeweiligen Dialekte berücksichtigen und dementsprechend zum Ausdruck bringen. Zuletzt  schreibt Sara Ramos Pinto über die Übersetzung der sprachlichen Varietäten und ihren Empfang bei den Rezipienten. Ob auch in der Übersetzung  die Charakterzüge der Sprecherentsprechend zum Vorschein kommen? Als Korpus verwendet sie zwölf portugiesische Übersetzungen des weltberühmten Musicals My Fair Lady. Hier handelt es sich also um unterschiedliche Übertragungen eines fiktiven Textes in eine einzige Sprache, wobei ein Vergleich zwischen den zielsprachlichen Texten geschieht.

Der vorliegende Band bietet einen guten Ausschnitt aus den insgesamt 38 Vorträgen in Turku und lässt auf weitere fruchtbare wissenschaftliche Diskussionen hoffen.

MMDT2012 was the fifth event that has been organized as a part of the conference series on the Translation of Dialects in Multimedia. It was the 3rd symposium in Finland; two previous symposia were held at University of Bologna.  Publication of the speaker sessions of the first four conferences was based on the submitted material and this is the fifth volume of this set.

The first volume was published 2004 and reviewed the meetings of 2003. The majority of the articles contained analyses and reports on dialects, the research of dialects and usage of the dialect in writing from fiction to comics. With the second symposium in 2005, there was a clear change in the research topics. The new issues raised in lectures and speeches were film, theatre and music, and this trend was reflected in the conference volume from 2008. The first two conference volumes were published as printed editions while the following two volumes were electronic publications in the series of the University of Bologna. There was an increasing trend in this direction also in these two volumes. It is a development and broadening of the conceptual content of the international culture, where modern culture has declined its significance as an “elitist sphere” and can now also contain everyday features. Culture belongs to everyone!

The present volume begins with an article on bilingualism and double identity that can be observed in Slovene literature in Austria. SILVIJA BOROVNIK has examined and presented in her article the relation between the Slovene language and the German language and dialects in literature. The double identity of fictional characters can be described by the author due to their usage of dialectal expressions, names and generally through the choice of language and linguistic variety, that is, if he or she writes in a mother tongue or in a second language. In this way, he/she shows his/her double identity and exposes himself/herself to harsh criticism.

GEORGIOS FLOROS writes about intralingual translation in the context of a sitcom that is shown on TV in Cyprus and is very popular there. It refers to the usage of the Cypriot Greek dialect (CGD), that is spoken in Cyprus and is used in this programme, as well as the possibilities of the subtitling of dialogues in Standard Modern Greek (SMG), which is the variety with official status in Cyprus. His analysis shows that the Cypriot Greek dialect causes no semantic or pragmatic difficulties for subtitling, while the communicative aspects of it which are the key elements of a sitcom complicate the subtitling in the standard language and from the sociocultural point of view make it almost impossible.

IRMELI HELIN as the organizer of Symposium MMDT2012 in Turku, describes this oldest town of Finland from the linguistic-political and translation-critical angle, including the origins of the standard Finnish language and the role of the translation as well as the Reformation of the 16th century as an inspirer of written language.

MIHAELA KOLETNIK and ALENKA VALH LOPERT analyse the use of Slovenian Prekmurje Dialect in the Slovenian Film Oča. They consider the use of dialect expressions in film and the extent to which it matches the non-fictional everyday usage of the appropriate dialect. The authors conclude that the actors of the film consistently use the authentic Prekmurje dialect on all linguistic levels.

MELITA ZEMLJAK JONTES writes together with MIHAELA KOLETNIK about the use of two Slovenian dialects in Slovenian popular music. They also provide a precise linguistic analysis on different linguistic levels of observation. According to this analysis they conclude that pop lyrics written and sung in the dialect are an accurate reflection of the dialect with only slight variations in some songs.

ELIISA PITKÄSALO researches and analyses the border between dialect and standard language in the corpus of a novel written in a dialect that is spoken in the border area between Finland and Sweden. This dialect has recently received the status of an independent language and the novel has been translated into Finnish and Hungarian. On the one hand, the researcher investigates the relationship between Meänkieli and the dialect of Finnish Nordbotten (Peräpohjola), and, on the other hand, the issues that could arise while translating dialects and their possible solutions.  She comes to the conclusion that both translators have set themselves the aim of highlighting the status of the Meänkieli language. Although they have found different solutions, they both emphasize this fact and thus influence language culture as well as language policy.

TOINI RAHTU investigates the use of dialect in newspapers interviews. She underlines that journalists often use dialects to characterise their interviewees. At the same time their readers can understand and interpret the interviewees in their own way. In addition, the translators of such interviews should take into account the relation of dialect features to the scopos and interpretate it accordingly.

Lastly SARA RAMOS PINTO presents her study on translation of linguistic varieties and their impact on recipients. How does a translation distinguish specific characters’ profile? The corpus analysed includes twelve Portuguese translations of the world famous musical, My Fair Lady. The paper investigates different strategies of translation of the fiction in the same language and the comparison between the target texts.

The present volume provides a good extract of the total of 38 papers which were presented in Turku and gives hope for further fruitful scientific discussion.

Die Zweisprachigkeit der slowenischen Literatur in Österreich als Ausdruck zweifacher Identität

By Silvija Borovnik (University of Maribor, Slovenia)

Abstract & Keywords


Slovenian Literature in Austria finds itself intently at the crossroads of regional and national traditions, historical and modern cultural and national identities. Many well-known scholars have written about these issues in their texts which were first published in the sixties of the previous century. At that time a journal Mladje published literary contributions and provocative recordings of political, linguistic and cultural questions. Some of the literary historians and linguists occupied themselves with the notion of bi- and multilingualism in literature and with the issues of translation, as in mentioned co-text, on numerous examples from Slovenian literature, which were written in the so-called land between the Alps and the Adriatic - in Austrian Carinthia. This study explores bi- and multilingualism of particular female and male authors. It examines demanding literary texts, in which not only native language manifests itself, but also another language (for example German) or dialect appears. These literary translations also express linguistic-stylistic mastery.

An example of such literature presents itself in Maja Haderlap's debut Novel Engel des Vergessens/ Angel pozabe/ Angel of Oblivion (2011). This is a work of a Slovene author who had published Slovene Poetry until last year, when she wrote a prose literary work in German (not her native language), which is the language of her social environment and education. This literary work expresses the so-called linguistic duality as an intercultural reality and a new dimension of life as reflected in Haderlap's work. Linguistic duality in this novel expresses transformation of intercultural dialogue as well as cultural and historical trauma. Within Haderlap's writings we come across a theme of conflict between two cultures in the time of fascism.


Seit den 60er Jahren des vergangenen Jahrhunderts ist das Thema der slowenischen Literatur in Österreich, als ein Beispiel regionaler und nationaler Traditionen, bzw. moderner kultureller und nationaler Identität(en) von zahlreichen Autoren thematisiert worden. Diese Literatur besteht nicht nur aus der Literatur der sog. autochthonen Kärntner Slowenen (Janko Messner, Florjan Lipuš, Maja Haderlap, Cvetka Lipuš, Fabjan Hafner u.a.), sondern auch aus der Literatur aller anderen Slowenen, die sich aus persönlichen oder politischen Gründen in Österreich niedergelassen haben (Vinko Ošlak, Anita Hudl, Lev Detela, Milena Merlak-Detela). Zugleich geht es in allen Fällen um eine Literatur, die nicht nur auf sich selbst fixierte, vollkommen intime Welten Einzelner, verfasst in einer winzigen slawischen Randsprache, dem Slowenischen, beschreibt, sondern wir haben es mit Musterbeispielen der Interkulturalität in der Literatur zu tun, wie sie zahlreiche andere europäische und nicht europäische Staaten kennen. Im Mittelpunkt vorliegender Untersuchung steht das Debutwerk von Maja Haderlap Engel des Vergessens/ Angel pozabe/ Angel of Oblivion (2011). Das literarische Werk der Autorin drückt die ganze Dualität der schriftstellerischen, künstlerischen und menschlichen Identität und zugleich die Besonderheiten des interkulturellen Dialogs in diesem Raum aus.  Die linguistische Dualität dieses Werk reflektiert neue Dimensionen kultureller und historischer Traumata in einem interkulturellen Dialog.

Keywords: Slovene literature, slowenische Literatur, linguistic duality, intercultural dialogue, double identity, historical trauma, linguistische Dualität, interkultureller Dialog, historisches Trauma, doppelte Identität

©inTRAlinea & Silvija Borovnik (2016).
"Die Zweisprachigkeit der slowenischen Literatur in Österreich als Ausdruck zweifacher Identität"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2187

Die slowenische Literatur in Österreich ist eines meiner Forschungsgebiete, und ich habe über sie in der Vergangenheit schon einiges geschrieben bzw. auf diversen Symposien und Kongressen berichtet (Borovnik 1989/90, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008). Meine Beschäftigung mit ihr begann mit der Untersuchung der Literatur Florjan Lipuš’ und der Mitarbeiter der Zeitschrift mladje (Groteska v sodobni slovenski prozi, s posebnim ozirom na delo Florjana Lipuša [Das Groteske in der slowenischen Gegenwartsprosa, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Werks Florjan Lipuš‘], Magisterarbeit an der Filozofska fukulteta v Ljubljani, 1987, unveröffentlicht), und es weitete sich auf die Werke verschiedener Autoren und Autorinnen aus, die heute schon zur mittleren oder älteren Generation der slowenisch oder slowenisch-deutsch Schreibenden gehören. Dabei hob ich gern hervor, dass die slowenische Literatur in Österreich nicht nur aus der Literatur der sog. autochthonen Kärntner Slowenen besteht (Janko Messner, Florjan Lipuš, Maja Haderlap, Cvetka Lipuš, Fabjan Hafner u.a.), sondern auch aus der Literatur aller anderen Slowenen, die sich aus persönlichen oder politischen Gründen in Österreich niedergelassen haben (Vinko Ošlak, Anita Hudl, Lev Detela, Milena Merlak-Detela). Zugleich geht es in allen Fällen um eine Literatur, die nicht nur auf sich selbst fixierte, vollkommen intime Welten Einzelner, verfasst in einer winzigen slawischen Randsprache, dem Slowenischen, beschreibt, sondern wir haben es mit Musterbeispielen der Interkulturalität in der Literatur zu tun, wie sie zahlreiche andere europäische und nicht europäische Staaten kennen, natürlich jeder auf seine Weise und unter anderen Verhältnissen. Die Welt verändert sich nämlich ständig, neben der Literatur der einsprachigen Bevölkerung entstehen auch Texte der Zuwanderer und ihrer Nachkommen und auch aller anderen gegenwärtigen Migranten. Die wirklich große Frage ist, ob wir überhaupt noch in irgendeinem Staat von einer mononationalen, einsprachigen Literatur, von etwas wie einer Monokultur sprechen können.

„Eine Monokultur gehört zum Langweiligsten, mich erinnert sie an Fisolen“, hat Drago Jančar einmal in einem Gespräch geistreich angemerkt. Und es stimmt – dieses „mono“ hat etwas Isoliertes, Verschlossenes, auf sich Fixiertes, oft auch Intolerantes, Puristisches, Aggressives und sogar Gefährliches an sich. Die Kultur und mit ihr die Kunst sind aber schon von Natur aus „multi“, denn das macht ihr Wesen aus – und darum sind alle Erörterungen darüber, ob etwas „mono“ oder „multi“ sein soll, überflüssig. Die slowenische Literatur in Österreich aber befindet sich schon immer an einem spannungsgeladenen Berührungspunkt regionaler und überregionaler Traditionen, historischer und moderner, kultureller und nationaler Identitäten. Darüber haben viele Forscher und angesehene Universitätsprofessoren geschrieben – von Moritsch, Hafner, Prunč und Amann bis Kmecl, Koruza, Zadravec, Paternu, Glušič u. a. – aber auch die Literaten selbst, z. B. Fabjan Hafner, Maja Haderlap, Lev Detela, Vinko Ošlak, auf eigentümlich sonderliche Weise auch Peter Handke. Texte darüber erscheinen mindestens seit den Sechzigerjahren des vorigen Jahrhunderts, als die Zeitschrift mladje startete, die nicht nur literarische Beiträge, sondern auch provokante Notizen zu politischen, sprachlichen und kulturellen Fragen im weiteren Sinn brachte und der es auch gelang, noch weitere, nichtslowenische Autoren zur Mitarbeit zu gewinnen. Eines der bekanntesten wissenschaftlichen Bücher, das die erwähnte Problematik behandelt, entstand an der Universität in Klagenfurt unter dem Titel Profile der neueren slowenischen Literatur in Kärnten2 (1998) und ist, unter der Herausgeberschaft von Johann Strutz und der Mitarbeit von Fabjan Hafner und Klaus Detlef Olof, das Werk verschiedener Autoren; ein anderes, ebenso ein Werk von Johann Strutz, gemeinsam mit Peter Zima, erschien unter dem Titel Literarische Polyphonie (1996).

In dem Werk Literarische Polyphonie (1996) befassen sich die Autoren und Herausgeber Strutz und Zima sowohl mit dem Begriff der Zwei- und Mehrsprachigkeit in der Literatur als auch mit der Problematik des Übersetzens im erwähnten Kontext, und zwar an zahlreichen Beispielen aus der Weltliteratur wie aus der slowenischen Literatur, die sich im österreichischen Teil Kärntens herausbildete, sowie der Literatur, die im sog. Raum zwischen Alpen und Adria entsteht. Mehrsprachigkeit und Übersetzung in den verschiedensten Bedeutungen dieses Worts sind für sie miteinander verbundene Erscheinungen. Der mehrsprachige Autor Paul Celan z. B. tritt oft als Übersetzer in Erscheinung, oder er meldete sich kritisch im Zusammenhang mit literarischen Übersetzungen seiner Zeitgenossen zu Wort. Sie bringen das Beispiel des Engländers Beckford, der seine Reisebeschreibungen und Tagebücher auf Englisch schrieb, den Roman über den Kalifen Vathek aber auf Französisch, in der Sprache, die er während seines Aufenthalts in Genf und später in London lernte. Sie schreiben, dass sich der Autor mit dem Gebrauch der Fremdsprache wahrscheinlich von seiner Obsession für die Sprache, der Muttersprache, freimachen wollte (Strutz, Zima 1996: 7) – und dieses Beispiel erinnert an den kürzlich erschienenen Roman von Maja Haderlap, die zwar Autorin slowenischer Lyrik ist, diesmal aber ein Prosawerk auf Deutsch veröffentlichte, das nicht ihre Muttersprache, sondern die Sprache ihrer sozialen Umwelt, der Bildung ist. Strutz und Zima führen noch andere, ähnlich gelagerte Beispiele an bzw. sie fragen sich, warum etwa Ivan Goll (der aus Slovenj Gradec im heutigen Slowenien stammte!) auf Französisch schrieb – vielleicht, weil das literarische Werk in der anderen Sprache ein anderes Leben zu leben beginnt, eine neue Identität erhält? (Strutz, Zima, ebd.) Sie schreiben von der sog. „sprachlichen Zweigleisigkeit“ und ziehen den Schluss, dass Mehrsprachigkeit und interkulturelle Wirklichkeit in der Tat eine neue Dimension sowohl des Lebens, das sie beschreiben, als auch im Verhältnis zum Leser zum Ausdruck bringen.

Was eventuelle Zweifel oder Schlussfolgerungen betrifft, dass Mehrsprachigkeit zur Sprachlosigkeit, zum Verlust der Muttersprache, zur Stummheit führt, halten sie jedoch fest, dass dem nicht so ist (Strutz, Zima 1996: 9). Allen Bedenken zum Trotz bedeutet Mehrsprachigkeit für sie „mehr“ und nicht „weniger Leben“, was aber nicht nur auf den Einzelnen als Autor zutrifft, sondern auf die Gesellschaft, die mit solchen Erscheinungen konfrontiert ist, als Ganzes. In diesem Kontext bringen sie das Beispiel des istrischen Städtchens Savudrija (Strutz, Zima 1996), das auf Italienisch Salvore heißt, doch die Bedeutung des Namens verdoppelt sich gewissermaßen, wenn er noch den anderen, kroatischen, slowenischen Kulturkontext bekommt. Gleich verhält es sich mit dem slowenischen Trst/dem österreichischen Triest/den italienischen Trieste; schon der Name allein verweist auf die kulturgeschichtliche Vielfalt der Stadt, auf die kulturelle Polyphonie. In der Stadt gibt es noch heute eine literarisch sehr aktive slowenische Minderheit. Auch mit solchen Phänomenen, schreiben Strutz und Zima, befasst sich die zeitgenössische Komparatistik. Sie beschäftigt sich mit der polyphonen Identität Europas, mit der Polyphonie ihrer Literatur.

Literatura in večjezičnost – Literatur und Mehrsprachigkeit – hieß 1994 ein Symposium, das die erwähnten Wissenschaftler an der Universität Klagenfurt organisierten. Dort ging es um stilistisch-linguistische Aspekte des literarischen Übersetzens, um die literarische Zwei- und Mehrsprachigkeit einzelner Autoren, vertreten waren aber auch unmittelbare Erfahrungen zweisprachiger Autoren (Fabjan Hafner, Fulvia Tomizza). Auf diesem Symposium referierten auch Forscher, die sich sowohl wissenschaftlich als auch praktisch mit der Übersetzung befassten, z. B. Klaus Detlef Olof, der viel aus der slowenischen Literatur, aber auch aus dem Kroatischen, Serbischen und Bosnischen ins Deutsche übersetzt hat, und der schon erwähnte Johann/Janez Strutz, der Literaturwissenschaftler, Komparatist, aber auch ein hervorragender Übersetzer aus dem Slowenischen ins Deutsche ist (Florjan Lipuš, Marjan Tomšič). Beide wurden in Österreich für ihre Übersetzungen auch ausgezeichnet, Klaus Olof zudem in Slowenien, (Johann Strutz in Deutschland). Beide übersetzten auch Autoren, in deren Werken neben der einen Schriftsprache (der Muttersprache, z. B. dem Slowenischen) auch andere Sprachen zum Zug kommen, seien es Dialekte (Lipuš, Tomšič), seien es Sprachen wie z. B. das Italienische und Kroatische und/oder der istrische Dialekt (Tomšič). Für gewöhnlich waren das sehr anspruchsvolle literarische Texte (etwa Lipuš' Stesnitev [Verdächtiger Umgang mit dem Chaos] oder Tomšič' Šavrinke [Die Frauen der Schaurinia]), darum zeugen ihre Übersetzungen von sprachlich-stilistischer Meisterschaft, aber sie werfen auch Fragen von den Grenzen der Übersetzbarkeit und von der Rolle des literarischen Übersetzers als Koautor des literarischen Textes in der Übersetzung auf.

Der Wissenschaftler Johann Strutz, der sich mit besonderer Akkuratesse mit der Literatur im Raum zwischen Alpen und Adria beschäftigt, vor allem mit der slowenischen in Österreich und mit der istrischen, stellt in seinem Text weiters fest, dass die zweisprachige Literatur nicht nur das Zusammenleben von Unterschieden, sondern auch kulturelle Konflikte zum Ausdruck bringt. Er schreibt über das Beispiel der Literatur Fulvio Tomizzas und Milan Rakovac’, in der die literarische Zweisprachigkeit sowohl das Abbild des interkulturellen Dialogs als auch kultureller und historischer Traumen darstellt. Bei Rakovac etwa begegnen wir dem Konflikt zweier Kulturen zur Zeit des Faschismus, und die Materada aus Tomizzas gleichnamigem Roman steht ebenso auch für die traumatische polyphone Identität Istriens (Strutz 1996: 15). Etwas Ähnliches, können wir fortfahren, teilt auch die slowenische Literatur in Österreich mit. Bei Janko Messner können wir schon in den frühen Skizzen und Novellen über das sehr unglückliche Verhältnis zwischen Slowenen und Österreichern lesen, zwischen der slowenischen und der deutschen Kultur in Kärnten, wir können über einen wahren „tauben Hain“ lesen, der zwischen den Kulturen und Nationen auf diesem Gebiet herrsche, und diese belastende Metapher wuchert bei Lipuš auf anspruchsvollem symbolischen Niveau nahezu in allen seinen Romanen, von Zmote dijaka Tjaža (Der Zögling Tjaž) über die Stesnitev (Verdächtiger Umgang mit dem Chaos) bis zum letzten, Boštjanov let (Boštjans Flug). Gleich verhält es sich bei Maja Haderlap und ihrem auf deutsch geschriebenen Debutroman Engel des Vergessens (2011), der nichts anderes beschreibt als einen schlimmen interkulturellen Konflikt zwischen den Slowenen und den Österreichern/Deutschen zur Zeit des Zweiten Weltkrieges in Kärnten, als die slowenischen Familien mit den Partisanen zusammenarbeiteten, die österreichischen/deutschen aber nicht, wobei diese Tatsache nach dem Krieg verwischt wurde und Österreich sogar zahlreichen Kriegsverbrechern Zuflucht bot. Über die Partisanenbewegung in Kärnten zu schreiben, bedeutet aber in einem Tabuthema zu stochern, weil die Partisanenbewegung in Österreich verunglimpft und kriminalisiert wurde und die Partisanen bis heute als „Banditen“ gelten. Haderlap stieß so mit dem Roman über die Zusammenarbeit ihrer Familie mit den Partisanen in das Wespennest der Tabus, auf Deutsch aber schrieb sie ihn vielleicht auch, damit die mehrheitliche Volksgruppe leichter und unmittelbarer, ohne Übersetzung, in den Spiegel schauen kann. Und so über die Koexistenz zweier Kulturen auf dem Gebiet des österreichischen Kärnten wie auch über die historischen Verbrechen des einen, d. h. des deutschen, über das andere, d. h. das slowenische Volk nachdenken kann.

Über eine ähnliche Problematik haben in der Vergangenheit, jedoch auf Slowenisch, auch Messner und Lipuš geschrieben. Von Lipuš stammt z. B. das „Nonstop-Drama“ Škornji (Die Stiefel), das vom Verbrechen der Faschisten an der Peršman-Familie in Eisenkappel/Železna Kapla, erzählt. Als überaus tragisches autobiografisches Leitmotiv aber ist in seinen literarischen Werken das Motiv der Mutter präsent, die während des Krieges wegen Kollaboration mit den Partisanen noch ganz jung den nicht herangewachsenen Kindern geraubt, ins Konzentrationslager deportiert und dort umgebracht wurde. Alle erwähnten Autoren zeigten mit ihren Werken, wie Zweisprachigkeit und die heute populäre „Multikulturalität“ in der Geschichte nicht nur glückliche Koexistenz bedeuteten, sondern auch die Grundlage für brutalste, sogar unbestrafte Verbrechen boten. – Doch sind Zwei- bzw. Mehrsprachigkeit wenigstens heute glückliche Realität? Das ist eine Frage, die angesichts der gegenwärtigen politischen Vorgänge nicht nur weltweit, sondern auch im Zentrum Europas, auch in Slowenien, von sich aus eine eindeutige Antwort anbietet: Nein. All das, inmitten einer erregenden und interessanten interkulturellen Buntheit, bringt auch die slowenische Gegenwartsliteratur in Österreich zum Ausdruck.

Strutz schreibt weiteres über das zweisprachige literarische Werk Fabjan Hafners, des Dichters, Publizisten, Übersetzers, Germanisten und Slowenisten. Als ich Lektorin für slowenische Sprache an der Universität Graz war, begann Fabjan Hafner erst Slawistik und Germanistik zu studieren und er besuchte auch Übersetzungsübungen und Vorlesungen auf dem Übersetzer- und Dolmetschinstitut. Er war ein sehr belesener, neugieriger, lebenslustiger und geistreicher, dabei aber auch unglaublich fleißiger Student. Aus der Masse der anderen trat er in jeder Hinsicht hervor, natürlich durch seine Begabung, durch die kennerhafte Begeisterung für die Welt der Literatur. Man wusste, dass er schreibt, und man wusste auch, dass er übersetzerische Ambitionen hat. Im Gegensatz zu anderen Studenten, die aus Kärnten kamen und das übliche slowenische Gymnasium hinter sich hatten, hatte Fabjan Hafner aber nicht am slowenischen, sondern am einsprachigen deutschen Gymnasium in Klagenfurt maturiert. Doch er entstammte einer slowenischen Familie im Rosental, und mit seinen Slowenischkenntnissen, seinem neugierig-kreativen Zugang zur Sprache, übertraf er bei Weitem alle anderen Kärntner slowenischen Studenten. Später wurde er Deutschlektor an der FF in Ljubljana, hielt auch Vorlesungen an der Klagenfurter Universität und schloss sein Studium mit dem Doktorat ab. Hafner ist heute einer der bekanntesten Literaten und literarischen Übersetzer im österreichischen Teil Kärntens. Sein zweisprachiges literarisches Werk können wir genauso zur slowenischen wie zur deutschen Literatur zählen. Fabjan Hafner, schreibt auch Strutz (1996: 15), ist das typische Beispiel für eine zweifache literarische Identität, die sich, wie die Literatur in diesem Raum generell, allen Vereinheitlichungsversuchen entzieht, die aber auch eine bestimmte sprachliche, literarische und kulturelle Fremdheit zum Ausdruck bringt. Nicht selten nämlich übersetzt Fabjan Hafner seine eigenen slowenischen Gedichte ins Deutsche und seine Deutschen ins Slowenische. Auch so thematisiert er die Koexistenz zweier Sprachen, Literaturen, zweier Kulturen. In den Übersetzungen, schreibt Strutz, ist nämlich alles gleich und trotzdem immer wieder auch anders (Strutz 1996: 15).

Zahlreiche andere Forscher schreiben von „Interkulturalität“ mit verschiedenen Inhalten, untersuchen die Beziehungen zwischen dem „Fremden“ und dem „Heimischen“, Phänomene der Begegnung von Kulturen und ihrer Rollen, wobei einige auch Einsicht nehmen in Fragen von Macht und Herrschaft in der Geschichte (Michael Hofmann, Homi Bhabha, Franziska Schossler, Vera Nunning, Peter V. Zima u. a.) und auch Migrationsphänomene und postkoloniale Konstellationen behandeln. In unserem Fall muss man bei Berücksichtigung der Verhältnisse, in denen sich die slowenische Literatur in Österreich entwickelte, z. B. die automatische Position der minderwertigen slowenischen Literatur im Verhältnis zu allem, was in der Geschichte deutsch war, und die daraus hervorgehende äußerst schmerzhafte Beziehung kennen. Die neuere interkulturelle Wissenschaft aber beschränkt sich nicht auf die nationale Perspektive, sondern interessiert sich für interkulturelle Prozesse, die z. B. bei der Konfrontation deutscher Leser und Leserinnen mit der „fremden“ Literatur entstehen, wobei im weiteren Kontext auch die Erforschung ihres Verhältnisses zu den nichteuropäischen Literaturen einen immer höheren Stellenwert einnimmt (Hofmann 2006: 8).

In Österreich spielte für den kraftvollen Durchbruch der slowenischen Literatur in den deutschsprachigen Raum der Wieser Verlag, neben Mohorjeva (Hermagoras) und Drava, eine außerordentlich wichtige Rolle, der sich mit besonderer Aufmerksamkeit vor allem den sog. Literaturen der Ränder widmete, eine eigene Buchreihe mit dem Titel Europa erlesen herausgab und -gibt und mit der Herausgabe zahlreicher literarischer Werke verschwiegener Autoren und Autorinnen von den anonymen Rändern des mitteleuropäischen Raums in deutscher Sprache begann, z. B. auch albanischer, bulgarischer, rumänischer, bosnischer, sorbischer, nicht nur slowenischer Autoren. Er entdeckte damit dem deutschen Leser bislang nicht existente Künstler aus der Welt der Literatur und ermöglichte Übersetzungen aus Sprachen, die es auf der literarischen Landkarte Europas sozusagen nicht gab. Alles in dem Bewusstsein, dass uns durch das Kennenlernen fremder Kulturen und Literaturen, Künste, die eigene Beschränktheit und eigentlich Kleinheit klar zu werden beginnt, mögen wir auf der Zahlenkarte Europas bzw. der Welt noch so groß sein. In einem kürzlich erschienen Interview für die Pogledi stellte Lojze Wieser folgende Überlegung an: „Europa hat viele Minderheiten, zweihundert autochthone Sprachen leben in 49 Staaten, dazu kommen zweihundert Migrantensprachen. In jedem Staat, der sich als Nationalstaat definiert, gibt es vier autonome und vier migrantische Minderheiten, jeder Staat hat im Durchschnitt acht Minderheiten. Somit sind die Minderheiten die Mehrheit, die Mehrheit aber die Minderheit.

Von Slowenien, das nach Jahrhunderten zum ersten Mal die Chance auf einen eigenen Staat bekommen hat, würde ich erwarten, dass es diese Erfahrung in Europa einbringt, dass es sagt: wir haben schon davor, seit Trubars Zeiten, in Form der Sprache und der Kultur gelebt, unabhängig davon, ob wir ein Staat waren oder nicht. Unsere Erfahrung, mit Sprache und Kultur zu überleben, wäre für Europa außerordentlich interessant: wie ein Europa bauen, das allen Kulturen, von den Kataloniern über die Basken, Iren, Serben, Romi, Bosnier, Mazedonier, Slowaken, Russen, bis zu den Deutschen, Slowenen … einen Platz unter der Sonne gäbe?“ (Wieser in Pogledi, 14.9.2011, S. 27). Lojze Wieser, der kaum zwanzig Jahre alt war, als er eine eigene Druckerei gründete, übernahm später den Verlag Drava und die Buchhandlung Naša knjiga. Schon mehr als zwanzig Jahre sorgt er systematisch für die Übersetzung slowenischer Literatur ins Deutsche. Mit zweiunddreißig gründete er den eigenen Wieser Verlag, bei dem auch Übersetzungen aus dem Deutschen ins Slowenische erschienen (z. B. Peter Handkes Wiederholung in der Übersetzung von mir und K. D. Olof unter dem Titel Ponovitev). Nach Ausbruch des Jugoslawienkrieges sorgte er für Schriftstellerfamilien in der Emigration und gründete die Bosnische Bibliothek. Er arbeitete fleißig, mit Aufs und Abs, aber unablässig auf dem Feld der Integration verschiedener Kulturen, Künste und der Achtung nationaler Identitäten. Er entfaltete eine interkulturelle Aktivität schon zu Zeiten, als dieser Terminus noch nicht in Mode war bzw. als es ihn noch gar nicht gab.

Mit dem Erkennen des Fremden aber bildet sich auch die kritische Reflexion der heimischen, für gewöhnlich zu selbstverständlich eindeutigen Erscheinungen heraus. Über die Bilder des Fremden und der Fremdheit beginnt sich nicht selten auch der heimische literarische Kanon zu verändern. Im zentralslowenischen literarischen Raum können wir solche Einflüsse z. B. in der Literatur von Brina Svit, Erica Johnson Debeljak, Maruša Krese, Goran Vojnović und einigen anderen sehen. Im weiteren Europa aber ist die Literatur der Migranten ein ähnlicher Fall, wurden doch einige deutsche Bestseller von Kindern von Zugewanderten und Asylanten, Bosniern, Kroaten oder Türken, geschrieben, von der jungen Generation, die in Deutschland aufgewachsen ist, wohin ihre Eltern aus ökonomischen Gründen oder vor Kriegen geflohen waren. Es macht keinen Sinn, sich zu fragen, um wessen Literatur es geht – das sind Beispiele deutscher Gegenwartsliteratur mit unterschiedlichen Wurzeln. In ihren Literaturen entstehen Zwischenräume, die nicht eindeutig sind, vielmehr geht es um interessante Beispiele interkultureller Kommunikation. Aktuelle literaturwissenschaftliche Untersuchungen erstrecken sich so auf die Untersuchung all dessen, auf die Analyse der Verhältnisse von Macht, Herrschaft, Geschlechterrollen usw., die in der Literatur der neuzeitlichen nationalen Minderheiten, welche ihren Lebensmittelpunkt getauscht und sich im Ausland niedergelassen haben, Gestalt annehmen. Es geht um die Erforschung ihrer „hybriden Identitäten“, einer Art „Patchwork“ (Hofmann 2006: 13). Der Gegenstand solcher Untersuchungen sind verschiedene mehrdeutige Texte: „Der kulturelle Wert des literarischen Textes [...] ergibt sich aus seiner Mehrfachkodierung innerhalb einer plural verstandenen Welt“ (Hofmann 2006: 13).

Die Literaturwissenschaftler schreiben von „Fremdheit als Resonanzboden des Eigenen“, von „Fremdheit als Gegenbild“ (Hofmann 2006: 22). Aus allem Gesagten entstehen sog. „kodierte, komplexe Identitäten“, die Literatur aber denkt und arbeitet alle diese Prozesse durch, thematisiert und reflektiert sie in einer symbolischen Sprache und einem symbolischen Kanon.

Ein anschauliches Beispiel für alles Gesagte ist der auf Deutsch geschriebene Erstlingsroman Engel des Vergessens (2011) der in Klagenfurt lebenden Maja Haderlap (1961), für den die Autorin, sonst slowenische Lyrikerin, heuer den prestigeträchtigen, alljährlich in Klagenfurt verliehenen Bachmann-Preis erhielt. Ihr literarisches Werk drückt die ganze Dualität der schriftstellerischen, künstlerischen und menschlichen Identität und zugleich die Besonderheiten des interkulturellen Dialogs in diesem Raum aus. Davon, dass der Text etwas Besonderes ist, zeugt auch die Tatsache, dass der Roman bisher in 100.000 Exemplaren gedruckt wurde, dass der Roman ein Beststeller ist, dass die Leute ihn massenhaft lesen. Maja Haderlap thematisierte damit offenbar etwas, das den Slowenen die ganze lange Zeit seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg auf der Seele lag, und sie teilte einiges mit, das lange zurückgehalten und verschwiegen wurde, das aber, wie alles Traumatische, endlich heraus musste.

Haderlap war nach dem Studium der Theaterwissenschaft und Germanistik im Stadttheater Klagenfurt angestellt, sie arbeitete auch als Vertragsbedienstete an der Klagenfurter Universität, und sie gab ihre Arbeit nur auf, um in Ruhe ihren Roman schreiben zu können. Sie schrieb ohne Unterbrechung drei Jahre daran. Sie wusste von Anfang an, dass sie ihn auf Deutsch und nicht auf Slowenisch schreiben würde, was unsere Prognose bestätigt, dass der Ausdruck in der fremden Sprache, die nicht die Muttersprache des Autors/der Autorin ist, dieser auch eine Art Befreiung und Distanz zum Gesagten bietet. Darüber schrieb in ihrem Erstling, dem Kurzroman Moren, den die Autorin auf Französisch schrieb und danach ins Slowenische übersetzte, auch Brina Svit, nämlich, dass ihr die Fremdsprache die Äußerung über Themen und Schmerzen erlaubte, über die sie in der Muttersprache nicht unbelastet hätte schreiben können. Haderlap gab nach Lipuš' Abschied vom mladje diese Zeitschrift heraus, sie blieb aber auch sonst die ganze Zeit über mit dem slowenischen literarischen Leben in Kärnten verbunden. Ihre Lehrer in der Volksschule waren z. B. Florjan Lipuš und Valentin Polanšek, beides slowenische Schriftsteller bzw. Dichter, die die Jüngeren dazu erzogen, dass Schreiben in slowenischer Sprache auch die Bewahrung des Slowenischen vor dem Aussterben bedeutet.

Schon die slowenische Poesie Maja Haderlaps, die sonst im Umfeld der traditionellen slowenischen Dörflichkeit ihrer Kindheit und Jugend verortet ist, drückte auch den Bruch mit dieser Welt des Archaischen aus, den Weggang von Zuhause, die Suche nach dem weiblichen Gesicht und der weiblichen Identität, aber auch das soziale und nationale Schicksal der Verwandtschaft, ihrer engeren Familie. In ihrer Poesie waren keinerlei agitatorische Töne zu bemerken, nur die schmerzhafte Existenz, ausgespannt zwischen Slowenen- und Deutschtum, zwischen Zurücklassen und Zugehörigkeit. Den Stoff für ihren Roman schöpfte sie aus den Gesprächen mit den Verwandten, mit Kärntner Slowenen, die die Zeit des Nazismus und des Partisanenwiderstands überlebten. Sie wuchs auf einem Hof in Leppen/Lepena bei Eisenkappel/Železna Kapla auf. Sie hörte den Erzählungen der Großmutter zu, die das Lager Ravensbrück überlebt hatte, während ihr Großvater, der Vater und der Onkel Partisanen waren. Mit der Partisanenbewegung war fast jede Familie in Eisenkappel verbunden. So spürte sie schon als Kind, wenn auch über Erzählungen, was der Krieg für die Leute bedeutete, was für Not er ihnen verursachte und was für verbrecherische Taten ihnen von Seiten der Nazis zuteil wurden (ihr Vater wurde gefasst und gefoltert). Diese ganze Problematik, von der Österreich nach dem Krieg so tat, als gäbe es sie nicht, bearbeitete Haderlap literarisch in deutscher Sprache. „Ich wollte diese Geschichte nicht nur den Kärntner Slowenen nahebringen, die ihre Geschichten kennen, sondern auch dem österreichischen Raum“, sagte die Autorin in einem ihrer Interviews. Und: „Gleichzeitig disziplinierte mich das Deutsche auch und hielt mich auf Distanz zur Handlung. Als ich spürte, dass mich die Sprache vor Dingen schützt, die sehr schmerzhaft sind, wusste ich, dass das das Richtige ist. Auf Slowenisch hätte sich mir das Material unter den Emotionen zersetzt.“ Für sie bedeutete das Deutsche einen „Schild“, eine Art Verteidigungswall.

Weiters sagte sie, dass das Echo auf ihren Roman so unwahrscheinlich war, wie es sich jeder Schriftsteller nur wünschen kann. Auch die, die sonst gar keine Literatur lesen, lesen ihn, und auch solche, die ihre Wurzeln suchen, Österreicher, die die eigene Geschichte bisher nicht in diesem Licht kannten. Für sie war das, erzählt die Autorin, eine „verborgene Geschichte“. Der Roman hat somit neben der künstlerischen auch eine starke bewusstseinsbildende und Zeugnis ablegende Funktion:

[...] die Partisanen hatten in Österreich einen völlig anderen Status als in Jugoslawien, wo sie Heroen waren; hier galten sie als Mörder und Heimatverräter. Ein paar Tage nach dem Krieg bedankte sich Österreich wohl bei den Partisanen für ihren Kampf gegen den Nazismus, dann aber kam es zu ideologischen Komplikationen, weil Tito den Anschluss Kärntens an Jugoslawien forderte, was nicht einmal die Verbündeten unterstützten, die Folge dieser Forderung aber war, dass Österreichs Rechte unseren antifaschistischen Widerstand zum Heimatverrat erklärte; auf einmal erklärten sie sich zu Kämpfern für die Heimat, und sie seien es schon die ganze Nazizeit über gewesen! Hier ging alles drunter und drüber, die Folge war die totale politische Erstarrung Kärntens, auch seiner linken Option, sodass man nirgends mehr die slowenische Stimme hörte und die Nazis sich die Hände reiben und ihr Wirken während des Krieges zudecken konnten. Die offizielle österreichische Politik aber hatte nicht den Willen, damit aufzuräumen“, sagte Maja Haderlap in einem Interview für den Dnevnik (27.8.2011). In diesem Interview sagte sie auch, dass der Stoff für den Roman autobiografisch, wenn auch natürlich fiktiv überarbeitet sei, und dass ihr Roman-„Ich“ nur das Medium sei, das die Geschichte erzählt. Interessant aber ist, dass in dem sonst auf deutsch verfassten Roman ein Teil eines Gedichts, das der Vater als Kind geschrieben hat und das auf eigenartig groteske Weise von der Gewalt, dem Zentralthema dieses Romans, zeugt, auf Slowenisch vorkommt: „Ko pasel sem jaz kravce, je prišel policist, v oreh me obesil in mislil, da sem list (Haderlap 2011: 268). (Als ich die Kühe hütete, kam ein Polizist, er hängte mich in einen Nussbaum und dachte, ich sei ein Blatt.)

Aus dem deutsch geschriebenen Roman ist klar ersichtlich, dass sich die ganze Handlung in der slowenischen Welt abspielt und dass Slowenisch die Muttersprache der Erzählerin ist. Der Roman beginnt mit der Erinnerung an ihre Kindheit und die Zeit ihres Aufwachsens, an den noch sicheren Hort im Kreise der Familie, in der auf Slowenisch gesprochen, gesungen und gebetet wurde:

Mutter betet mit mir sveti angel varuh moj, bodi vedno ti menoj, stoj mi noč in dan ob strani, vsega hudega me brani, amen und sagt, dass Engel in die Seele eines Menschen blicken und ihre geheimsten Gedanken lesen können (Haderlap 2011: 13).

Das Mädchen besucht die slowenische Volksschule: „Mutter übt mit mir das Aufsagen slowenischer Gedichte, die ich für die Schule auswendig lernen muss.“ (Haderlap 2011: 24). Wir erkennen kleine slowenische Geschichten wieder – Kdo je ukradel Vidku srajčico und einige Gedichte aus Župančič‘ Mehurčki (Zima zima bela); zu der Zeit, als das Fernsehen in die Familien kommt, aber sie stellen mit den Nachbarn halblegal das slowenische Programm ein, die Kinder z. B. sehen den Film Kekec: „Das slowenische Fernsehen kann nicht immer empfangen werden, schon gar nicht offiziell. Die Politik wird es für die Kärntner Slowenen nicht einrichten wollen, sagt Michi zu Vater. Das wäre das achte Weltwunder“ (Haderlap 2011: 26).

Von der durch und durch slowenischen Welt aber zeugen auch die Nachnamen der zahlreichen Familien und ihrer Mitglieder, die im Roman auftreten oder auch nur erwähnt sind (Rastočnik, Želodec, Perko, Majdič u.a.). Als aber die Erzählerin aufgrund der Erzählungen ihrer Großmutter Splitter aus der Vergangenheit zu erkennen beginnt, in der Großmutter, Großvater, Vater und einige Onkels und Tanten Opfer der Gestapo-Gewalt wurden, die sich in dieser Kärntner Gegend reichlich an den slowenischen Familien, die mit den Partisanen kollaborierten, austobte, erkennt sie, dass ihr Slowenisch auch beschützende Kraft hatte, es war eine Art „göttlicher Schild“ – ihr Großvater war Partisan, im Gestapogefängnis in Klagenfurt betete er auf Slowenisch und er überlebte. Ebenso betete für sich, heimlich, auch ihre Großmutter auf Slowenisch, als sie von ihren Söhnen und ihrem Mann getrennt und ins Konzentrationslager Ravensbrück deportiert wurde. Die Treue zur slowenischen Sprache wird an mehreren Stellen betont. Slowenisch ist nicht nur der ursprüngliche Text des Lebens der Erzählerin, sondern in ihrer ganzen Familie die Sprache des intimsten, überaus liebevollen Verhältnisses – die Tante der Erzählerin, die nicht mehr aus Ravensbrück zurückkommt, hinterlässt einer Kärntner Mit-Internierten, der Wissenschaftlerin Angela Piskernik, ihre im Lager heimlich geschriebenen slowenischen Gedichte, die Piskernik, die das Lager überlebt, nach dem Krieg veröffentlicht. Auch sonst ist die gesamte Familie der Erzählerin slowenisch, viele ihrer Mitglieder dichten im Geist der Volkstradition, schreiben und spielen Theaterstücke: „Die Katrca habe Gedichte und kurze Theaterstücke geschrieben, die habe man auswendig gelernt und gespielt“ (Haderlap 2011: 61).

Beredt ist auch die Szene, als die Großmutter mit der Enkelin den österreichischen Besitz des Grafen, auf dem ihr Sohn Verwalter ist, besucht und mit dem Grafen deutsch reden muss, was sie aber nicht kann – für sie ist Deutsch nur die „Lagersprache“, es ist ihr und ihrer Enkelin – in Österreich – fremd. Auch die Erzählerin selbst, die später das slowenische Gymnasium besucht und sich dann nach Wien begibt, um zu studieren, veröffentlicht ihre ersten beiden Gedichtbände auf Slowenisch. Später aber, schon erwachsen und als Dramaturgin am Theater arbeitend, spürt sie, dass sich ihre Muttersprache irgendwie zu verlieren beginnt und dass das Deutsche sie immer mehr ersetzt:

Während meiner Arbeit am Theater in Klagenfurt wird sich die slowenische Sprache aus meinen Texten zurückziehen. Eines Tages werde ich feststellen, dass sie in meinen Notizen und Aufzeichnungen nicht mehr vorhanden, aus den Schubladen ausgezogen ist, dass sie meinen Schreibtisch geräumt und ihre schönsten Kleider mitgenommen hat (Haderlap 2011: 231).

Im Vordergrund des Romans aber stehen die drei tragenden Frauenfiguren: das Mädchen, seine Mutter und die Großmutter. In der frühen Kindheit übernimmt die Großmutter wegen der Arbeitsüberlastung der Mutter auf dem Hof im Leben des Mädchens die führende und beschützende Funktion. In ihrem Schrank hängt ein graugrüner Mantel, den sie im Lager Ravensbrück getragen hat und an den sich die erste Ahnung der Erzählerin knüpft, dass mit dem Mantel sowohl ein Geheimnis als auch ein Trauma verbunden ist, das sie als Kind noch nicht versteht und erst zu erkennen beginnt. Über Splitter der Erzählung der Großmutter beginnt sie sich dann Schauergeschichten aus der familiären Vergangenheit aus der Zeit des Zweiten Weltkriegs zusammenzureimen. Diese dringen in Form der Erinnerungen der Großmutter und dann des Vaters zu ihr, von ihnen zeugen auch die Lagernummer der Großmutter (24 834) und schließlich das Lagerheft, das sie ihrer Enkelin hinterlässt. Der Krieg, in dem auch zahlreiche andere slowenische Einwohner Eisenkappels und seiner Umgebung in den Nazi-Gefängnissen und Lagern umgekommen sind, deren Höfe von der Gestapo niedergebrannt und sogar ganze Familien darin umgebracht wurden (Peršman, Pečnik), greift so ununterbrochen in die Gegenwart, dem Vater der Erzählerin aber gestattet er nicht einmal, sich von ihm zu befreien und ein unbelastetes Leben zu beginnen (er ist seinetwegen dauerhaft geschädigt und verbittert; als er zehn Jahre alt war, banden ihn SS-Leute, um ihn zum Verrat am eigenen Vater zu zwingen, an einen Baum, schlugen und folterten ihn). Die Angst vor den Nazis und der Gestapo fraß sich in das Leben der Menschen (der Vater z. B. singt noch als Erwachsener im Wald Partisanenlieder, weil, so sagt er, nur diese die Angst vertreiben). Alle diese einfachen Leute sind dauerhaft Opfer der unbeschreiblichen nazistischen Gewalt geblieben.

Unter den zahlreichen Geschichten, die der Roman assoziativ aneinanderreiht, ragt auch die weibliche Kriegsgeschichte hervor. Diese bleibt in den Historien, die nach Kriegsende von Heldentaten berichten, für gewöhnlich übersehen, in diesem Roman aber wird sie völlig untendenziös betont. Die Großmutter, eine einfache Bäuerin, Frau und Mutter, ist ihre erschütternde Zeugin. Ihre Geschichte und die Geschichte anderer Frauen, die sie im Lager leiden gesehen hatte, legt Zeugnis ab vom weiblichen Leiden – der Mütter, die gewaltsam ihren noch kleinen Kindern entrissen werden, der Frauen, die erniedrigt, gefoltert und ausgehungert und in großer Zahl in Ravensbrück, Lublin, Dachau, auch ermordet wurden (Haderlap 2011: 125-129). Die Großmutter kam nach dem langen Leiden aus dem KZ zurück, nach dem anstrengenden Transport über Belgrad und das slowenische Koprivna ging sie zu Fuß über die Berge wieder heim zu ihrer Familie und kam langsam zu Kräften. Ihre Festigkeit und ihr Mut, zwei Bilder ihrer Leidensfähigkeit und Ausdauer, geben der Enkelin innere Stütze und Kraft. Einige andere Frauen aus der Umgebung aber hatten nach dem Krieg keinen Ort mehr, an den sie zurückkehren konnten, weil es ihre Familien und Häuser nicht mehr gab. Das waren die zahlreichen Marijas, Katrcas, Mimikas, die in den historischen Handbüchern nicht genannt sind, im Roman Maja Haderlaps aber ihren Platz bekommen haben. Auch alle diese schwer arbeitenden Mütter und Hausfrauen, die den Partisanen selbstlos Nahrung gaben, in der Überzeugung, dass der Faschismus das Böse ist, dem um jeden Preis Einhalt geboten werden muss.

Maja Haderlap belegt, dass der Partisanenwiderstand in Kärnten nicht in erster Linie mit der kommunistischen Bewegung verbunden war. Die Partisanen in Kärnten waren zum Großteil Katholiken, einfache gläubige Menschen, die an die menschliche Berechtigung ihres Widerstands glaubten. Nach dem Krieg aber wurden sie in Österreich oft als Anhänger der Kommunisten beschimpft, und auf der anderen Seite integrierte sie auch Jugoslawien als Nicht-Kommunisten nicht ihren Heldenkult. Die Geschichten vom slowenischen Partisanenwiderstand im österreichischen Teil Kärntens wurden zu ihren „Privatgeschichten“, Österreich aber wollte von ihnen, weil sie „kommunistisch“ waren, nichts mehr hören. Der ganze Staat begann sich, was seine Zusammenarbeit mit den Nazis betraf, auch immer mehr zu verstellen:

Niemand in diesem verstellungsseligen Land habe die Nazis willkommen geheißen, niemand das Großdeutsche Reich ersehnt, niemand Schuld auf sich geladen, niemand die Endlösung betrieben, nur ein wenig mitgetan, mitgeschossen, mitgemordet, mitvergast, aber das zählt nicht, nichts zählt (Haderlap 2011: 248).

Die herbe Ironie der Erzählerin ist an solchen Stellen des Romans gut erkennbar. Das ist ihr Ich klage an!, das ein dokumentiertes historisches Gedächtnis bewahrt. Nach dem Erscheinen ergingen Vorwürfe über der Autorin, dass sie statt auf Slowenisch auf Deutsch geschrieben habe. Doch wenn wir den Roman lesen, verstehen wir, warum die Wahl auf diese Sprache fiel. Unmittelbar, in ihrer Sprache, können nun von der schon fast ausgelöschten, unbenannten und verschwiegenen Geschichte auch jene lesen, denen der Roman ebenso zugedacht ist und die ihn auf Slowenisch wahrscheinlich nicht einmal wahrgenommen hätten. Angesehene deutsche und österreichische Literaturkritiker und Autorenkollegen aber bezeichneten den Roman als einen Roman mit großer Poesie und tiefer Bekenntniskraft. Mit ihm wurde aus der slowenischen Dichterin Maja Haderlap auch eine deutsche Prosaistin. Ihr literarisches Werk aber bezeugt eine spezielle Koexistenz beider Identitäten, der slowenischen wie der deutschen, der nationalen wie der literarischen.


Borovnik, Silvija (1989/90) “Slovenski svet v Handkeju‟, Jezik in slovstvo, 35, Nr.3: 45-51.

— (1995) ‟Slovenska književnost na avstrijskem Koroškem, s posebnim ozirom na delo Florjana Lipuša“ in Zbornik predavanj, Martina Orožen (Hg.), Ljubljana: Filozofska fakulteta, Oddelek za slovanske jezike in književnosti, 80-101.

— (1997a) “Lipuševa Stesnitev kot primer postmodernističnega zgodovinskega romana Razprave‟, Razr. filol. lit. vede – SAZU, 16, 5-16.

— (1997b) ‟Humor, ironija in groteska v delih Janka Messnerja“, Slavistična revija, 45, Nr. 1-2: 127-134.

— (2000a) “Patologija slovenske vasi, nailje verske institucije in arheologija besede v Lipuševi prozi‟, Slavistična revija, 48, Nr. 2: 119-140.

— (2000b) ‟Verdächtiger Umgang mit dem Chaos als postmoderner historischer Roman“ in Lipuš lesen. Texte und Materialien, Klaus Amann (Hg.), Klagenfurt: Wieser, 151-171.

— (2002): “Delež Koroške v sodobni slovenski prozi‟ in Nacionalno, regionalno, provincialno. Zbornik Slavističnega društva Slovenije, 13, Marko Jesenšek (Hg.), Ljubljana: Slavistično društvo Slovenije, 52-76.

— (2006) ‟Kratka proza Slovencev v Avstiji“ in Slovenska kratka pripovedna proza. Obdobja, metode in zvrsti, 23, Irena Novak Popov (Hg.), Ljubljana: Filozofska fakulteta, Oddelek za slovenistiko, Center za slovenščino kot drugi/tuji jezik, 37-47.

— (2007) “Slovenske knjižvenice v Avstriji‟ Wiener Slav. Jahrbuch, 53: 79-90.

— (2008) ‟Medkulturnost slovenske književnosti na avstrijskem Koroškem“ in Slovenščina med kulturami. Zbornik Slavističnega društva Slovenije, 19, Miran Košuta (Hg.), Celovec, Ljubljana: Slavistično društvo Slovenije, 43-54.

Haderlap, Maja (2011) Engel des Vergessens, Göttingen, Wallstein Verlag

Hofmann, Michael (2006) Interkulturelle Literaturwissenschaft. Eine Einführung, Paderborn, W. Fink (UTB 2839).

Strutz, Johann und Zima, Peter V. (Hg.) (1996) Literarische Polyphonie. Übersetzung und Mehrsprachigkeit in der Literatur, Tübingen, Günter Narr Verlag.

Strutz, Johann (Hg.) (1998) Profile der neueren slowenischen Literatur in Kärnten, Klagenfurt/Celovec, Hermagoras Verlag/Mohorjeva založba.

Translating from ‘unofficial’ to ‘official’:

On the intralingual untranslatability of a ‘fuchsia goat'

By Georgios Floros (University of Cyprus, Cyprus)

Abstract & Keywords

This paper examines a particular case of intralingual translation from the Cypriot context, one which tends to push the very notion of translatability to its limits. Specifically, it discusses an immensely popular Greek Cypriot sitcom, Aigia Fuxia [Fuchsia Goat], written in the Cypriot Greek dialect (CGD), and the (im)possibilities of its subtitling into Standard Modern Greek (SMG), which is the variety enjoying official status in Cyprus. The main premise of this paper is that when language itself becomes topical in a translation endeavour, the very text becomes untranslatable, despite the seemingly high degree of translatability implied by an intralingual translation situation.

Keywords: Intralingual translation, Cypriot Greek dialect CGD, Standard Modern Greek SMG, untranslatability, stylization

©inTRAlinea & Georgios Floros (2016).
"Translating from ‘unofficial’ to ‘official’:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2186

In recent years, there is a growing interest in dialect translation (cf., for example, Federici (ed.) 2011), which is in line with the latest developments in translation studies, regarding, among others, the translation of and for linguistic minorities, postcolonial approaches to translation in terms of power and identity, and the resurgent interest in ethical issues governing and/or affecting translation. Within this context, multimedia translation in all its forms (from more traditional ones, such as subtitling and dubbing, to more recently developed and investigated ones, such as audio description) has become a particularly interesting site for examining dialect translation both in intralingual and interlingual situations (Jakobson 1959). The most important aspects under investigation in the context of translation studies include the use and function of a dialect within a speech community, which in turn affects the choice of strategies/techniques and the concrete linguistic choices for the translation of dialect into dialect (for example, Sánchez 1999), standard into dialect (for example, Findlay 1996; 2000), or dialect into standard (for example, Koletnik and Vahl Lopert 2012), particularly for the theatre (cf., for example, papers in Johnston 1996).

The numerous challenges posed by dialect translation in all its facets create an important research area of translation studies, one that highlights significant core aspects of the field, such as the question of translatability. There are many examples of felicitous translation, where a dialect has been successfully rendered (or, rather, substituted) by another dialect of a different language (cf. Anderman 2009), as well as intralingual examples, where the translation of standard into dialect or dialect into standard has created successful outcomes, supporting the idea that dialect is translatable under certain conditions and considerations. This paper examines a particular case of intralingual translation from the Cypriot context, one which, as will be argued, tends to push the very notion of translatability to its limits. Specifically, it discusses an immensely popular Greek Cypriot sitcom, Aigia Fuxia [Fuchsia Goat], written in the Cypriot Greek dialect (CGD), and the (im)possibilities of its subtitling into Standard Modern Greek (SMG), which is the variety enjoying official status in Cyprus. Before embarking on the examination of the particularities posed by the above example, an important differentiation needs to be made: CGD is a regional dialect of SMG in the geographical sense, not a social dialect in the sense of a sociolect. Furthermore, it is important to a) give the necessary background concerning the linguistic situation in Cyprus and b) elaborate on the particular genre of the sitcom, before arguing for the untranslatability of the example studied.

Ever since independence from Britain in 1960, the statutory languages of the Republic of Cyprus have been Standard Modern Greek and Turkish. After the island’s division and the ensuing exchange of populations in 1974, the official language for the public domain in the Republic of Cyprus has been SMG. English still enjoys a high status, as shown by relevant studies (cf., for example, Papapavlou 2001 and Tsiplakou 2009a). The Cypriot speech community is in a situation of both bilingualism and diglossia.[1] There are two official languages in the country, Greek and Turkish (the standard varieties of both), although the latter is in practice not spoken due to the continuing division of Cyprus. This means that, despite its statutory introduction, bilingualism is in a rather ‘dormant’ state in the country. But what is much more interesting from a sociolinguistic perspective is that SMG, the official variety used in national education, the courts, the media and for all other official purposes, coexists with CGD, the variety which, albeit unofficial and perceived as having a ‘lower’ status, is very widely used in everyday communication and on informal occasions (diglossia), without enjoying overt prestige among its speakers (cf., for example, Papapavou 1998; Tsiplakou 2004; Ioannidou 2007). However, this variety is gradually gaining ground in the media; especially, in Cypriot productions of sitcoms and series.

This gradual development might be the result of the dialect levelling and the emergence of an urban koiné (Tsiplakou 2009b)[2], which is much nearer to SMG, to the extent that there is a tendency towards diglossia resolution (cf. Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012). CGD has never been a ‘uniform’ variety, as local subvarieties exist in different areas of the island, often displaying significant differences among them. Therefore, one might say that today a ‘rural’ and a ‘metropolitan’ CGD coexist, the latter being the aforementioned koiné (cf. also Tsiplakou et al. 2006).

Dialect levelling and koineization might be thought to enhance the intelligibility of the Cypriot koiné by speakers of SMG in mainland Greece. Through the possibilities offered by YouTube and other dissemination forums and platforms, contemporary Cypriot media products have reached mainland Greece. Very often, some products deemed difficult to understand by SMG speakers are subtitled by volunteers (crowd-sourced captioning). It is through such channels that Aigia Fuxia has been disseminated in the Greek-speaking world, where the show could also be appreciated, albeit for reasons that seem to be rather different to those for which the show was appreciated within Cyprus. But media products where metropolitan Cypriot is spoken, for example shows and news on the satellite program of CyBC (the national TV stations of Cyprus), are understood without any major problems. From a translational perspective, this results in less—if any—need for intralingual translation (that is subtitling in our case, be it crowd-sourced or by a professional translator), as the Cypriot koiné seems to be heading towards its intralingual self-translatability by approaching SMG. Self-translatability is meant here as a situation where, due to the ‘normalization’ of ‘heavy’ dialectal forms, no mediation is needed. The most important repercussion thereof is the marketability of Cypriot productions, a possibility also endorsed by the ever-increasing number of actors from mainland Greece participating in Cypriot productions, where the standard variety spoken by them coexists in an unproblematic way with the dialectal variety used by the Cypriot actors. In any case, CGD speakers are mostly able to switch to SMG without a problem, while the reverse is not possible for SMG speakers of mainland Greece.

Nevertheless, koineization does not imply that the use of a ‘homogenized’ variety ceases to carry socio-cultural significance (cf. for example Hatim & Mason 1990). On the contrary, it might be seen as pointing to a confidence-enhancing effect, especially if seen in the context of mainly negative attitudes on the part of urban population towards the use of ‘heavy’ forms of dialect (see also the defeated languages, Nadiani 2011). As previously mentioned, the use of dialect by Greek Cypriots does not enjoy overt prestige and there is a remarkable controversy regarding the use of CGD; while it is fully accepted in spoken everyday discourse, Greek Cypriots are largely reluctant to accept it even as a possibility in education or in any written form, for example. The emergence of the metropolitan koiné has probably created the illusion that what is spoken is not really dialect, but simply a phonetically slightly ‘coloured’ version of SMG, which can confidently be treated by the population as almost standard Greek—in any case without the ‘burdens’ or ‘rural connotations’ of an obvious dialectal variety. This also implies a change in power relations. The status of metropolitan Cypriot, albeit the unofficial variety in the country, starts changing from ‘lower’ to acceptable vis-à-vis the statutory, dominant variety within the diglossic setting. If one of the core features of diglossia is the differentiation between a variety of lower status and a variety of higher status within the same linguistic community (cf. Ferguson 1959), such distinctions cease to apply in the case of Cyprus, if the metropolitan variety is taken into account.

In this complex context of diglossia and koineization, it is interesting to look at the use of language that the show Aigia Fuxia opts for. Aigia Fuxia in fact attempts to break, among other things, the prevailing (negative) linguistic attitudes towards the ‘rural’ part of the speech community by using extreme dialect stylization, to the extent that even native speakers of CGD are unable to fully understand the register and some of the vocabulary used. This is not stylization in its typical form, which is often used to perpetuate or enhance negative linguistic attitudes rather than breaking them. Here, stylization acquires this particular function of breaking the prevailing attitudes because it forms part of a particular medley of deconstructive devices which, besides their comedic potential, generate clashes between assumptions about sociocultural constructs. Thus, stylization in Aigia Fuxia creates “contrasts between different metapragmatic/inferential states”, as Jaworski and Coupland (2004: 247) remark. But before further elaborating on linguistic aspects of the show and its translatability into the official variety, it is necessary to first examine the particularities of its genre, through which this particular medley will be clarified.

The show Aigia Fuxia is a Cypriot sitcom in the Cypriot Greek dialect by Christiana Artemiou and Loris Loizidis for ANT1 Cyprus, which is a private TV station. It was broadcast between 2008 and 2010 and both seasons enjoyed enormous popularity. Its name is an allusion to the traditional Cypriot folk song Aigia Kotzini [Red Goat] and the whole show is reminiscent of previous ones from the 1980s and 1990s, which depicted ‘rural life’ in Cyprus and may be categorized under ‘comic ethography’. There are many intertextual references to those older sitcoms, which foregrounded predominant stereotypes about life in the village and, implicitly, about the language of ‘older times’. In those sitcoms “stylization of the language and the lifestyle of a part of the speech community is performed in predictable ways (‘peasanty’ attire and language and comic situations relating to ‘life in the village’)” (Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012: 279).

The show is mainly slapstick comedy, but it also involves more serious, tragic stories. So, for example, one of the main characters is queer, a hairdresser and the owner of the fuchsia goat, while another character is the village’s madwoman, who invents Viagra and performs a number of magic tricks alluding to contemporary reality, but at the same time keeps looking for her lost son (cf. Figure 1)[3]. Using a witty, rich and artful filmic and linguistic apparatus, Aigia Fuxia presents a rural, traditionally Cypriot setting with hyperdialectal (see below) speakers who, although set in the remote past, make use of code-switching (CGD and English, CGD and SMG), modern devices and artefacts, allusions to contemporary reality and, crucially, to mainland Greece, and ultimately manage to produce an unprecedented comical effect, lending itself to multiple interpretations. There are plenty of intertextual references to other genres (that is advertisements, American soap operas, popular morning shows, popular musical themes from advertisements and other series), and the show also acquires a meta-commentary character which is shown through sometimes artful, sometimes deconstructive (and thus subversive) filmic techniques, such as engagement of camera crew, black and white shots etc. (cf. Figure 2)[4].

Figure 1: Examples of stylized comedic characters

Figure 2: Example of allusion to contemporary reality

The varied linguistic and filmic apparatus used in the show has been treated as multi-layered bricolage by Tsiplakou and Ioannidou (2012: 279)[5], since the show displays bricolage with regard to (a) subject-matter and situations, which may range from ‘peasanty’ to urban/modern, or varying mixes of the two; (b) filmic bricolage involving overt metacommentary on the mise-en-scène, the use of the camera etc., and, crucially, (c) linguistic bricolage involving the use of extremely stylized basilectal/obsolete or even constructed Cypriot Greek forms in alternation with archaic Greek, Standard Greek and English.[6]

By the use of such bricolage on all levels of the genre construction, the show Aigia Fuxia at the same time observes and subverts the genre of comic ethography, to which it alludes. The show is subversive because both the ‘traditional’ perceptions of CGD and the latest trend towards ‘normalization’ are subverted: As concerns more ‘traditional’ forms of CGD, Aigia Fuxia deploys stylization and hyperdialectism[7], while, as concerns the latest trends in the use of CGD, Aigia Fuxia uses heavy code-switching. This code-switching happens not only between CGD and English, but also between CGD and SMG in both its archaic (katharévousa) and its contemporary forms.[8]

Stylization as out-of-context performance/hyperbolic enactment (cf. Rampton 2006) has comic potential due to script clashes (Attardo 2001) and subversive potential, as it hinges on reframings of the current context, which may lead to its ideological re-evaluation (cf. Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012: 290). The comedic potential of stylization as inaccuracies in dialect imitation is long-acknowledged in the relevant literature (cf., for example, Georgakopoulou 2000). The subversive character of the show, through this multi-layered bricolage and its comedic potential, turns the show into a critical reflection on the very Greek Cypriot social ‘imaginary’ and construction of identity. The linguistic bricolage of the show makes it an instance of self-stylization and thus manages to subvert the linguistic imaginary Cypriots have of themselves, since it makes a statement against dominant perceptions of the local and current linguistic practices and linguistic situation. Through the normalization of CGD, which translates into abandoning heavy, and by consequence ‘peasanty’ forms, modern Greek Cypriots maintain a distance not only to their linguistic past, but also to their social past. Therefore, by subverting this normalization, the show makes both a linguistic and a social statement. On the other hand, through strong instances of intertextuality and references to past and present situations, crucially to mainland Greece, the show goes beyond the comical to also comment on the very issue of identity. Modern Greek Cypriots strongly adhere to their ‘Greekness’ and to a sense of continuity with the ancient Greek world, while at the same time they maintain a distance to contemporary mainland Greeks. This creates a continuing debate on and around identity issues in Cyprus. Through its performance, the show unpacks “the underlying ideological premises of such practices precisely by demonstrating the fact that they are cultural constructs” (Tsiplakou and Ioannidou 2012: 292).

This multi-faceted functioning and the interpretive possibilities of the show shift the attention from purely linguistic and language-functional considerations to considerations about the communicative effect of the genre, when it comes to the question of presenting or ‘marketing’ the show to an audience other than that primarily intended for. This issue will be discussed in the next section of this paper.

As was noted above, the extreme popularity of Aigia Fuxia and the vast possibilities offered by YouTube and other social media soon brought the show to the attention of the SMG speaking audience in mainland Greece. Through crowd-sourced captioning, intralingual translations to video excerpts of the show were provided through various media, broadcasting some of the most hilarious and emblematic moments of Aigia Fuxia with the aim to disseminate the show to a wider public and share some of its success with an audience speaking the standard variety.[9] There is no official evidence to support whether the show has indeed had a comparable success in Greece as it enjoyed in Cyprus, but the widely known reaction of the SMG speaking audience of mainland Greece to the show is that the sitcom was yet another humorous instance of dialect stylization, among many other instances which attempt to create a humorous effect by stylizing Greek dialects spoken in the wider geographical area of modern Greece. The mainland audience, which does not share the same experience of a diglossic situation with the Greek Cypriot audience[10], is most probably not able to sense the fine irony of presenting a show in extremely stylized dialect (towards which rather negative attitudes prevail), nor is it prompted to reflect critically on its linguistic situation and the perceptions it has of itself and of its own social condition. When other dialects are stylized in comedy shows broadcast in mainland Greece, there is a clear humorous effect due to the fact that the audience can keep a clear social distance to the stylized dialect, since SMG has long been adopted there (1976), a developed which also signalled the levelling of most regional Greek dialect according to Mackridge (2009), (cited by Hadjioannou et al. 2011: 507). Likewise, mainland Greeks are able to keep a ‘social distance’ to CGD, since it is spoken in a geographical area not belonging to Greece as a state entity.

The many omissions, mistakes, or less successful renditions of the Cypriot dialect notwithstanding, the subtitled excerpts of Aigia Fuxia manage to offer a ‘semantic’ understanding of the show’s dialogues and jokes in SMG, which, combined with the allusions and the meta-commentary images of the show, create the humorous effect of a rural community in dissonance with its time, place and (supposed) cultural context. But even if the semantics are covered by the translation and some of the pragmatic effects of the script could possibly be rendered through suitable translation techniques, it is the meta-pragmatic subversive commentary pointing to issues of social imaginary and identity that still remain untranslatable. Therefore, the salient communicative effect of the show remains incommunicable, despite the possible marketability of the show on the grounds of the apparent linguistic and cultural kinship of mainland Greece and Cyprus. In other words, the aberrant use of dialect shifts the attention to the dialect itself, instead of to any other effect of the use of dialect, and language becomes central to the interpretation of the show. By consequence, the socio-cultural significance of such aberrant use of dialect is a call to reflect critically on the very issue of language and (social) identity. In a way, besides having a general meta-commentary character, the show also acquires a meta-linguistic function. Through ‘thematizing’ the use of dialect, this function is not transferrable in the same ways other communicative functions and effects of a text (in the wider sense of the term) can be rendered into another, or even the ‘same’ language.

When translating a dialect into the official or dominant variety, there are mainly practical or cultural reasons for undertaking this task. There is either the motive of translating what a community says (practical reasons), or the motive of making explicit how a community says something (cultural reasons). Aigia Fuxia goes beyond this set of reasons. In this show, the ultimate subject-matter is not only what the community says or how it says it. More than that, it is the very fact that the community speaks that makes its discourse untranslatable. In this light, Aigia Fuxia does not simply subvert the genres it makes intertextual references to (the Cypriot ethography, the sitcom etc.). It establishes a genre in its own right by attributing to itself a function that goes beyond the apparent function of creating a comedic effect: It enriches itself with an overall textual force (Tsiplakou and Floros 2013) that remains ‘hidden’. The apparent linguistic and textual features do not allow it to surface, but it can be inferred through a deeper consideration of contextual parameters such as the linguistic situation of the community and the historical and social factors affecting the use and critical evaluation of the articulated discourse. This textual force can be summarized as a call to a critical reflection on the ‘self’ versus the imagined ‘other’ (for example, something that the members of the community believe they are), a process that can only take place and become meaningful in the strict context of the linguistic community itself, rendering the discursive occurrence purely untranslatable. 

In this context, untranslatability here is not understood as linguistic untranslatability in Catford’s terms (1965: 98). Nor is it understood as cultural untranslatability (ibid: 99), i.e. as the absence in mainland Greece of a functionally relevant situational feature found in Cyprus. To a large extent, both these kinds of untranslatability may be seen in relative terms, since a number of techniques are available to overcome the impasses and approach the source lexical or pragmatic item. The kind of untranslatability inherent in the above example refers to the incommunicability of the interpretive potential the source text possesses of, in roughly the same sense as literary texts, especially poetry, are untranslatable due to the inability to interpret the target text in exactly the same way(s) as the source text. The techniques available (explicitation, paraphrase, equivalence, adaptation and the like) are not sufficient to help the target audience reconstitute (or quasi-reconstitute) the context and the original experience, unless, of course, an extensive commentary is given as a supplement. This, nevertheless, is less possible in audio-visual (and multimedia) translation. 

Therefore, despite the relative translatability one would assume to exist between varieties of the same language, on the grounds that structural differences may be overcome and cultural differences may not be impossible to bridge, the case examined presents an example of untranslatability. This happens because the ‘messages’ to be translated are a) the very fact that there exist official and unofficial varieties within a language, and b) that the unofficial varieties not only articulate discourse, but they can do it in a way that may challenge the traditional perceptions regarding power and identity. This could prompt us to consider that the socio-cultural significance of the use of dialects is not confined to indexing and affirming the historical and/or social status of the linguistic communities using them. Beyond that, the use of dialect may be seen as a way of coming to terms with issues of (linguistic) power relations and, crucially, with issues of linguistic hegemony and language attitudes to the particular dialect.

The extreme stylization and the overall meta-commentary character of the show Aigia Fuxia which is written in CGD prove to be important constraints—if not impasses—to its intralingual translatability into SMG, not because of semantic or pragmatic differences between the varieties, but because the whole communicative effect lies precisely in the aberrant use of dialect. In this case, ‘translatability’ does not refer to the impossibility of overcoming structural differences between linguistic varieties, but to the impossibility of rendering the overall communicative function in terms of textual force. In this light, the socio-cultural significance of the use of dialect may also be understood in terms of its meta-commentary potential.


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Tsiplakou, Stavroula (2004) “Στάσεις απέναντι στη γλώσσα και γλωσσική αλλαγή: Μια αμφίδρομη σχέση;” [Attitudes Towards Language and Language Change: A Two-way Relation?] in Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Greek Linguistics, Georgia Catsimali, Alexis Kalokairinos, Elena Anagnostopoulou, and Ioanna Kappa (eds), Rethymnon, Linguistics Lab: n.p.

Tsiplakou, Stavroula (2009a) “English in Cyprus: Outer or Expanding Circle?” Anglistik – International Journal of English Studies 20 [Special Issue: Non-native Englishes: Exploring Second-language Varieties and Learner Englishes, Christiane Bongartz and Joybrato Mukherjee (eds)]: 75–88.

Tsiplakou, Stavroula (2009b) “Code-switching and Code-mixing between Related Varieties: Establishing the Blueprint”, The International Journal of Humanities 6: 49–66.

Tsiplakou, Stavroula, Andreas Papapavlou, Pavlos Pavlou, and Marianne Katsoyannou (2006) “Levelling, Koineization and their Implications for Bidialectism” in Language variation – European perspectives. Selected Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 3), Frans Hinskens (ed.), Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins: 265–276.

Tsiplakou, Stavroula, and Elena Ioannidou (2012) “Stylizing Stylization: The case of Aigia Fuxia”, Multilingua 31, no. 2: 277–299.

Tsiplakou, Stavroula, and Georgios Floros (2013) “Never Mind the Text Types, Here’s Textual Force: Towards a Pragmatic Reconceptualization of Text Type”, Journal of Pragmatics 45, no. 1: 119–130.


[1] For an extensive account on language policy and language planning in Cyprus see Hadjioannou et al. (2011).

[2] From Greek koinos = common.

[3] Left image source: http://cncminustv.blogspot.com/2009/11/agb-e-02112009-08112009.html (accessed 25 February 2013). Right image source: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pello-Mallou-Aigia-Fuxia-official-fan-page/224141712492 (accessed 25 February 2013).

[4] Image source: http://knagrou.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/untitled.png (accessed 25 February 2013).

[5] Tsiplakou and Ioannidou (2012: 278) capitalize on this theoretical concept of cul-tural studies. They base their analysis on Levi-Strauss (1966), who saw bricolage as construction of new arrangements of signifiers on the basis of existing signifieds, as well as on contemporary theorists within cultural studies; for example, Barker (2011), who according to Tsiplakou and Ioannidou (ibid.) maintains that “bricolage may serve to manipulate and distort values, norms and discourses for deconstructive, subversive purposes”.

[6] Italics and quotation marks in the original.

[7] Hyperdialectism emerges when basilectal/obsolete forms of language (at the pho-netic, morphological and lexical levels) are extended to environments where they would normally not occur (cf. Tsiplakou 2004).

[8] Code-switching between CGD and SMG or CGD and English in Aigia Fuxia creates a comical effect, because the CGD variety used is stylized and obsolete.

[9] Some examples of subtitled excerpts of Aigia Fuxia episodes can be found in: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_-dxhcIvw8 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX1gbGBiOtE (accessed 25 February 2013). Both examples include felicitous choices for the translation of some dialectal lexical items and difficult dialectal structures, but at the same time they also omit a lot of instances where unique expressive possibilities of the dialect are best expressed, such as curse words, humor, puns etc., and where, ultimately, the dialect is ‘at its best’. The most frequent cases are lexical items and expressions for which there is no direct equivalent (correspondence) in SMG, and where the ‘translator’ obviously avoids the use of more elaborate techniques. Fewer are the cases where omissions are due to the condensation made necessary by time and space constraints (cf. Karamitroglou 2000 and Spanakaki 2007).

[10] Regarding the untranslatability of experience, see also Martinet (1960).

Turku als Entstehungsort und geschichtlicher Mittelpunkt der finnischen Sprachpolitik und Übersetzungskritik

By Irmeli Helin (University of Turku, Finland)

Abstract & Keywords


This paper is about the first decades of written Finnish language and about the development of this language during the centuries to come. The perspective of the paper is that of Translation Studies. We try to assess the role and importance of translations in the development of language as well as to analyze the early translation activity using present translation theories.


Dieser Beitrag beschreibt die ersten Jahrzehnte der finnischen Sprache als Schriftsprache in der Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts, ihre Entwicklung während der folgenden Jahrhunderte bis zu unserer Zeit, sowie die Bedeutung der Stadt Turku in dieser Entwicklung. Es wird versucht, sie aus dem Gesichtspunkt der Translationswissenschaft zu betrachten, und damit die Rolle der Übersetzungen und der Übersetzer  in der Entwicklung einer Sprache und ihrer Normierung zu bewerten.  Die Übersetzungsstrategien der frühen Neuzeit werden mit den heutigen Translationstheorien und  Übersetzungsmethoden verglichen.  Auch die moderne Übersetzerausbildung in Turku wird als Teil der traditionellen finnischen Sprachpolitik kurz erörtert, um die Bedeutung der Stadt in dieser Hinsicht noch weiter zu betonen.

Keywords: written Finnish language, role of translation, Translation Studies, development of language, translation theories, die finnische Schriftsprache, die Rolle der Übersetzung, Entwicklung der Sprache, Translationstheorien

©inTRAlinea & Irmeli Helin (2016).
"Turku als Entstehungsort und geschichtlicher Mittelpunkt der finnischen Sprachpolitik und Übersetzungskritik"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2185

Wenn eine neue Schriftsprache entsteht, brauchen ihre Schöpfer Vorbilder. Als solche Vorbilder dienen vor allem Texte, die sie übersetzen, denn nach wie vor brauchen neue Schriftformen  Ausgangstexte, deren Grapheme, Buchstaben und möglichst sogar die Syntax  nachgeahmt werden und, so könnte man sagen, auch nachgeahmt werden müssen, um eine einheimische/nationale Schrift zu formulieren. Dieses Prinzip hat sich im Laufe der Jahrhunderte kaum geändert, wenn wir die Arbeit der heutigen Bibelübersetzer betrachten, die sehr oft für das Entstehen einer bisher fehlenden Schriftsprache zuständig sind. Der Erfolg dieser Arbeit brauchte und braucht aber auch einen Ort, wo sie gedeihen und sich weiter entwickeln kann.

Im mittelalterlichen Turku wohnten, arbeiteten und wirkten Leute aus dem ganzen Ostseeraum, durch die Hansa natürlich besonders viele aus den deutschen Städten. Es herrschte in der damals ältesten und wichtigsten Stadt Finnlands ein internationales und vielsprachiges Leben, das später kaum vorstellbar war. Obwohl die Hansaleute mit Niederdeutsch als Muttersprache im alltäglichen Leben gern Schwedisch verwendeten, war ihnen die finnische Sprache auch keineswegs gleichgültig (Bentlin 2008: 40). Turku war  Bischofssitz und hatte auch die Kathedralschule. Latein war als lingua franca die Sprache der religiösen und schulischen Tätigkeit. Im Handel und Handwerk wurden also Deutsch und Schwedisch, aber auch Finnisch verwendet. Was die finnische Sprache betrifft, wurde sie aber auch im religiösen Bereich schon vor der Reformation in der katholischen Zeit verwendet, und zwar durch dominikanische Breviarien, von denen der Teil „Psalterium Davidis“ mit biblischen Lobgesängen (cantica) in der ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts auf Finnisch editiert wurde. (Kurvinen 1929: 10.) Außerdem haben weitere Studien neulich bewiesen, dass auch Michael West, der Gemeindepfarrer von Rauma vor der Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts einige Kirchenlieder und andere Texte ins Finnische übersetzt hatte (Lempiäinen 1988: 359). Trotzdem wird der finnische Bischof Mikael Agricola als Vater der finnischen Schriftsprache genannt.

In der frühen Reformationszeit, als die finnische Sprache  ihre ersten Schritte als Schriftsprache tat, und die Regierung nach der Hegemonie der lateinischen Sprache in allen Bereichen der damaligen Kultur die Zügel der Sprachpolitik übernahm, um die Volkssprachen zu fördern, hatte Agricola, der bei Luther studiert hatte in den 1540er Jahren in Turku angefangen, finnisches Material (insgesamt 9 Bücher) für den ABC-Unterricht und für kirchliche Zwecke zu produzieren und zu übersetzen.  Dadurch hat er die eigentliche Entwicklung der finnischen Schriftsprache in Gang gesetzt. Sein Hauptwerk war die Übersetzung des Neuen Testaments ins Finnische, das eine große Auswirkung auf die spätere geschriebene finnische Sprache hatte. Wegen des Umfangs der Arbeit sind sich die Forscher darüber einig, dass er sie nicht allein geleistet hat, sondern mehrere Mitarbeiter daran beschäftigt gewesen sind. (Nummila 2011: 21.) 

Die Übersetzungen von Agricola können als hybride Texte (Mischtexte) betrachtet werden, d. h. dass er mehrere Ausgangstexte in mehreren Sprachen für seine Arbeit verwendet hat. Nummila (ibid.) listet dabei die lateinische Vulgata, die griechischen und lateinischen Bibelübersetzungen von Erasmus von Rotterdam, die deutschen Übertragungen von Luther sowie die schwedischen Übersetzungen vom Alten und Neuen Testament als die wichtigsten Ausgangs- und Hilfstexte auf.

Weiter hatte Agricola auch Kirchenlieder aus dem Lateinischen übersetzt, die in seinem Gebetbuch 1544 veröffentlicht wurden (Vapaavuori 2008). Was das älteste finnische Kirchengesangbuch mit 101 Liedern betrifft, wurde es  jedoch von Jaakko Finno 1583 in Turku herausgegeben, nachdem der schwedische König ihn gebeten hatte, einige Dokumente und Unterlagen ins Finnische zu übersetzen. Auch Finno hatte in Wittenberg und Rostock studiert und Ideen für sein Liederbuch gesammelt. Sein Liederbuch sowie alle seine Veröffentlichungen hatte er frei nach dem Mischtextprinzip aus unterschiedlichen Quellen zusammengestellt und aus mehreren Sprachen, hauptsächlich aber aus dem Deutschen, Schwedischen und Lateinischen übersetzt. Wahrscheinlich hatte er  nur sieben selbst gedichtet. (Lempiäinen 1988: 381). Außer den Übersetzungen hat sich Finno auch in der Sprachkritik geübt. Davon zeugt das Titelblatt der Sammlung von Piae Cantiones –Liedern, die in Greifswald 1582 herausgegeben wurde. Im Titelblatt wird erwähnt, dass die Sprache der Lieder von einem höchstverehrten und in der Kirche und Schule der Stadt Turku verdienten Mann korrigiert worden war, der aber im Werk nicht näher genannt wird (id., 364, 365).

Da Turku damals und im Laufe der Zeit noch lange Mittelpunkt der finnischen Kultur und Ausbildung war, konnte nicht vermieden werden, dass die in Turku gesprochene Sprache ihre Merkmale sowohl den Übersetzungen von Agricola sowie den späteren finnischen Übertragungen übergab. Als der schwedische König Karl IX und der Bischof von Turku, Erik Sorolainen, 1602 den ersten Ausschuss für die Übersetzung der Bibel ins Finnische ernannten, konnten sie nicht ahnen, dass die beauftragten Übersetzer keine druckreife Arbeit zustande bringen konnten. Agricola hatte bevor er 1557 starb, das Neue Testament und einige Bücher des Alten Testaments übersetzt, die aber schon einige Jahre später wegen der übermäßigen südwestfinnischen Formulierungen kritisiert wurden. Im wissenschaftlichen Bereich war damals die translatologische Betrachtungsweise völlig unbekannt, und deshalb konnten die betreffenden Übersetzer des Ausschusses weder die Ausgangs- noch die Zielsprache so analysieren, dass sie ihre Übertragung anhand der vorhandenen Variationen objektiv hätten leisten können. Ein neuer Ausschuss wurde erst 1638 vom Bischof Isak Rothovius ernannt, und zwar mit dem Theologieprofessor der Akademie zu Turku, Eskil Petraeus, als Vorsitzendem. Unter seiner Leitung wurde die erste vollständige finnische Bibelübersetzung 1642 herausgegeben. Diese recht schnelle Arbeit lässt vermuten, dass die frühere, nicht akzeptierte Version doch mindestens teilweise zur Unterstützung herangezogen wurde, trotz der von der damaligen Sprachpolitik gesetzten Vorbedingungen: Die Übersetzung sollte nämlich sowohl den hebräischen und griechischen Ausgangstexten als auch der Verdeutschung Luthers genau folgen, sprachlich und stilistisch einheitlich sein und eine einwandfreie finnische Sprache verwenden, die überall im Lande verstanden werden konnte. Hier werden schon Spuren der Translatologie geahnt, und zwar wurden neben der wörtlichen Übersetzung, die noch mehrere Jahrhunderte überall in der Bibelübersetzung maßgebend sein sollte, auch stilistische und sprachliche Äquivalenz und der zielsprachliche Gesichtspunkt berücksichtigt bzw. hätten berücksichtigt werden sollen. Trotzdem wurden die westlichen und südwestlichen Merkmale der Sprache von Agricola beibehalten, sogar verstärkt, da alle Mitglieder des Ausschusses aus der nahen Umgebung von Turku stammten (Sokl 2010)!

Der erste systematische Versuch, die südwestlichen Dialekte „los zu werden“, fand jedoch nicht eher als im 19. Jahrhundert statt, und zwar nach dem sogenannten Dialektkampf, als Finnland 1809 unter russische Herrschaft geraten ist und Helsinki 1812 schon die Hauptstadt des Großfürstentums Finnland geworden war! Nichtdestotrotz wiederholte sich die Geschichte einige Jahre später, denn 1861 wurde ein neuer Ausschuss für die Übersetzung der Bibel ernannt, aber, wie im 17. Jahrhundert,  fiel das von diesem Ausschuss 1869-86 fertiggestellte finnischsprachige Alte Testament der strikten Übersetzungskritik der Synode der finnischen Kirche zum Opfer und wurde nie angenommen. Eine ganz neue Übersetzung, die sogenannte Alte Kirchenbibel wurde erst 1933 (AT) und 1938 (NT) offiziell akzeptiert. Für die neueste Übersetzung (1992) wiederum galten schon moderne Regeln der Sprachpolitik und die modernen Konzepte der Translationswissenschaft. Die Sprache und die wörtliche Bedeutung waren nicht mehr maßgebend, sondern es wurde nach den Prinzipien von Nida, der dynamischen Äquivalenz sowie der Berücksichtigung des Rezipienten, übersetzt, mit dem Ziel eines für alle christlichen Gemeinden akzeptablen und dem modernen Menschen verständlichen Inhalts (Nuorteva 1992).

Als Vollzieher der königlichen Sprachpolitik wurde Jaakko Finno, der Schulmeister der Kathedralschule zu Turku und Herausgeber des ersten finnischen Kirchengesangbuches bereits erwähnt. Ihn hatte also der schwedische König Johann III 1578 mit seinen sprachpolitischen Maßnahmen beauftragt,” einige benötigte Bücher ins Finnische” zu übersetzen. Neben der geistlichen Literatur soll Finno auch das erste Gesetzbuch [Landrecht] von König Christoph (Kristoffer Kuninkaan maanlaki) (vgl. Rapola 1926) übersetzt haben, auf  jeden Fall sind einige Forscher dieser Meinung. Dann wäre das Gesetz auch eines dieser „benötigten“ Bücher gewesen. Möglich ist aber auch, dass der Übersetzer des Gesetzbuches Herr Martin war, der Hofprediger von Johann III.  Eine gedruckte finnische Version des Buches ist nicht verfügbar, was eine eindeutige Entscheidung über den Übersetzer im Wege steht. Dieses erste auf Schwedisch gedruckte Gesetz wurde dann vom Pfarrer der Gemeinde Kalajoki, Ljungo Tuomaanpoika, übersetzt, und man hatte auch die Absicht, es zu drucken. Die Druckarbeiten wurden jedoch 1610 eingestellt, nachdem nur die ersten vier Blätter gedruckt worden waren (Laine 1997: 285). Wahrscheinlich hat auch diese Version die sprachliche Kritik der Turkuer Behörden nicht bestanden.

Wie auch immer, die Schwierigkeit des Übersetzers lag damals vor allem darin, dass es im Finnischen keine terminologischen Äquivalente für die im Gesetz verwendeten Termini gab, das mehrere Teilgebiete des königlichen schwedischen Rechts umfasste. Termini und Wortschatz mussten geschaffen werden, damit der finnische Leser und Rezipient verstand, was der Gesetzgeber sagen wollte. Und genau bei der Terminischöpfung muss der Übersetzer nach wie vor mit Kritik rechnen, da die neuen Formulierungen nicht unbedingt gelungen sind. Dabei ist der Umgang mit den Termini komplizierter als mit dem allgemeinen Wortschatz, denn die Termini haben eine Geschichte, die Wörter eine Etymologie. Dies bedeutet, dass in der Regel der Schöpfer eines Terminus oder die Person bekannt ist, die ein bestimmtes Wort aus der Standardsprache zum Terminus einer Fachsprache erhoben hat, während der Ursprung eines Wortes nicht immer genau zu definieren ist (vgl. auch Seebold 1981 und Helin 1998: 182). Es ist also leicht, wegen der neuen Terminologie Kritik dem Übersetzer gegenüber zu üben. Finno war, genauso wie früher Agricola auch gewohnt,ein  neues Vokabular zu schaffen oder zu suchen, aber auch für ihn bedeutete ein streng eindeutiger Terminus viel mehr Arbeit und Erwägung als ein Wort in einem Lied oder einem Gedicht, das eine nicht so exakte Deutung verlangte. Obwohl der Ausdrucksvorrat und der Wortschatz der finnischen Sprache heute sowohl den Bedarf des Alltags als auch die Anforderungen der diversen Wissenschaftszweige und ihrer Terminologien erfüllt, steht der Übersetzer nach wie vor der Aufgabe gegenüber, einen neuen Terminus mit den verwendbaren Methoden formulieren bzw. modifizieren zu müssen. Dieser Terminus hat auch heute die Möglichkeit zu „entern oder kentern“, d.h. er wird angenommen und normiert oder von den Sachkundigen des Bereichs einfach abgelehnt. 

Wie schon erwähnt, war die moderne Translationswissenschaft verständlicherweise nicht in den Jahrhunderten des Entstehens und der Entwicklung der finnischen Schriftsprache als expliziter Wissenschaftsbereich bekannt, aber Übersetzen und Dolmetschen an sich gehörten zu den wichtigen Tätigkeitsgebieten der Regierung und der lokalen Verwaltung sowie auch zur wissenschaftlichen Arbeit und zur Kunst und Kultur.  Übersetzungskritik wurde in Turku fleißig betrieben und Übersetzungen wurden aufgrund der Qualitätsbewertung abgelehnt. Da von dem obigen Gesetz keine gedruckte finnische Übersetzung erhältlich war, soll Jöns Kurki, der Präsident des Höheren Gerichtshofes zu Turku, sofort nach der Gründung der Akademie zu Turku 1640, die Initiative ergriffen haben, sowohl das Landrecht als auch das Stadtrecht des Königs Christoph nochmals ins Finnische übersetzen und drucken zu lassen, um sie dann in einer größeren Auflage weiter verteilen zu können. Die Aufgabe wurde  Aabraham Kollanius erteilt, der 1643 bei der ersten Promotion der Akademie zu Turku den Magistertitel erhalten hatte. Notar des akademischen Senats konnte er wegen seiner mangelhaften Schwedischkenntnisse nicht werden, aber zum Übersetzer ins Finnische „taugte“ er.

Die umfangreiche Übersetzungsarbeit wurde 1648 abgeschlossen und enthielt neben den genannten Gesetzestexten auch Regeln und Ordnungen für Rechtsverhandlungen sowie den die Kirche betreffenden Teil des uppländischen Gesetzes und die Anweisungen an die Richter von Olaus Petri. (Laine 1997: 285.) Mit den damaligen Hilfsmitteln und Werkzeugen war die Übersetzungsarbeit aufwändig. Es gab keine Wörterbücher, von Fachwörterbüchern oder Paralleltexten war nicht einmal die Rede, und das Schreiben fand mit Feder und Tinte im Kerzenlicht statt. Nachdem Kollanius aber die große Menge  seiner Übersetzungen an das Höhere Gericht zu Turku zur Kontrolle und Akzeptanz abgegeben hatte, wurden seine rechtsprachlichen Zieltexte vom Bewertungsausschuss gar nicht angenommen. Der Ausschuss verlangte sofort völlig neue Übersetzungen. Der Grund der Kritik ist nicht bekannt, und er konnte natürlich entweder sprachpolitisch oder rein politisch bzw. persönlich gewesen sein.

Als neue „Kandidaten“ wurden Jungrichter Henrik Jaakonpoika aus Akaa und Rechtsprecher Antti Pacchalenius aus Tyrvää gewählt, und die Arbeit wurde 1653 abgeschlossen. Doch auch diese Übersetzungen wurden nie gedruckt (Eduskunnan kirjasto 2009). Das ursprüngliche Manuskript von Kollanius ist eventuell noch in der Manuskriptensammlung der Königlichen Bibliothek in Stockholm zu finden. Auf jeden Fall hat Rapola (1926), Professor der finnischen Sprache an der Universität Turku, die Übersetzungen von Kollanius mit seinen wertvollen Kommentaren veröffentlicht, was jedoch erst zirka 300 Jahre nach der damals fast unzumutbaren und schließlich mit Undankbarkeit „belohnten“ Übersetzungsarbeit geschah.

Die erste auf Finnisch gedruckte Übersetzung eines schwedischen Gesetzes stammte jedoch schon von Hartvig Speitz 1642 und war das militärbezogene Kriminalgesetz von König Gustav II Adolf. Diese Arbeit war wegen ihrer vielfältigen Fachterminologie für die Entwicklung der finnischen Fachsprachen sehr wertvoll, doch ihr übersetzerisches Niveau soll nicht sehr hoch gewesen sein. Immerhin wurden von der Übersetzung drei Auflagen schnell hintereinander gedruckt, davon waren mindestens die 2. und 3. Auflage im Selbstverlag herausgegeben. Beinahe hätte das schwedische Reichsgesetz 1734 dasselbe Schicksal erlitten. Das Höhere Gericht zu Turku veröffentlichte 1741 seinen Plan, das Gesetz ins Finnische übersetzen zu lassen und versuchte dabei, - sprachpolitisch unklug genug -, 1000 Vorbestellungen zu sammeln, damit das Übersetzen rentabel wäre. Der König seinerseits versprach einige Privilegien, wenn der gewählte Übersetzer Samuel Forseen und der Turkuer Buchdrucker Johan Christoffer Merckell zusammen für die Druckkosten des Werks aufgekommen wären! Die Absicht war außerdem, dass sie das Werk auch zusammen hätten verkaufen sollen. Durch den Krieg zwischen Schweden und Russland, der sog. Pikkuviha wurden diese Pläne vernichtet, so dass die finnische Übersetzung erst fast zwanzig Jahre später, 1759, nach vieler Kritik und zahlreichen Korrekturen herauskam. Das Werk wurde schließlich vom Aktuar des Höheren Gerichts zu Turku herausgegeben, und damit letztendlich doch privat, obwohl es sich um ein Gesetzbuch des ganzen Reichs handelte (Eduskunnan kirjasto 2009 und Laine 1997).

Auch die ältesten finnischen ABC-Bücher und Katechismen waren Übersetzungen. Agricola hat in Turku mit seinem ABC-Buch, das er 1543 herausgab, die finnische Literaturgeschichte begonnen. Dieses sprachpolitisch und für die Bildung des Volkes wichtige Werk wurde wahrscheinlich in Stockholm gedruckt und enthielt neben dem Alphabet und Zahlen z. B. die Zehn Gebote, das Glaubensbekenntnis, den Vater Unser und die Ave Maria, die schon in der katholischen Zeit dem Volk auf Finnisch beigebracht worden waren. Die Pfarrer hatten sie für sich selbst aufgeschrieben und mussten schon eine Vorstellung davon haben, wie die finnische Sprache geschrieben werden sollte. Es kann auch vermutet werden, dass Agricola selbst solche in der Volkssprache handgeschriebenen Zettel der Geistlichen hatte und verwenden konnte. Luthers Katechismus kannte er sowohl auf Deutsch als auch auf Latein. Von Luthers Texten übersetzte er auch Morgen- und Abendgebete sowie Tischgebete für sein ABC-Buch. Außerdem konnte er den lateinischen Katechismus von Melanchton und das deutsche ABC-Buch vom süddeutschen Reformator Johannes Brenz als Ausgangstexte verwenden (Laine & Knuutila 1997: 80, 81).

Wahrscheinlich hat Jaakko Finno noch im selben Jahr wie sein Gesangbuch, 1583 seinen eigenen Katechismus herausgegeben. Dieser war umfangreicher als dieser Teil im ABC-Buch von Agricola und enthielt Erklärungen zu den Hauptkapiteln durch Fragen und Antworten, die er selbst frei modifiziert und adaptiert hatte, obwohl er auch die schwedischen Katechismen und die von Agricola und Luther als Quelle und Ausgangstexte hat verwenden können (Lempiäinen 1988: 364). Laut Laine & Knuutila (1997: 82) bildete der Katechismus von Finno den Kern für den christlichen Unterricht in Kirchen bis die Katechismen von Ericus Sorolainen es mehrere Jahrzehnte später ersetzt hat. Finno hat in seinem Katechismus das erste Mal die Haustafel von Luther übersetzt und in der finnischen Sprache veröffentlicht, wodurch er eine besondere Bedeutung in der finnischsprachigen Theologie erreicht hatte. Außerdem hat Finno in diesem christlichen Lehrbuch auch die Bedeutung der Volksbildung  mit Nachdruck  betont.

Im 17. Jahrhundert wurden dann mehrere ABC-Bücher und Katechismen in Turku auf Finnisch herausgegeben, von denen ein Teil, wenn nicht durch Sprachkritik, dann aber durch konfessionelle Kritik von Turkuer Behörden abgelehnt, mit viel Öffentlichkeit als Ketzerei verurteilt und vernichtet wurde (vgl. Laine 1997: 92, 93). Andererseits finden wir schon in diesem Jahrhundert eine Vorahnung der Übersetzungstheorie von Nida, der dynamischen Äquivalenz, die im Katechismus von Ericus Sorolainen 1629 angewandt wurde, indem der Autor danach strebte, die für das Volk schon im Voraus bekannten Ausdrücke ihrer Muttersprache im Text zu verwenden und beizubehalten (id., 94). Dadurch war auch der Inhalt leichter zu verstehen, diesen sich zu merken, zu erinnern und sogar auswendig zu lernen. Interessant ist auch, dass sowohl im Katechismus als auch im ABC-Buch von Sorolainen (beide 1629 herausgegeben) karelische Dialektmerkmale zu finden sind, was darauf hinweisen kann, dass sie an das Projekt anzuknüpfen sind, das in Wiborg danach strebte, dass auch für den karelischen Raum und den karelischen Sprachgebrauch kirchliche Literatur herausgegeben werden muss. Die Bücher, die in der Gegend von Turku zu erhalten waren, reichten dabei nicht aus. Aufgrund der gesamten dialektalen Merkmale lässt sich jedoch vermuten, dass es sich um ein gemeinsames Druckprojekt handelte. (Laine 1997: 84.) Wegen der sprachlichen Besonderheiten wurde aber wahrscheinlich keine Kritik erhoben.

Johannes Gezelius der Ältere, der 1664 Bischof zu Turku wurde, wird der eigentliche Entwickler der Volksbildung und Vater der finnischen Volksbildung genannt. Sein Anliegen war die Erhöhung des Wissensniveaus unter seinen Gemeindemitgliedern. Dabei kontrollierte er die Kunst der Pfarrer zu predigen und förderte den ABC-Unterricht in den mobilen und nicht-mobilen „Schulen“, die von Kantoren der Gemeinden geleitet wurden. Die Pfarrer mussten das Lernen ihrer Gemeindemitglieder kontrollieren und dafür regelmäßig Katechismus- und Leseprüfungen organisieren. Als Antrieb heißt es: Ohne lesen zu können durfte das Volk nicht heiraten! Das soll auch der Grund dafür sein, dass die Anzahl der Analphabeten in Finnland immer noch eine der geringsten in der Welt ist. Wahrscheinlich wäre es jedoch übertrieben zu behaupten, die guten PISA-Resultate seien auch darauf zurückzuführen!

Gezelius war Schwede und schon Professor an der Universität Dorpat, als er zum Bischof zu Turku ernannt wurde. Ziemlich bald nach seiner Ankunft in Turku veröffentlichte er 1666 sein ABC-Buch und seinen Katechismus und zwar gleichzeitig in zwei Sprachen, auf Finnisch: Yxi paras Lasten tawara [‚Eines der besten Dinge für Kinder‘] und auf Schwedisch: Ett rätt barna-klenodium sowie einen methodischen Guide dafür: Catechismi appendix. Das Buch in beiden Sprachen enthielt den kleinen Katechismus von Martin Luther, einen ABC-Teil sowie eine Sammlung von Bibelsprüchen; auf Finnisch: P. Raamatun erinomaiset opetussanat [‚Die ausgezeichneten Belehrungsworte in der Heiligen Bibel‘]. Obwohl er noch nicht lange in Finnland tätig gewesen war, hatte Gezelius das Buch entweder selbst oder mithilfe eines Übersetzers übertragen. Meistens wurde auch hier der Text als Hybridtext aus finnischen und schwedischen Quellen kopiert, lokalisiert und zusammengebaut, Gezelius hat auf jeden Fall mindestens die Korrekturen der finnischen „Übersetzung“ durchgeführt und den Text mit Erklärungen und Korrekturen versehen, bevor er gedruckt wurde. Als wichtigstes Lehrbuch der finnischen Volksbildung diente dieses Buch mit schließlich 80 Auflagen etwa 150 Jahre lang bis Mitte des 18. Jahrhundert (Kansallisbiografia 2012).

Da Gezelius mit der Druckerei der Akademie zu Turku unzufrieden war und die in Finnland erhältlichen Bücher zu teuer fand, entschied er sich, selbst Bücher zu verlegen und zu drucken. Er gründete dafür 1667 sogar eine Papierfabrik und ermahnte die Pfarrer, die Fabrik mit alten Textilien als Rohmaterial zu versehen. Darüber hinaus hat er einen Buchdrucker und einen Buchbinder angestellt, da ein Buchbinder nach dem Gesetz verpflichtet war, die von ihm angefertigten Bücher auch zu verkaufen. Durch diese Maßnahmen konnte er sowohl die Veröffentlichungen als auch das Übersetzen genau verfolgen und kontrollieren. So stammt eine große Menge der gedruckten Bücher aus dieser Zeit aus seinem Vorhaben. Ein privater Verlag war aber nicht unbedingt finanziell erfolgreich, und es blieben auch Bücher im Lager liegen. So musste Johannes Gezelius der Jüngere nach dem Tod seines Vaters versuchen, ein schwer abzusetzendes Buchlager zu verkaufen (Kansallisbiografia 2012).

Trotz der vielseitigen Entwicklung der finnischen Sprache haben sich die Grundzüge, die Mikael Agricola in Turku gegen Mitte des 16. Jh. für die Schriftsprache vorgegeben hatte, jedoch bis in das 19. Jh. bewährt. Die Rechtschreibung war noch nicht normiert und die Syntax und Lexik auch in den späteren Jahrhunderten vom Schwedischen beeinflusst (Helin 2010). Während der ersten Jahrzehnte des 19. Jahrhundert entstand nach dem Dialektkampf ein Kompromiss zwischen den verwendbaren Ausdrücken und Formulierungen der östlichen und westlichen Dialekte in der Schriftsprache. Danach oder daneben wurde der Gedanke zur Verbesserung des Status der finnischen Sprache durch Turkuer Intellektuelle gefördert und schließlich durch die Gründung der Fennophilen Bewegung in Turku etabliert, obwohl Helsinki schon seit 1812 die Hauptstadt Finnlands war. Die Universität war noch bis zum großen Brand der Stadt 1827 in Turku geblieben. Nach der relativ großen Druckfreiheit in Schweden mussten die Finnen unter der Herrschaft der Russen von Anfang an unter Zensur und Kontrollen leiden. Ohne sie durfte im Land nichts gedruckt werden, was natürlich sowohl auf die Entwicklung und Normierung der Sprache, aber auch auf die Menge und Qualität der Übersetzungen Einfluss hatte. Die russische Herrschaft wollte verhindern, dass die finnischsprachige Mehrheit im Land durch Übersetzungsliteratur, besonders durch französische Romane zu revolutionären Gedanken kommen würde. 

Die Kontrolle der Literaturvereine und Druckarbeiten verschärfte sich, bis 1850 von dem russischen Zaren das Sprachgesetz verabschiedet wurde, nach dem nur religiöse bzw. wirtschaftlich nützliche Literatur, ob einheimisch oder übersetzt, erlaubt war. Diese Regelungen galten bis 1860, obwohl auch danach das Gedruckte kontrolliert werden musste (Mäkinen 2007: 93-95). 1863 wurde trotzdem  das Finnische vom Zaren Alexander II als offizielle Sprache in Verwaltung, Gesetzgebung und Bildung erklärt (Hovdhaugen et al. 2000: 232, 233). Danach machte die Sprachplanung große Fortschritte. Die Normierung der Rechtschreibung und Syntax fand relativ schnell statt, und durch die Veröffentlichung der ersten Schulgrammatiken und die Volksschulverbreitung wurde die Vereinheitlichung der Sprache erreicht (Helin 2010). Interessant zu betrachten sind hier die Protokolle der zwei ersten Synoden der finnischen evangelischen Kirche in Turku (1876 und 1886) mit den sprachplanerischen und –politischen Gesprächen und Entscheidungen um das neue Gesangbuch (1886) herum (vgl. auch Vapaavuori 2008.) Erstens zeigen sie schon auf der textuellen Ebene genau, wie sich die Sprache entwickelt hat, und zweitens lesen wir darin, wie die sprach- und übersetzungskritischen Gespräche geführt und die Entscheidungen getroffen wurden. Es wurde so heftig um das neue Gesangbuch, dessen Sprache und Inhalt gekämpft, dass man sich bei der 1. Synode nicht einigen konnte, sondern die Entscheidung um zehn Jahre aufgeschoben wurde. Es bedeutete natürlich einen neuen Ausschuss sowie noch weitere Änderungen in der Liederwahl und der Sprache. Auch die 2. Synode war überhaupt nicht einig, musste sich aber schließlich entscheiden, obwohl mit vielen weiteren Vorschlägen, die in der Anlage des Protokolls gedruckt wurden (Liitteitä Turussa istuneen Suomen toisen kirkollis-kokouksen Protokolliin 1888).

Der Sammler des finnischen Nationalepos Kalevala, der Arzt Elias Lönnrot, der zugleich auch Dichter, Übersetzer und fleißiger Wort- und Terminischöpfer war, übte einen großen Einfluss auf die Arbeit des ersten Ausschusses für das neue Liederbuch aus. Das wurde nicht immer gern gesehen, und sowohl seine eigene Dichtung, seine übersetzerische Tätigkeit als auch seine dogmatisch zweifelhafte Wortwahl begegneten schon in der ersten Synode einer starken Kritik, und zehn Jahre später wurde ein großer Teil der von ihm modifizierten und gedichteten Lieder doch wieder abgewählt. (vgl. z. B. 2. Synode 1888, S. 627, 635, 636). Lönnrot selbst war inzwischen schon gestorben. Andererseits wurde am Anfang der Diskussion in der Synode im Allgemeinen behauptet, dass die Sprache der vorgeschlagenen Version doch fehlerfrei sei, da zwei Professoren der finnischen Sprache sie überprüft hätten (1. Synode 1877:  570)! Als Beispiel für die Übersetzungskritik der Synoden kann hier das Lied von Martin Luther „Ach Gott vom hymel sihe dar eyn“ (1524) erwähnt werden. Dieses Lied hatte Olaus Petri frei aus dem Deutschen ins Schwedische übertragen und seinen Text hatte wiederum Jaakko Finno ins Finnische übersetzt und in sein Gesangbuch 1583 übernommen. Seine Worte hatten die Sprachkritik überstanden, bis während der Zeit der beiden ersten Synoden das Lied zuerst von Gustav von Essen direkt aus dem deutschen Text übersetzt und modernisiert wurde, um dann kurz danach eine von Lönnrot modifizierte Version von Finnos Text zu erhalten, der schließlich auch vom Ausschuss und von der Synode gebilligt wurde (Hallio 1936: 218-220). Die heutige Version aus dem Jahr 1986 enthält übrigens eine Strophe weniger (6 statt 7) und wurde von Niilo Rauhala für das neue Gesangbuch erarbeitet (Vk 187) (Väinölä 2008: 199).

In diesem Artikel wurde ein kurzer Ein- und Überblick in und über die finnische Sprachpolitik und Übersetzungskritik geworfen, die in Turku ihre Anfänge gefunden hatte und während der Jahrhunderte in der Stadt gediehen und weiterentwickelt worden sind, um schließlich Besitz der ganzen finnischen Kultur zu werden. Turku war als Handelsstadt etwa 1229 gegründet und durch den Handel mit der Hanse und die in der Stadt sowie überall im Ostseeraum (vgl. auch Bentlin 2008: 36,37) sesshaften deutschen Kaufleute und Geschäfte entwickelt worden, so dass es als eine alte und etablierte Stadt auch früh eine Industriestadt wurde. Handel und Industrie bedeuten internationale Zusammenarbeit und Übersetzungs- und Dolmetschertätigkeiten, da besonders die Werften und die Seefahrt, aber auch die Textilindustrie für die Stadt äußerst wichtig waren. Zuerst wurden diese sprachbezogenen Fachleute durch die Unternehmen selbst und dann zwischen 1960 und 1976 an der Wirtschaftsuniversität Turku ausgebildet, bis 1966 die Turkuer Schule für Übersetzer und Dolmetscher gegründet wurde. Dort haben insgesamt 516 Übersetzer und Dolmetscher ihr Diplom (Deutsch, Englisch und Französisch) erhalten, bevor die Universität Turku 1981 die Ausbildung übernahm und ihr eigenes Institut für Translationswissenschaft gründete. Eine MA-Prüfung haben seitdem über 600 Studierende in der Translationswissenschaft abgelegt. (Archive der Universität Turku.) Somit ist Turku heute, besonders also in den letzten Jahrzehnten erneut eine wichtige Stätte der finnischen Translationswissenschaft mit Doktorarbeiten, Traditionen und bekannten Translationsforschern und Wissenschaftlern geworden. Als Ausbildungsstätte der Übersetzer und Dolmetscher, besonders der Konferenzdolmetscher, für die EU  war die Universität Turku im europäischen Raum seit Jahrzehnten anerkannt, bis vor zwei Jahren diese Tätigkeit aus finanziellen Gründen abgebrochen wurde. Übersetzungstheorien wurden und werden in akademischen Kreisen in Turku zum Wohl der nächsten Übersetzer- und Dolmetschergenerationen sowohl entwickelt als auch angewandt. Die Tradition verpflichtet!


Archive der Universität Turku. Besucht im Oktober 2010.

Bentlin, Mikko (2008) Niederdeutsch-finnische Sprachkontakte. Der lexikalische Einfluß des Niederdeutschen auf die finnische Sprache während des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (= Suomalais-ugrilaisen seuran toimituksia Mémoires de la Société Finno-ougrienne 256), Helsinki, Suomalais-ugrilainen seura Société Finno-ougrienne.

Eduskunnan kirjasto (2009) Lakikirjanäyttely [Bibliothek des finnischen Parlaments. Ausstellung der Gesetzbücher].

Hallio, Kustaa (1936) Suomalaisen virsikirjan virret. Alkuperä ja kehitys. [Die Lieder im finnischen Kirchengesangbuch. Ursprung und Entwicklung.] Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Helin, Irmeli (1998) Vom Brodverein zur coop. Terminigeschichte der deutschen Genossenschaftssprache. Ein Beitrag zur Terminologieforschung (= Nordeuropäische Beiträge aus den Human- und Gesellschaftswissenschaften, 17), Frankfurt am Main,  Peter Lang. Europäischer Verlag der Wissenschaften.

— (2010) “Dokumentierte Sprachpolitik und Sprachplanung für alte deutsche Kirchenlieder und ihre finnischen Neuübersetzungen‟ in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft, 20.2 (2010), Gerda Haβler und Angelika Rüter (Hg.), Münster, Nodus Publikationen: 239 – 248.

Hovdhaugen, Even, und Karlsson, Fred, und Henriksen, Carol und Beng, Sigurd (2000) The History of Linguistics in the Nordic Countries, Helsinki, Societas Scientiarum Fennica.

Kansallisbiografia http://www.kansallisbiografia.fi/kb/artikkeli/2252/, SKS, Gesehen am 23.1.2012.

Kurvinen, P.J.I. (1929) Suomen virsirunouden alkuvaiheet V:een 1640 [Die Anfänge der finnischen Kirchenlieddichtung bis zum Jahr 1640], Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran.

Laine, Tuija (Hg.) (1997) Vanhimman suomalaisen kirjallisuuden käsikirja. [Handbuch der ältesten finnischen Literatur], Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Laine, Tuija und Knuutila, Jyrki (1997) ‟Aapiset ja katekismukset“ in Vanhimman suomalaisen kirjallisuuden käsikirja, Tuija Laine (Hg.), Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura: 80-101.

Lempiäinen, Pentti (Hg.) (1988) Jaakko Finnon Virsikirja [Liederbuch von Jakob Finno] Näköispainos ensimmäisestä suomalaisesta virsikirjasta sekä uudelleen ladottu laitos alkuperäisestä tekstistä ja sitä täydentävistä käsikirjoituksista (= Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 463), Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Liitteitä Turussa istuneen Suomen toisen kirkollis-kokouksen Protokolliin.

Hämeenlinnassa, Hämeen Sanomain osakeyhtiön kirjapainossa (1888), [Beilagen zu den Protokollen der zweiten finnischen Synode in Turku.]

Mäkinen, Ilkka (2007) “Kääntämisen reunaehdot‟  [Rahmenbedingungen des Übersetzens] in Suomennoskirjallisuuden historia I., Hannu Riikonen et al (Hg.), Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura: 92 – 101.

Niemi, Hilja (1954) Suomalaisen virsikirjan uudistaminen vuoden 1886 viralliseksi virsikirjaksi [Neugestaltung des finnischen Kirchengesangbuches zum offiziellen Gesangbuch 1886], Tampere, Ns. Lönnrotin virsikirjakomitean osuus. Tampereen kirjapaino-osakeyhtiö.

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The Use of Slovenian Dialect in the Film Oča (Dad): a pragmatic approach

By Mihaela Koletnik & Alenka Valh Lopert (University of Maribor, Slovenia)

Abstract & Keywords

This article analyzes the film speech in the film Oča (Dad 2010), directed by Vlado Škafar and was shot in the Slovenian Prekmurje dialect. In general, the paper focuses on the dialectal speech realization of scenarios and the degree it matches the non-fictional reality we recognise from our experience and scientific research of the Prekmurje dialect; and in particular, the extent to which it provides authentic real life speech.

Keywords: slovene films, film speech, standard literary Slovene, slovene dialects

©inTRAlinea & Mihaela Koletnik & Alenka Valh Lopert (2016).
"The Use of Slovenian Dialect in the Film Oča (Dad): a pragmatic approach"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2184

The article consists of a theoretical and analytical section. The first section gives an overview of the following: the use of spoken language in Slovenian films in general in the past and Slovene language varieties and the categorisation of dialects (according to regions) in the film Oča (Dad[1] within the Slovene dialectal group/base. Language as a key factor in determining the social and geographical origin and class status of the film’s characters is also considered.

In the second section the dialect used in the film is discussed and the extent to which it matches the recognized non-fictional reality. In doing so, the paper attempts to answer the following question: to what extent can the speech used in this film be regarded as an authentic example of the Prekmurje dialect?

Vlado Škafar is the author and the director of the Slovene short films   Stari most  (The Old Bridge, 1 998), Nočni pogovori z Mojco (Night Conversation with Mojca, 2008 ) and the feature-length films Peterka: leto odločitve (Peterka: the year of decision, 2003) and Otroci (Letter to a Child, 2008).[2] The success story of his film Oča (Dad) began in September 2010 at the 25th Venice Film Festival. The following quotations give a flavour of the critical reviews the film received there: Anton Giulio Mancino: “Škafar /…/ a poet knows how to weave all the threads together /.../”; Francesco di Pace: “This was love at first sight /…/” Olaf Möller expressed his appreciation for the film by awarding it second place overall.  Oča  (Dad) was also later shown at the 10th Estoril Film festival 2010, the 14th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, the 46th Solothurn Film Days, the 34th Göteborg International Film Festival and the 39th International Film Festival Rotterdam. We should also mention the 2nd VOICES Festival — (Vologda Independent Cinema from European Screens), where the film    Oča   (Dad) had a resounding impact on audience and critics alike in July 201l.[3] The film’s producer is Frenk Celarc, while the lead actors are Miki Roš, Sandi Šalamon, and the Mura factory employees.  

The Slovene language appears in several varieties or registers: social, functional, transmissive, temporal/historical and quantitative. We are most interested in its social varieties, which are divided into two sub-varieties, specifically Standard Literary Slovene and Non-standard. The first variety (Standard) serves as a means of communication throughout Slovenia and, as such, represents the whole nation. It is classified into a literary variety and a colloquial one (the latter being a less formal variety of Standard Literary Slovene). The second one (Non-standard) is divided into seven dialectal groups: Styrian, Carinthian, Pannonian, Lower Carniolan, Upper Carniolan, Littoral, and the Rovte as well as into regional colloquial languages. The Non-standard variety can be seen as a transdialect made up of several geographical dialects, i.e. a type of social variety in between Standard Literary Slovene and the dialects: Central Slovene (centred in Ljubljana), South Styrian (around Celje), North Styrian (Maribor, with an influence on Ptuj and Ravne as well; a subvariety that developed along the Mura River and is centred around Murska Sobota), Littoral (varieties around Nova Gorica, Trieste, Koper and Postojna) and possibly two more: the Rovte (around Škofja Loka) and Austrian Carinthian (Toporišič 2000: 13–21).

The article focuses on an important feature of so-called ‘popular culture’ (Stankovič 2002: 12; Betts 2004: 1); popular culture incorporates music, television, advertisements, sport, fashion etc.[4] Betts (ibid.) explains that it is concerned with mass production in order to meet the demands of the masses and entertain them, and as such can be defined as market oriented. Storey (2004: 6) “emphasizes that there are different criteria allowing us to regard a given phenomenon as pertaining to/forming part of popular culture”; on the one hand it denotes something that is ‘leftover’ from high culture, while on the other it defines work that is intended to be appealing. Language plays an extremely important role within popular culture. Since language is presented as a system of rules (langue), Pelko (2008: 161) defines speech (parole) as a feature of it that is impossible to capture. Recently, Non-standard Slovene and dialects have been widely used in popular music, films and on stage, which contrasts sharply with the times in which films solely featured Standard Slovenian. The language in these productions sounded extremely pompous and detached from everyday life, as most of these films were based on Slovene classical literary works, written in Standard Literary Slovene. We should mention at this point the first Slovene sound film, Na svoji zemlji (On Our Own Land), shot in 1948 by Štiglic;[5] the screenplay was written by Kosmač, based upon his own short story Očka Orel (Grandpa Orel).[6] The film was a landmark in Slovenian film production, setting a pattern which was to be followed by many later works (Šimenc 1996: 70–74).[7] However, a paradigm shift occurred when the article Slovenski pogovorni jezik (Colloquial Slovene)[8] by the linguist Toporišič (1970) was published, allowing directors and language editors to argue for the use of spoken (colloquial) Slovene as well as regional colloquial varieties and dialects. It became easier to choose an appropriate social language variety for a particular film. In general, actors here usually undertake formal education in Standard Literary Slovene, despite the fact that they come from all over Slovenia and speak the dialect of their home region. With these new guidelines on speech, some of them were simply glad to use their own ‘first/mother tongue’ on film, if requested, although some actors may find it difficult to master some of the dialects that they did not grow up using. However, as a result of this language shift, the language used in Slovenian films has become much more convincing, "deliberately casual", natural, relaxed and up-to-date. Thus, there has been a move away from Standard Literary Slovene towards Non-standard varieties and non-theatrical speech has become popular and widely accepted. The speech used in films should serve the film's content and vary from the artistic to non-artistic. Koršič (2006: 160) thus claims that speech functionality seems to have become a criterion of the film's artistic value. The language and speech norms of a film should be in accordance with the aesthetic and functional objectives of the speech used by the film's characters; however, good dialogues can only be attained through cooperation among film directors, screenwriters, authors, language editors and actors.

The plot of the film Oča (Dad) takes place in the easternmost part of Slovenia (near the Hungarian border) where the Pannonian dialects are spoken, one of which is the Slovene Prekmurje dialect used in the film. Dialects have mostly been used in films to provide individual dialectal words or stylization; however, recently, the choice of dialect has heavily influenced the choice of actor. Mostly, professional actors are chosen who grew up in the region where the respective dialect is spoken, i.e. the dialect which is required for a given film, while sometimes even amateur actors from that same region are also employed. The combination of both methods is seen as one of the key reasons behind the success of a film. Recently, films featuring the Prekmurje dialect have come in for linguistic analysis.[9] All of them are based upon literary works written by Lainšček[10] in Standard Slovene: Halgato, 1994 (based on the novel Namesto koga roža cveti, 1991); Traktor, ljubezen in rock'n'roll 2006 (Tractor, love and rock'n'roll;[11] based on the novel Vankoštanc 1994) and Petelinji zajtrk 2007 (Rooster's Breakfast;[12] based on the novel Petelinji zajtrk, 1999).   

Language is certainly a means of expressing identity, i.e. in personal and/or national terms alike. It has always been an important element in film (and theatre), one which is growing in importance, in order to draw or determine a character. In other words, each character has their own manner of speaking adapted to various psychological or social discourse situations. The concept of identity is also defined in the  Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika  (Dictionary of Slovene Standard Language)[13] as ‘compliance, data matching with real facts, evidence, identity’, in  Slovenski pravopis  (Slovene orthography, 2001) as an ‘identity, sameness’, in the English-Slovene Dictionary (Grad 2009) as ‘identi ty, unity, equality’, and in the German-Slovene Dictionary (Debenjak 2008 ) as ‘identity’. 

From a linguistic point of view this means the identification of the individual with the primary language of their own environment (family, place of birth). Thus, for the majority of Slovenes, dialect is their first or native language; we are born into it, while Standard Slovene is taught at schools to enable communication between different dialectal speakers. The language used by the characters refers to the respective psychological and social situations they are in, which reflects Gibson’s claim (2004: 1; based on Spolsky 1999: 181): “Language is a central feature of human identity. When we hear someone speak, we immediately make guesses about gender, education level, age, profession, and place of origin. Beyond this individual matter, a language is a powerful symbol of national and ethnic identity”. The actors define the film speech very successfully, yet such ultimate mastery requires a very sharp voice pitch and a high level of mental discipline. We assume that the actors who were given roles had no particular difficulties with language adaptation because they are native speakers of the dialect chosen and required in the film.

The film  Oča  (Dad), the first  feature-length film directed by Vlado Škafar, premiered at the 67th Venice Film Festival (Sept. 1st–11th 2010).Contrary to the Slovene film tradition of basing the writing of a screenplay on a literary work, the director sought to transfer the human approach to a fictional context. He set out to merge his fictional character with the real man, with what is real for him and within him – the truth is after all just an emotion, hidden somewhere deep in our hearts.

The film, a lyrical, yet also shocking story of the love between a father and son, was shot in the Slovenian Prekmurje dialect. The whole narrative of the story is covered in one day of their unusual friendship. The father is a simple man, worn down by a hard life, and the son, who following the divorce of his parents becomes increasingly close to his mother, with whom he lives, is burdened by his father's absence. One Sunday afternoon they meet to try and establish a genuine relationship. Through the thorough exploration of the deep feelings of family relationships, layers of time build upon one another in a moment of heightened sensitivity: desire, passion, joy and the pain of love, a moment of love and memories of it – this is how love is depicted in the film.

A wide variety of linguistic registers exist in Slovene – from the social and the functional to the temporal. The director's decision to also use language (the Prekmurje dialect to be exact) to define the characters, geographical environment, time and social affiliation is not surprising; indeed, we could say it was expected. The narrative space is situated in the director’s native Prekmurje, and the Prekmurje dialect, more precisely its Ravensko subdialect, creates the necessary sense of genuineness and authenticity of life when compared to the Standard language in the film.

The director also deliberately chose not to use trained/professional actors but non-professional actors and native-speakers who come from the described area and are therefore most proficient in the Ravensko subdialect. Most of the dialogues in the film, which we phonetically fully transcribed, are spoken by the two main male characters, the father and the son. Both of the main actors are non-professional, native-speakers, but come from the Prekmurje dialect area. The role of the father is performed by Miki Roš, a Prekmurje writer, director and amateur actor while the role of his son was taken by Sandi Šalamon, a 13-year-old elementary school pupil from Murska Sobota, one of the most mature Slovene child actors, the so-called “naturščik”. 22 people appear beside them in three sequences of the film, mostly as extras. The cast is therefore relatively modest, but in terms of film speech they are uniquely colourful.

In the realisation of the film speech both actors preserve: (1) the Prekmurje place of stress with all (a) accent shift removals from old circumflexed length or shortness:[14]   sàmo   (SSl. samó) ‘just’,  vǜja  (SSl. uhó) ‘ear’, prìšo (SSl. prišèl) ‘came’, zà čne (SSl. začnè) ‘begin’ or a significant tendency towards analogical generalization of stress to all or most forms of the same  words: sóúsit sóúsida (SSl. sôsed, soséda) ‘neighbour’, béžo, béžala, béžalo (SSl. béžal, bežála, bežaló) ‘run’, and (b) short vowels, possible in any syllable in the Prekmurje dialect:   ràzmiš   (SSl. razumeš) ‘understand’,  živẹ̀ti  (SSl. živeti) ‘live’, kǜp (SSl. kup) ‘heap’; (2) all Prekmurje  vowels: dialectal diphthongs  [e ]  for the Proto-Slavic long  yat /ě/  – sréda (SSl. sreda) ‘Wednesday’, ščéš (SSl . želiš) ‘want’ and [oú] for Proto-Slavic always long /o/ – nóúč (SSl. noč) ‘night’,  šóúla  (SSl. šola) ‘school’ and nasal /Ø/  – klóúp ( SSl. klop) ‘bench’, sóúsit (SSl. sosed) ‘neighbour’; dialectal  [ü]  for Pr oto-Slavic old acuted / u / – tǜdi (SSl. tudi)‘also’,  vǜpa la  (SSl. upala) ‘hope’, dialectal  [ö]  for /e/ in the position beside the sonant / v / : vö̀ter (SSl. veter) ‘wind’,  vö̀  (SSl. ven) ‘out’ and [ u ], originated from vocalic   /l/  – kùča (SS l. hiša) ‘house’, skùza (SSl. solza) ‘tear’. Proto-Slavic always long  /i/  and /u/ are sometimes pronounced as diphthongs – očí (SSl.  oči) ‘eyes’, fčíš (SSl. učiš) ‘learn’,  dǘša  (SSl. duša) ‘soul’, poslǘšan (SSl. poslušam) ‘listen’,  the same also long narrow [e], originated from the Proto-Slavic always long /e/, semivowel (schwa) and nasal /ę/:   té   (SSl. te) ‘this’,   imé  (SSl. ime) ‘name’, glédo (SSl. gledal) ‘watch’,  but dén (SSl. dan) ‘day’,  potégni  (SSl. potegni) ‘pull’, zvéživa (SS  l. zveživa) ‘bind’[15] The proto-Slavic long /a/ in dialect remains open – mála (SSl. mala) ‘small’,   znáš   (SSl. veš) ‘know’, old acut ed /a/ is labialized [å]–  màn  (SSl. imam) ‘have’, pràf   (SSl. prav) ‘right’ and it is pronounced as such by the actors. 

There are some rare deviations from the dialectal vowel system in the actors’ speech, specifically in vowel quality. Sometimes short  a  is not clearly pronounced as a. Labialization is to be expected, while in the dialect it is clearly expressed, e. g.:  màma  ‘mother’, kà (SSl. kaj) ‘what’, tàkši (SS  l. takšen) ‘such’, in only some cases in the film the short but not labialized   a   is pronounced. In the whole Pannonian dialectal group the labialized  u  is normally pronounced, but in the film the non-labialized u as in Standard Lit  erary Slovene is heard very rarely, e.g.: ljùcki (dialectal: lǜcki) ‘folk/native’; in only one example the dialectal labialized  ü  is pronounced as i, as in Standard Slovene: mìdva (dialectal: mǜva) ‘two of us’. 

Here and there the pronunciation follows Standard Literary Slovene, specifically in a) pre-stressed   u   remains unchanged, displaying the  o  or i colour in dialect – učìtel (but dia lectal: očìtel, vičìtel) ‘teacher’; b) as well as the pre- a nd post-stressed e in dialect being strictly pronounced as [ i ]  deklìna  (but dialectal: diklìna) ‘small girl, girl’, člọ̀vek (but dialectal: člọ̀vik) ‘man’. 

The consonants are pronounced as in the dialect, although some deviations can be seen in:

  1. the consonant /x/, which in dialect disappears, e.g.:  fála  (SSl. hvala) ‘thanks’, fčási (SSl. včasih) ‘sometimes’, or is replaced by the sonant j, e. g.: stráj (SSl. strah) ‘fear’,   vǜja   (SSl. uho) ‘ear’, in the film it is pronounced here and there as it is in Standa rd Slovene, i.e., as [x]:  hodìti  (dialectal: odìti) ‘walk’  , téh (dialectal: té) ‘these gen. Pl.’; 
  2. the sonant /j/ in the Ravensko subdialect is pronounced as [g] before front vowels –  gén  (SSl. jem) ‘eat’, pigén (SSl. pijem) ‘drink’; in front of back vowels as [dž]: džóúčen (SSl. jočem) ‘cry’, in the f ilm is pronounced also as in Standard Slovene, i.e., as [j]: jàs (dialectal: gè) ‘I’;
  3. palatal /l/, in dialect becomes hard, in the film in three cases palatalization remains: ljubézen (dialectal: libézen) ‘love’, ljùcki (dialectal: lǜcki) ‘folk/native’, življénje (dialectal: živlènje) ʻlife.ʼ

Dialectal endings with verbs for the first person dual  -va  without the Standard tendency are observed in all of the actors’ speech:      bova      ‘we will’,     napraviva     ‘we will do’, the same pattern is used in Standard Slovene, while dialects spoken in the North and in the East of Slovenia Slovene dialects use the Non-standard -ma  instead.

Beside verbs, the use of adverbs is also characteristic for Slovenian dialects in order a) to change the meaning of the verb:  fkràj  vréže (SSl. odreže) ‘cut’,  cùj  zvéže (SSl. priveže) ‘bind’, or b) to strengthen its basic meaning :   cùj  prpèlan (SSl. pripeljem) ‘bring along’, dọ̀j poklàčo (SSl . potlačil) ‘subdue’. 

Typical dialectal features in speech are portrayed by the frequent use of vocative verbless sentences, exclamation sentences, interjections, authentic adverbs, e.g., ès (SSl. sem) ‘here’, èti (SSl. tukaj) ‘here’,  fčàsik  (SSl. takoj) ‘at ones’, gvǜšno  (SSl. zagotovo) ‘sure’, nájprlé (SSl. najprej) ‘first of all’, nìgdar (SSl. nikoli) ‘never’, pomàli (SSl. počasi) ‘slow’, índa svéta (SSl. nekoč) ‘once upon a time’,  sìgdar  (SSl. vedno) ‘always’, žmètno  (SSl. težko) ‘difficult’, particles, e.g., bar (SSl. vsaj) ‘at least’, ešče/šče (SSl. še) ‘still; yet’, ranč (SSl. ravno) ‘just; exactly’, vej (SSl. saj) ‘but’, repetitions of all kinds, among which some idiosyncrasies in word order stand out:

  1.  interchanges of theme and rheme and even transition:[16] Dọ̀bro je  tóú ? ‘Is this right?’ – Kràp  je tóú, znáš. ‘This is a carp, you know’;
  2. the auxiliary verb is placed at the beginning or at the end of the sentence: Sen džóúko ‘I was crying.’ – Opčǘtosi? ʻWhat did you feel?’;
  3. frequent use of the personal pronoun where it is not used in the Standard variety: Máš ràt lés? ‘Do you like wood?’ – Gẹ̀ si se tóú fčìú? ‘Where did you learn this?’ – Sè  ,  kà mo ge vìdo, mo povẹ̀do dàle svọ̀ji dẹ̀ci. ‘Everything I see, I’ll tell my children.’;
  4. the particle naj is used after the reflexive pronoun: Ja, pa zakàj si naj nèbi? ‘And why shouldn’t I?’;
  5. adverbial adjective to the right of the antecedent:[17] sóúsit  nàš  ‘our neighbour’, ọ̀ča mọ̀j  ‘my father’. 

Besides the rich Pannonio-Slavic vocabulary, e.g.,   brọ̀diti    (SSl. misliti) ‘think’, čèden  (SSl. pameten) ‘smart’,  dẹ̀ca  (SSl. otroci) ‘children’,  gúúčati  (SSl. govoriti) ‘speak’,  ìstina  (SSl. resnica) ‘truth’,  pítati  (SSl. vprašati) ‘ask’,  štẹ̀ti  (SSl. brati) ‘read’, víditi  (SSl. zdeti se) ‘seem’, zgràbiti (SSl. uloviti) ‘catch’, znàti (SSl. vedeti) ‘know’, Standard-Slovene lexemes are also noticeable., e.g., míza (dialectal: stọ̀) ‘table’, rábiti (dialetal: nucati) ‘need’, zràk (dialectal: lǜft) ‘air’, xítro (dialectal: frìško) ‘fast’, življénje (dialectal: žìtek) ‘life’, doublets (Standard as well as dialectal words), e.g., tùrba (dialectal) and tórba (Standard) ‘bag’, mǜva (dialectal) and mídva (Standard) ‘two of us’, pripovést (dialectal) and zgódba (Standard) ‘story’, fọ̀rma (dialectal) and oblíka (Standard) ‘form’, slangisms, e.g.,: čìk ‘cigaret’, and Germanisms preserved in the dialect, some of them were already adopted into the Prekmurje dialect during the Old High German and Middle High German period: cùk (SSl. vlak) ‘train’← G. Zug, falìti (SSl. manjkati) ‘miss’ ← G. fehlen, gvǜšno (SSl. gotovo) ‘sure’ ← MHG. gewiss, penezi (SSl. denar) ‘money’ ← OHG. pfenni(n)g , pénzija (SSl. pokojnina) ‘pension’ ← G. Pension, pùcati (SSl. čistiti) ‘clean’ ← G. putzen, špìc (SSl. konica, ost) ‘point’ ← G. Spitze, špìlati (SSl. igrati) ‘play’ ← G. spielen, tẹ̀pix (SSl. preproga) ‘carpet’ ← G. Teppich, and rare Hungarisms: čọ̀nta (SSl. kost) ‘bone’ ← Hun. csont.

Language abbreviations:
G. – German
Hun. – Hungarian
MHG. – Middle High German
OHG. – Old High German
SSl. – Standard Slovene

The analysis of language dialogues shows that the speech plan in the film is well-implemented. All the characters consistently speak the kind of language variety which was chosen and defined for the film at all linguistic levels. Slight deviations from the dialect system are noticeable only on the phonological and lexical level.

The review of dialogues in the film Oča (Dad) suggests that the speech in the film "acts like magic on the viewer, with the illusion that this is not just a performed and filmed world, but the world in which the viewer really lives" (Gjurin 1983: 316). The language is, therefore, such as we would expect in similar circumstances in real life, which is one of the main strong points of this film.

Language, being the reflection of our individual and national identity, is a very powerful constituent part of the analysed film. Both main actors, being native speakers of the dialect, express themselves perfectly with its use. The use of any other linguistic register and/or variety would make it impossible for the main characters to express themselves adequately in the given discourses and, ultimately, it would be impossible for the actors to give a credible performance. Since the use of spoken language, in particular dialect, in the film Oča (Dad) is almost absolutely authentic, this film is an excellent example of the paradigm shift which occurred after 1970 when Toporišič’s article  Slovenski pogovorni jezik  was published, giving directors and language editors free reign in the use of spoken (colloquial) Slovene as well as regional colloquial varieties and dialects in films.


″Oča″. [Videotape] (2010). Screen-play and director: Vlado Škafar. Lenght: 70 min. Country: Slovenia. Language: Slovene. (Acquired exclusively for the purpose of language analysis by the main actor Miki Roš).


Betts, F. Raymond (2004) ″A History of Popular Culture: more or everything, faster and brighter″. New York, London, Routlege. URL: https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/podzim2011/SOC257/Betts_A_history_of_popular_culture_WHOLE_BOOK.pdf (accesed 18 March 2013).

Debenjak, Doris (2008) ″Veliki nemško-slovenski slovar″ [E-version]. Ljubljana, DZS (accessed18 March 2013).

Grad, Anton (2009) ″Veliki angleško-slovenski slovar″ [E-version]. Ljubljana, DZS (accessed 18 March 2013).

Gjurin, Velimir (1983) ‟Medzvrstno (ne)omahovanje v Razseljeni osebi in Učnih letih izumitelja Polža“, Jezik na odru, jezik v filmu, Ljubljana, Mestno gledališče ljubljansko: 316–327.

Koletnik, Mihaela, and Valh Lopert, Alenka, and Zorko, Zinka (2009) ″Translating from Standard Slovene into Carinthian and the Prekmurje Dialects in Slovene films″, inTRAlinea, Special Issues URL: http://www.intralinea.org/print/article/1717 (Visited on 18 March 2013)

—, and Valh Lopert, Alenka (2012): ″Intralingual subtitling of the Slovene dialectal film Petelinji zajtrk (Rooster’s Breakfast)″, inTRAlinea, Special Issues URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/intralingual_subtitling_of_the_film_petelinji_zajtrk (accessed18 March 2013).

Koršič, Igor (2006) ″Nekaj o umetnosti neumetniškega govora v filmu″ Kolokvij o umetniškem govoru, Ljubljana, Akademija za gledališče, radio, film in televizijo: 160–166.

Pelko, Stojan (2008) ″Rojstvo misli iz filma. Spisi o govoru″ in Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika, Primož Vitez (ed): 161–172. URL: http://bos.zrc-sazu.si/sskj.html (accessed 18 March 2013).

″Slovenski pravopis″ URL: http://bos.zrc-sazu.si/sp2001.html (accessed 18 March 2013).

Stankovič, Peter (2002) ″Kulturne študije: pregled zgodovine, teorij in metod. Cooltura. Uvod v kulturne študije″ in Študentska založba, Ljubljana:  11–71.

Storey, John (2001) ″Cultural Theory and Popular Culture″. (First chapter). London et al., Pearson/Prentice Hall URL: http://www.mdw.ac.at/upload/MDWeb/ims/pdf/Storey,_Kap.1.pdf (accessed 18 March 2013).

Šimenc, Stanko (1996): ″Panorama slovenskega filma″, Ljubljana: DZS

— (2005): Filmografija slovenskih celovečernih filmov: [1931‒2005], ″Na gorenjski zemlji: ob 100-letnici slovenskega filma 1905‒2005″, Kranj, Gorenjski muzej, Galerija Prešernove hiše Kranj: 43‒50.

Toporišič, Jože (1970): “Slovenski pogovorni jezik‟, Slavistična revija, Ljubljana, 55–70.

— (2000) Slovenska slovnica, Maribor: Obzorja

Internet Sources

URL: http://www.oca.si/odzivi (accessed 18 March 2013).

URL: http://culturalpolitics.net/popular_culture (accessed 18 March 2013).

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Our_Own_Land ( accessed 18 March 2013).

URL: http://cineuropa.org/f.aspx?t=film&documentID=84906 (accessed 18 March 2013).

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooster's_Breakfast (accessed 18 March 2013).


[1] We would like to express our gratitude to the lead actor Miki Roš and the whole team for the videotape of the film.

[2] The English titles of Škafar's short films are available at: http://www.oca.si (accessed 18 March 2013).

[3] Also cf.: http://www.oca.si/odzivi (accessed 18 March 2013.) Translated by the authors for the purposes of the article only.

[4] More http://culturalpolitics.net/popular_culture (accessed 18 March 2013).

[5] English title: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Our_Own_Land (accessed 18 March 2013).

[6] Kosmač, C. (1947). ″Očka Orel″. Iz moje doline, Ljubljana, Mladinska knjiga 1958, 207–247. English title available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Our_Own_Land (accessed 18 March 2013).

[7] For more on the period 1931–2005, see Šimenc (2005).

[8] Translated by the authors for the purposes of the article only.

[9] Mihaela Koletnik, Alenka Valh Lopert, Zinka Zorko, 2009: Translating from Standard Slovene into Carinthian and the Prekmurje Dialects in Slovene films. Mihaela Koletnik, Alenka Valh Lopert, 2012: Intralingual subtitling of the Slovene dialectal film Petelinji zajtrk (Rooster’s Breakfast).

[10] Feri Lainšček (born in 1959) is a leading Slovene author. He is appreciated by contemporary Slovene literary critics as a prolific author of high-quailty novels.

[11] English title: http://cineuropa.org/f.aspx?t=film&documentID=84906 (accessed 18 March 2013).

[12] English title: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooster's_Breakfast (accessed 18 March 2013).

[13] See note 8.

[14] Words are marked with symbols denoting the place of stress: the acute ( ´ ), grave ( ` ) and roof ( ˆ ) are used in Slovene literary language. The acute stays to lengthen and narrow e and o, the grave to shorten and widen e and o and labialisation of -a; a small dot under a vowel denotes narrowness. The vowel nature of l and n is marked with a small circle underneath; a semi-circle under i and u (, ú) denotes their consonant pronunciation, while the semi vowel is marked with |.

[15] In the Prekmurje Goričko subdialect diphthongization of the long narrow e in e has taken place; in the Ravensko subdialect this process is in progress. Therefore, as regards the Proto-Slavic always long vowels, two reflections appear: monophthongs and/or diphthongs.

[16] The word order of Standard Slovene is stylistically neutral when used in the following sequence: the topic (theme), the transition, and the focus (rheme). It may deviate according to language use (See Toporišič 2000: 668–677).

[17] In Standard Slovene adjectival attributes preceed the antecedent, while nominal ones follow it.

Styrian and Carinthian in Slovenian popular music

By Mihaela Koletnik & Melita Zemljak Jontes (University of Maribor, Slovenia)

Abstract & Keywords

The article focuses on the use of the non-standard Slovenian elements in Slovenian popular music based on the analysis of Styrian popular music bands and Carinthian song writers and performers. The analysis is based on phonetic, morphological and lexical analysis of written and sung language.

Keywords: Slovenian language, dialectology, Slovenian popular music, Styrian dialects, Carinthian dialects

©inTRAlinea & Mihaela Koletnik & Melita Zemljak Jontes (2016).
"Styrian and Carinthian in Slovenian popular music"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2183

1. Introduction

In the last twenty years writers of Slovenian popular music have increasing-ly included dialectal features into their songs. The reasons for this phenomenon can be found (1) in the globalization of society forcing the individual to its opposite, namely to the use his/her mother tongue, the dialect, with which he/she most easily identifies, (2) within the importance of the Slovenian language becoming the state language after achieving Slovenian independence, (3) in the use of the dialect as a means of semantical marking in comparison to the literary language. It should be noted that the dialect is never fully integrated into the song, but is usually included with certain phonetic, morphological and lexical elements.

List of abbreviations used:

Bav.: Bavarian
Cro.: Croatian
Fr: French
G.: German
It.: Italian
MHG.: Middle High German
OHG.: Old High German
SSl.: Standard Slovene
SNBSJ: Slovar novejšega besedja slovenskega jezika.

2. The analysis

2.1. The Styrian dialect

The first part of the paper focuses on the use of the Styrian dialectal songs of the three Styrian bands, Nude, Mi2 and Orlek. Although bands originate from various Styrian dialects, they still show common dialectal characteristics, identified mostly as phonetic, morphological and lexical.

The Styrian dialects are spoken in the wide area of central-eastern part of Slovenia bordered by the Upper Cariniolan dialectal group on the west, Carinthian dialectal group on the north, Pannonian dialectal group on the north-east, Lower Carniolan group on the south and Croatian language on the east. The Styrian dialectal group (Zorko 1994:  333;  2009: 160) is divided to the northern and southern area due to the late new acute lengthening of yat /ě/, of /o/ and /e/ in comparison to long yat /ě/, /o/ and /e/ in the northern area. All the Styrian dialects know no tonemic contrasts (they have lost the distinction between low and is acute and circumflex intonation). All the Styrian dialects have a falling word intonation on long and short vowels, some of them have nevertheless lost their quantity opposition causing partial or complete lengthening of short vowels, thus sometimes also diphtongizing narrow /e/ and /o/ into [ie] and [uo]. The long /i/ and /u/ have diphtongized and the long /a/ has become fairly or completely labialized and thus at some areas pronounced as standard broad /o/. The diphtongization of yat /ě/ to [e] or [a] is common to all the Styrian dialects, also the diphtongization of long /o/ to [o] or [a]. Some dialects have undergone late monophtongization. All the Styrian dialects pronounce the long semi-vowel /ə/ and nasal vowel /ę/ as a narrow or broad variant of /e/. In the eastern area of the middle Styrian and the Kozjansko-Bizeljsko dialect the vowel /ü/ instead of standard /u/ is commonly pronounced.

Vowel reduction is more common in the southern Styrian dialects, mostly in word endings thus causing masculinization. Non-stressed /o/ is pronounced as a very narrow vowel. The syllabic /r/ is pronounced mostly with prior semi-vowel or non-labialized /a/. Syllabic /l/ is mostly pronounced as [o] or [a].

Typical of the consonant system are the following phenomena (Logar 1993: 136–141): in front of the voiceless consonants or before the pause /v/ shows a strong tendency to become /f/, the consonant cluster /šč/ is mostly reduced to /š/, /ń/ is mostly reduced to /j/ or undergoes the change to /jn/, /ĺ/ is mostly reduced to /l/. The secondary /dl/ is usually reduced to /l/, the pronunciation of the hard /l/ especially in front of the vowels /u/, /o/ and /a/ is partly preserved; the prothetic /j/ can still be heard, voiced consonants (except /l, r, m, n, v, j/) in front of other voiceless consonants and before a pause usually become voiceless.

According to Zorko (2009: 160–161), the southern area of the Styrian dialectal group has masculinized most of the neutral nouns and the northern area has undergone feminization mostly of the neutral nouns in plural. There is a strong tendency towards the loss of dual particularly in feminine gender. Conjungation does not apply the rule of changing /o/ to /e/ after /c, č, ž, š, j, dž/ (s kovačom, mojo delo). The instrumental case of singular feminine nouns has the instrumental ending -oj: z ženoj 'with wife', which developed into -i or -o: z ženi, z ženo. The most common demonstrative pronoun is toti, teti, titi. Most frequently verbs undergo suffix conjungation, hence the forms for first person dual are mostly date ‘you giveʼ (pl.), vete ‘you knowʼ (pl.), grete ‘you goʼ(pl.), rarely also vajste ‘you knowʼ (pl.), grajste ‘you goʼ(pl.), instead of the standard ones daste, veste, greste.

2.2. The Styrian popular music bands

The chapter focuses on the lyrics of the songs written by the three men-tioned Styrian musicians, trying to establish to what degree their texts mirror the spoken Styrian dialect. All the three bands originate from the Styrian dialectal group, Nude from the regional colloquial language of Celje, Orlek from the dialect of Posavje and Mi2 from the middle Styrian dialect. All the three bands started performing in the 1990s and have been writing their own lyrics and music from the start, offering their listeners the dialectal overtone, as well.

Nude is a Slovenian pop-rock band established in 1993 of currently five members. During its existence, the band has recorded a number of hits as singles and seven CDs, five of them in the studio. The band has played more than one thousand concerts and has won numerous Slovenian music and other awards. Most of the lyrics are intertwined with love themes but they also point out to the life problems. The lyrics offer the sensation of dialectal nevertheless the hearing perception is somehow deceiving, i.e. a literary variety of Standard Slovenian language is mostly used, sometimes intertwined with the regional colloquial language of Celje, the urban dialectal speech of the third biggest city in Slovenia. Its most evident features are very rare, considering mostly omissions of short unstressed vowels in its written form as graphic marks: R'd te 'mam 'I love you', and sometimes the extreme broadness of stressed /e/ and /o/ not characteristic of the Standard Slovenian language: žezlo 'scepter' (sg.).

Mi2 is a rock band established in 1995 of originally two and cur-rently five members originating from the middle Styrian dialectal area (Ro-gatec, Šmarje pri Jelšah). The band has been increasing its popularity over the years, especially after 1999 when releasing its second album of seven altogether. The lyrics deal with everyday topics of an everyman from the perspective of the members of the band, from love themes to political situa-tion. Every CD includes lyrics sung both in non-standard Slovenian regional colloquial language and in standard literary and colloquial variety. Chrono-logically, the band shows a tendency of increasing the number of lyrics using standard Slovenian variety of language up to the present time. Most of the lyrics are written by the band on their official web site and do not include accentuation marks, information on quantity and quality of vowels, marks on omission of unstressed vowels and pronunciation of diphthongs, although audible in the execution. Non-standard words are written as pronounced: tišler ← G. Tischler (SSl. mizar) 'carpenter', jes (SSl. jaz) 'I'. The lyrics often contain loan words and vulgarisms.

The band's pronunciation in non-standard lyrics is largely dialectal, taking vowels and consonants into consideration: mostly complete vocal reduction: al (SSl. ali) 'or', bla (SSl. bila) 'I was' (F. Sg.), drgač (SSl. drugače) 'on the other hand', kak (SSl. kako) 'how', htela (SSl. hotela) 'we wanted', sn (SSl. sem) 'I am', tedn (SSl. teden) 'week', zmenla (SSl. zmenila) 'agreed' (F. Sg.); pronunciation of short stressed vowel /a/ as /e/: jes (SSl. jaz) 'I'; there is no conjungation applying the rule of changing /o/ to /e/ after /c, č, ž, š, j, dž/: s Fikijom (SSl. s Fikijem) 'with Fiki'; the syllable /l/ is pronounced as /u/: vuna (SSl. volna) 'wool'; pronunciation of consonants which mostly differs in prepositional u and prefixal f (SSl. v): u toplice (SSl. v toplice) 'to the spa', fčasih (SSl. včasih) 'sometimes', ftegnem (SSl. utegnem) 'I manage to do in time', bi ftopil (SSl. bi utopil) 'would drown sb.', ftrpne (SSl. otrpne) 'he/she freezes'; pronunciation of /lj/ as [l]: lubezn (SSl. ljubezen) 'love', pospravlene (SSl. pospravljene) 'cleared up'; pronunciation of /nj/ is maintained or pronounced as [j]: v živlenji (SSl. v življenju) 'in life', škrija (SSl. zmrzovalnik) 'freezer'; reduction of final consonants: ka (SSl. kaj) 'what'. In rare lyrics the dialectal diphtongs are heard, as well: fsje (SSl. vse) 'all', problejm (SSl. problem, težava) 'problem', skrbejlo (SSl. skrbelo) 'worried'.

In morphology, long and short infinitives are used: sma htela iti (SSl. sva hotela iti) 'we wanted to go', naročiti (SSl. naročiti) 'to order', se ga vliti (SSl. se ga vliti, se ga napiti) 'to get drunk'; hočeš bit (SSl. hočeš biti) 'you want to be'. The verb 'to be', first person dual, is always used as sma (SSl. sva). Verb endings -il, -el, -al are usually Styrian dialectal -o: je oceno (SSl. je ocenil) 'he judged'; sn našo (SSl. sem našel) 'I have found', je prišo (SSl. je prišel) 'he came'; sn delo (SSl. sem delal) 'I have worked', but not always: vzel mere (SSl. vzel mere) 'he took measures', narisal (SSl. narisal) 'he drew', zračunal (SSl. izračunal) 'he calculated'. The ending -i in the dative and locative of singular masculine and originally neutral (masculinized) nouns developed from Standard -u: na Boči (S. na Boču) 'on the hill Boč', v živlenji (SSl. v življenju) 'in life'.

The use of  colloquial or lower colloquially colored vocabulary: ajmrček (SSl. majhno vedro) 'small bucket' ← G. Eimer, britof (SSl. pokopališče) ‘cemeteryʼ ← G. Friedhof, crkniti (SSl. umreti) ‘to die’, fajn (SSl. fino) ‘fineʼ ← G. Fein, kufer (SSl. kovček) 'suit-case' ← G. Koffer, lušten (SSl. čeden, ljubek) 'pretty' ← MHG. lustec, lustic, matrati (SSl. truditi) 'to make effort' ← G. martern, rugzak (SSl. nahrbtnik) 'backpack' ← G. Rucksack, sekirati (SSl. vznemirjati) 'to be upset' ← G. sekkieren, šajba (SSl. šipa) 'pane' ← G. Scheibe, štrik (SSl. vrv) ‘ropeʼ ← G. Strick, tenf (SSl. tolmun) 'pool', zastopiti (SSl. razumeti) 'to understand', also from English: emajl (SSl. e-pošta) ← E. 'e-mail', do fula (SSl. popolnoma) 'completely'; pejorative vocabulary: majmun (SSl. opica) 'monkey' ← Cro. majmun; vulgar vocabulary: fukniti (SSl. grdo vreči; SNBSJ (fuck) odklonilen odnos do česa) 'to fuck, to be negative towards sth. or sbd.', prdniti (SSl. izločiti pline iz črevesja) 'fart', rigniti (SSl. spahniti se) 'burb', scati (SSl. izpraznjevati sečni mehur) 'pee'. All of the written is indicative of a highly regional colloquial nature of lyrics of Mi2 and is further exemplified by German loanwords that have not been accepted into Standard Slovene, e.g. fajn (SSl. fino) ‘fineʼ ← G. Fein, luft (SSl. zrak) ‘airʼ ← G. Luft, pucati (SSl. čistiti) ‘to cleanʼ ← G. putzen, pocartati (SSl. pretirano negovati, razvajati, ljubkovati) ‘caressʼ ← G. zärtlich, rarely from Croatian: kao (SSl. kot) 'as' ← Cro. kao, odmah (SSl. takoj) 'right now' ← Cro. odmah.

Occasionally, the lyrics of Mi2 contains slang expressions that are most often borrowed from foreign languages, e.g. folk ‘peopleʼ ← G. Volk, fajt (SSl. borba/bitka) ← E. fight, fotr ‘fatherʼ ← G. Vater, do fula (SSl. do polnega) ← E. 'to the full', plata ‘gramophone recordʼ ← G. Schalplatte.

Orlek is a band of currently nine members, established in 1998 and playing an original blend of rock and roll, a kind of »folk punk rock polka«. Its domicile is in Zagorje ob Savi, dialectologically speaking the Styrian dialect of Posavje (the speech of Zagorje and Trbovlje). The name of the band originates in the name of the hill at the edge of Zagorje, in the heart of the mining grounds. Their specialties are texts with social and humorous contents, rich in many expressions typical of the hard work and life of a miner. Their music is a diverse instrumental ensemble, which, besides tradi-tional rock instruments, also uses a brass section and an accordion, and places the band into the ethnic folk music category. The band has provided the audience a lot of successful performances at festivals in Slovenia as well as abroad. The band has issued nine CDs so far.

The band's official web site presents lyrics written by the authors (members of the band) themselves. In the song lyrics and interpretation a literary and partially colloquial variety of standard Slovenian is used containing a lot of German loan words and specific dialectal mine terminology which makes the band very populistic and creates an audible illusion of dialectal speech. The band's pronunciation in non-standard lyrics is dialectal, mostly concerning complete vocal reduction. In central word position the omission of un-stressed vowels is usually marked: rož'ca (SSl. rožica) 'flower', rok'n'roll (SSl. rokenrol) 'rock and roll', sometimes also at word endings: tud' (SSl. tudi) 'as well', skoz' (SSl. skozi) 'through', although not consistently: spomlad (SSl. spomladi) 'in spring'.

The most distinctive dialectal lexical characteristic are loanwords adopted to Slovenian language, largely from German and not accepted to the standard Slovenian langage: ajzenpon (SSl. železnica) 'railways' ← G. Eisenbahn, britof (SSl. pokopališče) 'cemetery' ← G. Friedhof, cajg, cajk (SSl. orodje) 'tools' ← G. Wergzeug, colnga (SSl. plača) 'pay' ← G. Zahlung, faulast (SSl. len) 'lazy' ← G. faul, ksiht (SSl. obraz) 'face' ← G. Gesicht, kufer (SSl. kovček) 'suit-case' ← G. Koffer, luft (SSl. zrak) 'air' ← G. Luft, matrati (SSl. truditi) 'to make effort' ← G. martern, mušter (SSl. vzorec) 'sample' ← G. Muster, pauri (SSl. kmetje) 'farmers' ← G. Bauer, penzijon (SSl. pokojnina) 'pension' ← G. Pension, rajš (SSl. riž) 'rice' ← G. Reis, rekelc (SSl. suknjič) 'jacket' ← G. Rock, rugzak (SSl. nahrbtnik) 'backpack' ← G. Rucksack, šajba (SSl. šipa) 'pane' ← G. Scheibe, rarely also from English: fajt (SSl. borba/bitka) ← E. fight. The band's official website nevertheless presents the mine dictionary, terminology used by the local miners and passed from generation to generation originating largely in German terminology under the influence of the mine owners, the political system of the time and the names of the tools brought to the area alongside with the tools. The web site does not provide the reader with the information of the origin of translation thus one should believe that the band members translated the terminology into standard Slovenian by themselves, e.g. ferdinst (SSl. plačilni list) 'pay' ← G. Verdienst, gverk (SSl. rudnik) 'mine' ← G. Bergwerk, nohšiht (SSl. nočna izmena) 'night shift' ← G. Nachtschicht, šafla (SSl. lopata) 'shovel' ← G. Schaufel, štil (SSl. ročaj pri lopati) 'handle for shovel' ← G. Stiel, vahtar (SSl. čuvaj) 'watchman' ← G. Wächter, urmohar (SSl. urar) 'watchmaker' ← G. Uhrmacher, ziherica (SSl. rudarska delavska svetilka) 'safe lamp' ← G. sicher (SSl. gotov, varen; varna svetilka).

2.3. The Carintihan Mežica dialect

This second part of the paper focuses on the use of the Carinthian dialect in the songs of Milan Pečovnik – Pidži, Milan Kamnik, Adi Smolar and Marijan Smode. All three grew up speaking the Carinthian Mežica dialect.


The Slovene Carinthian dialects are spoken in the area of eastern Alps, which spread across three countries: the Republic of Slovenia (the north-western part of the Slovene language territory), Austria (the Zilja Valley from Šmohor/Hermagor to Beljak/Villach and its surroundings as well as the area between the Karavanke mountain, the Kamniško-Savinjske Alps and the Slovene ethnic boundary up to Dravograd on the Slovene side of the state border), and in northern Italy (the Kanal Valley – Trbiž/Travisio and its surroundings). They are divided into the Zilja, Rož, Obirsko and Podjuna dialects, vhile in  Slovenia two other dialects are spoken: the Mežica dialect and the dialect of northern Pohorje and Remšnik. The Carinthian dialects have retained a lot of archaisms on all linguistic levels. In addition, they contain many German loanwords and calques due to its contact with German and the process of Germanization (this is true especially of the Slovene Carinthian dialects spoken in Austria).

The Mežica dialect is spoken in the valleys of the rivers Meža and Mislinja. In the south, it borders on the Styrian dialects, in the west on the Carinthian  Podjuna dialect and in the east on  the Carinthian Northern Pohorje-Remšnik dialect. The Mežica dialect knows no tonemic contrasts (it has lost the distinction between low and high, i.e. acute and circumflex intonation). It has a falling word intonation and has retained a singing sentence melody. It is characterized by a late denazaliazation of Proto-Slavonic nasal vowels /ę/ and /ǫ/, and the diphthongization of Proto-Slavonic long yat /ě/ [ie > iǝ] and of the long /o/ [uo > uǝ]. These phenomena are typical not only of all the Carinthian dialects, but also of the norhtern dilalects of the present-day Litoral dialect group. Later, the Carinthian dialects developed links with Eastern Slovene dialects (the Styrian and the Pannonian ones), which ac-counts for the shared vocalization of the Proto-Slavonic semi-vowel into the vowel e, examples of which are the Mežica dialect den (SSl. dan) ‘dayʼ and meša (SSl. maša) ‘massʼ. Contrary to the neighboring Carinthian dialects, the Mežica dialect also retains the non-labialized vowel a, which is a reflex of the Proto-Slavonic long a. Short stressed vowels show a strong tendency toward reduction into semi-vowels and are, due to the more recent stress reductions, found in all word syllables: mǝš (SSl. miš) ‘mouseʼ, sǝno (SSl. seno) ‘hayʼ, kǝk (SSl. kako) ‘howʼ, lǝdi (SSl. ljudje) ‘peopleʼ.

Typical of the consonant system are the following phenomena: the pronun-ciation of the once hard /l/ in front of the vowels /u/, /o/ and /a/ as unrounded bilabial [w],[1] e.g. kwop (SSl. klop) ‘a tickʼ, šwa (SSl. šla) ‘wentʼ (past participle, fem.), diǝwawa (SSl. delala) ‘workedʼ (past participle, fem.), the pronunciation of the final sonorant velar /g/ as [x], e.g. buǝx (SSl. bog) ‘Godʼ, sniǝx (SSl. sneg) ‘snowʼ, the prosthetic /j/ and /w/: jǝme (SSl. ime) ‘nameʼ, woni (SSl. oni) ‘theyʼ and the addition of the consonant š to demonstrative and adverbial pronouns: šǝta (SSl. ta) ‘thisʼ (fem.), šǝti (SSl. ti) ‘thisʼ (pl. masc.), štak (SSl. tako) ‘soʼ, štam (SSl. tam) ‘thereʼ.

According to Zinka Zorko (2009: 94), the Mežica dialect has preserved the majority of old morphological forms, and all three genders in the singular, but lost the neuter gender in the plural and the dual. The instrumental case of singular masculine nouns has the ending -u instead of the standard -om: z bratu ‘with brotherʼ, while dialectal feminine nouns have the instrumental ending  -i instead of the standard -o: z bici ‘with grandmotherʼ. The singular of neuter gender nouns is preserved in its entirety, while in the dual and plu-ral these nouns become either feminine or masculine. The genitive ending of masculine and neuter nouns belonging to adjectival declension is -iga: waxkiga (SSl. lahkega)’lightʼ. Verbs, on the other hand, have only suffix conjugation, hence the forms date ‘you giveʼ (pl.), viǝte ‘you knowʼ (pl.), grete ‘you goʼ(pl.) instead of the standard ones daste, veste, greste.

2.4. The Carinthian song-writers and performers

The chapter focuses on the lyrics of the songs written by the three men-tioned Carinthian musicians, trying to establish to what degree their texts mirror the spoken Carinthian dialect.

Marijan Smode is, along with Milan Pečovnik – Pidži and Milan Kamnik, the first representative of the so-called Carinthian wave of song-writers and performers from the early 1980s.[2] During his career, he record-ed a number of hits on five CDs. Some of his lyrics are playful and humor-ous, and frequently intertwined with love themes. Others are more profound and personal, pointing to the problems that we face in life. These are written and sung in Standard Slovene and lack any dialectal coloring.

Milan Pečovnik – Pidži is one of the leading singers of country music. Impressed with the rich colorfulness of the genre, he started his music career as a member of the band D'Drava Country Dečki back in 1981. He has then continued his solo career with the audio cassette Prve brazde, releasing six more albums, the first one in 1991 and the most recent one in 2004. His opus consists of seventy songs, either original works or arranged Slovene folk songs. The CD To nisem jaz, ne ti (2001) features ten songs by the legendary California rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival, which are arranged and sung in Standard Slovene. The only exception is the song Dons zvčer dčva moja si from his last album Tiho v noč odmeva pesem (2004), which is written and sung in the dialect.

As far as phonology and morphology of this song are concerned, both its orthography and its interpretation deviate somewhat from the Mežica dia-lect. Instead of the dialectal diphthongs /iǝ/ and /uǝ/ he uses standard mon-ophthongs, e.g. dewa (SSl. dela) ‘he worksʼ (dialectal: diǝwa), grem ‘I goʼ (dialectal: griǝm), domo (SSl. domov) ‘homeʼ (dialectal: duǝmo). Also, short stressed and unstressed vowels, reduced to semi-wovels in the dialect, remain unchanged: kok (SSl. kako) ‘howʼ (dialectal: kǝk), si ‘you areʼ (dia-lectal: sǝ). The same is true of the consonant dn-, which has a dialectal equivalent in gn-: dnar ‘moneyʼ (dialectal: gnar). In morphology, we notice deviations in the locative of singular masculine nouns, where the standard -u is used instead of the dialectal -o (na peronu ‘on the platformʼ), and in the use of standard pronouns and conjunctions, e.g. vǝs ‘wholeʼ (dialectal: ciǝu), in ‘andʼ (dialectal: pa).

Adi Smolar is one of the most popular and successful Slovene song-writers and performers. Ever since his first album Naš svet se pa vrti released in 1989, his music has been embraced by Slovene audiences. His opus recorded on fifteen CDs is very extensive and consists entirely of his own songs. His lyrics are very topical (timeless), smart and permeated with poetic inspiration. They do not play on emotions only, but rather appeal to the intellect. They are often humorous and teasing, and contain well-intentioned criticism as well as a good-natured pedagogical tone.They are written and sung in General Colloquial Slovene,[3] but often contain non-Standard colloquial features and, at times, Carinthian and slang words.

Smolar's pronunciation of vowels is standard both as far as their quality and quantity are concerned, while his non-Standard features are seen primarily in the following:

– strong complete or partial (i.e. to the level of sem-vowel) vowel reduction:  bla (SSl. bila) ‘was’, travca (SSl. travica) ‘grass’, gnar (SSl. denar) ‘money’, zlo (SSl. zelo) ‘very’, dobr (SSl. dobro) ‘good’, mal (SSl. malo) ‘little’;

– pronunciation of short stressed /a/ as [e] and of /i/ and /u/ as [ǝ]: zdej (SSl. zdaj) ‘nowʼ, nǝč (SSl. nič) ‘nothingʼ, skǝp (SSl. skupaj) ‘togetherʼ;

– pronunciation of non-stressed participles -el, -il,-al as [ u ]: reku (SSl. rekel) ‘said’, mislu (SSl. mislil) ‘thoughtʼ, ponuju (SSl. ponujal) ‘offered’;

– pronunciation of /lj/ as [l]: bol (SSl. bolj) ‘more’, školka (SSl. školjka) ‘lavatory bowlʼ;

– pronunciation of /nj/ as [n]: lukna (SSl. luknja) ‘hole’, svina (SSl. svinja) ‘pig’;

– use of only short infinitive: sem ga dal popravlat (SSl. popravljati) ‘I had it fixed’, treba bo napisat (SSl. napisati) ‘it will have to be written’.

The use of  colloquial or lower colloquially colored vocabulary, e.g. arest (SSl. zapor) ‘prisonʼ ← G. Arrest, britof (SSl. pokopališče) ‘cemetaryʼ ← G. Friedhof, crkniti (SSl. umreti) ‘to die’, koštati (SSl. poskusiti) ‘to costʼ ← G. kosten, lušten (SSl. čeden, ljubek) ‘prettyʼ ← MHG. lustec, lustic, merkati (SSl. paziti) ‘to pay attention toʼ ← G. merken, špancirati (SSl. sprehajazi) ‘to go for a walkʼ ← G. spanzieren, štrik (SSl. vrv) ‘ropeʼ ← G. Strick, zastopiti (SSl. razumeti) ‘to understandʼ, sekirati (SSl. vznemirjati) ‘to be upsetʼ ← G. sekkieren, expressive vocabulary: klatiti (SSl. potepati, pohajkovati) ‘to roamʼ, primajati (SSl. opotekajoče se priti) ‘to come totteringʼ, pejorative vocabulary: baba (SSl. ženska) ‘womenʼ, gobcati (SSl. veliko, predrzno govoriti) ‘to mouth offʼ, kreten (SSl. omejen, neumen človek) ‘a jerkʼ, lajdra (SSl. prostitutka) ‘prostituteʼ ← It. ladra and vulgar vocabulary: sekret (SSl. stranišče) ‘toiletʼ ← G. Sekret, kupleraj (SSl. javna hiša, bordel) ‘a brothelʼ ← G. Kupplerei. All of the described is indicative of a highly regional colloquial nature of Smolar's lyrics and is further exemplified by German loanwords that have not been accepted into Standard Slovene, e.g. cajtnge (SSl. časopis) ‘a newspaperʼ ← G. Zeitung, fajn (SSl. fin) ‘fineʼ ← G. Fein, luft (SSl. zrak) ‘airʼ ← G. Luft, pucati (SSl. čistiti) ‘to cleanʼ ← G. putzen, šravf (SSl. vijak) ‘a screwʼ ← G. Schraube.

Smolar's lyrics occasionally contain slang expressions that are most often borrowed from foreign languages, e.g. folk ‘peopleʼ ← G. Volk,  fotr ‘fatherʼ ← G. Vater, mat ‘motherʼ, plata ‘gramophone recordʼ ← G. Schalplatte,  žur ‘a house partyʼ ← Fr. jour fixe. Furthermore, they contain phrases that are particularly expressive from the perspective of Standard Slovene, e.g. biti na tapeti ‘to be gossiped aboutʼ, imeti krompir ‘to have a streak of good luckʼ, lesti v rit ‘to butter someone upʼ, past zijala ‘to be a nosy parkerʼ.

Milan Kamnik, whose trade mark is his vernacular dialectal speech, began his music career in 1995 after the disintegration of the Duo Kora, a duet that he had founded in 1975 together with a friend of his. He is inspired by country style music. At the same time he remains faithful to his native Carinthia and its dialect, which is why it comes as no surprise that more than half of his songs are written in the Carinthian dialect. 

In his songs, both original and arranged ones, recorded on seven CDs (the most recent one Za mušter is from 2010 and was recorded in Nashvill, USA), he reacts with much wit to the current social situation, singing about people and their (social) problems.

All of Kamnik's lyrics reflect very accurately the phonological, morphologi-cal and lexical features of the Carinthian dialect. They are written with the vowel system of the Mežica dialect, but their quality and quantity are not orthographically marked. Also, there are no stress markings.

We thus find both dialectal diphthongs: /ie/, e.g., brieh (SSl. breg) ‘a river bank/hillʼ, liepa (SSl. lepa) ‘beautifulʼ, viem (SSl. vem) ‘I knowʼ, and /uo/, e.g., gospuod (SSl. gospod) ‘Mister/gentlemanʼ, nuoč (SSl. noč) ‘nightʼ, skuozi (SSl. skozi) ‘throughʼ; the long narrow /e/, which developed from the Proto-Slavonic semi-vowel, is written as e: den (SSl. dan) ‘dayʼ, tenka (SSl. tanka) ‘thinʼ. Kamnik is also consistent in his use of the so-called akanje:[4] adn (SSl. eden) ‘oneʼ, deklata (SSl. dekleta) ‘a girl nom. pl.ʼ, ambrt (< enobart) ‘once/once upon a timeʼ. The reduction of short stressed and unstressed vowels into semi-vowels is usually marked by an apostrophe: g'r (< gor) ‘upʼ, k'r (< kar) ‘which/what/since’, lit'r (< liter) ‘literʼ, 'majo ( < imajo) ‘they haveʼ, n'č ( < nič) ‘nothingʼ,  t'k (tako) ‘soʼ.

In accordance with dialectal pronunciation, Kamnik writes the final sonorant velar  /g/ as  [h]: brieh (SSl. breg) ‘a river bank/hillʼ; and the word-final /l/ as [v]: dav (SSl. dal) ‘he gaveʼ, piv (SSl. pil) ‘he drankʼ, dov (SSl. dol) ‘downʼ. The palatal /l'/, hardened into /l/, and /nj/, which has developed into /j/ are also reflected in spelling: bol (SSl. bolj) ‘moreʼ, nedela (SSl. nedelja) ‘Sundayʼ, pelem (SSl. peljem) ‘I driveʼ; gospodija (SSl. gospodinja) ‘housewifeʼ, svija (SSl. svinja) ‘pigʼ. The verb ‘molitiʼ has preserved the Proto-Slavonic cluster /dl/modlt; velars preceeding front vowels are marked for secondary palatalization:  noje (SSl. noge) ‘feet/legsʼ, druj (SSl. drug) ‘an(other)ʼ. Also marked is assimilation of /šč/ into /š/: dvoriše (SSl. dvorišče) ‘a courtyardʼ, zapušaš (SSl. zapuščaš) ‘you leaveʼ. The Carinthian labiodental /v/ and biliabial /w/ú/ are written as v: tvuoj (SSl. tvoj) ‘yourʼ, sviet (SSl. svet) ‘worldʼ, vsak ‘eachʼ, hvače (SSl. hlače) ‘pantsʼ. The sonorants /v/ and /j/ appear also in prosthetic function: voni (SSl. oni) ‘theyʼ, voha (SSl. uho) ‘earʼ, jimene (SSl. imena) ‘names nom. pl.ʼ. Furthermore, the texts are characterized by consonant shifts such as /dn//gn/: gnar (SSl. denar) ‘moneyʼ, /li//j/: tejko (SSl. toliko) ‘as muchʼ, vejka (SSl. velika) ‘bigʼ, /vi//j/: prajimo (SSl. pravimo) ‘we sayʼ.

In morphology, the ending -o in the dative and locative of singular masculine nouns developed from Standard -u: h Tonijo ‘to Tonyʼ, na krajo ‘at the endʼ, whereas the ending -i in the instrumental of singular feminine nouns developed from -oj under the influence of Styrian dialects: za p'či (SSl. za pečjo) ‘behind the stoveʼ. The genitive of masculine nouns in the plural ends in -u: volu (SSl. -ov) ‘of oxenʼ, the locative in  -ah (SSl. -ih): pr gospudah ‘at gentlemen’. Additional features include a strong feminization of neuter gender nouns in the plural: stare lete (SSl. stara leta) ‘old yearsʼ, the genitive ending -iga instead of the standard -ega in the masculine nouns belonging to the adjectival declension: topliga ‘of warmʼ, vsakiga ‘of eachʼ, the 1st person suffix -ma in the dual instead of the standard -va in the verbal conjugation: grema ‘ we goʼ, and numerous archaic dialectal adverbs: ambrt (< enobart) ‘once/once upon a timeʼ, naambrt (< naenobart) ‘suddenlyʼ, pole (< potle, potlej) ‘thenʼ, prvobarti 'the first timeʼ, venč (< več) ‘moreʼ, venčbarte (< večbart) ‘several timesʼ.

Kamnik's lyrics are characterized by rich Carinthian vocabulary. Many of these lexical items were borrowed as early as the Old High German and Middle High German periods, e.g.: ajznpon (SSl. železnica) ‘railwayʼ ← G. Eisenbahn, barati (SSl. vprašati) ‘to askʼ, dečva (SSl. dekle) ‘a girlʼ, devžej (SSl. žep) ‘a pocketʼ ← Bav. Aust. Diebsack, Deubsack, farba (SSl. barva) ‘colorʼ ← MHG. varwe, fehtati (SSl. prositi, prosjačiti) ‘to ask/to begʼ ← MHG. vëhten, gajžva (SSl. bič) ‘a whipʼ ← MHG. geisel, gmajten (SSl. vesel) ‘cheerful/joyfulʼ ← MHG. gameit, gorica (SSl. ograjen prostor za svinje) ‘a pigstyʼ, grivati (SSl. jeziti) ‘to aggravate/angerʼ, gvant (SSl. (moška) obleka) ‘(men's) suitʼ ← MHG. gewant, huba (SSl. posest, na kateri ne živi lastnik) ‘an estate with no owner living on itʼ, ibržnik  (SSl. odvečen človek) ‘a good-for-nothing personʼ ← G. übrig, ofnat (SSl. odpreti) ‘to openʼ ← G. öffnen, pavr (SSl. kmet) ‘a farmerʼ ← G. Bauer, puob (SSl. fant) ‘a boyʼ ← MHG. bav. puobe, r'pica (SSl. krompir) ‘potatoeʼ, ruse (SSl. brki) ‘moustacheʼ, šikana (SSl. elegantna, urejena) ‘elegant/smartly dressedʼ ← G. schick, šrajati (SSl. kričati) ‘shout/yellʼ ← G. schreien, štinge (SSl. stopnice) ‘stairsʼ ← MHG. stëge, štrom (SSl. elektrika) ‘electricity/currentʼ ← G. Strom, vuržeh (SSl. biti kriv) ‘be guiltyʼ ← G. Ursache, žvahta (SSl. sorodniki) ‘relativesʼ ← OHG. slahta.

3. Conclusion

Similar to the situation elsewhere in Europe and as a possible consequence of globalization, Slovenia has recently seen an improvement in the status of dialects. Slovene dialects in general, and dialect prose and lyrical poetry in particular, are becoming more and more common in various kinds of media and in popular culture.

The article focuses on the use of the non-standard Slovenian elements in popular music. The lyrics in pop music, which have to be sensitive to musical expression such as rhythm, represent a fairly accurate imitation of spoken dialect, especially on phonological, morphological and lexical levels.
The most Styrian dialectal characteristics are evident in the lyrics of a popu-lar music band Mi2, mostly on phonetic and lexical levels including colloquial or lower colloquially colored vocabulary, also pejorative and vulgar vocabulary. The popular band Orlek brings as the most distinctive dialectal lexical characteristic loanwords adapted to Slovenian language, largely from German. The popular band Nude's lyrics show almost no non-standard Slo-venian characteristics.

The Carinthian pop lyrics written and sung in the dialect represent its accu-rate and faithful reflection. Marijan Smode's lyrics show almost no non-standard Slovenian characteristics. As far as phonology and morphology of the lyrics of Milan Pečovnik – Pidži are concerned, both its orthography and its interpretation deviate somewhat from the Mežica dialect. Adi Smolar's lyrics strongly show both, phonetic and lexical dialectal characteristic. All of Kamnik's lyrics reflect very accurately the phonological, morphological and lexical features of the Carinthian dialect.

Globalization of society forcing the individual to its opposite, Slovenian language becoming the state language after achieving state independence and the use of the dialect as a means of semantical marking in comparison to the literary language are the main reasons for increasing inclusion of dialectal features into Slovenian popular music. The changes in the use of social varieties of Slovenian language are thus obvious and present an interesting synchronous point of view on language changes for the future use.


Feltrin, Mateja (2002) Družbenokritične pesmi Tomaža Domicelja, Andreja Šifrerja in Adija Smlarja, Diplomsko delo, Ljubljana, Filozofska fakulteta.

Helin, Irmeli (2008) ''Dialect songs – images of our time or a way to escape from globalization?'' in Dialect for all seasons: cultural diversity as tool and directive for dialect researchers and translators, Irmeli Helin (ed.), Münster, Nodus Publikationen: 215–217.

Keber, Janez (2011) Slovar slovenskih frazemov, Ljubljana, ZRC SAZU.

Koletnik, Mihaela (2008) Panonsko lončarsko in kmetijsko izrazje ter druge dialektološke razprave, Maribor, Mednarodna založba Oddelka za slovanske jezike in književnosti Filozofske fakultete.

Koletnik, Mihaela (2008a) ''The Prekmurje dialect in popular music'' in Dialect for all seasons: cultural diversity as tool and directive for dialect researchers and translators, Irmeli Helin (ed.), Münster, Nodus Publikationen:  219–226.

Kukonen, Pirjo (2004) ''Dialects we live by. Globality and locality – dialect as locality'' in Dialektübersetzung und Dialekte in Multimedia, Irmeli Helin (ed.), Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang: 11–20.

Slovar slovenskega knjižnega jezika, http://bos.zrc-sazu.si/sskj.html, Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU, (2000) 2008.

Snoj, Marko (2003) Slovenski etimološki slovar, Ljubljana, Mladinska knjiga.

Striedter Temps, Hildegard (1963) Deutsche Lehnwörter im Slovenischen, Berlin, Osteuropa-Institut Berlin, Berlin-Dahlem.

Slovar novejšega besedja slovenskega jezika (SNBSJ), Ljubljana, Založba ZRC SAZU, 2012.

Slovenski pravopis, http://bos.zrc-sazu.si/sp2001.html, Založba ZRC, ZRC SAZU, (2001) 2010.

Toporišič, Jože (2000) Slovenska slovnica, Maribor, Založba Obzorja.

Zorko, Zinka (1994) Samoglasniški sestavi v narečnih bazah, Ljubljana, SSJLK: 325–343.

Zorko, Zinka (2009) Narečjeslovne razprave o koroških, štajerskih in panonskih govorih, Maribor, Mednarodna založba Oddelka za slovanske jezike in književnosti Filozofske fakultete


This paper was written as a part of the research project on Slovenian language, literature and teaching of Slovenian language (P6-0156).


[1] The name of the phenomenon švapanje originates from the phonological change in the feminine participle of the verb iti ‘go’:  šla → šwa ‘(she) went’.

[2] The first wave of Slovene song-writers and performers appeared in late 1960s under the influence of Bob Dylan. Two most prominent representatives of this wave were Tomaž Pengov and Tomaž Domicelj.

[3] This is a less strict variant of the Standard Slovene norm. It is largely based on the gen-eral non-dialectal language of communication used thorughout Slovenia, particularly in in its central part, i.e. Ljubljana and its more or less urbanized surroundings.

[4] Akanje is the pronunciation of a instead of e.

Dialect or Language – Language Politics behind Translation Strategies

By Eliisa Pitkäsalo (University of Tampere, Finland)

Abstract & Keywords

Where does the border between dialect and language lie? Does it follow the borders of countries? What difference does it make if we decide to handle a source-language novel as dialectal - or not? These are some of the themes I will discuss in my paper focused on Jopparikuninkhaan poika, a novel by Bengt Pohjanen, and its recently published translation in Transylvanian Hungarian. The birth of the novel (which Bengt Pohjanen wrote first in Swedish, later in Meänkieli) is interesting per se, but the relationship between the novel written in Meänkieli and its translation raises specific language-political speculations on dialect and language. In my paper I will discuss, on the one hand, the relationship between Meänkieli and the dialect of Finnish Nordbotten (Peräpohjola), and, on the other hand, the way in which the features of Meänkieli are transposed into the target language. Translating dialects causes problems for translators: what are the strategies the translator chooses when he/she starts to translate a novel written in Meänkieli?

Keywords: Meänkieli, translation, language policy

©inTRAlinea & Eliisa Pitkäsalo (2016).
"Dialect or Language – Language Politics behind Translation Strategies"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2182

In the world there are many idioms which cannot easily be classified as language or dialect. Language forms of this kind also exist in Scandinavia, such as Karelian, Kven and Meänkieli. In this article I will take a closer look at Meänkieli and ponder where the boundary between language and dialect can be drawn. My article will focus on Bengt Pohjanen’s novel Jopparikuninkhaan poika (2009) and the possibility - or impossibility - of its translation. I will concentrate on the Meänkieli version, its Finnish translation Rajan kolmas huone (2011), translated by Jorma Aspegren and Enikő Molnár Bodrogi’s Hungarian translation A csempészkirály fia (2011). My approach is mainly that of translation studies but due to the language-political viewpoint of the topic I will also provide a short review of Meänkieli.

Jopparikuninkhaan poika is a story about life on the border between Finland and Sweden. The narrator is a small boy called Pänktti. The novel is simultaneously a coming-of-age story, a description of a village community trying to survive on the periphery of Sweden and also a history of an entire language minority as Kaisa Mikkola (2011: 53) states in her review of Rajan kolmas huone. The novel can rightfully be called a statement on Swedish policies concerning minorities and languages.

Even the birth of the novel is fascinating. Bengt Pohjanen - a novelist living on the Swedish side of the Torne River and writing in Finnish, Swedish and Meänkieli - wrote the novel first in Swedish, calling it Smugglarkungens son [The Smuggler King’s Son] but it was first published as Jorma Aspegren’s Finnish translation Jopparikuninkaan poika in 2006, and in Swedish only in 2007. In 2009 Pohjanen published a Meänkieli version of the novel called Jopparikuninkhaan poika. In 2011 a new Finnish translation by Jorma Aspegren was published which was called Rajan kolmas huone [The Third Room of the Border]. My research questions are:

1. What difference does it make if a given source text is regarded as written in a specific language or a specific dialect?
2. What kinds of translation strategies have the translators of the Finnish and Hungarian versions used in their translations of Jopparikuninkhaan poika?
3. How does language policy affect the choice of their translation strategies?

From a linguistic typological point of view, Meänkieli is not an independent language. It is not a pure Finnish dialect either as over the past 200 years it has developed in another direction from the North-Western Finnish dialects spoken on the other side of the border. Finland was annexed to Russia in 1809 and the border was drawn according to the Treaty of Fredrickshamn in the middle of the Torne River region. Thus, a historically, culturally and linguistically unified area was split into two and the parts were annexed to two different countries. On the Finnish side, the population became a part of the Grand Duchy while those left on the Swedish side became a peripheral minority in the Swedish kingdom. (Andersson & Kangassalo 2003: 100.) This division has had an effect on the linguistic and cultural identities of the populations and also on the division between languages spoken on different sides of the border.

Drawing a border across a unified language area is a primary reason for the emergence of two forms of language, states Eila Söderholm in her article. Söderholm (s. d.) lists a few reasons why Meänkieli has separated from Finnish. Following the border drawn in the middle of Meän country a policy of ‘Swedishisation’ drew a mental border - which was even stronger than the physical one - between the Finnish minority in Sweden and the mother country. Söderholm writes:

I believe that if these nationalisation policies in Sweden and Finnmark had not existed, and if, through history, Meänkieli speakers and Kvens could have been able to learn Finnish and if they had had Finnish-speaking schools and mass media, if they had been able to take part in the development of written Finnish and if the status of the language had been in every way better, standard Finnish would have suited them as well as it suits the Northern Finns. But as they have been trying to abolish the native languages in these countries and force a majority language on people, the language has grown farther and farther apart from Finnish (Söderholm s. d.).

On different sides of the border, the languages have grown apart mainly because new words have been borrowed by Meänkieli from Swedish, the majority language, whereas Finnish has developed its own words and borrowed terms from the Finnish mass media, for instance. The influence of Swedish on Meänkieli is, according to Söderholm (s. d.), due to the low status of Finnish and Meänkieli in Sweden, compared to the position of Swedish, the dominant language.

In addition to the national border, another supporting factor in the independence of Meänkieli is that, for the inhabitants of Meänmaa, the position of Meänkieli is crucial: it is a part of its national identity (see Huss 2006: 586). Furthermore, linguistic studies show the importance of teaching Meänkieli, not Finnish, in Meänmaa schools, because Meänkieli is already so distant linguistically from Finnish that it is difficult for native Meänkieli speakers to learn and even understand standard Finnish (Winsa 1993).

It is exactly because of language-political reasons that Meänkieli is an independent, regional language; it received its status as an official minority language in Sweden in 2000 alongside with Finnish, Sami, Yiddish and the Romani languages (Andersson and Kangassalo 2003: 30). However, Meänkieli is not a homogenous language: its different variations are spoken throughout the region.

In prose fiction, dialects are used to express colloquial speech in one way or another. In addition to oral discourse, dialects are used as a way of literary expression to enliven the language or as a stylistic device to create an illusion of colloquial speech in dialogues. Dialects are also used in different texts to emphasise the importance of dialectal language. In these kinds of texts - columns or causeries, for example - the dialect is in itself more important than the factual content of the text (Koski 2002: 53). The so-called dialect boom which began in Finland in the early 1990s has given birth to different kinds of dialectal translations. Texts translated from standard Finnish into different dialects include comics (Asterix, Donald Duck), folktales (Parahia tarinoota kersoolle ja aikuusille [Great Stories for Kids and Adults]) and religious literature (for example The Catechism). In addition to dialect translations, fiction is written in different dialects: for instance, Heli Laaksonen writes poetry in the dialect of Uusikaupunki (for example, Pulu uis, 2000), Rosa Liksom writes prose fiction in the North-Western dialect, and Sinikka Nopola uses the dialect of Häme in her novels (Makkonen-Craig & Vaattovaara 2007: 402–406).

Thus, there are examples of the use of dialect in prose fiction, and even in religious literature, but dialects have not yet become common in academic writing and I do not believe that it is going to be the case. The language of science has different demands than the language of prose fiction and actually I do not believe that this thinking pattern will change in academic circles very soon. A question which is of particular interest in the light of this article - the position of Meänkieli as an independent language - is emphasized, for instance, in Birger Winsa’s cultural and academic work: he writes scientific articles in Meänkieli (see for example, Winsa 1993). As for an example, I could mention an academic conference I attended in Budapest in which Enikő Molnár Bodrogi, the Romanian Hungarian researcher and the translator of Jopparikuninkhaan poika, delivered her presentation in Meänkieli.

The translators of a dialect often think that they are translating spoken language; the translators of colloquial language, conversely, often use dialectal expressions in their texts (Tiittula and Nuolijärvi 2007: 400). Although the translators of colloquial prose have to pay similar attention to their work as do other literary translators, their work is not subject to such scrutiny as that of AV translators, for example. On the other hand, readers of a prose text often cannot check a particular section in the original work they have not understood, whereas a viewer of a film who hears – and perhaps also understands – the original language and reads the subtitles simultaneously pays immediate attention to the problems of the AV translator’s work.

The translation of dialects, slang and other colloquial language is first of all bound to time and culture of their creation. Pirjo Mäkinen’s (2001) article focuses on the temporal relations of the source text, particularly from the point of view of re-translation. Language changes constantly, as does slang, dialects and spoken language. A novel written today in the Turku dialect and translated by using a colloquial form of a language will be as obsolete for the modern reader in a hundred years’ time as, for example, Aleksis Kivi’s Seven Brothers. It is not always necessary to retranslate old texts; however, if a translation aspires to the illusion of a contemporary spoken language it might be expedient to consider making a re-translation in the 22nd century, particularly if the aim of the original work has been to retain the freshness of the original language. Similarly, the translation also has to strive for the same purpose. A new translation might also be necessary if the references to culture-bound elements of the language have changed. For instance, the function of children’s literature – the literature for children – changes if the readers, the children, do not understand the text.

In the translation of dialects, one should primarily take into account the links the translated dialect has to the source culture. In addition, the translator needs to note the regional and social position of the dialect and needs to be aware of its political background factors. In fiction, dialect or other colloquial language is often used in dialogue in order to differentiate between characters, who have different dialects or ways of speaking. The best-known Finnish example of the use of dialects is Väinö Linna’s classic novel The Unknown Soldier (1954). The characters of the novel are so strongly based on the regional and cultural backgrounds of their respective dialects that translation might seem impossible. Yet, The Unknown Soldier has been translated into several languages; however, it is likely that the often stereotypical nature and other linguistic richness connected to the characters have not been transposed into the translation.

Researchers of translation have always been interested in the possibilities and impossibilities of translation. The translation of dialects as such may be an impossible task but the illusion of dialectal speech can be created through various means as Liisa Tiittula and Pirkko Nuolijärvi (2007) point out. The translator can use dialectal words here and there, change the word order or use other ways to bring the rhythm of spoken language into the text. When translating into Finnish, the translator can use the colloquial forms of personal pronouns (mä, sä, mie, sie), repetition, particles (no, ai se vai, nyt), short sentences or typically colloquial words or phrases (Ibid. 400). Translating becomes particularly problematic if the source text employs different dialects or other types of speech to differentiate characters with different speech registers.

In the novel’s Finnish version Rajan kolmas huone, the narrator’s voice has mainly been translated into standard Finnish. The translator’s choice has most likely been influenced by the fact that Jopparikuninkhaan poika has been written in standard Meänkieli. However, the narrator of the novel is a small boy, whose rather stiff standard language does not suit at all. The translator has left some traces of Meänkieli in the dialogues, but these do not manage to bring the same kind of feeling of regional and cultural background to the text as the source text does.

It might be that an average Finn does not understand the entire Meänkieli version (mainly because the vocabulary might be difficult) whereas the translation rendered into standard Finnish makes the narration rather inauthentic at least to the modern reader. There is very little left of the juiciness of the Meänkieli version, although the translator has peppered the text with dialect words. Furthermore, the colourful descriptions of local life apparent in the original version lose some of their glow in the Finnish translation. The problem is not that the translation is of a substandard quality; it is due to the translation strategy employed. It would have been possible to adjust the language, so that the translation would have better suited the narration of a small child: the translator could have chosen a Northern Finnish dialect for this purpose. In that case the narrative style would have remained lighter. 

The origins of the Hungarian translation are different from the Finnish translation. Although some regional variation is used in Hungarian fiction in general there is less of it or at least it is different from the Finnish usage. Hungarian dialects differ from each other particularly in their prosodic characteristics: thus, Hungarian texts, when spoken, can be clearly dialectal, but when written down they are not very clearly dialectal (cf. Koski 2002: 54).

In her translation of Pohjanen’s novel, Enikő Molnár Bodrogi has used the typical characteristics of her own language region and therefore the translation retains the lightness of the Meänkieli version as other regional variants would probably also retain. The translator has used dialectal expressions, and yet the text is not linked specifically to the Hungarian cultural environment but rather to Meänmaa culture. This is because the novel includes many culturally bound terms which the translator has left in the text, however, with explanations. This kind of alienating translation strategy takes the reader right to the heart of Meänkieli culture. Moreover, the use of short sentences, which is atypical of Hungarian (literary) texts, renders the text fitting for a child’s mouth.

Mama nincs itt. Nem szeretem itthon. Finnországban, Aino nénéméknél igazi háború van. Itt ülök a menekültházban (here the translator uses a footnote: a háborús menekülteknek, kitelepítettek számára épített házikó), ezt Aino férje, Paavo azért építette, hogy készen álljon, mire a németek tüze kialszik. Vajon miért nem égették fel a németek a mi oldalunkat is? (Pohjanen 2011a: 21).[1]

Mother is gone. I don’t like it at home. At Auntie Aino’s house in Finland the war is real. I’m sitting in the evacuee house (here the translator uses a footnote: small house built for the evacuated war refugees), which Aino’s husband Paavo has built so that a house will be ready after the burning fire of Germany is over. Why didn’t the Germans also burn down our side?

Being short, the sentences give the kind of illusion the novelist has also striven for, namely that of a child’s speech which is consistent with the source text.

When translators begin to work on a novel like Jopparikuninkhaan poika they have to decide whether to use standard language or dialect. In this case, such a decision deals primarily with language politics. The translator inevitably has to take a stand on the status of Meänkieli as an independent language.

The translator also has to decide how to transpose the culturally dependent aspects of the text into the target language. The translator can choose the strategy of alienation, leaving words and phrases of the source language in the text or using otherwise strange words in the target language. This is a worthy strategy, particularly if the words are necessary to understand the context. A good example of this is a description of a baptism ceremony. The minister and the child’s family do not have a common language and as a result the child is given a strange name during the ceremony: Fryyky Sekasti  (Pohjanen 2009: 28–29).[2]

In order to make the origin of the name understood, the original phrase “Fröökynä sen kasto,” has to be left in the target language as well. Molnár Bodrogi has done so, adding an explanation in the text:

Fröökynä se kasto. Vagyis hogy a tanítónő előkeresztelte. És így a fiú neve Fryyky Sekasti lett, ahogy a pap értette a választ. (Pohjanen 2011: 34).

Fröökynä se kasto. Meaning that the (female) teacher baptised him. And so the boy was named Fryyky Sekasti, as that was the way the minister understood the answer.

The translator can also use compensation, which in fact has been utilised by both of the translations I have looked at. Compensation includes dialectal or colloquial words amid the text, bringing the illusion of spoken language. The translators can also use domestication and enter deeper into the structure of language and culture. In this case they will have to decide what can be transposed into the target language so that the source culture is still visible in the text.

Enikő Molnár Bodrogi follows a common strategy of the translation of factual texts in which the translator explains the content of an expression in the source language. She uses a lot of footnotes in her translation which I find a good option when we deal with a culture so distant from the Hungarian one. In the Finnish version, no such explanation is necessary as Meänkieli culture is rather close to Finnish culture. Furthermore, a Swedish dialogue is not necessarily expected to be translated into Finnish, whereas translating it into Hungarian is crucial.

In this article I have looked at Bengt Pohjanen’s novel Jopparikuninkhaan poika and its Finnish and Hungarian translations. On the basis of the translations it seems that it is not insignificant how a translator regards the language of the novel, i.e. whether it is seen as standard Meänkieli or a Finnish dialect. The translator thus makes a choice, both of translation strategy and of language policy. The choice is not simple as the translator has to bear questions of style, for example, in mind. In this particular novel the narrator is a small boy: the kind of person who most likely would not speak the same language variety as an adult, no matter in which part of the world he was living in. The Finnish translator of the novel has thus made a rather curious choice by translating the main part of the novel into standard Finnish. The Hungarian translator, conversely, has chosen to use the local language variety of Transylvanian Hungarian, which is an interesting choice for the translation.

Both translators have used several translation strategies. Both have used alienation but due to the greater distance between the source culture and the Hungarian one, the Hungarian translation utilises more footnotes. Both translators have used compensation in their texts. However, as a whole, these two translations are very different from each other.

Transylvanian Hungarian does not have the same position as Meänkieli but it is in many ways different from the standard language of the mother country. A Hungarian reader will notice the translator’s choices in language and vocabulary but as the translator has left many Meänkieli words in the text, the regional emphasis of the translation will most likely not bother the reader.

As the reader of the Finnish translation, I am bothered by the standard language which makes the narrator’s voice stiff and inauthentic. The difference between the two translations is most likely that the dissimilarities between Finnish and Hungarian written and spoken varieties are not the same: spoken Finnish differs radically from the written standard, whereas the differences between spoken and written Hungarian are mainly prosodic. Another reason for my conflicting emotions about these translations is perhaps that the conventions of Finnish and Hungarian literature are so different. A Finnish reader has got used to texts which strive to create an illusion of spoken text whereas a Hungarian reader is more used to the use of standard language even in those parts of texts which would require the illusion of spoken language.

What the Finnish and Hungarian translations have in common is their goal to support and make the language and culture of Meänkieli visible; this is something Molnár Bodrogi (2010 and 2011) emphasises in her own articles. Although the rendering of Meänkieli in the two translations is very different, they both show that the translators wish to stress the status of Meänkieli as a language, not as a dialect. The translations are not only works of fiction, and thus cultural acts, but they are also political statements.


Andersson, Paula, and Kangassalo, Raija (2003) ”Suomi ja meänkieli Ruotsissa” in Monena suomi maailmalla, Hannele Jönsson-Korhola & Anna-Riitta Lindgren (eds.), Helsinki, SKS:  30–163.

Huss, Leena (2006) ”Uutta kielipolitiikkaa Skandinaviassa: Kenellä on vastuu vähemmistökielten säilyttämisestä?”, Virittäjä 4/2006: 578–89.

Koski, Mauno (2002) ”Murteet muodissa” in Äidinkielen merkitykset, Ilona Herlin et al. (eds.), Helsinki, SKS: 49–74.

Makkonen-Craig, Henna & Vaattovaara, Johanna (2007) ”Murteiden uusi nousu” in Suomennoskirjallisuuden historia 2, H. K. Riikonen et al. (eds.),  Helsinki, SKS: 401–11.

Mikkola, Kaisa (2011) ”Epäoikeudenmukaisuuden historia”, Parnasso 61 (2011) : 3: 52–3.

Molnár Bodrogi, Enikő (2010) „A nyelvnélküliségtől az emberré válásig” in Kultúrák határán. II. köt., Éva Bányai (ed.), Bukarest-Sepsiszentgyörgy, RHT Kiadó: 117–127.

Molnár Bodrogi Enikő (2011) ”Erdélyi kutatóként méenkieli nyelvrokonaink földjén”, Erdélyi Múzeum 2011/2. LXXIII. köt.: 142–151.

Mäkinen, Pirjo (2001) ”Ikinuori lähdeteksti, ikääntyvä kohdeteksti?” in Alussa oli käännös, Riitta Oittinen & Pirjo Mäkinen (ed.), Tampere, Tampere University Press: 407–25.

Pohjanen, Bengt (2009) Jopparikuninkhaan poika, Överkalix, Barents Publisher.

Pohjanen, Bengt (2011a) Csempészkirály fia, Translated by Enikő Molnár Bodrogi, Cluj-Napoca, Koinónia.

Pohjanen, Bengt (2011b) Rajan kolmas huone, Translated by Jorma Aspegren, Ranua, Mäntykustannus.

Söderholm, Eira (s. d.) ”Kainun kielele oma kirjakieli” URL: http://www.kvenskinstitutt.no/sprak/spraknormering/kirjakieli?page=0,0 (accessed 11 March 2013).

Tiittula, Liisa, and Nuolijärvi, Pirkko (2007) ”Puhuttu kieli kaunokirjallisuuden suomennoksissa” in Suomennoskirjallisuuden historia 2, H. K. Riikonen et al. (eds.), Helsinki, SKS: 387–400.

Winsa, Birger (1993) ”Meän kieli ja torniolaaksolaisitten kakskielisyys – Täälä pondathaan sprookit”, Virittäjä 1/1993: 3–33.


[1] In Meänkieli: "Mamma on poijessa. Mie en triivastu kotona. Aino-musterin tykönä Suomen puolela sota on toelista. Mie istun evakkopirtissä, jonka Ainon Paavo oon rakentannu siksi, ette asunrakenus oon valmis Saksan kuuman tulen jälkhiin. Misis saksalainen ei ole polttanu meän puolta” (Pohjanen 2009: 16).

[2] Muonionalustan seurakunthaan tuli norjalainen pappi, jonka nimiki oli meile vieras: Julienbö, norjalisela ö:lä tavattu. Tämä oli ollu tamilien tykönä Etelä-Intiassa misunäärinä. Ruottia se puhu ko pukki venäjää. Suomea se ei koskhaan ollu kuulukhaan. Yhtenä päivän se tuli Parkajoen kylhään, Vaaran talhon kasthaan poikalasta. Talon emäntä oli harjaantunnu pärjäähmään ummikopappien kans ko se tiesi, ette pappi ensin kyssyy kuka lapsen oon kastanu ja sitte mikä sille panhaan nimeksi. Pojasta piti tulla oskar henrik. -- Mutta Julienbö-raukka vishiin käytti tamilien kastejärjestystä eikä kysyny ensin kuka pojan oli kastanu. Se kysy sen nimeä, mutta Vaaran emäntä tietenki vastasi niinku se pruukasi ensimäisheen kysymksheen, ette ”Fröökynä sen kasto.” Ja niin poika sai nmeksi Fryyky Sekasti. (Pohjanen 2009: 28–29).

The parish of Muonionalusta got a Norwegian minister, whose name was even strange to us: Julienbö, spelled with the Norwegian ø. He’d been a missionary with the Tamils in South India. He spoke Swedish like a goat speaks Russian. He’d never even heard spoken Finnish. One day he came to the village of Parkajoki to the house of Vaara, to baptise a small boy. The mistress of the house was used to dealing with ministers she had no common language with, as she knew that the first thing the minister would ask was who has baptised the child, and then what to call it.  The boy was to be called Oskar Henrik. -- But poor Julienbö was apparently using the Tamil order of baptism, because he didn't ask first who had baptised the boy. He asked the name first, but the mistress of Vaara naturally answered, as she always did to the first question, Fröökynä sen kasto. And so the boy was named Fryyky Sekasti (Pohjanen 2009: 28-29).

On the use of dialect in characterising interviewees in magazine articles

By Toini Rahtu (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Abstract & Keywords

This article analyses the use of dialect in characterizing interviewees in magazine articles. The data consist of two Finnish articles and the responses of 77 readers to them. The magazine articles are analysed using a method that is referred to as linguistic response analysis. The interpretations of the respondents are analysed from the perspective of folk linguistics. This analysis is supplemented by a narratological  analysis of the interplay of voices in the articles themselves. Responses to the two textual data in this study were clearly different. The readers thought that one of the interviewees was a positive figure, while the other one got a negative reception. The article demonstrates that this difference cannot be explained only on the basis of the folk linguistic impressions that readers have of a dialect and its speakers. Important also is the way in which the dialect is used in the interplay of voices and levels in the text.  This finding is of relevance to translation studies also: translators need to take into account the relation of dialect features to the scopos as well as overall organisation of the text.

Keywords: dialect image, translation of dialect, translation of irony, nonfiction, scopos of translation

©inTRAlinea & Toini Rahtu (2016).
"On the use of dialect in characterising interviewees in magazine articles"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2181

1. Introduction

Journalists often use dialects to characterize their interviewees in newspapers and magazines. They usually do it by representing the speech of the interviewee with dialect, whereas the other parts of the text are written in standardised language. This may lead to either a positive and sympathetic or a negative and disparaging impression of the interviewee. What is the role of dialect images in these kinds of contradictory impressions? Is it the case that some dialects simply have a positive image, whereas some others have a negative one? Or is it the case that a positive or negative impression of a dialect is created by other linguistic and textual choices that create a positive or negative context for the dialect? To shed light on these questions, this article analyses two Finnish magazine articles whose authors use dialect to represent the speech of their interviewees. One of the interviewees got a positive response from the readers whereas the other one got a negative response. What explains these dissimilar perceptions of the interviews? Since the representation of dialects is often also an issue for translators, not only of fiction but of non-fiction (e.g. newspapers articles) as well, this question is worth investigating in a translation study journal.

This article is organised as follows: section 2 introduces the data and section 3 discusses the theoretical starting points of the article. Section 4 looks at the responses to the interviewees represented as dialect speakers and section 5 analyses these responses. Finally, section 6 brings together and discusses the overall findings with respect to some issues in translation.

2. Data

This section introduces the data of this article: a) the textual data and b) the written responses to the textual data. The textual data consist of two Finnish magazine articles: 1) "A hundred years of Ilona from Kouhi" [Kouhin Ilonan satanen] and 2) "A bachelor evening with Sir Vili" [Poikamiesilta Sir Vilin seurassa]. Since the original Finnish titles of both articles contain their interviewee’s first name, these names are used in naming the articles in the data: case 1 will be referred to as the "Ilona story" and case 2 as the "Vili story". The Ilona story was published in a Finnish weekly magazine "Apu" (7/2012; [The Aid]), whereas the Vili story was published in 1996 in the Saturday supplement "Nyt" (8/1996; [Now]) of the leading independent Finnish newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" [The Helsinki News]. The speech of the interviewees in both texts is represented using dialect features. To make the data accessible to all readers of this article, the translations of dialect excerpts below do not contain any specific English dialect features.  

The Ilona story is about a centenarian country woman who looks back on her own and her family’s life in Pyhämaa, a parish in south-western Finland. Ilona was born on a farm in 1911, six years before Finland became independent, and in the article she recalls memories of three wars and the changing times in Finland after the Second World War. Her lifelong relationship to the farm is also reflected in the title of the article: the name of the farm is Kouhi, and it is used to identify her in the title (Ilona from Kouhi lit. "Kouhi's Ilona"). The Ilona story consists of about 1000 words; here is a short extract from it translated into English:

[From the beginning of the article:] In a place behind the town of Uusikaupunki, where the public road ends between Pyhämaa and Pitkäluoto, lives the oldest subscriber to the magazine Apu, an old country wife Ilona Soini, born Sjövall. She turned a hundred last November. There were 150 celebrators at her birthday party. She is still living where she was born, in the same living room where the hired hand Eino fetched the midwife to assist with her birth in the autumn of 1911[...]

Right now Soini is puzzled by the relationship between Katri-Helena [a well-known Finnish popular singer] and Tommi Liimatainen [Katri-Helena’s manager and alleged boyfriend who is 30 years younger than the singer].

– Katri-Helena’s real dear to me, she is indeed. They’ve got something going on that’s so secret they can’t let on to others [...]

[From the end of the article:] Soini is going at a hundred kilometres an hour and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Like the late lady from Pyhämaa whose husband warned her of the speed limit, she could say:

- A speed limit? Ain’t heard of such a thing!

And there's still the movie about Matti Nykänen to see [Nykänen is a successful ski jumper whose scandalous private life has been reported in the tabloids and yellow press for decades]. And if only the mystery of Katri-Helena could be solved.

Pyhämaan ja Pitkäluodon vaihettumisvyöhykkeellä Uudenkaupungin takana, paikassa, jossa yleinen tie loppuu, asuu Apu-lehden varttunein tilaaja. Kouhin tilan vanha emäntä Ilona Soini, o.s. Sjövall, täytti marraskuussa sata vuotta. Juhlijoita oli 150. Yhä on ympärillä synnyintalo, sama pirtti, jonne Eino-renki syksyllä 1911 kävi hälyttämässä "lastenämmän" lasta päästämään. [...] Juuri nyt Soinia askarruttaa Katri-Helenan ja Tommi Liimataisen tilanne.

– Katri Helena on mul nii rakas, ehrottomasti. Heil on sit nii salanen asia, et he ei voi sanoa toisil, mitä heijän suhtees on. [...]

Soinilla on sata lasissa, eikä meno laannu. Hän voisi sanoa kuin entinen Pyhämaan frouva, jota mies automatkalla varoitteli nopeusrajoituksesta.

– Emmää sunkkan ol kuullu puhettaka semmosest!

Nyt, kun vielä näkisi sen Nykäsen Matista tehdyn elokuvan. Ja selviäisi se Katri Helenan mysteeri.

The other half of the textual data is the Vili story. Its interviewee is a middle-aged businessman originally from Polvijärvi, a parish in North Carelia in eastern Finland. At the time of the interview, he brought Philippine women to Finland as potential wives for Finnish bachelors; he was also known for his politically incorrect opinions about sexual equality. The article describes a "bachelor evening" that the reporters have with Vili: they get drunk in restaurants and talk about women, sexual equality, feminism, and, last but not least, the abundant experiences of the interviewee with women in Finland and across the world. The reporters are represented as novices who want their "master", the experienced lady-killer, to teach them how to pick up a woman. During the long evening, opportunity knocks many times, but each time the interviewee seems to back down in spite of the novices’ support and many encouraging drinks. As a result, the evening ends with not a single woman in their company.

The Vili story consists of about 1500 words; here are some translated extracts from it:

[From the beginning of the article:] A group of men orders booze for the table, a dry Finlandia vodka for each. They are at the restaurant Baker’s Family celebrating a bachelor evening with a true expert on women as their leader. The group consists of novices, that is two reporters and a photographer, and of their invited leader Sir Vili alias Veli Karppanen, 44. As we know, Vili is almost a bachelor again – he is going to divorce his Philippine wife.

In December, Vili’s 25-year-old wife fled from him to a women’s shelter. The afternoon papers reported that Vili had beaten his wife up.

"But it wasn’t like that," corrects Vili and takes a shot. The incident was caused by the so-called schoolmarms, on one hand, and the Philippine veminists [feminists] who live in Finland, on the other. "The damn veminists poked their noses in. They’re the kind of people who aren’t doing so well themselves. They’ll break up even the best of families."

"And that women’s shelter sucks", says Vili as his novices listen. It’s a fucking university for these people. That’s where you’ll find these schoolmarms."

[...] And then to The Old Maestro [a dance restaurant] to ladies’ choice, the group decides. Vili checks out the situation at the door of the restaurant. [...] A woman passes by. She is the same age as Vili and is dressed up in her finest. "Couldn’t take her home. Would scare the kids", Vili promptly responds. [...]

Vili knows what he’s talking about: Finnish women just can’t compete with Philippine women. For instance, there’s a great difference in the favourite body part for Sir Karppanen. "Vilipino [Filipino] women have got a nice pear shape, Finnish women are turnip-shaped."

[...] Even as a young man in Polvijärvi, the master reached astonishing achievements.

"I was 20 and my brother was 16. We had a day off and a terrible hang-over. We started to count the women we had had. My brother had a long list, but mine was about three hundred", Vili declares. Three hundred times? The novices are agape. "No, three hundred women. In those days you’d take up the challenge. Nowadays I couldn’t be bothered. I don't go scrounging for it, it’s the women who come after me. That's the way it should be" [...]

[Near the end of the article:] At four o’clock in the morning the bachelor group is still in the same combination in a taxi, with not a single woman in their company. [...]

Miesporukka tilaa pöytään viinaa, kuivan Finlandia-vodkan jokaiselle. Ollaan ravintola Baker’s Familyssä, viettämässä poikamiesiltaa todellisen naisten tuntijan johdolla. Liikkeellä on oppipoikina kaksi toimittajaa ja valokuvaaja. Ryhmää vetämään on kutsuttu Sir Vili eli Karppasen Veli, 44. Vilihän on taas melkein poikamies – avioero filippiiniläisestä vaimosta on vireillä.

Joulukuussa Vilin 25-vuotias vaimo pakeni turvakotiin. Iltapäivälehdissä kerrottiin, että Vili oli tusauttanut rouvaa turpaan.

"Mutta eihän se niin ollut", Vili oikaisee ja ottaa viinaryypyn. Tapauksen aiheuttivat toisaalta ns. nutturapäät, toisaalta Suomessa asuvat filippiiniläiset veministit. "Veministit perkele pääsi vähän hämmentämään. Ne on semmosia, joilla itellään menee huonosti. Ne saa hyvänkin perheen hajalle."

"Ja se turvakoti on perseestä", Vili sanoo ja oppipojat kuuntelevat. "Se on oikein korkeakoulu tälle alalle. Siellä näitä on näitä nutturapäitä."

[...] Ja sitten Vanhaan Maestroon, naistentansseihin, porukka päättää. Vili katsastaa ovelta tilanteen. [...] Ohitse lipuu parhaimpiinsa laittautunut Vilin ikäinen nainen. "Tuollaista ei kyllä voisi kotiin viedä. Lapset säikähtäisi", Vili lohkaisee. [...]

Vili sen tietää: suomalainen nainen ei pärjää filippiiniläiselle. Eroa on esimerkiksi Sir Karppa-sen lempikohdassa, takapuolessa. "Vilippiinoilla se on nätti, päärynänmuotoinen, suomalaisilla naisilla lanttu."

[...] Mestari pääsi ällistyttäviin saavutuksiin jo nuorukaisena Polvijärvellä.

"Olin 20-vuotias, ja velimies oli 16. Oli luppopäivä ja kova kankkunen. Ruvettiin laskemaan, minkä verran on ollut naisia. Velimiehellä oli aika pitkä lista, mutta mulla oli kolmisensataa", Vili pudottaa. Siis kertojako? Oppipojat kakistelevat. "Eikun se on pääluku. Sillon sitä viitti jotain tehdäkin. Nykyään en paljon viitti. Minä en vonkaa, ne käy kimppuun, mieluummin niin päin." [...]

Taksissa kello neljä poikamiesporukka on yhä samassa kokoonpanossa, eikä yhtään naista ole tarttunut mukaan. [...]

The response data consist of two sets of written responses to the interviews: 1) 56 elicited test answers, and 2) 21 spontaneous letters to the editor. 56 students of translation at the University of Helsinki were asked to read the Ilona story and answer the following question: "What kind of impression does this article make of its interviewee, and how is it manifested in the text?" To keep the respondents’ interpretations as spontaneous as possible, they were not explicitly asked to observe the use of dialect or any other linguistic features of the text. In contrast to the elicited interpretations of the Ilona story, the interpretations of the Vili story are genuinely spontaneous: letters to the editor were sent by the weekend magazine’s authentic readers.

3. Response analysis and narratology as methodological approaches

Research results in the humanities may be more or less influenced by the researchers' background since (s)he investigates phenomena characteristic of the same culture (s)he lives in. In addition to cultural influence, the researchers' theoretical background will have an impact on results. Theory determines the research process in many ways: it affects what is studied and how the problem is defined, what kinds of concepts and notions are adapted in analysing data, and, finally, how the results are interpreted (e. g. Rahtu 2012).  

The method of analysis used in this study is referred to as linguistic response analysis (Rahtu 2011 and 2012), in contrast to the so-called reception aesthetic approaches to fiction (e. g. Jauss 1975; 1982; Iser 1980; Holub 1984). Response analysis aims at reducing the researcher’s speculation about possible interpretations and their relations with textual data. As a result, the observations on the data gain more reliability, as they are not entirely dependent on the researcher’s own intuition. Linguistic response analysis also aims at giving the researcher heuristic assistance in finding differing interpretations of the data and at comparing the different interpretations to linguistic features in the data.   

In this article, the quality of the data defines the theoretical choices. Both texts in the data can be regarded as nonfiction (Hollowell 1977): they are factually based stories that employ techniques used in narrative fiction. Central to the analysis presented here is the way in which the stories mix quotations from interviewees and narrative reporting. This calls for analytic tools that can be used in observing differences between the levels of narrative texts. A tested approach to narrative fiction is narratology, which is based on the idea that narrative texts have several discursive "voices"(Rimmmon-Kenan 1983). Of the many voices postulated in narratology, relevant to this study are two: the narrator’s voice (NV) and the character’s voice (CV). In addition, narrative texts often have passages where narrator’s and character’s voices are mixed (NCV). To illustrate the two voices in a narrative text, a short extract from the Vili story is repeated here with marks added in square brackets to show the distribution of voices:

A group of men orders booze for the table, a dry Finlandia vodka for each. They are at the restaurant Baker’s Family celebrating a bachelor evening with a true expert on women as their leader. [...] Even as a young man in Polvijärvi, the master reached astonishing achievements. [NV]

"I was 20 and my brother was 16. We had a day off and a terrible hang-over. We started to count the women we had had. My brother had a long list, but mine was about three hundred", [CV] Vili declares. [NV]

In distinguishing between the voices, the most important criteria are deictic elements, such as personal pronouns and suffixes, demonstrative pronouns, and tense. In the NV, events and characters are viewed from outside, which is why they are referred to in the third person: They are at the restaurant Baker’s Family celebrating a bachelor-evening with a true expert on women as their leader. The events related in the NV have usually happened before the moment of telling, which is why they are often told in the past tense, as in the Ilona story in many places: She turned a hundred last November. In the Vili story, however, the bachelor evening is described as happening at the same time it is told, which is why its NV is mainly in the present tense: They are at the restaurant etc.

In the CV, the characters of the story are referred to in the first person, since the CV views them from the point of view of the character speaking: I was 20 and my brother was 16. We had a day off and a terrible hang-over.  The time of the events described in the CV is relative to the speech event: simultaneous events are told in the present tense, whereas earlier events, as expected, are reported in the past tense.

The narrative voices form a hierarchy where the narrator’s voice is above the other levels: it is the narrator who sees and describes what the characters do, experience, think and say (Rimmon-Kenan 1983). In studying journalistic nonfiction, narrator and other narratological notions are useful because they help to identify the journalist’s own voice, that is, her/his attitude to the events and characters described. This is due to the fact that in contrast to a fictional narrator’s voice, the reader identifies  a nonfictional narrator’s voice with the journalist her- or himself (Rahtu 2006: 190–193): while a fictional narrator can be totally "unreliable", a journalistic narrator cannot tell lies. From this it follows that using dialect in the journalistic CV does not just reflect the interviewee’s way of speaking, but the narrator-journalist’s way of characterizing her/his interviewee as well. It is also important to bear in mind that written speech representations of dialects are always more or less artificial since it is not possible – nor reasonable – to imitate dialect features in detail (Leech and Short 1981: 167–170). For literary purposes it is more important to create an "eye-dialect" (Leech and Short 1981: 168) that seems right and helps to construe an illusion of speech (Kalliokoski 1998, Tiittula and Nuolijärvi 2013, Keskimaa 2013).

Using nonfiction in magazine articles also allows the writer more freedom in expressing her/his own attitudes and opinions than for instance in news and reports: since the writers of the Vili story, for example, are described as "novices" who want to learn from their "master", they are also described as feeling, acting and speaking characters in the text. 

4. Responses to the dialect representations in the articles

Responses to the two textual data in this study were clearly different. The respondents of the Ilona story thought that the text makes a positive impression of the interviewee, whereas the readers of the Vili story were appalled and disgusted by its interviewee. To support the analysis, these responses should, in fact, be appended to this article (as in Rahtu 2006 and 2011), but to spare space, this section only reports on them.

All the 56 readers of the Ilona story respond in a way that indicates that they have a more or less positive impression of the interviewee. They regard her as an old but cheerful lady who is still going strong; this is reflected in her humorous way of seeing things and her devotion to Finnish celebrities, among other things. The readers also think that the writer of the article respects the interviewee, and 43 readers explicitly connect this to the use of dialect in the text – despite the fact that they were not asked to observe the dialect (see section 2). The following extract from one of the responses is a representative of the responses to the Ilona story:

(1) The dialectal speech of Ilona Soini is the main characteristic of the article. Her way of speaking can also be noticed in the journalist’s own voice. [...] The journalist’s voice seems to be entwined with Soini’s voice. In addition to the quotations there are dialect words such as flikka ['girl' in south-western Finnish dialect] and kaljaasi ['ketch, galleas'].

As in this example 1, specific dialectal characteristics were mentioned in altogether 16 interpretations of the Ilona story; they will be analysed in more detail in section 5.1. In addition to observations about dialect, the respondent above observes the narrative levels of the text: she comments on the "journalist’s voice" [cf. NV] and "Soini’s voice" [cf. CV]. She is one of 13 test persons who mentioned different levels or voices of narration. Only two respondents think that since using dialect sometimes reflects the journalist’s condescending attitude to an interviewee, it might also make the interviewee of the Ilona story seem a little funny or simple.  

The reception of the Vili story was contentious. All the respondents think that the story gives a negative impression of the interviewee because of his male chauvinism, but whereas some think that the reporters are ridiculing the interviewee’s chauvinism, others think that the reporters were chauvinists as well (Rahtu 2006: 110–120). Here is a representative example of the responses to the Vili story, a letter to the editor sent by a female reader:

(2) What went wrong when God’s gift to the women of the world didn’t get any female company at all? Should he practice airopikki [aerobics] for a couple of hours so that the beer barrel around his waist won’t prevent him from striking up a closer acquaintance with women? Or should he revise his opinions about Finnish women?

Good sirs, please don’t follow Sir Vili’s teachings ‒ or else it will be impossible to believe in decent, honest Finnish men.

This is how all the women I meet today think. There are all kinds of women, schoolmarms as well as veminists [feminists]. Some of us have turnip- or pear-shapes and some are the size of a seven-bread oven. Good luck to the great son of Polvijärvi.

Regards from A Young Pear-shaped Schoolmarm

The letters to the editor differ from the elicited responses to the Ilona story in many respects. While the test readers were asked to observe only one aspect of the Ilona story – the impression given of the interviewee – the readers of the Vili story seem to react more widely to the text. They present their own opinions and discuss the characters and events as well as opinions put forth in the article. Typically, response 2 is addressed not only to the interviewee but also to the other readers of the magazine.

Although the respondents to the Vili story focus their responses on commenting on the interviewee’s politically incorrect opinions, their letters also convey their observations on the interviewee’s language. These observations are reflected in their own linguistic choices. In response 2, for instance, the interviewee’s vocabulary is echoed in the reader’s vocabulary, in such words as schoolmarm (Finnish nutturapää lit. bun head), turnip-shape, and pear-shape. These kinds of words are found in almost all letters to the editor. In addition, the interviewee’s dialect forms are echoed in the readers' responses: the respondent in 2, for instance, writes veministi and airopikki instead of the standardized forms feministi and aerobic[s].

In sum, the readers of both the stories react to the use of dialects. The readers of the Ilona story consider dialect to be the writer’s main means of describing the interviewee in a respectful tone. The readers of the Vili story echo the interviewee’s dialect expressions in their letters to editor, which indicates that the use of dialect has influenced their impression of the interviewee. The fact that the readers of both articles comment on the use of dialect spontaneously underlines the importance of dialect for the impression given of the interviewees.

5. What explains the dissimilar impressions of the interviewees?

Can the differing responses to the articles be explained with the different images of the Finnish dialects used in the texts? Or can the responses be explained with the authors’ textual choices that make these dialects seem either positive or negative in their contexts? To analyse these questions, section 5.1 introduces some dialect features of the interviews, and section 5.2 compares these features to the images of the dialects in the light of some folk linguistic notions. In section 5.3, the dialects are related to the textual organisation of voices in the articles. In all sections, the analysis proceeds from the Ilona story to the Vili story.

5.1 South-western vs. North Carelian Finnish dialect

The most common feature in the south-western Finnish dialect used in the Ilona story is apocope, the omission of one or more phonemes at the end of a word. The standardized forms are thus shortened: niin ('so') → nii, heil ('they+adessive') → heil, sitten ('then') → sit, et ('that') → et, toisille ('to others') → toisil, suhteessa ('in relationship') → suhtees.

Another dialect feature is the use of r instead of d in certain phonetic environments: ehrottomasti ('absolutely') instead of ehdottomasti. Yet another characteristic can be seen in words like frouva ('lady') and flikka ('girl'): word-initial f is used in only those Finnish dialects that have borrowed it from Swedish; word-initial combination of two consonants (frouva and flikka) is also rare in Finnish dialects except for those adjacent to Swedish speaking areas. In addition to these phonetic characteristics, the Ilona story uses many local dialect words, such as lastenämmä [childrens’ woman] instead of kätilö ('midwife'), paat instead of vene ('boat'), and suvi instead of kesä ('summer'). Thus, the Ilona story contains many kinds of local features characteristic of the south-western Finnish dialect.

Surprisingly, the dialect features in the Vili story are not as clearly local as in the Ilona story. The Vili story’s CV is not characterized by the most distinct features of North Carelian phonetics, such as broadened diphthongs ae and oe (instead of ai and oi), or diphthongization of long vowels aa and ää (for instance, maa 'earth' and pää 'head' have changed in North Carelian to moa and peä). Instead, the CV is characterized with phonetic features common in almost any Finnish dialect when the speaker does not know how to pronounce loanwords with foreign sounds. This disability is manifested in the CV as substitution of phonemes b and f with p and v. For instance, when speaking about aerobics and bongo drums, the interviewee uses the forms airopikki and pongorummut, and instead of feminists and Filipinos, he speaks about veminists and vilippines. Another feature of the interviewee’s speech is its abundant use of common swearwords, such as paska 'shit', perkele 'damn' (lit. devil) and saatana 'fuck' (lit. satan). Yet another group of inappropriate expressions used in the Vili story's CV refers to intimate parts of the human body, such as perse 'arse', as well as politically incorrect names, such as nutturapäät 'schoolmarm' (lit. bunheads). All these features make the interviewee seem a crude person.

5.2 Images of western and eastern Finnish dialects

The reason why writers use dialects to represent the characters of their texts is the fact that there is a strong connection between dialects and a person's characteristic way of talking (cf. Lane 2000, Remlinger 2006). In other words, dialects are part of a person's idiolect: they indicate not only her/his geographical background but also her/his social and psychological history and characteristics. Folk linguists study laymen’s attitudes to language: what do people think about dialects and certain features in dialects, and how do they express these attitudes in their own linguistic choices (see for instance Preston 2002, Piippo, Vaattovaara & Voutilainen 2016).

Attitudes to local dialects have been analysed from many angles in Finland too. One of the earliest studies showed that in the 1980’s people who had gone to live in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, kept many features of their home dialect if they were from western Finland, whereas people from eastern Finland were more eager to adopt new southern and urban ways of speaking (Nuolijärvi 1986). This seems to suggest there is a clear prestige attached to the western dialects as compared to the eastern dialects of Finnish. However, as Mielikäinen and Palander (2002) show, the picture is more complicated: the images of both western and eastern Finnish dialects are a mixture of positive and negative impressions. For instance, the south-western dialect (used in the Ilona story) is regarded as sophisticated, cheerful and vigorous but also as elitist and exclusive, whereas the Savonian dialect (which includes the North Carelian dialect used in the Vili story) is regarded as jovial and gentle but also as amusing, circumlocutory and crooked.

The folk linguistic studies of Finnish dialect images seem to suggest that it is possible to give a positive as well as a negative impression with both western and eastern Finnish dialects. From this it follows that the impressions given of the interviewee in the Ilona story as positive and in the Vili story as negative are not reflections of the dialect images as such. In addition, as pointed out in section 5.1, since the dialect in the Vili story is not very local, the negative impression of its interviewee cannot be explained with the image of the North Carelian dialect but with the interviewee’s uneducated pronunciation and word choice. 

5.3 Textual organization of the narrative voices

If one considers the benevolent opinions of the interviewee in the Ilona story and the politically incorrect opinions of the interviewee in Vili story, it is no wonder that the readers of the Ilona story have a positive impression of the interviewee and the readers of the Vili story a negative one. But as pointed out in section 4, the readers do not only react to the interviewee’s opinions but to their dialects as well: the readers of the Ilona story think that the use of dialect reflects the journalist’s respectful attitude to his interviewee, whereas some of the readers of the Vili story think that the journalists’ aim is to ridicule their interviewee. To explain these dissimilar interpretations of the use of dialect, this section investigates the organization of the narrative voices in both interviews.

As discussed in section 4, some of the readers of the Ilona story explicitly commented on the organization of narrative voices:

(1) The dialectal speech of Ilona Soini is the main characteristic of the article. Her way of speaking can also be noticed in the journalist’s own voice. [...] The journalist’s voice seems to be entwined with Soini’s voice. In addition to the quotations there are dialect words such as flikka and kaljaasi.

In response 1, the reader recognizes different levels of narration: she mentions the journalist’s as well as Soini’s voice, and the use of dialectal words in both of them. She even mentions that the voices are entwined: there are dialect words such as flikka and kaljaasi not only in the quotations (= CV) but elsewhere (= NV) too. Indeed, there are several NV sections in the Ilona story where one can find the interviewee’s dialect words. They are sometimes separated with quotation marks from the rest of the NV, which could be interpreted as a sign of the NV’s detachment from the CV. But judging by the test readers’ positive impressions of the interviewee, the mixing of voices in the Ilona story has been interpreted as expressing the journalist’s respectful attitude to the interviewee.  

At first sight, the organization of voices in the Vili story seems quite similar to the Ilona story: there are also interviewee’s words in the Vili-story’s NV:

The incident was caused by the so-called schoolmarms, on one hand, and the Philippine veminists who live in Finland, on the other hand.

The interviewee’s words in this example are separated from the narrator’s voice with italics and the expression so called, much in the same way as occasionally in the Ilona story. To understand what led the readers of the Vili story to a dissimilar interpretation of the narrator’s voice, we have to look at other parts of the Vili story where the interviewee’s and narrator’s voices are mixed in ways that are not used in the Ilona story.

The following extract is from the very end of the Vili story, where the novices are described as finally changing their attitude to the interviewee from admiration to suspicion and rejection:

Master Vili’s words echo in the novices’ heads. [NV] Young. Pretty. Pear-shaped. Obedient. Veminist. Schoolmarm. [NCV] Is that all there is to it? Master, what is the meaning of simple, true love between two people? [CV]

"Well, I do love people," [CV] replies Vili from the front seat [NV]. "You love people, it’s just that the target keeps changing. And I love the whole Vilipino people." [CV]

The interviewee’s words are first represented in the narrator’s and character’s mixed voice (NCV): Young. Pretty. Pear-shaped. Obedient. Veminist. Schoolmarm. By definition, this NCV's voice does not belong to the interviewee only but to him and the narrator-novices together: the novices are reported as echoing their master’s voice in their thoughts. Then the NCV slides into CV echoing the novices’ voice without mixing it with the interviewee’s voice which means that the novices' attitude changes: Is that all there is to it? Master, what is the meaning of simple, true love between two people? The thoughts and ways of talking represented in the CVs from here to the end of the story echo the interviewee’s voice alone, with no mixing with the narrator's voice. This can be interpreted as a sign of the journalists’ final detachment from the interviewee: they are no longer novices admiring their master but allow Sir Vili to talk for himself. In other words, they no longer want to give any impression of supporting his ideas.

The main difference in the organization of voices of the Ilona story and the Vili story is the degree of visibility of narrator. The narrator of the Ilona story is merely a level in the text, a point of view from where the interviewee is seen. Because the narrator is not described as a person, there are no actual manifestations of the journalist’s own thoughts either. The test readers did not find any tension between the NV and CV of the Ilona story because the narrator simply seems to adopt the interviewee’s own expressions and dialect as such.

In contrast to the technical and almost invisible narrator of the Ilona story, the narrator of the Vili story can be seen as a kind of author surrogate: it is made visible by the creation of the novices as characters in the story; the novices, in turn, are seen as representing the actual journalists who wrote the story. This narration technique seems to exploit the characteristic of nonfiction that the readers often identify its narrator with the journalist’s or journal’s voice (cf. section 3). The identification of narrator, novices and journalists is exploited in the story to convey the journalists’ attitude: Firstly, the story as such proves that there is a vast gap between the interviewee’s self-image and his actions: while the interviewee maintains that he does not have to go begging for women, the lack of success during the evening proves that he does not know how to approach the opposite sex. Since this state of affairs is made evident in the NV, it can be interpreted as reflecting a conflict between the journalists’ own opinion and those of the interviewee. No wonder the letters to the editor mock Sir Vili for his “success”. Secondly, as pointed out above, the narrator-novice-journalists’ true attitude to the interviewee is revealed at the latest at the end of the story, where the novices clearly dissociate themselves from the interviewee’s words. Thirdly, as pointed out in section 5.1, the interviewee's CV in the Vili story picks up features that are common not just in the North Carelian dialect but in any Finnish dialect if the speaker does not know how to pronounce foreign words. This makes the interviewee seem a country bumpkin, which, in turn, diminishes his credibility as an opinion-holder in the issues that the characters of the Vili story talk about. 

6. Concluding remarks and implications to issues of translation

The comparison of the two stories of the data of this article has shown that the impression given of the interviewee through the use of dialect depends not only on the dialect image as such but on the organization of text levels and the discursive hierarchy of voices as well. In order to investigate the consequences of dialect use in the texts analysed here, it was important to compare the NV and CV in the stories. In the Ilona story, the CV is characterized with many local dialectal features that are combined with a fairly neutral NV. Judging by the respondents’ interpretations of the Ilona story, this combination creates a good impression of the interviewee: the respondents felt that the purpose of the article is to use local dialect to characterize an old woman who has spent all her life in the same district. In the Vili story, the NV was interpreted as conflicting with the CV; hence the readers interpreted the dialect characteristics in the CV as the journalists’ deliberate means to create a picture of an uneducated, ignorant and politically incorrect interviewee.

The use of dialect in characterizing interviewees in magazine articles is a relevant subject of translation studies, as it illustrates how implicit meanings, especially critical ones, can be created in a text. In order to be able to translate implicit meanings, such as irony, adequately, a translator should relate them to the scopos of the original text (cf. Reiss and Vermeer 1984; on the translation of irony, see e. g. Barbe 1995: 145–169, Mateo 1995). For instance, why is the journalists’ opinion of the interviewee of the Vili story implied in the use of dialect? The answer seems to lie in the genre of the text (cf. Reiss 1989). As mentioned in section 3 above, the Ilona story and the Vili story can be regarded as nonfiction since they are written in much the same way as narrative fiction with its discursive hierarchy of voices. One of the purposes of nonfiction as well as narrative fiction is to entertain readers with ambiguous, playful language that engages them more than ordinary, plain journalistic style. Nonfiction often aims at giving its readers the pleasure of finally solving the riddles of the text by themselves.

If a translator wants to maintain the scopos of the original text in her/his translation, (s)he should not reveal the secret of the original text – instead, (s)he should translate the text in a way that conceals its secret between the lines and allows the readers to discover it for themselves.  In order to do this the translator should, for instance, analyse the purpose of the use of dialect in the original text.  If the purpose is to transmit the image of a dialect "as such", as seems to be the case in the Ilona story, it might be efficacious to translate the original dialect into a target language dialect that shares approximately the same kind of image. If the dialect in the original text is used to make implicitly critical impression of the speaker, it is important to observe the selection of dialect characteristics. In the Vili story, for instance, the dialect features seem to be selected in a way that transmits not a local but a generally uncouth impression of the interviewee. This, in turn, reveals the implicit negative attitude of the authors.

When translating dialect features, it is important to find features in the target language that give the same kind of impression of the speaker as in the original text. Sometimes these features can be found in the target language’s dialect, but sometimes it might be efficacious to use other features of language that convey more or less the same impression. The kinds of translation strategies (e. g. Baker 1992, Chesterman 1998) needed is a question for future research.


Baker, Mona (1992) In other words: A course book on translation, London, Routledge.

Barbe, Katharina (1995) Irony in context, Amsterdam and Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

Chesterman, Andrew 1998: “Communication strategies, learning strategies and translation strate­gies”. In: Kirsten Malmkjær (ed.) Translation and lan­guage teach­ing: language teaching and translation, Manchester, St Jerome: 135–144.

Hollowell, John (1977) Fact & fiction. The new journalism and the nonfiction novel, Chape Hill, The University of North Carolina Press.

Holub, Robert C. (1984) Reception theory. A critical introduction, London and New York, Routledge.

Iser, Wolfgang (1980) "Interaction between Text and Reader". In: The reader in the text: Essays on audience and interpretation, Susan Suleiman and Inge Crosman (eds), Princeton, Princeton University Press: 106–119.

Jauss, Hans Robert (1975) "Der Leser als Instanz einer neuen Geschichte der Literatur", Poetica 7/3–4: 325–344.

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Kalliokoski, Jyrki (1998) "Hj. Nortamon murrekertomukset ja puhutun illuusio" [The dialect stories of Hj. Nortamo and the illusion of speech]. In: Sanan voima. Keskusteluja performatiivisuudesta [The power of word. Discussions on performativity], Lea Latinen and Lea Rojola (eds), Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura [Finnish Literature Society]: 184–215.

Keskimaa, Sari (2013): "Murteenkäytön funktiot parisuhteen kuvauksessa Päätalon Iijoki-sarjassa" [Functions of dialectal language use in the description of a realationship in the Iijoki series by Kalle Päätalo], Virittäjä 4: 494–523.

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Rahtu, Toini (2006) Sekä että. Ironia koherenssina ja inkoherenssina [Both and: Irony as coherence and incoherence], Helsinki, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura [Finnish Literature Society].

--- (2011) "Irony and (in)coherence: interpreting irony using reader responses to texts", Text & Talk 31–33: 335–354.

--- (2012) "Lingvistinen reseptioanalyysi tekstilajitutkijan palveluksessa" [Linguistic reception analysis at the service of a genre analyst]. In: Genreanalyysi – tekstilajitutkimuksen käsikirja [Genre analysis – a handbook], Vesa Heikkinen, Eero Voutilainen, Petri Lauerma, Ulla Tiililä and Mikko Lounela (eds), Helsinki, Gaudeamus: 433–440.

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Textual data

Kemppainen, Jouni K. and Teppo Sillantaus (1996) "Poikamiesilta Sir Vilin seurassa" [A bachelor-evening with Sir Vili], Nyt 8/1996 [Now]: 7–9.

Lehtola, Jorma (2012) "Kouhin Ilonan satanen" [A hundred years of Ilona from Kouhi], Apu 7/2012 [The Aid]: 52–55.

Ya care how me speaks, do ya?

The translation of linguistic varieties and their reception

By Sara Ramos Pinto (University of Leeds, UK)

Abstract & Keywords

This article presents the preliminary results of a questionnaire-based reception study of some of the strategies and tactics translators opt for in subtitling when faced with the challenge of translating non-standard discourse. The study focuses on two main strategies – presented as strategy of centralization or normalization of discourse and strategy of decentralization in the present study – and several tactics identified as the most common in a descriptive study based on twelve Portuguese translations of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady. The strategies identified in this study are briefly presented in this article as well as the contextual factors and working assumptions behind them. This is followed by the discussion of the data collected in the reception study, which brought some of those assumptions into question.

Keywords: Translation of linguistic variation, literary translation, theatre translation, audiovisual translation, reception

©inTRAlinea & Sara Ramos Pinto (2016).
"Ya care how me speaks, do ya?"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia III
Edited by: Koloman Brenner & Irmeli Helin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2180

1. Introduction

The use of linguistic varieties in a fictional product – a literary text, a film, a theatre play – raises important questions for the study of translation as such use is always embedded in the source text with pragmatic and semiotic significance. The translator faces a challenge in relation to the presence of a linguistic variety in the source text which reflects the close relationship between the speaker, the medium and the context in which it appears. Such linguistic variety evokes and explores extralinguistic knowledge (hierarchically organising both the varieties and the speakers) and becomes a moment of tension (Lane Mercier 1995; 1997), a ‘culture bump’ (Leppihalme 1997), as the linguistic elements are both culturally conditioned and socially regulated.

The main purpose of this paper is to present the preliminary results of an experimental reception study of subtitling which focused on investigating the impact of some of the strategies and techniques employed by translators when faced with the challenge of translating non-standard discourse. After a brief discussion of the function fulfilled by linguistic variation in fictional works, this article will revisit some of the strategies and techniques identified in a small corpus of twelve Portuguese translations (for print, stage and screen) of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady. This will be followed by a discussion of the results of a reception study which focused on investigating the effect of some of those strategies and techniques on the viewers’ definition of the characters’ profile, power relations and overall interpretation.

2. Linguistic varieties in literary text

The creative use of linguistic varieties in literary dialogue contributes to informing the reader who is speaking and the circumstances in which he/she is speaking. This type of use proves to be a textual resource which defines the character’s sociocultural outline in addition to his/her position within the sociocultural fictional context. This element also leads to the stratification of the participants in the dialogue since based on extra-linguistic factors, the speakers tend to associate the standard variety (officially established as the correct language use) with greater prestige and to devalue all other varieties, which are culturally associated to peripheral geographic spaces and to lower sociocultural status. The degree of linguistic mimicry is thus mediated by the author’s aesthetic, narrative, thematic and stylistic objectives, but also by consideration for their readership/audience and factors such as legibility, intelligibility and medium (Blake 1981, 1995; Page [1973] 1988; Chapman 1994). The literary recreation of a linguistic variety is then based on a previous selection and is truly a ‘pseudo-variety’ (Rosa 2004), a fiction Olga Brodovich has labelled as ‘scenic dialect’ (1997: 26). When recreating linguistic varieties, the author, as well as the translator, resorts to sociolinguistic stereotypes which are known to form part of public knowledge, i.e., those which are associated with a subcode which the public understands easily (Blake 1981, 1995; Page [1973] 1988). For this reason, it is important to discuss the translators’ decision whether or not to recreate and the way in which he/she chooses to do so, as this decision can modify, or even subvert, the work’s system.

3. The Portuguese translations of Pygmalion and My Fair Lady

In a previous article (Ramos Pinto 2009), I discussed in detail the different strategies and techniques identified in the twelve Portuguese translations of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Alan Jay Lerner’s My Fair Lady. This corpus included translations from the 20th Century (1945-2001) intended for print publication, theatre performance and subtitling, thus allowing the identification of the main strategies and techniques translators opted for when translating non-standard discourse. Additionally, it also enabled the unveiling of certain contextual factors m