Subtitling dialect in Inspector Montalbano and Young Montalbano

By Mariagrazia De Meo (University of Salerno, Italy)

Abstract

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©inTRAlinea & Mariagrazia De Meo (2020).
"Subtitling dialect in Inspector Montalbano and Young Montalbano"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia IV
Edited by: Klaus Geyer & Margherita Dore
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2466

Introduction

A growing number of audiovisual products are multilingual films, where the co-existence of more than one language reveals recurrent use of code-switching and intralinguistic and interlinguistic translation. They suggest natural aspects of human communication not only in a multicultural context where different cultures come into contact, but also for the switch between dialects and sociolects within the same language community. When talking about multilingualism, Delabastita and Grutman (2005: 15) include the presence of dialects as substandard varieties of language ‘existing within the various officially recognized languages, and indeed sometimes cutting across and challenging our neat linguistic typologies.’ The scholars underline the importance of the ‘textual interplay’ (2005: 16) of languages, that is the function and effect they produce in the definition of character and in the development of the plot.

A regional language variety is identified by its own specific lexicon, non-standard grammar and distinctive accent, and, above all, it is closely related to a specific place and social group (Díaz Cintas & Remael 2009: 191). Therefore, the use of dialect often carries strong socio-cultural and connotative implications, charged with emotional and phatic meaning, besides its mere referential and denotative function, determining a ‘translation crisis point’ (Pedersen 2005: 1) in the tension between centrifugal forces of normalization, on one hand, and the desire to convey the communicative force of the original text, on the other.

The aim of the paper is to describe the sociocultural function and effect expressed by Sicilian dialects on the representation of identity and analyse the strategies used to convey the linguistic variation in the English subtitles of the popular and widely exported Italian TV series Il Commissario Montalbano/Inspector Montalbano and of its equally fortunate prequel Il Giovane Montalbano/ Young Montalbano. The research aims to analyse culturally embedded language elements, which is the use of dialectal lexicon and syntax, of figurative language and register in order to highlight alterations produced in the representation of Sicilian culture through deletion or reinforcement of old stereotypes. Is it possible to detect any compensation strategies put forward to mitigate such transformations and losses and to retain the pragmatic force of dialect?

1. The translation of dialect between foreignization and domestication

The multimedia translation of dialect represents an evident challenge and a complex matter that pertains sociolinguistics and ideological values of normative behaviour, with a pressing urge for creativity through the discharge of unexpected translation solutions (Armstrong and Federici 2006; Federici 2009; 2011; Marrano, Nadiani and Rundle 2009; Ranzato 2010; 2016). The recent trend is for films to exploit regional language varieties and dialects to communicate cultural otherness and reinforce credibility. While the source audience is exposed to a very specific geographical and socio-cultural setting, translators, as cultural mediators (Katan 2004), balance the core tension of their demanding task between the necessity to convey the source text (ST) intentions and a commitment to fluency and clarity in the target text (TT).

Issues of intercultural communication and of a multicultural approach to translation come to the fore when dealing with such a complex and composite topic as the one of subtitling dialect. Being deeply embedded in a specific socio-cultural and geographical context, dialects represent independent linguistic systems belonging to specific speech communities and cultures. Therefore ‘(t)he issue is no longer that of technical explanations of a different term, but that of explaining different sets of behaviours and culture-bound practices’ (Katan 2014: 61). The conventional view of language transfer based on a mono-cultural approach to translation relies on the existence of subjective framing of external experience. In order to depart from an ethnocentric approach to translation, the Venutian parameters of foreignizing and domesticating translation strategies (Venuti 1995) have proved useful indicators of distancing of the TT from the ST. However, as argued by the Danish scholar Henrik Gottlieb (2014), when it comes to account for the translation of culturally embedded language, the choice of a foreignizing strategy, like for instance retention of a foreign word, might not be sufficient to avoid misinterpretations and to ensure visibility to the translator, but may contribute to reinforce common stereotypes. On the other hand, as the intentions and values conveyed by the use of dialect in translation resist categorical solutions, a domesticating strategy may provide more effective adaptation. Therefore ‘foreignizing strategies in subtitling may lead to invisibility instead’ (ibid. 32). This happens not only in the case of what he calls downstream translation, that is from a dominant language like English to a secondary language, but it is also true for upstream translation, as in this case, from Italian into English, where retention or direct translation of a dialectal lexeme may reinforce misperceptions and stereotypical traits.

2. Subtitling strategies

As pointed out by many scholars, subtitling is the result of a diamesic shift from speech to writing where the end product has undergone a considerable process of reduction due to the different nature of the target medium bound by time and space constraints. This implies standardization of language varieties and of the prosodic features of spoken discourse, as well as alterations in register variation, accounting for language used in a specific context of situation. On the other hand, Ivarsson and Carol (1998:157) recommend that the language register should be appropriate to the spoken word, manifesting an evident challenge for the subtitler who should find ways of suggesting the presence of language variation and code-switching without forgetting language correctness. Although the use of dialect expresses the core of the interpersonal and emotional relationship between interlocutors, this inevitably finds alteration in translation. As pointed out by David Katan (2004), the context of situation is interconnected with the context of culture, which is determined by subjective beliefs and values framing an individual perception of the world. Therefore, linguistic meaning can only be fully conveyed if both contexts are familiar to the translator.

Decisions concerning text reduction are closely linked to the principle of relevance (Gutt 1991), which supersedes linguistic issues, concerning not only the translation of meaning, but also of the purpose and function of the ST. The role of dialects and code-switching in the construction of characters’ identities is evident and it challenges the general concern for readability. As suggested by Gottlieb (2012), the central concern is to retain the translation of ‘speech acts’, that is to say ‘verbal intentions and the corresponding paraverbal and visual features’ (ibid. 50), more relevant than single words in understanding the core of the source language (SL).

2.1. Levels of analysis

Culturally embedded language refers to two levels of analysis, which are the encyclopaedic and the linguistic levels (Gottlieb 2014). Culture-bound lexical items that refer to an additive and culture-specific knowledge of the world pertain the encyclopaedic level of language. Among the Translation Studies scholars addressing this matter, Pedersen (2011) labels them as Extralinguistic Cultural References (ECR). They are extralinguistic context related words since they refer to entities outside language, while still verbally expressed, and are closely related to a specific culture. In other words, an ECR is a ‘reference that is attempted by means of any cultural linguistic expression, which refers to an extralinguistic entity or process’ (Pedersen 2011: 43). This will be immediately recognized as belonging to the encyclopaedic knowledge that is shared by the ‘relevant audience’. In offering a categorization of ECRs, Pedersen intentionally avoids using the term taxonomy, because of the hierarchical connotation of the word and of the non-exhaustive nature of his list. Instead, he chooses to speak of different domains that ‘could be regarded as the top hypernym of the ECRs in that domain’ (2011: 58). They are weights and measures, proper names (personal, geographical, institutional, brand names), professional titles, food and beverage, and so on (Pedersen 2011: 59-60), whose translation will be determined by a set of different influencing parameters.

At the linguistic level, culture-bound language pertains to the semantic and syntactic levels of language-specific features including the use of dialects, sociolects, ethnolects, that is specific lexicon and set phrases. The latter category includes phraseological units such as similes, metaphors, clichés, idioms and proverbs, frequently occurring in regional language. Besides the degree of fixedness of the constituents and the obscurity of meaning they may produce if considering the separate morphemes, they represent semantic and syntactic units without clear-cut definitions. In fact, as for most idioms, Gottlieb (1997: 315) suggests that, far from being opaque and fixed, they resemble ‘a metaphorical phrase with unmistakable connotations’ and after analysing different definitions, he takes the argument further by saying that ‘it would be tempting to define idioms as “expressions” which cannot be translated word for word’ (1997: 316). In translation, idioms and other phraseological units are considered not only in terms of decoding but essentially of encoding processes that besides formal, stylistic issues also consider the intended effect on the reader.

2.2. Subtitling taxonomies

A taxonomy of translation strategies will refer to the model developed by Gottlieb (2014: 38) in consideration of previous research (Nedergaard-Larsen 1993; Leppihalme 1997; Pedersen 2005: 2011). The microstrategies are arranged in relation to the macrostrategies of foreignization and domestication, indicating respectively a higher of lower degree of fidelity to the source culture (SC). At the encyclopaedic level of ECRs, Retention is the most foreignizing strategy followed by Direct translation, which refers to translating through calques or what is commonly referred to as word for word translation. Moderate domesticating strategies are Specification,[1] operating a semantic shift to a more specific meaning as for hyponymy, and Generalization that moves from the more specific to the general. At the opposite extreme to foreignization, Substitution indicates the deletion of the ST ECR with the use of either a better-known ECR, pertaining the SC or the target culture (TC), or a completely different solution. In the latter scenario substitution becomes very similar to omission that represents the least faithful type of transfer.

Macrostrategy

Degree of fidelity

Microstrategy

ECRs

Dialectal lexemes and set phrases

Foreignizing

Maximum

Retention

High

Direct Translation

Domesticating

Moderate

Specification

Explicitation/Addition/Reformulation

Generalization

Reduction

Generalization

Condensation

Low

Substitution

Missing

Omission

Table 1: Translation and strategies for ECRs, dialectal lexemes and set phrases

At the linguistic level, the taxonomy is adapted to account for the transformations that occur for dialectal lexicon and set phrases. As already pointed out by Pedersen (2011: 79), the term Specification may be used in a broader sense as Explicitation, considering that a dialect word could be translated by a more specific term or that a linguistic element could be added or reformulated, making a word or a sentence more explicit by modifying their syntactical structure (Perego 2003).

Díaz Cintas and Remael (2009: 145-162) focus on the macrostrategy of Reduction that, at word level, becomes Generalization, through the use of near-synonyms or hyperonymy, or Condensation, simplifying verbal periphrases, reducing compound terminology, and so on. Whereas, at sentence level, the latter strategies account for changes in the grammatical structures, that is transforming questions into statements, simplifying modality, and so on.

A further thought concerns the strategy of substitution when it comes to the subtitling of set phrases. In his study on the translation of idioms, Gottlieb (1997: 320) suggested considering the macrocategory of ‘idiomatization’ to account for cases of substitution of a phrase with no particular idiomatic strength that is rendered idiomatically, to compensate for previous deletions in the ST. This is often more effective than trying to render a ST idiom by choosing stylistic resemblance that causes the loss of semantic equivalence. In this case, the ‘conceptual paradox’ suggests that ‘idiomaticity in translation sometimes means that idioms should not be rendered with idioms.’ (1997: 318) and therefore compensation strategies come as a resource to foster SC understanding.

3. Subtitling Montalbano

Both TV-series Inspector Montalbano and Young Montalbano are based on Andrea Camilleri’s novels centred on the investigations of the Sicilian inspector Salvo Montalbano. The author, who is also the screenwriter, has reached unprecedented popularity in Italy and has travelled worldwide, thanks to the translation of his novels in over 30 languages and to the positive response to the TV series. A number of authors have addressed the challenges posed by translating Camilleri’s ‘unpredictable and whimsical interspersing of the narrative’ (Cipolla 2006: 14-15) with a mixture of dialectal features, in literary translation (Consiglio 2008; Sartarelli 2004; Taffarel 2012; Tomaiuolo 2009). As for the TV-series, broadcast in 16 countries, Montalbano has been both dubbed and subtitled, although audiences worldwide have shown a preference for the latter mode of audiovisual translation that offers the possibility to gain some understanding of ST prosody. Previous research focused on how the translation of dialect affects character representation in the passage from the novel to the screen (Kapsaskis and Artegiani 2011). Also, different subtitled versions of the episodes produced in Anglophone countries have been the central focus of comparative analysis with particular reference to the translation of humour and food (Dore 2017, Dore 2019).

3.1 Understanding Sicilianità (being Sicilian)

The sense of Sicilianità and local identity, addressed by a number of critics as the main key to explaining Camilleri’s appeal (Pezzotti 2012), is conveyed through three main traits: first, a sense of place built through reference to real Sicilian locations and to fictional places that become familiar to the audience; second, a sense of local identity embedded in sociocultural features such as the use of a marked theatrical prosody and the inspector’s absolute pleasure for local cuisine; third, a unique use of language made up of a mixture of ‘Italianized Sicilian and Sicilianized Italian’ (Cipolla 2006: 18).

In an interview (Sorgi 2000: 79), Camilleri speaks of himself as ‘un artigiano della scrittura (a craftsman of writing)’ who regards dialect not as an alternative to standard Italian but as its most vital component and a language in its own right. Therefore, he invents a creative mixture, inspired by the one in use in his own family in the Agrigento region and calls it italiano bastardo (Pistelli 2003: 23), a homely and emotional language where the use of code-switching is not limited to specific situations and social class but belongs to the language texture. At a lexical level, the features are (Vizmuller Zucco 2001): (1) the hybridization of words produced by ‘the adaptation of a linguistic form to the morphological system of another linguistic code’ (Berruto 1987: 170, quoted in  Consiglio 2008: 50), for example the use of a Sicilian word, like taliari/to see, attached to a standard Italian verb suffix and becoming taliare; (2) the insertion of Sicilian buzz words into Italian utterances, that is cabbasisi, or frequent occurrence of ECRs for food and regional dishes, as for example: sfincione, cuddiruni, and so on. At a syntactical level (Sulis 2007), there are only minor changes that consist in the forward shift of the verb at the end of the sentence like for instance in the Inspector’s notorious introductory phrase Montalbano sono instead of the standard Sono Montalbano/I’m/It’s/This is Montalbano, and in the use of past tense instead of the standard present perfect that represents a typical trait of Southern regional speech. Besides this language mixture, Vitzmuller Zucco (2002) has identified four more language varieties present in the novels and in the TV-series: (1) standard Italian used by Montalbano’s superiors and in more formal interviews; (2) a hyper-formal bureaucratic language marked by obsolete words as for the use of exaggerated titles; (3) a more embedded local variety of Sicilian dialect modelled on the one spoken in Porto Empedocle, found in local phrases, idioms and proverbs, for example Matri, ca su beddi sti picciriddi/Mamma mia, che sono belli questi bambini/Mother of mine! Look at how cute these children are!; (4) Catarella’s idiolect made up of malapropisms and invented words. Furthermore, in the TV-series, the use of a marked Sicilian accent and intonation, as well as the frequent use of question tags (…, eh?, …, vero?...., va bene?) and repetitions becomes an essential trait for paratextual exegesis. Code-switching between varieties of dialect rarely produces misunderstandings in the Italian audience, but it clearly conveys the sense of cultural ‘otherness’ within the frame of standard Italian, generating the need for intralinguistic translation and, at times, occasional recourse to an unknown word. In some cases, intradiegetic explanation is provided through the use of repetition, insertion of Italian synonyms, or making a non-Sicilian character ask for clarification.

3.2 The role of dialect

According to Alfonzetti (1998: 181), Italian dialects should be viewed as ‘separate systems rather than mere varieties of the same linguistic system.’ As a consequence of this rich and multifaceted conversational repertoire, the use of code-switching represents not only a diaglossic movement between Italian and dialect, in well-defined external socio linguistic domains, but is better conveyed through the concept of dilalìa (Berruto 1987) which accounts for the switch occurring between different varieties used in overlapping communicative domains and displaying an array of different functions. Most of the characters switch between these varieties depending mainly on the relationship between interlocutors rather than on their social status. Dialects guarantee a socio-cultural context (Leppihalme, 2000:264) with the main aims of generating humour and showing emotional involvement.

Screen adaptation presents considerable reduction in the amount of dialect; therefore, the Italian audience requires less effort compared to the reader (Kapsaskis and Artegiani 2011). On the other hand, the language is marked by a distinctive accent, intonation, facial expressions, posture, kinesics, and so on (Culperer 2001). Montalbano and his peers mainly use Italian with occasional code-switching with italiano bastardo, whereas local Sicilian dialect is used by minor supporting characters, interpreted by Sicilian professional or semi-professional actors who, through their gestures and marked facial expressions, provide a sense of authenticity to the plot. Moreover, the presence of dialect does not necessarily involve a change of register from formal to informal language. Age, social distance, and respect for hierarchies determine the maintaining of a formal register in conversation even when the speakers are illiterate people.

4. The case study

The corpus used for the present study includes 4 episodes respectively from series 1, 3, 7 and 8 of Inspector Montalbano (M)[2] and 3 episodes including the first and the last of the prequel Young Montalbano (YM), all subtitled by Acorn Media, UK. The data was manually checked and the choice of the episodes from different series was dictated by the search for consistency in the use of dialect in the original dialogue.

Series

M episodes

Rai

BBC4

Duration

No. of utterances

Italian utterances

Dialect utterances

1

Il ladro di merendine

The Snack Thief (M/ST)

1999

2012

1h. 45m.

735

651

89%

84

11%

3

Gita a Tindari

Excursion to Tindari (M/ET)

2001

2008

1h. 55m.

778

662

85%

116

15%

7

La Vampa d’Agosto

August Flame (M/AF)

2008

2012

1h. 45m.

1,003

884

88%

119

12%

8

La caccia al Tesoro

Treasure Hunt (M/TH)

2011

2012

1h. 40m.

708

616

87%

92

13%

 

Subtotal

 

 

 

3,224

2,813

87%

411

13%

 

Series

YM episodes

Rai

BBC4

Duration

No. of utterances

Italian utterances

Dialect utterances

1

Il primo caso

The first case (YM/FC)

2012

2013

1h. 58m.

918

702

76%

216

24%

1

Ferito a morte

Mortally Wounded (YM/MW)

2012

2013

1h. 50m.

830

592

71%

238

29%

2

Un’albicocca

An apricot (YM/A)

2015

2016

1h. 45m.

730

618

85%

112

15%

 

Subtotal

 

 

 

2,478

1,912

77%

566

23%

 

Total

 

 

12h. 38m.

5,702

4,725

83%

977

17%

Table 2. The episodes in the corpus

Table 2, starting from the left, accommodates the titles of the episodes analyzed, the year of first broadcast on Italian Rai and British BBC4, the duration of each episode, and the number of utterances, in order to quantify the actual presence of dialect in relation to standard Italian. For the purpose of the present study, utterances, chosen as units of measurement for the analysis of spoken dialogue, correspond to the turns, i.e. ‘chunks of talk that are marked off by a shift of speaker’ (Traum and Heeman 1997: 125). Thus, a turn finishes when another speaker starts talking: this means that its length may vary considerably according speaker interruptions or earlier responses, nonetheless, it offers the advantage of presenting clear-cut boundaries. The figures show a higher percentage of dialect in YM, reflecting the intention of the author and the leading actor, Michele Riondino (2013), of feeling freer to use code-switching into the local dialect more than in the preceding TV series.

4.1 The methodology

For the purpose of the present study, the descriptive analysis will present both quantitative and qualitative data, focusing on the subtitling strategies used for the following domains: (1) ECRs, delimited to proper names, that are personal, geographical, institutional, brand names, professional titles and food; (2) language-specific features such as the use of a dialectal lexicon; (3) the use of dialectal set phrases including ways of saying, idiomatic expressions, proverbs and figures of speech such as metaphors and similes. These elements all carry the main function of enhancing the rethorical effect and signalling to the translator ‘matters as intended meaning, implied meaning, presupposed meaning’ (Hatim and Mason 1997: 33) of the ST embedded in a specific socio-cultural context. Moreover, the study will include a qualitative analysis of the subtitling strategies used for the following features: variation in the syntactical construction, use of dialectal grammar, language–specific pragmatic features such as forms of address, repetition, suprasegmental prosodic elements, such as intonation, stress and rhythm.

The tables 3 and 4 show, in bold, examples of dialect or Italianized phrases and, in italics, of Italian ECRs, with a back translation in square brackets, when necessary. Retention is the subtitling strategy that is mostly used for ECRs in particular when belonging to the domains of proper names and food. In (1), cuddiruni represents the only case of a Sicilian ECR maintained in the subtitle, whereas more frequent are the cases of retention of Italian ECRs for food such as focaccia and pecorino. The borrowing is motivated by the fact that Livia, Montalbano’s partner, is not Sicilian, triggering a necessary intradiegetic explanation of the term. In (2), there is the first instance of the food ECR panelle, that occurs twice in the whole corpus and is subtitled using different strategies. In YM, the ECR is retained. Excerpt (3) is the only case of borrowing of a set phrase; the proverb in the Genovese dialect Omo piccin, tutto belin, not meant to be entirely clear to the Italian audience, is maintained unintelligible to the target audience.

Episode

Character

Original dialogue

Subtitle

YM/A

Y. M.

Hummm, ‘o (1) cuddiruni

That’s cuddiruni.

Livia

Cosa?

What?

Y. M.

 

 

 

‘O cuddiruni.

È una focaccia tipica

ripiena di pomodoro, patate,

acciughe, pecorino, origano

[O cuddiruni is a typical focaccia…]

Cuddiruni

is a kind of focaccia

filled with tomatoes, potatoes,

anchovies, pecorino, oregano

YM/FC

 

Y. M.

Qui ci stava Peppino

che vendeva pane e (2) panelle

That’s where Peppino used to sell

bread and panelle.

YM/A

Fazio

 

 (3) Omo piccin, tutto belin.

[Short man, with a long penis]

 “Omo piccin, tutto bellin.”

Table 3. Retention samples

Examples of Direct translation of dialect words are shown in the excerpts below in the case of an ECR (4), Sicilian lexicon (5) and a simile (6) subtitled using the closest possible equivalent.

YM/A

Lady

(4) Vircoche?

Apricots?

YM/MW

Y. M.

 

E’ grande e grosso ma pare  (5) nu picciriddu

[He is big and large but he is like a kid.]

He’s a big boy, but he’s like a kid.

 

YM/MW

Gegé

(6) Bedda como il sole (…)

Beautiful like the sun (…)

Table 4. Direct translation samples

In M’s first episode, (7), the word is translated through specification, whereas in the previous example, coming from the prequel, it was retained (2), possibly because of the higher dialect occurrences of the prequel that encouraged foreignizing choices in translation. In (8), explicitation of the marked meaning of the dialectal word cammurrìa is compensated for by a metaphorical addition in the subtitles, and, in (9), the culturally embedded meaning of the Sicilian idiom ‘o carbone vagnato è chisto, resorts to specification with the metaphorical unit in the target language.

M/ST

 

M.

Tu puoi andare a vendere pane e (7) panelle

[You can go and sell bread and panelle.]

You’ll be selling Ø chicpea patties

YM/MW

Fazio

 

(8) Cammurrìa da medici.

[Nuisance from doctors]

The doctors are a pain.

YM/FC

Y. M.

(9) O carbone vagnato è chisto, ah?

[This is wet coal, isn’t it?]

Have you got a guilty conscience?

Table 5. Specification samples

In (10), the ECR sfincione, a particular type of focaccia made in Palermo, is an example of generalization, as it becomes pizza. The dialectal lexeme nipotuzzo (11) is an affectionate form obtained by adding the Sicilian diminutive suffix –uzzo attached to the Italian root nipote/nephew. In (12), the simile uttered in dialect and the reformulation of the original dialogue to increase the strength of the utterance is condensed and made more general through the metaphor and hyperbole in the subtitle.

M/ET

Old man

 

Su mughiere c’aveva preparato uno (10) sfincione per primo.

[His wife had made sfincione as first course]

His wife had made pizza for us Ø.

M/ET

Man

Japichinu, il mio  (11) nipotuzzo.

Ø My nephew.

YM/FC

Cat

(12) È muta come nu pesce. Nu vole parlare cu nisciuno.

[She is dumb like a fish. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone]

She won’t say a word to anyone.

Table 6. Generalization samples

In (13), the substitution of the ECR camorristi with mafiosi performs a radical socio-cultural shift in connotation between the two criminal organizations of the Camorra and the Mafia, whose geographical origins are respectively in Campania and Sicily, triggering completely different mental associations in the Italian audience. Mimì is reporting to Montalbano a comment made by their superior who generally turns a blind eye to crime, personifying the despicable attitude of some Italian institutions. The use of camorristi adds communicative force to the offensive charge in the original dialogue. The substitution with mafiosi holds a different socio-cultural connotation but becomes more easily recognizable as stereotypically associated to Sicily for a foreign audience, precluding however a deeper understanding of Italian society and culture. In (14), there is a play on the linguistic ambiguity of the old-fashioned, dialectal lexeme osso pizziddu/pointy bone, therefore Montalbano asks for clarification. The substitution with walnut bone reproduces in the audience an equivalent effect of lack of clarity and of suggesting the shape of the bone, although the semantic association to the malleolus is lost. In this case, retention of the Sicilian lexeme could have been justified by the intradiegetic explanation of the following scenes. Moreover, the humorous effect of this particular scene is generated by repetition (15) that is omitted in the subtitles. In the dialectal sentence (16), although the plural form of the reflexive verb is already explicit, the set phrase tutte roie remarks the fact that both the people fell asleep, whereas, in the subtitle the subject becomes singular and the meaning changes.

M/ET

Mimì

Ha detto che era ora che

questa banda (13) de camorristi

che era il nostro commissariato (…)

[He said it was time that this gang of camorristi which is our station (…)]

He said he was pleased

That this gang of mafiosi,

Meaning our station (…)

 

YM/MW

Y. M.

(14) L’osso pizziddu?

(15) Unne ha l’osso pizziddu?

[The pointy bone?

Where’s the pointy bone?]

Ø

Where’s the walnut bone?

M/ET

Lady

 

(16) Ce addormiscemo tutte roie.

[We fell asleep the two of us.]

He slept all the way home.

Table 7. Substitution samples

The following excerpts present examples of total omission. In (17), there is deletion of the Sicilian proper name and culturally connoted form of address in an inverted position in comparison to the standard word order. In (18), the omission of the Sicilian word criata and of the emphatically left dislocated object affects coherence of the subtitle and tones it down, as the deictic pronoun holds no immediate reference and word order is also standardised. In (19), the frequently used dialectal metaphorical image referring to the dominion of the basic literacy skills is omitted.

M/ET

M.

 

(17) Calogero carissimo, che cosa abbiamo di buono oggi?

[Calogero dearest, what do we have that is good today?]

Ø What do you recommend today?

YM/FC

Fazio

 

Mia moglie di (18) criate in casa non ne vuole sentire parlare.

[My wife of maids in the house doesn’t want to hear talking about]

My wife won’t hear of it. Ø

YM/A

Mimì

Guarda io, (19) per non sapere ne leggere ne scrivere, ora vado subito dal PM

[Look, although I can neither read nor write, I am going immediately to the Public Prosecutor]

Ø I’ll go and ask

The public prosecutor.

Table 8. Omission samples

Moreover, the presence of idiomaticity and culturally embedded set phrases as an important connotative feature of dialect may encourage the subtitler to employ compensation strategies, inserting idiomaticity in cases when this is not present in the source dialogue. Such cases have been included in the quantitative data as samples of substitution, although the dialectal sentence in the source dialogue does not really appear as a strong phraseological unit. In (20), the plain dialectal phrase is translated metaphorically and, in (21), the embedded dialectal sentence of the ST, which has no particular idiomatic strength, is translated with an idiom in the TT, through substitution and compensation. The subtitler changes the meaning of the source language moving from an expression of loneliness to one of extreme poverty supported by intersemiotic coherence to the image on screen, showing the old man living in a shed.

M/TH

Girl

 

(20) Nun me potto catamiare.

[I couldn’t move]

I was scared to death.

 

YM/MW

Old man

 

 (21) No aio a nuddu che me dona audienzia

[I don’t have anybody listening to me]

I don’t have

two pennies to rub together…

 

Table 9. Substitution/compensation samples

The longer dialogue reported in Table 10 provides a visual representation of the amount of code-switching in the ST, offering proof that, in the prequel, Montalbano uses dialect more freely and extensively when emotionally involved. It also suggests a number of comments on recurring syntactical and structural features of dialect that are usually omitted or normalised in the subtitles and will be used for a qualitative analysis. The over-inquisitive tone of the theatrical exchange between the housekeeper Adelina and Montalbano plays on the stereotypical obsession of southern Italian women for pasta and home-cooking. Busiate di pasta is a Sicilian type of fresh pasta from Trapani and it is traditionally served with a local variety of pesto. Therefore, finding them in Montalbano’s fridge implies that the inspector is going to eat something that was not homemade by Adelina, who takes it as a personal offence. In line (22), the subtitle offers a generalization losing the original connotation and an opportunity for retention of a dialectal word, whose meaning is clarified by the image of busiate on screen. The amount of code-switching between standard Italian and Sicilian lexicon and syntax used by the emotionally involved interlocutors is represented by the words in bold. In spite of the aggressive sounding tone, the dialogue maintains a formal register that represents the respectful distance, mandatory between people of different ages and class, increasing the humorous effect of the exchange. The scene starts with the frequently repeated title dottore, used in Southern dialects as a connotative epithet of respect for professional people, that is generalised in the subtitle. The differentiation between forms of address in Southern dialects and standard Italian, as a key sign of respect, is exemplified by Adelina’s dialectal use of the second person plural pronoun vossìa in lines (24) and (28) in comparison to Montalbano’s answers in formal Italian using the third person singular senta in line (30). They are both standardised in translation. Moreover, the prosodic feature of intonation conveyed by the use of the question tag eh?, in line (25), is omitted, whereas, in line (30), the marker of intonation va bene? is generalised and domesticated. Examples of dialectal syntax are present in the use of the past tenses trovai (line 22), nacqui (line 23), so scurdò (line 31) instead of the present perfect tense ho trovato, sono nato, si è scordato and in the forward shift of the verbs in lines (28) and (32). As stressed by Gutt (1991: 151, quoted in Leppihalme 1997: 53), proverbs ‘express popular insights’ and in case in which they do not get recognized as proverbs they may well lose their communicative force in translation. As we said, the use of proverbs, idiomatic expressions, clichés is a frequent trait of dialect. The dialogue shows examples of omission of phraseological units that reinforce emotional tension like mancu morta (line 29) and the interjection talea a chista in line (35). The substitutions of the regional proverbs impincimento porta giovamento (line 33) and of the metaphorical expression cose da n’escere pazzo proprio (line 36) maintain functional equivalence in translation.

(22) Dottore! Nel frigo ci trovai queste

busiate di pasta.

(23) E siccome che non nacqui aieri.

(24) Vossìa se le vuole sbafare

(25) con il pesto alla trapanese, eh?

[Sir, I found these busiate of pasta in the fridge and since I wasn’t born yesterday you want to eat them with Trapani-style pesto, don’t you?]

Sir, I found this pasta in the fridge.

 

I wasn’t born yesterday.

You were going to eat it

With Trapani-style pesto Ø.

(26) Da quando in qua mi si mette a perquisire magari il frigorifero?

(27) E poi a mìa, ‘o pesto me piace assai.

[How long have you started also searching my fridge?And then, I love pesto very much]

Ø Are you searching my fridge now?

 

Anyway, I love pesto.

(28) Peggio pevossìa. Io persona seria sono

(29) Né lo faccio, né manco mo mangiasse, mancu morta il pesto.

[It serves you right. I am a serious person.

I don’t do it and I wouldn’t eat pesto, not even if I was dead]

Too bad for you! I do things properly

And I’ll never make pesto or eat it. Ø

 

(30) Senta io le busiate me le sbafo come meglio credo, va bene?

(31) E poi tanto Dindò ‘o pesto so scurdò

[Can you listen? I am eating busiate as I hink it is better, all right? Anyway, Dindò forgot the pesto]

Look, I eat pasta how I want, OK?

Dindò forgot the pesto anyway.

(32) Meglio è.

(33) Impincimento porta giovamento

(34) Ce le faccio col sugo mio,

che pure meglio de chiddautro è

[It is better. Obstacles bring benefit. I’ll cook it to you with my sauce, that is better than the other].

Good.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

I’ll cook it with Ø sauce.

It’s much better than that stuff.

(35) Ma talea a chista!

(36) Cose da n’escere pazze proprio.

[But look at her! Things to go mad]

Ø

It’s enough to drive you crazy.

Table 10. From YM/MW – Busiate di pasta

When talking about translation and intercultural communication, Katan adopts Hall’s (1990 quoted by Katan 2014) triadic image of culture as icebergs, where the lexical level of ECRs still belongs to the tip of the iceberg, being a ‘technical level’ where the translation dilemmas are visible. What is less evident and, therefore, subtler is to be found under the surface where ‘the issue is no longer that of technical explanation of a different term, but that of explaining different sets of behaviours and culture-bound practices’ (Katan 2014: 61). At this level, register alteration often brings about a different perception of characters and of the context of situation. In the dialogue between Adelina and Montalbano, besides linguistic formal distance that is not conveyed in the subtitle, dialect code-switching conveys a sense of caring affection between the interlocutors: therefore, Montalbano’s first reply da quando in quando si mette a perquisire magari il frigorifero (line 26) sounds milder and less aggressive than the subtitle. Also in line (34) ce lo faccio col sugo mio is left with no personal reference, through the omission of the personal pronoun and the possessive adjective. Normalization in subtitling may reproduce misperceptions in the target audience, guided by unconscious sets of beliefs and behaviours, intensifying ‘already well–inculcated stereotypes regarding Italians.’ (Katan 2014: 62). The interpersonal dimension and the speakers’ intentions embedded at the linguistic level, once sanitized, will find barely enough elements in the interplay of the other semiotic channels to be grasped by the audience.

5. Results

Table 11 shows a summary of the total occurrences of culturally-embedded language in the corpus used for the quantitative analysis. The categories include ECRs, dialectal lexical items and set phrases considered in the seven episodes. In the data, occurrences of ECRs are higher, compared to Sicilian lexical items and set phrases, and include mainly regional terminology, that is culture-bound Italianized words, rather than specific dialectal lexicon, only present in the domain of food. ECR occurrences are subtitled through Retention, therefore maintaining maximum fidelity to the source language, but also through Generalization and Omission, whose percentages are quite significant. At the linguistic level, where the ST presents frequent code-switching into dialect, lexical items are mainly domesticated, whereas set phrases undergo a more moderate form of domestication with high percentages of Specification that at sentence level includes processes of Explicitation, Addition and Reformulation in order to reach functional equivalence. Moreover, the use of substitution includes a few interesting cases of Compensation where the communicative connotation of idiomaticity is inserted in the translation of dialectal phrases with no particular idiomatic strength, in order to counterbalance the toning down of previous cases. Therefore, Substitution and Compensation become important strategies for the purpose of communicating the source text intentions.

 

 

Foreignizing

Domesticating

 

 

maximum

high

moderate

low

missing

Episodes

 

Total

Retention

Literal translation

Specification

Generalization

Substitution

Omission

M/ST

 

 

 

 

ECRs

178

64

35.9%

15

8.4%

4

2.2%

30

16.8%

26

14.6%

39

21.9%

M/ET

208

69

33.1%

12

5.7%

-

-

48

23%

33

15.8%

46

22.1%

M/AF

159

45

28.3%

6

3.7%

4

2.5%

44

27.6%

29

18.2%

31

19.4%

M/TH

101

22

21.7%

5

4.9%

2

1.9%

39

38.6%

16

15.8%

17

16.8%

YM/FC

196

46

23.4%

11

5.5%

10

15.1%

54

27.5%

37

18.8%

38

19.3%

YM/MW

178

38

21.3%

26

14.6%

1

0.5%

49

27.5%

35

19.6%

29

16.2%

YM/A

154

43

27.9%

28

18.1%

9

5.8%

11

7.1%

24

15.5%

39

25.3%

M/ST

 

 

 

Lexical items

42

-

-

4

9.5%

4

9.5%

26

61.9%

2

4.7%

6

14.2%

M/ET

68

-

-

2

12.9%

11

16.1%

38

55.8%

3

4.4%

14

20.5%

M/AF

43

-

-

-

-

3

6.9%

30

69.7%

2

4.6%

8

18.6%

M/TH

49

-

-

-

-

4

8.1%

37

75.5%

-

-

8

16.3%

YM/FC

54

-

-

-

-

-

-

33

61.1%

-

-

21

38.9%

YM/MW

114

-

-

1

0.8%

25

21.9%

58

50.8%

3

2.6%

27

23.6%

YM/A

49

-

-

3

6.1%

5

10.2%

22

44.8%

4

8.1%

15

30.6%

M/ST

 

 

 

Set phrases

 

 

16

-

-

1

6.2%

10

62.5%

3

18.7%

1

6.2%

1

6.2%

M/ET

17

-

-

-

-

4

23.5%

6

35.2%

4

23.5%

3

17.6%

M/AF

10

-

-

-

-

3

30%

5

50%

-

-

2

20%

M/TH

22

-

-

3

12.6%

6

27.4%

11

50%

1

4.5%

1

4.5%

YM/FC

17

-

-

-

-

3

17.6%

12

70.5%

-

-

2

11.7%

YM/MW

38

-

-

5

13.1%

16

42.1%

10

26.3%

1

2.6%

6

15.7%

YM/A

14

1

7.1%

1

7.1%

3

21.4%

6

42.8%

1

7.1%

2

14.2%

Table 11. Summarizing table of subtitling strategies

The ECR domains are listed in table 12. Professional titles stand out with the highest number of entries, due to the common trait of title repetition in regional language. However, since their use is culturally embedded, these are mainly subtitled through the domesticating strategies of Generalization, Substitution and Omission. On the other hand, foreignizing strategies are mainly used in the domains of brand names, geographical and personal names and in the case of words related to food, where, besides the internationally recognized nouns of pasta and pizza, we also find frequent retention of regional words like cuddiruni, caponata, cassatelle, arancini, and so on.

 

Foreignizing

Domesticating

 

maximum

high

moderate

low

missing

ECRs (1,172)

Retention

Literal translation

Specification

Generalization

Substitution

Omission

Personal

names (59)

41

 

69.4%

9

15.2%

3

5.5%

1

1.6%

1

1.6%

4

6.7%

Geographical

names  (240)

194

80.8%

16

6.6%

-

-

-

-

1

0.5%

29

12.1%

Institutional

names (53)

6

11.3%

18

33.9%

3

5.7%

6

11.4%

17

32.1%

3

5.6%

 

Brand

names (10)

10

 

100%

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Professional

titles (726)

13

1.7%

57

7.8%

22

3.1%

261

35.9%

176

24.3%

197

27.2%

Food (71)

47

66.2%

6

8.5%

1

1.4%

7

9.8%

4

5.7%

6

8.4%

 

Currency (12)

12

 

100%

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Measurements (1)

-

 

-

-

-

1

100%

-

-

-

-

-

-

Table 12. ECRs’ domains and subtitling strategies

As for the language-specific features of dialect, at the linguistic level, lexical items and set phrases are generally subtitled using domesticating strategies. In particular, Generalization and Omission are the main strategies used for specific dialectal lexemes. As for the level of set phrases, domestication tends to be more moderate considering the lower percentage of Omission. Set phrases are frequently translated through Specification, demonstrating an effort to maintain functional equivalence, where literal correspondence is not possible. However, as the homogenising convention tends to be the general norm (Chiaro 2009), language variation is generally omitted or normalised with loss of code-switching.

 

Foreignizing

Domesticating

 

maximum

high

moderate

low

missing

Language-specific features of dialect

Retention

Literal translation

Specification

Generalization

Substitution

Omission

Lexical items (416)

-

-

10

2.5%

52

12.5%

244

58.6%

14

3.4%

96

23%

 

Set phrases (132)

1

0.7%

 

10

7.5%

45

34%

52

40.1%

7

5.2%

17

12.5%

Table 13. Language-specific domains and subtitling strategies

As suggested by Gottlieb (2009), subtitling from a lesser-known language like Italian into English is considered a case of ‘upstream translation’, in which the language transfer tends to lean more towards domestication into the stronger language. In line with the scholar’s thinking, the cases of retention present in the corpus mainly pertain to the technical level of ECRs and loan words belonging to the domain of food and organized crime, which do not challenge the level of familiarity with the Sicilian culture in the foreign audience. Moreover, omission of the formal register and of the connotative elements that show social distance, produce a shift to an informal tone that confirms the stereotypical images of southern Italian immigrant and of their bare mastery of the English language.

6. Conclusions

Standardization and omission of language variation and code-switching affects characters’ representation with the result of ‘de-emphasising of the sicilianità’ (Kapsaskis and Artegiani 2011: 96) and of the socio-cultural elements of the ST. Therefore, the pursuit of readability remains the norm even in cases when retention of dialectal lexemes would be fostered by intersemiotic support from the visual channel. On the other hand, the presence in the subtitle of a very limited number of ECRs only pertaining to the familiar domains of food and organized crime reinforces the stereotypical traits normally associated with the Sicilian culture. Moving beyond the technical level of language translation, the deletion of specific features of dialect such as repetition and register alteration thoroughly involves what Katan describes as ‘impression management’ (2014: 62) of the foreign audience in intercultural communication, producing a misperception of the emotional impact of characters and of the context in which they act.

Moreover, if we consider the translation strategies used for language variation and code-switching, according to the canonical prism of foreignization and domestication, it can be argued that Retention and Direct translation of regionalism are not necessarily a signal of moving the audience towards the SC but rather they may just force awkwardness in the TT without unravelling the communicative force of the original. Thus, the use of domesticating strategies like Compensation and Adaptation may be more adequate to this purpose. This is to be achieved by the subtitler through the construction of a personal subtext of colloquialisms and irregular syntactical structures, not to be inserted in correspondence to the ones found in the ST but rather when more appropriate to the target language (Cipolla 2006). The balancing act between the two tendencies may add to the construction of intercultural understanding and to the recognition of the role of the translators/subtitlers called to be active ‘agents of change in a culture’ (Cronin 2003: 68) or rather ‘mindful mediators’ (Katan 2014: 66) able to make decisions on what needs to be translated.

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Notes

[1] Pedersen (2011) uses the term specification to refer to cases in which the ECR remains untranslated and further explanation is added through completion, that is the spelling out of acronyms, or addition through meronymy, polysemy or hyponymy. In this sense, Specification comes before Direct Translation in terms of the degree of fidelity to the ST.

[2] M includes 11 series and 30 episodes running from 1999 until 2017, whereas YM includes 2 series and 12 episodes running from 2012 until 2015.The capitalized initials will be used only in reference to the TV-series, whereas the full name will be used when addressing Montalbano within the text and the abbreviation M. in the tables of excerpts.

About the author(s)

Mariagrazia De Meo is a researcher and senior lecturer in English Language and Linguistics at the University of Salerno, Italy. Her areas of interest are sociolinguistics, pragmatics and language teaching. More recently her research has focused on audio-visual translation, subtitling of culture-bound language, ESP and the translation and adaptation of English for Art Purposes.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Mariagrazia De Meo (2020).
"Subtitling dialect in Inspector Montalbano and Young Montalbano"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: The Translation of Dialects in Multimedia IV
Edited by: Klaus Geyer & Margherita Dore
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2466

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