Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon

By Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar)

Abstract

Each culture has its specificities that are governed by its socio-cultural norms. Cultures that share the same values and worldviews tend to facilitate the task of translators to transfer specific socio-cultural references to their own audience with minimal intervention. However, translators of distant cultures may find themselves at the mercy of many unsurmountable constraints and need to mitigate transmitting foreign content by resorting to either creative ways or even through blatant manipulation.

This paper investigates the transadaptation of Western socio-cultural references of an audiovisual corpus dubbed for Arab audiences. The study looks at how, and to what degree, the Arabic translator managed to render these elements, and what intrinsic or extrinsic factors were behind any shifts in the process.

The corpus examined was selected from The Simpsons: Seasons 1, 2 and 3; which was dubbed into Egyptian vernacular in 2005. The series addresses many sensitive issues with candour rarely seen in animated programmes. Because it is animated, it is generally assumed that The Simpsons targets children and teenagers; however, because of its satirical character and some of the themes that it tackles, it is looked at with suspicion and vigilance in the Arab World.

Drawing on notions such as culture, ideology, manipulation, while leaning on the Descriptive Translation Studies framework and using Discourse Analysis as a tool to unveil any shifts in translation, the results demonstrate clear manipulation of the source text by the translator which seems to be attributed to his own agenda or the influence of patronage.

Keywords: The Simpsons, dubbing, manipulation, ideology, culture, Discourse Analysis

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1. Introduction

Translation has a paramount effect on shaping cultural and national identities and enhancing or undermining entities (Bassnett, 1996; Fawcett, 1998; Lefèvere, 1992). Translation is far from being a mere transfer of ideas above suspicion; research shows how, in the process of translation, ideas, notions and, at times, complete ways of life can be censored and manipulated. The process even embeds codes to undermine the target culture or change perceptions. Bassnett (1996: 22) states that, ‘[o]nce considered a subservient, transparent filter through which a text could and should pass without adulteration, the translation can now be seen as a process in which intervention is crucial’.

The translator’s intervention, ideologically motivated or otherwise, can have far reaching implications on the target audience. Alvarez and Vidal argue that the translator’s choice to select, add or omit any words, or even place them in a given order in the text is an indication that ‘there is a voluntary act that reveals his history and the socio-political milieu that surrounds him; in other words, his own culture and ideology’ (1996: 5).

This intervention is arguably more prevalent in Audiovisual Translation (AVT) modality of dubbing, in which the source verbal-text is completely removed and replaced by that of the target language (Chaume, 2012), leaving the door wide open for manipulation.

2. Case study and research focus

One of the main reasons that researchers in Translation Studies are so intrigued by culture and its various sub-cultures, like popular culture, is its ability to reveal and foreground public consciousness as well as the role it plays in creating solidarity and cohesion between same-culture masses and a schism between various classes. It is exactly this important role culture plays in the manifestation of social consciousness that this study aims to investigate; how Western cultural elements in The Simpsons were reproduced or not in its Arabic counterpart Al Shamshoon. It is important to state that, despite the fact that a considerable number of Arabs are non-Muslims and represent a religious mosaic in the Middle East and North Africa, they still share homogenous socio-cultural values almost as if they were one ethnic and religious unit. It is on the basis of this understanding that we use ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ in this study.

Twenty-six episodes of the famous American animated sitcom The Simpsons, which were dubbed into the Egyptian vernacular and broadcast on MBC channel in 2005, were selected as a case study. It is worth noting that only four seasons of the sitcom have ever been dubbed into Arabic. This selection stems from two main observations a) the rich content in the show and its representation of the Western culture and b) the mammoth challenges this content presents to the Arabic translator.

The episodes in question were transcribed, then the instances selected from the original and their dubbed counterparts were contrasted and analysed. A back-translation was provided for non-Arabic speakers.

3. Theoretical framework

This study draws on various notions such as of culture, ideology, and manipulation and leans in its analysis on the Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) framework, as it is very helpful for the study of AVT, as argued by Díaz Cintas (2004), mainly because it includes no presumptions of premeditated manipulation. In fact, although it takes into account the source text, this paradigm shifts the main focus towards the function of translated text in the target socio-cultural context. This flexibility in the paradigm renders it helpful in the study of newer forms of translation.

The use of the DTS paradigm also resolves the issue of whether or not dubbing is considered a form of translation due to the intrinsic equivalence problems involved. Toury (1995) argues that equivalence is always assumed, and the only thing that needs to be done is to establish the form that this equivalence takes.

Lambert and Van Gorp (1985) bring to our attention the many relationships, other than the most obvious one between source text and target text, which deserve the attention of translation scholars, such as that between the target text and original texts in the target language. Despite the fact that the relationship between the target text and the reader is significant in the discussion of acceptability, the relationship between the source text and the target text remains the focal point of Toury’s (1995) model of analysis. This can be seen through the use of ‘coupled pairs’. These constitute ‘solution + problem’ units (Toury, 1995: 38), which are recognised and taken from the source text/target text pairs under study.

Although Toury (1995) regards translations as facts of the target culture, and all his analyses begin with the translation and not the source text, it is vital to contrast both the source and the target texts. This is because, the former contains the various elements under study, and the latter demonstrates how these elements were conveyed into Arabic, which is the prime objective of this research. Nonetheless, the emphasis is on the translated version and how it is manipulated and/or subverted in order to fit within the socio-cultural and religious norms of the target culture.

4. Culture and translation

Since the cultural turn, Translation Studies scholars have started to examine various thorny translation issues from their diverse cultural perspectives. Snell-Hornby (1988) advocates a culture-oriented translation theory and succinctly argues for translation as a cross-cultural communication process. Concepts like history, function, rewriting and manipulation were introduced in translation studies by Bassnett and Lefèvere (1990), who claim that the process of translation should function as per the cultural requirements of the target audience. In order to uncover and analyse limitations on the apparatus of translation and various norms that translators abide by, Lefèvere (1990) introduces the theory of patronage, poetics and ideology, which probes the process of translation by placing literary systems into social and cultural contexts.

Thanks to many scholars such as Bassnett, Calzada-Pérez, Lefèvere, Schäffner, Toury, Tymoczko and Venuti, the focal point shifted towards the role of agency or what has become known as the power turn, as suggested by Tymockzo and Gentzler (2002), where it is ideology in its various aspects that determines the outcome of translation. Ideology and translation are inextricably linked — a text to be translated is determined by agents’ interests and aims, and ideological markers are embedded within the text itself both at lexical and grammatical levels (e.g. selection of particular words and expressions, and the use of passive voice etc.).

Critical discourse analysis (CDA) can help in understanding these processes when it is used ‘to expose the ideological forces that underlie communicative exchanges (like translating)’ (Calzada-Pérez, 2003: 2). CDA theorists argue that language use as a whole is ideological; hence translation is a major site for ideological encounters. In support of this point, Schäffner (2003a: 23) suggests that ‘the choice of a source text and the use to which the subsequent target text is put are determined by the interests, aims and objectives of social agents’. This implies that translation is a process that manipulates, rewrites and produces new texts that comply with target language and socio-cultural norms. Translations, as Lefèvere (1992a) claims, ‘whatever their intention, reflect a certain ideology and poetics and as such manipulate literature to function in a given society in a given way. Rewriting is manipulation undertaken in the service of power’ (ibid: vii).

If we accept the assumption that every aspect of human life is governed by one form of ideology or another, then the exercise of translation becomes a prime suspect every time it is practised. If, on the other hand, one agrees that the ‘original is impossible to find’, this opens the door of ‘permissibility’ wide open (ibid), freeing the translator from the shackles of the source text, to take complete control over the manner in which they render it. All they need is an ideological cover.

So how does ideology manifest itself in translation? According to Tymoczko (2003), ideology in translation is a melange of the source text content and the various acts represented that are relevant to the source context, as well as the content and its relevance to the target audience and the variety of the speech acts utilised in the process of translation addressing the target context and the various differences between the two processes. In addition, there is the position and the voice of the translator and its intent; the translator as an interpreter of the source text and the producer of the target text seems to possess considerable power to mould the outcome and steer it in the desired direction. True as this assumption might be, the translator is not the only mastermind of this operation; rather, many external actors interject their own views and visions and, in many cases, impose them on the translator.

It is important to state that since it is quite difficult for the Arab audience, especially those with little exposure to Western culture, to make a connection between various source socio-cultural references, we decided to analyse only the translation of elements specific to the American (US) culture, excluding references to other cultures. It is also equally important to note that the manipulative treatment of audiovisual material dubbed into Arabic is by no means exclusive to The Simpsons. The phenomenon is entrenched in Arab governments’ censorial policies which have a debilitating effect on the industry’s practice itself. Gamal (2009: 3) asserts that the industry in Egypt is under constant monitoring by the Censorship Office and is required to adhere to its rules: “no explicit sexual language, no blasphemous reference to the Almighty, prophets or revealed Books, and no swear words were allowed”. A good case in point is the “the moral face lifting” Sex and the City received in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where it was stripped of its sex scenes and then was never broadcast (Al-Adwan & Yahiaoui, 2018: 85). In Saudi Arabia, the most conservative Arab country, a fatwa was issued to kill the owners of MBC (the Dubai-based private broadcaster) for ‘airing religiously immoral matters’ following the broadcast of the Syrian dubbed Turkish series Gumus in 2008 (Elouardaoui, 2013: 35).

Despite the prominence of Latin America Telenovelas and Turkish series on both terrestrial and satellite channels in the Arab World, only those that conform to Arab and Muslim socio-cultural norms are selected. Those that pass the initial filtering are usually subjected to further editing of love scenes, sexual situations or excessive violence. In this vein, Elouardaoui (2013: 96) states that the Moroccan TV channel 2M, which airs Telenovelas, constantly censors ‘culturally inappropriate dialogue’ and thus words such as ‘whore’ have been replaced by ‘immoral’ or ‘debased’ and ‘have sex with’ by ‘have a relationship with’. Contracted translators working on The Devil Knows Best series were ‘given strict orders’ to ‘drastically diverge from the original script’ when necessary (ibid: 97). 2M even cancelled Ugly Betty when it discovered that it dealt with issues of transsexuality (ibid: 102).

Although, it could be argued that the Turkish series have more socio-cultural proximity with the Arabs than Western programmes, as they conform more closely to the socio-cultural norms of the Arab society, with their ‘modern’ perception of religious and cultural values and the bold way they tackle various ‘taboo’ issues such as cohabitation, having children out of wedlock, consumption of alcohol etc., these series were subjected to significant manipulation in order to be approved by Arab censorship boards (cf. Buccianti 2010; Kraidy 2012).

It is worth noting, however, that MBC introduced a ‘pay to watch’ service channel (MB+) to broadcast uncensored Turkish Soap Operas. This move came in response to the popularity of the ‘uncut’ series on the Internet. This shift in the conventional broadcasting reflects the increasing rift between the conservatives and the modernists in the Arab society and the impact of the World Wide Web on reconstructing socio-cultural norms.

In what follows, we look beyond the conventional approach of addressing linguistic transfer issues and focus on the analysis, in greater detail, of the choices made by the Arabic translator in the process of transferring socio-cultural references in order to point to “the need to understand and acknowledge one’s cultural predispositions and biases” as well as “a translator’s engagement with the culture of the self as well as the cultures of others” (Tymoczko, 2007: 254)

5, Western socio-cultural references

Socio-cultural references are culturally exclusive elements of a given culture which are foreign to the TT audience. Ergo, they tend to pose a significant challenge to translators. Given the intricate notion of the concepts of culture and religion, we perceive religious references to constitute a significant part of culture and are used as such in this paper. Many scholars such as Nedergaard-Larsen (1993); Romero Fresco (2006); Pedersen (2007); Dore (2009); Zanotti (2012); Gottlieb (2014); Ranzato and Zanotti (2018), to name a few, have studied the issues governing the translation of cultural references in AVT. Whitman Linsen (1992) argues that translating culture-specific content is very intricate. In addition to dealing with patrons and censorship issues, the translator needs to make well-informed decisions in order to make culturally foreign, and at times completely alien, material clear to the target audience. Things that are taken for granted by the source language audience belonging to homogenous linguistic and cultural communities, which in turn shape their moral values, political affiliation, identity and aesthetic tastes, all have to be carefully analysed and adequately rendered to conform to the target audience’s own expectations. This is because, as Whitman Linsen suggests, when the target audience is exposed to a foreign film ‘the threads interwoven in the particular socio-cultural skein have to be rewound for those coming from different backgrounds’ (1992: 125).

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Barney: Hi, Estelle? Will you go to the prom with me (7F12)

أهلاً سامية، تتمشى ف الجنينة معايا؟

Hi Samia, care to walk with me in the garden?

2. Grampa: We never danced the hootchy-koo either (7F11)

وهو احنا عمرنا رقصنا بلدى يعنى.عايز تقول ايه؟

We have never tried the folk dance. What do you mean?

3. Marge: Homer, is this some kind of stag-party? (7G10)

عمر، دى حفلة توديع العزوبية؟

Omar, is this a celibacy-farewell party?

4. Homer: Oh, I went to thousands of heavy metal concerts ... and it never hurt me (8F21)

يا منى، ماانا رحت مليون حفلة موسيقى شبابية و ماحصليش حاجة

 

Mona, I have been to a million of youth concerts and nothing happened to me.

5. Homer: Are you nuts? That’s the Super Bowl. How about the Sunday after that (8F12)

برعى انت عبيط؟دا نهائى الدورى.ايه رايك الحد اللى بعده؟

Burai, are you stupid? It’s the championship final. How about the Sunday after?

6. Kent: Thanks for your help. This reporter smells another Emmy (7F07)

شكراً على المساعدة يا رجالة. البرنامج بتاع النهارده كان حلو قوى

Thanks for the help guys. Today’s programme was fantastic.

7. Kids: Trick or treat, man. (8F02)

يا حلاوة يا شقاوة

Sweets or kicks

8. Dr. Hibbert: I won't show the horrors of our Three Stooges ward (7F06)

و مش حاحتاج أوريلك باقى الحالات المرعبة اللى عندنا

I need not show you the other horrible things we have.

9. Bart: Mom and Dad have been kissing (7F02)

ماما و بابا رجعوا يحبوا بعض تانى

Mum and dad love each other once again

10. Bart: He has a girlfriend.
Marge: Milhouse?
Bart: Yeah. All they do is kiss.
Marge: How cute. They don’t open their mouths, do they? (8F22)

أصله مصاحب بنت

 ملوانى؟

أيوه..و طول الوقت باصين ف السقف

لطيف قوى. بيبصوا فى السقف؟

 

He befriended a girl

Milawany?

Yeah! And all the time they look at the ceiling

How nice! They look at the ceiling?

Table 1 Examples of Western socio-cultural references

The Simpsons has employed a wide range of socio-cultural references over the cast years, so much so that such references have become an essential component of humour and satire in the show..

Some of these references were relatively difficult to translate because they have no equivalent in the Arab society, such as ‘going to the prom’, ‘stag-party’, ‘the Emmy’, and the ‘Super Bowl’. The Arabic translator eliminated any reference to the Prom ball, as this indicates teenage courting, mixed partying and the dangers such practices are perceived to pose in Arab society. He simply referred to it as ‘تتمشى ف الجنينة معايا’ (walk with me in the garden). He translated ‘stag party’ as it is understood in Western culture ‘حفلة توديع العزوبية’ (celibacy-farewell party) although such an event does not officially exist in the Arab society; neither does ‘trick or treat’ ‘يا حلاوة يا شقاوة’ (sweets or kicks). As for the ‘Super Bowl’, he substituted it with ‘نهائى الدورى’ (the championship final) since American football is virtually unknown to Arab audiences.

While the ‘hootchy-koo’[1] dance was rendered as ‘رقص بلدى’ (belly dance), keeping the exoticness of the original; while ‘heavy metal concerts’ was rendered as with the much blander and less specific ‘حفلة موسيقى شبابية’ (youth concerts).

Probably the greatest challenge faced by the translator were the allusions to anything sexual. Kissing in public or in front of children, which is considered normal practice in Western societies, is generally seen as lewd conduct in the Arab world and something that only married people can do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Bart, dreading the loss of some of the quality time he usually has with his friend, tells his mother that Milhouse ‘has a girlfriend’, ‘مصاحب بنت’ (he befriended a girl), and that ‘all they do is kiss’ which is rendered in Arabic as: ‘طول الوقت باصين ف السقف’ (all the time they look at the ceiling). Marge, intrigued, says ‘they don’t open their mouths, do they?’, rendered in Arabic as ‘بيبصوا فى السقف؟’ (They look at the ceiling?). As we can see, the reference to kissing and the manner in which Milhouse and his girlfriend practise it has been changed, without any apparent logic, to gazing at the ceiling. This did not pose any contradiction with the visual narrative, since there were no scenes of the actual kissing.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Marge: Hello, everyone. You know, Halloween is a strange holiday. I don’t understand it.
Kids worshiping ghosts, pretending to be devils. Oooh! Things on TV that are completely inappropriate for younger viewers. (7F04)

أهلاً بيكم. عيد 'الأشباح المضحكه' دا غريب جداً.و أنا شخصياً مش فاهماه خالص. الأطفال بيحبوا الأشباح و بيعملوا نفسهم عفاريت و التليفزيون بيعرض حاجات مش مناسبه أبداً للصغيرين.

 

Hello! This ‘funny ghost holiday is very strange. Personally, I don’t understand it at all. Kids like ghosts and pretend to be demons! TV shows things that are not suitable for kids at all!

 

2. Gypsy: Chief Wiggum, I am merely a conduit for the spirits. Willie Nelson will astound his fans...by swimming the English Channel (8F03)

حضرة الظابط. اللى بييجى قدامى باقول عليه
)تشهق( ألفريد نوبل حيعمل جايزه كبيرة قوى للمخترعين

Officer, whatever comes before me I will tell (gasping) Alfred Nobel will offer a very big prize for inventors.

Table 2 Examples of references to certain Western traditions and beliefs

In these dubbed versions, Western traditions and customs have undergone a complete transformation. Example 1, from the ‘Tree-house of Horror’ (7F04), is full of references specific to Western culture. This episode, which draws on many other horror movies like Casper: the Friendly Ghost, Psycho, The Exorcist, and Adam’s Family, celebrates Halloween, an alien concept to the Arab audience. Although the translator tried to find something equivalent for Halloween in Arabic culture by using ‘عيد الأشباح المضحكه(Fiesta of the funny ghosts), such a fiesta is non-existent in the Arab World, although many people believe in the existence of ghosts. Expanding on the title, by explaining what the event is about, makes it easier for the audience to understand the theme of the episode.

The most problematic reference in this example, however, is ‘Kids worshiping ghosts, pretending to be devils’. Worshipping anything other than Allah is forbidden in Islam; it is considered shirk (polytheism), and any reference made to that effect is considered gross blasphemy and can provoke very serious consequences. The translator is well aware of this fact and hence rendered this as ‘الأطفال بيحبوا الأشباح وبيعملوا نفسهم عفاريت’ (Kids like ghosts and pretend to be demons). Eliminating the religious element from the text and substituting it with a much softer and more acceptable notion made the target text more credible, albeit the notion of demons is still not something Arab people discuss very freely.

Another issue that is considered taboo and looked upon as un-Islamic, is making any claim to be in contact with spirits, let alone being a conduit of spirits, (example 2). When Chief Wiggum, heading a police man-hunt mission in a desperate attempt to locate the body of the missing Principal Skinner, thought to be kidnapped and probably killed by the Mafia, resorts to a gypsy for assistance, he gives her a photograph of the principal and the following exchange takes place:

Gypsy: (roaming her hands over a picture of Skinner) ‘I see wedding bells for Vanna White and Teddy Kennedy.’
Wiggum: ‘Please, Princess Opal, if we could just stick to Principal Skinner.’
Gypsy: ‘Chief Wiggum, I am merely a conduit for the spirits.’

 

The medium is said to possess the ability to establish contact with spirits in the other world and acquire information about certain people or things. This practice is prohibited in Islam and anyone found guilty could face dire consequences. The South American Incan tradition uses the shamanic healing technique in a slightly different way; it claims the ability to communicate with a higher power to heal the luminous energy field of the sick person.

The translator rendered the sentence in quite a vague manner. By saying ‘اللى بييجى قدامى باقول عليه' (whatever comes before me, I will tell), the matter is open to interpretation. It is clear, however, that it is more of a clairvoyance reference than spirit channelling. Tarot, palm and cup readings are widely practised in certain countries of the Arab World, like Egypt and Morocco, and it is more tolerated than claims of contacting spirits or Jin.

6, Taboo language

The use of impolite language is generally more unacceptable in Arabic society, compared to the West. Although The Simpsons, like South Park, includes a considerable amount of impolite language, it was considered suitable to be watched by the whole family.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Barney: Teacher’s pet, apple polisher, butt kisser (7G05)

هز الديل، مسح الجوخ، تمشية حال

 

Tail wagging and shoe polishing is good for getting things done.

2. Box: Shut up! Shut up! Kiss my butt! Go to hell (8F12)

اكتم .اكتم.بوس رجلى اكتم.غور بعيد.غور بعيد

Shut up! Shut up! Kiss my foot, go away, go away!

3. Bart: My name is Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you? (7F01)

بدر شمشون. و انت تطلع مين؟

 

Badr Shamshoon, and who are you?

4. Bart: Now, sit! I said, sit! Take a walk. Sniff that other dogs butt. See? He does exactly what I say (7F14)

دلوقتى إقعد. قلت اقعد. آ. إمشى. شم أثر الكلب ده شفتى عمل كل اللى قلتله عليه

 

Now sit! I said sit! Go! Sniff this dog’s trail. You see, it has done all I asked.

5. Bart: I’ll say, Dad, you must really love us to sink so low. (7G08)

يظهر يا بابا، حبك لينا خلاك تهين كرامتك

 

Dad, it seems your love for us made you tarnish your dignity.

6. Bart: Good morning. This is your wake-up call.
Homer: Wake-up call? It’s 2 a.m.
Bart: Sorry, fatso. (8F01)

صبح الخير، دا معاد الصحيان

صحيان؟ الساعة اتنين الصبح

آسفين يا كابتن

 

Good morning. This is the wake-up call. Are you awake?

It’s 2 am.

Sorry captain.

7. Bart: Homer ‘The Human Punching Bag’ Simpson (7G06)

عمر، المأسوف على شبابه، شمشون

Omar, the not so young, Shamshoon

8. Bart: Know where this bastard lives (7F16)

و عندك فكرة الضايع دا حنلاقيه فين؟

 

Any idea where we can find this loser?

9. Emily: You son of a bitch! Good show! All right (7F14)

يا كلب يا عفريت. برافو

You dog! You devil! Bravo!

Table 3 Examples of impolite language

Sterle, Jr. (2011) argues that The Simpsons has become the embodiment of all the wrong values in American society: mockery, drinking, cursing, violence, laziness and so on. The language used in the show caused controversy right from the start, although the level of vulgarity was certainly amplified after few seasons. Sometimes, the rude jokes flow so quickly that only the focused viewer can follow them. Within the chaotic life of Springfield, bad habits and ignorance are the norm. Name-calling, swearing and disrespect of parents and elders are present in most episodes.

Understandably, the Arabic translator eliminated almost every profanity or instance of demeaning behaviour in order to conform to Arab sensitivities on these issues, as the first four examples in Table 3 demonstrate. Expressions like ‘butt kisser’, ‘kiss my butt’, ‘sniff that other dog’s butt’ and ‘who the hell are you’ were translated to ‘حال تمشية ’ ‘بوس رجلى’ ‘شم أثر الكلب ده' 'وانت تطلع مين؟(getting things done, kiss my foot, sniff this dogs trail, who are you.

As Islam calls for utmost respect and reverence of parents and elders, disrespect of parents is considered an act which could have grave ramifications on family and social ties. In this regard, the translator had no alternative but to observe these teachings in his rendering of ‘Dad, you must really love us to sink so low’, ‘sorry fatso’, ‘Homer, the human punching bag, Simpson’, with a softer tone ‘يا بابا، حبك لينا خلاك تهين كرامتك’, ‘آسفين يا كابتن’, ‘عمر، المأسوف على شبابه، شمشون(it seems your love for us made you tarnish your dignity. Sorry captain. Omar, the not so young, Shamshoon).

Another aspect the Arab society considers a result of a bad upbringing is name-calling. While Western expressions like ‘bastard’ and ‘son of a bitch’, in examples 8 and 9, have exact usable equivalents in Arabic (إبن زنا) and (إبن الكلبة) which, however, are much more insulting in colloquial Arabic, the translator translated ‘bastard’ to ‘الصايع(loser) and ‘son of a bitch’ to ‘يا كلب يا عفريت(you dog! You devil!), hence eliminating any serious insulting significance the expressions hold in the original.

It is worth mentioning that the impolite language of The Simpsons has been subject to censorship in many other societies across the world as well. In Japan, for instance, the episode ‘Thirty minutes over Tokyo’ was banned for showing Homer throwing the emperor into a pile of ladies’ underwear and declaring himself ‘Emperor Clobbersaurus’; a similar episode, ‘Goo Goo Gai Pan’, was banned in China for referring to Mao as ‘a little angel who killed 50 million people’; while the Ukrainian censoring body went so far as to ban The Simpsons altogether (Simpsonswiki.com).

7. Gender issues

Gender stereotypes are those negative or positive assumptions and generalisations people have about male and female differences, attributes and the presumed roles of each gender. By applying these assumptions, we perpetuate stereotypes.

Satirists use irony and exaggeration to make fun of societal shortcomings and foolishness to mend human behaviour (Applebee, 1997). To this effect, Mullin (1999) argues that The Simpsons ‘satirizes most aspects of ordinary life, from family, to TV, to religion, achieving the true essence of satire’. In satirical perspective of The Simpsons, women are portrayed as bored and boring housewives or superficial ‘bimbos’ always competing for the attention of men and worrying about their image. By the same token, the men are represented as a beer-loving, family-neglecting, foul-mouthed and ‘losers’ who are unhappy with their lives and take refuge from life’s hardships in Moe’s tavern.

Considerations of gender are significant markers which influence social interaction and translate directly into economic and power differentials in the overwhelming majority of Arab countries. While men dominate the external sphere of society, women’s status is high in the family, particularly in their roles as mothers, wives and sisters. However, long-standing gender stereotypes are very prevalent in Arab society, albeit to varying degrees; the further East one goes in the Arab World, the more fossilised the stereotypes are. Although a considerable number of women demonstrate high levels of success in many areas of society such as academia, business and literary production, their accomplishments tend to go unnoticed and they are excluded from most aspects of public life.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Ex. wife 1: He had some bimbo in Kansas City (7F05)

و بعدها يختى لقيته ماشى مع واحدة تافهة ف بلد تانيه

Then, I found him with another useless one in another town.

2. Homer: See, I’m trying to teach my son here about treating women as objects (7G10)

بص، أنا عايز اعلم ابنى ازاى يعامل الستات باحترام

 

Look, I want to teach my son how to treat women with respect.

3. Bart: What’s with the skirt? (8F22)

ايه، ليه جايب معاك بنت؟

What! Why did you bring a girl with you?

4. Homer: You express yourself in the home you keep and the food you serve (7F01)

ماانتى حتعبرى عن رأيك ف البيت اللى حتوضبيه و الآكل اللى حتقدميه

You will express your opinion through keeping the house and serving food!

5. Homer: As the pants-wearer of this house ... I get the first wish (8F02)

لا أنت ولا هىّ. بصفتى أكبر راس هنا. أول أمنية ليّا

Neither of you! As the boss here, the first wish is mine.

6. Mr Burns: A bit overly familiar, but I’ll allow it. I took in a movie. A piece of filth featuring a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird (8F04)

أيوه، أنت خدت عليا قوى، بس حاسمحلك. اتفرجت على فيلم. تافه ومايساويش بصلة. البطلة بتاعته كانت بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدره المشوى

Yes, overly familiar, but will forgive you. I watched a stupid and worthless movie. The heroine is a blonde who was tossing and turning like ‘toasted corn on a cub’.

7. Player: Check out the mature quail heading over (7F05)

يا جمال، شايف الفرخة العتاقى اللى جاية دى

Jamal, you see that mature hen coming our way?

8. Young Selma: Women cant be astronauts.

Young Marge: Why not?

Young Patty: They distract the men ... so they wouldn’t keep their minds on the road. (8F15)

الستات مينفعوش فى الفضاء
ليه لأ؟

حيشوشروا على رواد الفضاء ويخلوهم مايركذوش فى السواقة

Women won’t do in space

Why not?

They will distract the astronauts, so they won’t focus on driving!

Table 4 Examples of gender related references

Stereotypical views such as those expressed in examples 4 and 5: ‘you express yourself in the home you keep and the food you serve’ and ‘as the pants-wearer of this house ...’; are rendered in the same manner into Arabic, as these stereotypes are widely accepted within Arab societies, regardless of how liberal the man claims to be. By giving his wife the chance to express her opinion by being the ‘kitchen master’, (or mistress, to apply the stereotype), Homer undermines Marge’s opinion on important matters just for being a woman. The translator’s rendering ‘'ماانتى حتعبرى عن رأيك ف البيت اللى حتوضبيه والأكل اللى حتقدميه’ (You will express your opinion through keeping the house and serving food!) and ‘بصفتى أكبر راس هنا’ (As the oldest here) advocates the same male view of women.

Although the woman ought to be revered, as per the teachings of Islam, she is not treated as an equal in the Arab World. Ironically, as hypocritical as it may sound, men’s rhetoric calls for respecting and treating women as diamonds and pearls, an expression often used in religious sermons. The translator’s rendering of example 2 reflects this attitude by giving an opposite meaning of the original ‘I’m trying to teach my son here about treating women as objects’ ‘أنا عايز اعلم ابنى ازاى يعامل الستات باحترام’ (I want to teach my son how to treat women with respect).

Examples 1, 3, and 7 satirize the way women are perceived by men in the West; they are often referred to as chicks, ‘quails (الفرخة) and ‘skirts’ etc., and the ‘blonde’(شقرا) is thought of as dumb and a ‘bimbo(تافهة), good for nothing but fun. Hines (1994: 295) argues that: ‘There is a consistent, widespread, largely, unconscious and undocumented metaphor in English equating women as sex objects with desserts, manifested both in linguistic expressions (such as cheesecake, cookie, tart, etc.)’ (emphasis in original). The Arabic translator has toned down these expressions marginally.

As demonstrated in this section, universal gender stereotypes are just as widespread in Arab society as in any other, and women seem to bear most of the brunt of callous and insensitive attitudes and perceptions of men despite Islamic teachings and the frequently cited Arab saying ‘وراء كل رجل عظيم امرأة(behind the success of every great man there is a woman).

8, Racial issues

The Simpsons uses its characters to portray a range of stereotypes that exist within the American society, and race is prominent in every episode. The characters of the Mexican Bee, Willy, and Apu, for example, are used to represent Latino, Scottish and Asian/Middle Eastern stereotypes. While the Mexican Bee, the actor on a Spanish TV channel, is always droning around in his absurd bee outfit, Willy, the Scott, is perceived as the strong man always ready for digging and donkey work. Apu, the Indian Kwik-E-Mart convenience-store owner, on the other hand, sells products which have passed their use-by-dates at high prices, speaks with a strong accent and looks down on his customers. These portrayals satirize common assumptions in the US that Latinos cannot be taken seriously, the Scottish are only fit for physical work, and Asians are rude convenience-store and petrol-station owners. Although these racial stereotypes are largely communicated visually, there are ample incidents when characters express racial prejudices vocally, as the excerpts in Table 5 illustrate.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Marge: Hmm ... Hostage negotiations.
Homer: Listen, Tabbouleh, we’re ignoring all your demands. What do you say to that? (8F22)

آ، المفاوضات مع المجرمين

إسمع يا دهشورى، احنا رافضيين كل طلباتك. إيه رأيك بقى دلوقتى؟

 

Ah! Negotiations with criminals.

Listen Dahshury, we don’t accept your demands. Now, what do you think about that?

2. Mr Burns: Damnation! Find me some good players, living players. Scour the professional ranks, the American League, the National League ... the Negro leagues (8F13)

على بختى. طيب، شوفلى لعيبة كويسة. عايشين إقلب اتحاد الكوره، نقابة اللاعبين، جمعيات الزنوج

 

My bad luck! Ok, get me some good living players. Scour the football federation, players and Negros’ associations.

3. Troy: Our tour starts in your own room ... where Relaxo-vision offers you the latest Hollywood hits ... and after midnight ... the finest ‘R rated movies Europe has to offer. (8F14)

جولتنا تبتدى من حجراتكم الخاصة حيث متعة مشاهدة أحدث أفلام هولى وود. و بعد نص الليل مع أرقى الأفلام الثقافية اللى بتنتجها أوروبا.

Our tour starts in your own room where you can see the latest Hollywood movies and after mid night the best educational films produced in Europe.

Table 5 Examples of racially related references

When Lisa summarises an article she read in a magazine, which claims that one

can lose weight subliminally. An idea is subtly implanted in your head without your knowing it. You listen to tapes while you sleep. As you hear New Age music, a powerful message goes to your brain telling you to eat less,

Homer asks Marge’s opinion: ‘Lose weight and listen to New Age music? Wow! What do you think, Marge?’ To which she replies: ‘Oh, Homer, I love you just the way you are. Lisa, what’s that number?’

After calling the hotline number, Marge is presented with few tape options: ‘Would he like to lose weight, stop smoking, learn the state capitals, or master hostage negotiations?’ The operator said. After a few hesitating moments, Marge, mysteriously, decided on ‘hostage negotiations’. Homer, hearing his wife on the phone, started the negotiation process: ‘Listen, Tabbouleh, we’re ignoring all your demands. What do you say to that?’ The key word here is ‘Tabbouleh’, as it refers to a Middle Eastern appetiser. Thanks to the media, people from the Middle East are equated with violence and acts of terrorism, especially since 9/11, although this episode, (Bart’s friend falls in love), was aired in 1994. Homer used ‘Tabbouleh’ as a metaphor to refer to the terrorists and hostage takers he is dealing with. The translator, being an Arab, did not convey the racial stereotype as it is disparaging and self-incriminating, ‘إسمع يا دهشورى،احنا رافضيين كل طلباتك. إيه رأيك بقى دلوقتى؟(Listen Dahshury, we dont accept your demands. Now, what do you think about that?).

The second example typifies the prejudices some people have about black people. Mr Burns was challenged by his friend Ari, another power plant owner, to a one million dollar bet that his football team would crush Mr Burns’ old and slothful ‘bunch of bums’. When Smithers confirms that indeed the team stands no chance of winning, Mr Burns, seeking to revamp the squad, orders him: ‘Find me some good players, living players. Scour the professional ranks, the American League, the National League ... the Negro leagues.

The Negro league was established in the early 20th century by the leaders of what was known as ‘Organized Baseball’ to promote baseball by contracting black players known for their skills in the game. It was ‘probably the most lucrative black-dominated enterprise in the United States at that time’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). However, the derogatory ‘Negro, black in Spanish, is associated with a long history of slavery, segregation and discrimination. Its use nowadays is considered politically incorrect and racist. Interestingly, the translator used the exact Arabic equivalent ‘الزنوج’, an old Arabic word that is hardly used in contemporary society.

Just as with a myriad of other stereotypes, Boni mores perpetuate certain perceptions of how society deals with matters of sex and erotica. The Western perception of the East in this regard is widely encoded in the orientalists’ documentation of their accounts in which they portray it as exotic, Harem-focused and where all women are incarnations of Shahrazad. According to similar stereotypes, many people perceive European woman as ‘sexually available and promiscuous’ (Bledowski, 2010), and Italian, French and Greek men as God-given ‘studs’ to women. Perhaps, such misconceptions are the result of the European adult entertainment industry promoted by many channels such as Kanal København, Pink TV, and Spice Channel, or cinematic films such as, Last Tango in Paris, Jamón… jamón, and El Sexo de Los Angeles.

Feeling stressed, Marge decides to take a break from her family and go on a vacation by herself, leaving frantic Homer behind to get a taste of what it means to be a housewife (husband). The tour operator announces that: ‘Our tour starts in your own room ... where Relaxo-vision offers you the latest Hollywood hits ... and after midnight ... the finest “R rated movies Europe has to offer.’ Movies classified as ‘R’ are not suitable for the under 18s, as they have adult content, which could be extreme violence, horror or explicit sexual activity. Being made in Europe, and, as the operator’s suggestive tone alludes, the movies in question are erotic. The translator renders the reference to “R” rated movies with educational materialو بعد نص الليل مع أرقى الأفلام الثقافية اللى بتنتجها أوروبا’ (and after mid night the best educational films produced in Europe); a solution which is ambiguous because in the Egyptian vernacular, this is usually understood to mean pornographic films, while most non-Egyptians would understand this literally to mean educational films.

Dealing with stereotypes is a complex process for translators. Although stereotypes are discouraged in the Arab World, mainly because of religious teachings, they are still widespread. However, due to the stringent guidelines imposed on the translator and the producer, as stated by both in a personal communication (2017), the transfer of Western labels in The Simpsons to Arab viewers is very limited. The owners of MBC, submitting to the comments from their religious advisors and the government censorial body, instructed the producer and the translator, despite the objection expressed by the latter, to sanitize the source text by eliminating any references and innuendos pertaining to sex, alcohol, and any religion other than Islam.

9, Nudity and sexual references

In its early years, The Simpsons was considered a family show with mild sexual overtones and violence. However, as the seasons progressed, the show steered away from its original agenda of being a family programme to becoming a more adult-oriented product. Sexual references became an integral part of the show; visually explicit scenes and sexual innuendos became a common occurrence. An example of a visually explicit scene is in the Homer of Saville episode (JABF18), in which Homer discovers he has a talent for opera singing, when a young and seductive woman proposes to be his fan club manager; however, her real intentions are to seduce him. With soft music playing, she stands in front of him suggestively, unzips her full body-hugging vinyl suit and exposes her naked body – which viewers can see from the back. Despite this scene, linguistic and acoustic references to sex and nudity are used in the show more than visual ones, and many characters are involved in generating various innuendoes. Table 6 illustrates this point.

Source Text

Arabic Translation

Back Translation

1. Bart: Like strip poker (7G08)

بيلعبوا سيجة

They play Sija (Os and Xs game)

2. Bart: But never a girl. What if I want to strut around nude (8F22)

أيوه،مافهمش و لا بنت. احنا ولاد و نحب نلعب براحتنا

Yes, not a single girl. We are boys and we like to play at our leisure.

3. Mr Burns: A bit overly familiar, but I’ll allow it. I took in a movie. A piece of filth featuring a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird (8F04)

أيوه، أنت خدت عليا قوى، بس حاسمحلك. اتفرجت على فيلم. تافه و مايساويش بصلة. البطلة بتاعته كانت بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدرة المشوى

Yes, overly familiar, but will forgive you. I watched a stupid and worthless movie. The heroine is a blonde who was tossing and turning like ‘toasted corn on a cob’.

4. Otto: No time, Bart Dude. My girlfriend’s dancing topless at the airport bar (Y3 8F22)

آسف يا بدر البدور. ماينفعش لازم الحق اتفرج على الحلقة الأجنبية ف التليفزيون من اربعة و ربع لاربعة و تلت

I have to make it home in time to watch this foreign episode on TV from 4:15 to 4:20

5. Bart: Oh, fine. I’m tired of watching you two lip wrestle. There’s plenty of other ways to be grossed out (8F22)

حلو قوى. أنا زهقت م الفرجة عليكم فيه حاجات تانية ممكن تسلينى ف البلد دى غيركم

Great! I am bored of watching you. There are other things that could entertain me in this town.

6. Fat one: Your mother didn’t think so (7F12)

صاحبتك كانت عاجباها شقتى

Your friend liked my apartment.

7. Gloria: My name’s Gloria. I’m here because Johnny ... hasn’t been able to cut it, man wise, for some time. Not that I’d want his odour of sour defeat pressed against me (7F20)

أنا اسمى جلوريا. أنا جيت لأن جيمى مابيبطلش يتأمر عليا طول الوقت. و كمان بيزود ف الكلام و مابيعملش أى أحترام

 

My name is Gloria. I came because Jimmy keeps bothering me, he says bad things and doesn’t respect me.

 

8. Marge: He’s much happier at work. Just between us girls, he hasn’t been this frisky in years (7F02)

بقى مبسوط أكتر ف شغله. صراحة بينى و بينكم يا بنات أنا، ماشفتوش مرح كده من سنين

He’s much happier at work. Just between us girls, I haven’t seen him this happy for years.

Table 6 Examples of sexual/nudity references

Arab society is quite reserved and considers issues like sex strictly taboo; there is no sex education in schools and discussing the subject is deemed bad behaviour and immoral. The Simpsons’ scenes with visual sexual references were censored in the Arabic version and verbal ones (70 cases in total) were manipulated so much that any sexual innuendos were replaced with random expressions that fill the gap without ruining the flow of the story. The first four examples illustrate this point clearly; references to nudity, as in playing ‘strip poker’, ‘strutting around naked’ or ‘dancing topless’, were all either eliminated or replaced by something more culturally adequate like ‘بيلعبوا سيجة(playing Sija (Os and Xs game)), ‘نحب نلعب براحتنا(we like to play at our leisure) and ‘لازم الحق اتفرج على الحلقة الأجنبية ف التليفزيون(I have to make it home in time to watch the foreign episode on TV) respectively. Interestingly, the translator used an intriguing expression to render ‘a blonde harlot ... who spent half the film naked as a jaybird’, to ‘بنت شقرا فضلت نص الوقت عمالة تلف و تدوور زى الدرة المشوى(a blonde who was tossing and turning like toasted corn on a cob), leaving those with a vivid imagination to figure out the implied message.

References with stronger sexual connotations, such as examples 5 to 8, suffer the same fate. In fact, they were thoroughly censored and replaced with passive and simplistic linguistic formulas in order to comply with MBC’s gatekeepers. Bart’s outburst at Milhouse’s long kissing sessions with his newly found love: ‘I’m tired of watching you two lip wrestle’; Fat one’s implicit reference at being good in bed when his friend told him that he ‘sucks at it’, ‘Your mother didnt think so’; and Gloria and Marge’s mixed fortunes about their partners’ performance, the first complaining that ‘Johnny ... hasnt been able to cut it, man wise, for some time’ and the second unable to contain her satisfaction: ‘Just between us girls, he hasnt been this frisky in years’ were translated to ‘أنا زهقت م الفرجة عليكم(I am bored of watching you), ‘صاحبتك كانت عاجباها شقتى' (Your friend liked my apartment), ‘جيمى مابيبطلش يتأمر عليا طول الوقت و كمان بيزود ف الكلام و مابيعملش أى أحترام(Jimmy keeps bothering me. He says bad things and doesnt respect me) and ‘صراحة بينى و بينكم يا بنات أنا، ماشفتوش مرح كده من سنين’ (Just between us girls, I havent seen him this happy for years).

10, Conclusion

As O’Connell argues ‘the actual words we choose to convey meaning in fact shape that meaning’ (2000: 63); just as language is not always neutral, so translation is not always neutral. Conveying ideas between languages is bound to incur shifts, premeditated or otherwise. These ideas are subject to multileveled interpretation as well, depending on the receiving audience. Consequently, the process of translation operates under the constraints of particular agents and circumstances that force translators to be biased or subversive. The decisions taken by translators in this regard are not always idiosyncratic, but are, as O’Connell (2000) argues, often constrained by factors such as the languages involved, the text genre, the audience and its culture. 

The dubbing of The Simpsons into Arabic was subject to many constraints and norms, which influenced the choices made by the translator as well as the producer. However, such constraints are, at times, justifiable due to the significant differences between Arab and Western cultures, as well as MBC gate-keepers’ fear of a cultural shift among Arab audiences, who are heavily influenced by satellite TV and Internet. These tools free Arab youth in particular from the shackles of local socio-cultural values defined by their geographical space.

By applying censorship and strict guidelines on the production and dissemination of sensitive material targeting young audiences, the gatekeepers hope to minimise the extent of Western ideological and socio-cultural encroachment on local cultures. The outcome reveals that both intrinsic and extrinsic factors play a major role in the process of translating and conveying the intended message to a target audience with socio-cultural and ideological values which are different from those of the source audience. Indeed, religious beliefs, socio-cultural norms and personal views tend to leave an indelible mark on the dubbed product.

The gap between Western and Arab cultures makes the task of translation even more difficult, and culturally emotive expressions of the original text often lose their connotative meaning in the process of translation. As a result, they do not bring forth the same response from the target audience as they do from the source culture (Cf. Zitawi 2006; Yahiaoui 2016; Al-Adwan & Yahiaoui 2018). 

The fact that the Arabic dubbing of The Simpsons fails to be an honest broker could be attributed to various factors, but the most important is the role of censorship, be it imposed by external agents or induced by the translator’s own beliefs.

Appendix: The Simpsons episode guide

 

Season 1

 

Season 2

No

Title

No

Title

7G05

7G06

7G08

7G10

 

Bart the General

Moaning Lisa

Simpson’s Roasting on an Open Fire

Homer’s Night Out

 

7F01

7F02

7F04

7F05

7F07

7F10

7F11

7F12

7F14

7F16

7F17

7F20

 

Two Cars in Every Garage

Simpson and Delilah

Tree House of Horror

Dancin’ Homer

Bart Vs. Thanksgiving

Bart Gets Hit by a Car

One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish

The Way We Was

Bart’s Dog Gets an 'F'

Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou

Old Money

War of The Simpsons

 

 

Season 3

8F01

8F02

8F03

8F04

8F12

Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington

Tree House of Horror

Bart the Murderer

Homer Defined

Lisa the Greek

8F13

8F14

8F15

8F21

8F22

 

Homer at the Bat

Homer Alone

Separate Vocation

The Otto Show

Bart’s Friend Falls in Love

 

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Notes

[1] The Hoochie coochie, also spelt (hootchy kootchy), is a deliberately sensual form of belly dance, typically performed as part of a carnival. It is performed by women of (or presented as having) an Eastern European gypsy heritage (American Heritage Dictionary 4).

About the author(s)

Rashid Yahiaoui is currently an assistant professor in Audiovisual Translation and Translation Studies at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences of Hamad bin Khalifa University. He has a Ph.D. in Translation Studies from London Metropolitan University, UK, and a Master in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Salford, UK. He also has extensive experience as a professional interpreter, as he worked for the Home Office and National Health Service in the UK for over 10 years. Rashid’s main research interests are: Audiovisual Translation, Ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis and Media Texts; Political Discourse Analysis, and Translation Pedagogy and Curriculum Development.

Ashraf Abdel Fattah is currently an Assistant Professor at the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII), College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha. He has a PhD in Translation Studies from the University of Manchester, with extensive 30-year experience in translation, interpreting, and journalism. Dr Abdel Fattah was the Middle East Bulletin Editor at the Associated Press Television News in London for 13 years. From 1989 to1997, he worked as the Arabic Language Editor at Amnesty International in London. He was also a visiting lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Westminster for 17 years. He also worked as a senior interpreter at Al Jazeera Arabic Channel in Doha. His current research interests include appraisal and ideological analysis of news discourse, media translation, contrastive linguistics and corpus-based descriptive translation studies.

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©inTRAlinea & Rashid Yahiaoui & Ashraf Fattah (2020).
"Shifts in Transadapting Western Socio-cultural References for Dubbing into Arabic. A Case Study of The Simpsons and Al-Shamshoon"
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