Transmedia Storytelling, Translocal Productions:

Audiovisual Strategies of Globalization in Australia

By Katherine E. Russo (University of Naples 'L'Orientale', Italy)

Abstract & Keywords

One of the fundamental problems underlying the English as a global language vs. local languages debate is that they often adhere to the dichotomous ‘global vs. local’ vision of transnational communication, treating them as incommensurable discourses and often reviving the spectre of cultural authenticity. Yet global movies, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, use the potential of transmedia and transcultural strategies to reach a global audience. The production of such movies exploits the growing realization within the media industries that what is variously called «transmedia, multiplatform, or enhanced storytelling» represents the future of entertainment and its economic growth (Jenkins 2003; 2006). On the other side, in order to enter the daily lives of its global audience, the film production decided to exploit the power of another social good: Australian culture. Thus, as the critical applied linguistics scholar, Alistair Pennycook, notes, the literature on English as a global language has often failed to investigate whether English as a global language may be defined as a «translocal» language, a language of fluidity that moves across, while becoming embedded in, the materiality of localities and social relations. The analysis of interlingual translations of post-colonial English language varieties, but also of their intralingual translation into global English, will provide some significant «insights» on how the materiality of globalization shapes translocal social knowledge, creates translocal audiences and contributes to the creation of a supervernacular language. Following this line of thought, the aim of the article is to claim a central space for Audiovisual Translation studies in the study of English as a global language.

Keywords: storytelling, global English, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, translocal audiences, audiovisual translation

©inTRAlinea & Katherine E. Russo (2014).
"Transmedia Storytelling, Translocal Productions:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL:

1. Introduction

One of the main outcomes of the recent debate on the relationship between English as a global language and post-colonial varieties of English is the abandonment of the dichotomous ‘global vs. local’ vision of translation flows (Bollettieri Bosinelli and Di Giovanni 2009; Cronin 2003; Snell-Hornby 2000). Similarly, audiovisual translation of post-colonial English varieties in the era of multimedia localization, the deterritorialization of mass communication through cable TV, and digital broadcasting, entails the shift from the conceptualization of resident and non-dynamic source and target language ecologies to translocalor supra-cultural language ecologies. Yet, the critical literature on audiovisual translation has often failed to take into consideration the transformative agency of post-colonial English language varieties and to investigate whether English as a global language may be defined as a “translocal” language, a language of fluidity that moves across, while becoming embedded in, the materiality of localities and social relations (Blommaert 2010; Pennycook 2007). As Jan Blommaert notes, the homogenizing force of English as a global language can be encountered only in en-globalized forms, i.e. dialects or local semiotic forms “which are prepared to go global” and emerge in the context of technology-driven globalization processes (2012: 9). Such semiotic codes may be defined as supervernaculars, where the ‘super’ is an equivalent of ‘trans-’ and refers to semiotic complexes whose composition and circulation transcend those of local semiotic complexes. Accordingly, the sociolinguistics of globalization unveils two coordinated processes:

(a) the rules of the supervernacular are adopted along with part of its core vocabulary —this is the ‘englobalization’ aspect of the formation of the code;

(b) they are appliedto and blended with local vernacular language into a dialect — the ‘deglobalization’aspect of the process. (Blommaert 2012: 9)

Following this line of thought, the article contends that audiovisual globalization exists as the interplay between englobalization and deglobalization, in which linguistic resources from complex local repertoires are being mobilized and deployed in meaning-making. Audiences witness the process of globalization in the audiovisual translation of post-colonial varieties of English, through their encounter with the phenomenology of englobalization and deglobalization.Therefore, the analysis of interlingual translations of post-colonial English language varieties, but also of their intralingual translation into global English provides significant “insights” on how the materiality of globalization shapes translocal social knowledge, creates translocal audiences and contributes to the creation of supervernacular languages.

2. Audiovisual Translation and Globalization

As Henrik Gottlieb’s recent study on the audiovisual translation of “minor but not marginal” languages demonstrates (Gottlieb 2009), cultural and linguistic difference are often not preserved in intra- and interlingual audiovisual translation giving way to the standardization of a global code or mainstreaming and fitting the general condensation strategies of subtitling. Gottlieb argues that extralinguistic culture-bound references (hereinafter ECR), with the most evident impact on lexical items designating phenomena specific to the culture in which they are used, are most likely to incur in explicatory, adaptive and deletive strategies in upstream subtitling, so that their exotic expressions, alien allusions and foreign settings end up being more palatable to a predominantly monolingual anglophone audience. On the other hand, ECR from the anglophone world are more likely to be recognised abroad and, therefore, they are often preserved in downstream AVT (Figure 1 and Table 1). Accordingly, in analyses of audiovisual translations of minor languages and language varieties, scholars continue to point to the need for an approach based on the ethics of difference. Such a stance, as Lawrence Venuti famously claims, “urges that translation be written, read, and evaluated with greater respect for linguistic and cultural differences … minoritizing the standard dialect” in “opposition to the global hegemony of English” (Venuti 1995: 6, 10).

Figure 1. extralinguistic culture-bound references in AVT


Gottlieb’s strategies for translating culture specific items (2009)
Maximum Fidelity Retention
High Fidelity Literal Translation
Low Fidelity Specification
Minimum Fidelity Omission

Table 1. strategies for translating culture-specific items in AVT

The audiovisual translation of post-colonial English language varieties into global English and into other languages is conditioned by the necessity of either retaining or omitting the ECRs of these varieties which are often central to the articulation of post-colonial identity. In the audiovisual translation of post-colonial English varieties, the items which have attracted most interest are Indigenous strands  loanwords, loan translation, semantic shift, and code-switching. Yet what seems problematic is that while studies in audiovisual translation have abandoned fraught categorisations such as equivalence and fidelity, highlighting that the polysemiotic text does not convey «natural» languages (Taylor 2006), studies on minor languages, L3s and language variation in audiovisual translation seem to fall back into fraught categorisations such as fidelity and authenticity, implying that minor languages need to be protected and retained to avoid the erasure of ‘authentic’ cultures. Instead, countering widespread assumptions about the delocalizing and homogenizing force of globalization, supranational production of global movies has exploited the growing realization within the media industries that while transmedia, multiplatform, or enhanced storytelling represents the future of entertainment and its economic growth, it mustexploit the power of another social good: translocal culture.Films intended for global production and distribution contribute to the creation of a state of translocal intersubjectivity (shared meaning) and social knowledge, although the latter is often based on a non-reciprocal relation since it is often influenced by the anglophone target readerships/audience knowledge and apprehension of familiar and reassuring cultural markers (Riley 2007: 30-31). As the following case-study suggests, ECR are adopted in films such as Baz Lurhmann’s Australia (2008) to create translocal audiences and intersubjective meanings that share none of the traditional attributes of speech communities — territorial fixedness, physical proximity, socio-cultural sharedness and common backgrounds. In this sense, locality is linguistically conveyed in the film through Australian ECR such as walkabout, kangaroo, and koala (compounds and loanwords of the first phases of Australian settler strand nativization), but also through the indexical use of new loanwords, loan translations and semantic shifts which indicate a push towards reconciliation and mutual recognition, as in the case of gulapa, home etc. (Schneider 2007; Leitner 2004).These new forms may highlight, because of their extreme clarity, some fundamental aspects of audiovisual globalization processes. In Blommaert’s words,

Globalization and its new supervernaculars offer us a rich terrain for exploring such phenomena and their dialects. Global phenomena only occur in real life in the form of their many dialects. Such dialects and processes of dialect formation can have different directions and degrees of dynamism, each time tied to (as well as creating) local orders of indexicality, and inquiring into such diverse processes will illuminate a lot about the foundations of language usage in culture and society. (2012: 12)

3. Australia and the Audiovisual Translation of Translocality

Set in the Northern Territory on the eve of the Second World War, the melodramatic, postmodern adventure film Australia(2008), tells the story of the competition between the cattle baron, King Carney (Bryan Brown) and Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), to win a contract from the Australian Defence Force to feed the army. Lady Sarah Ashley inherits the cattle station, Faraway Downs, from her murdered husband and initially intends to sell the station. Yet she  converts into a frontierswoman, falls in love with the Drover and wishes to adopt the young Aboriginal orphan, Nullah. When King Carney orders his future son-in-law to stop Lady Sarah, she appeals to the Drover (Hugh Jackman) who, together with a team of Aboriginal station workers, drives the cattle  to Darwin amid numerous perils.

Directed and written, as well as produced, by Baz Luhrmann, together with G. Mac Brown and Catherine Knapman, Australiawas released in 2008 by 20th Century Fox. Yet Australiamay be defined as a translocal movie, whose intent was to use the potential of transmedia and transcoding strategies to reach a global audience. The production exploited the growing realization within the media industries and franchising companies that what is variously called “transmedia, multiplatform, or enhanced storytelling” represents the future of entertainment and its economic growth (Jenkins 2003, 2006). That is, it lowered its production costs by sharing assets with the company, Tourism Western Australia, which spent $1 million on a campaign linked with the release of Australia in the United States, Canada, Japan, Europe and South Korea, and tied in with an international Tourism Australia plan. Baz Luhrmann in turn shot the commercial, “Come Walkabout”(2008), exploiting the connection with the film and the young Aboriginal actor Brandon Walters, and especially the discursive ethnification and exoticisation inherent in the Aboriginal English compound walkabout. The Aboriginal English compound walkabout, which refers to traditional spiritual journeys taken by Aboriginal peoples, has undergone a semantic shift in Australian English  (“to go for a walk”) and is often  used as a racist referential strategy to indicate unreliability, yet the commercial obviously calls for the re-appropriation of the original meaning of the compound to entice customers to travel to Australia.

Concerned about the recession and fluctuating international fuel prices, the tourism industry hoped that Luhrmann's film would deliver visitors from all over the world in the same kind of numbers that came to the country following the 1986 release of Crocodile Dundee, and following the significant increase in visitors to New Zealand since 2001 after the release of the Lord of the Rings films. Accordingly, the Twentieth Century Fox DVD is complemented with a joint Emirates and Twentieth Century Fox leaflet advertising flights to Australia.

Moreover, as aforementioned, the film production decided to exploit the power of localityin order to enter the daily lives of its global audience. By dealing explicitly with the most discussed Australian political issue of the last twenty years and exploiting the affective amplification fuelled by the debate regarding the Apology to the Stolen Generations by the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, it entered the house of every ordinary citizen each time local media discussed the issue. It did so by playing upon the investment by the Australian broadcasting media in affective saturation, intensification and domination (Martin and White 2005).

 While significantly the famous British based Australian expat intellectual, Germaine Greer (2008) wrote an outraged article on the non-authenticity of the film and its historical inaccuracy, in Australia, it gained so much momentum through its affective exploitation of the discourses of Reconciliation that Marcia Langton (2008), arguably one of the most overtly critical Aboriginal intellectuals, celebrated the film as an historical turning point in the relation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The film also succeeded in marketing Australian Reconciliation culture for tourism through the exploitation of pastiche and intertextuality. Selling Reconciliation to the globe entailed explaining ECRs, such as the Aboriginal Dreaming Law through the catch motive of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the creation of a common social knowledge, through the quotation of foundational films of the settler imagination such as Crocodile Dundee.

With these goals in mind, the film also astutely built upon the metaphorical significance of language variation and of code-switching tied to settler/Indigenous social interaction (Bucholtz and Hall 2005). At least four English varieties, each corresponding to the specific characterisation of a protagonist, can be identified already in the first 8 minutes of the movie:

1) Settler Strand: Received Pronunciation

2) Settler Strand: Broad Australian

3) Indigenous Strand: Aboriginal Cattle Kriol

4) Indigenous Strand: Mix of Aboriginal languages (Yolngu, Gurindji)

Language variation is central to the film, as it indexes the complex struggle for co-habitation and national belonging in Australian contact zones, such as outback stations. Accordingly, ECR, loanwords, and loan translation contribute to a specific function of conversational code-switching (Gumperz 1982),  that is, a post-colonial form of speaker positioning and identity negotiation, i.e. accommodation and re-routing.

Both Broad Australian speakers and Aboriginal English speakers make use of ECRs, loanwords, semantic shift, and loan translation. In multilingual movies, as Lukas Bleichenbacher has aptly noted (2008: 191), code-mixing and  code-switching into languages other than English and into different varieties of the same language are typically unrealistic and linguistically unmotivated, as they merely serve the purposes of stereotyping and characterization. Therefore, they respond to linguistic motivations, where the fictional language choices mirror psycholinguistic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic factors which are pertinent in real-life interactions, or to narrative motivations, where code-switching is used for narrative aims, specifically characterization or editing. Drawing upon Lukas Bleichenbacher’s framework for the classification of the motivations for inter and intra sentential code-switching, code-mixing and loanwords in Multilingual Hollywood films, this analysis identifies their narrative use as identity markers (characterisation and stereotyping) and geographical indexing:

- Situational code-switching: scenes where code-switching into another language is motivated by situational factors. These factors include aspects of the communicative situation, such as the speaker’s linguistic repertoire, the addressee(s) of a turn, or the topic.

- Indexical code-switching: scenes where there is a complete absence of any psycholinguistic, pragmatic and sociolinguistic reason for characters to code-switch. Rather, the characters code-switch for the benefit of the viewer, as a mere index of their ethnolinguistic background.

- Language display used to enhance a character’s self-image and identity.

- Language display related to post-colonial accommodation and rerouting.

The analysis has found that ECRs are used as cumulative motifs and contribute to affective intensification through repetition, rhythm and intonation (Martin and White 2005: 20). That is, isolated Australian English and Aboriginal English extralinguistic cultural references and loanwords are low in frequency, but are highly emphasised by prosodic strategies. They are all present in the first 20 minutes of the film and are repeated throughout the film at pivotal moments for language display, characterisation and the specific display of post-colonial accommodation and re-routing through the use of a Settler/Indigenous middle-of-the-road dialect  (Mufwene 2001; Schneider 2007; Trudgill 1986).

Loanwords and code-switching are most notably used for language display and accommodation by the British aristocrat, Lady Ashley (played by Australian actress Nicole Kidman), both in the English and the Australian first scenes regarding her landing in the Australian outback. Nicole Kidman who puts on her best Received Pronunciation at the beginning of the film, gradually accommodates her speech, as in the pivotal scene of the cattle’s arrival in Darwin, where she is re-born as Australian due to her successful driving of the cattle through the desert. The scene is amplified through the two exclamations, “crikey!” and “cheeky black bulls!”, respectively a typical exclamation by the popular Australian television showman, the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin,  and an Aboriginal English semantic shift, which she  uses to express solidarity and membershipping towards the Drover and the Aboriginal boy Nullah.

In the beginning of the film Lady Ashley displays an ironic use of two foundational Broad Australian English items, billabong, an Aboriginal loanword referring to a pool or lagoon, which has entered Standard Australian English, and the Australian English compound outback in order to distance herself from Australians and define her British metropolitan identity. Yet after the first scenes, the linguistic realisation of the process of accommodation in her speech is quite straightforward. It is Lady Ashley, who by living in Australia, slowly accommodates her speech to that of Australians, thus using code-switching for self-identification and identity negotiation. Yet in her entering the Australian linguistic ecology, represented by the life in the outback, she never accommodates her speech to the hate speech and derogatory terms of the racist settler Fletcher and his helpers, but to that of Drover (the good side of outback settlers, who embraces Aboriginal culture and actually marries an Aboriginal woman) and Nullah the young Aboriginal boy whom she would like to mother.

The difficulty in translating post-colonial loanwords and semantic shifts related to place (Table 1) is partly solved by the presence of the other semiotic channels, such as the long footing of Australian landscapes and the employment of both international and local music, which ensures their persistent trace. Keeping in mind the tourism target oriented aims of the movie, and the  strategic use of lexical cohesion for affective amplification, both the dubbers and subtitlers have largely retained geographical indexes apart from the semantic shift “home”, which is related to the Aboriginal sense of belonging to place.


Eng. Sub.

Ita. Sub.

Ita Dub.

Geographical indexes
















Identity Markers


























Lit. Trans.










Table 2. Audiovisual translation of ECR

Yet in the case of identity markers (Table 1), AV translation choices are differentiated. The movie begins with a voiceover by the Aboriginal boy, Nullah, in a variety that closely resembles Cattle Kriol and in the first sentence he introduces one of the most prominent metaphors of the movie, the walkabout. The general goal of exoticisation, foreignisation and localisation in the audiovisual translation of the film would have entailed the retention of the Australian compound walkabout, a lexeme which as aforementioned has become one of the most common, yet often derogatory and racist, culture-bound terms of Aboriginality. Yet while it is retained in the English subtitles, as it is fairly well known in global English culture, it is significantly generalised in the Italian dubbed version and subtitles.

On the other hand, the loanword gulapa, which is used for characterisation and language display throughout the movie by Nullah as it stands for his spiritual heritage, is retained for it is a measure of cultural incommensurability and untranslatability.

Eng. Sub. It. Sub. It. Dub.
N: I let you see me now. N: Ora mi faccio vedere N: Ora ti lascio vedere me
LA: Who are you? LA: Chi sei? -Chi sei tu?
N: I Nullah. N: Io sono Nullah N:Io Nullah.
LA: How did you get in here? LA: Come sei entrato qui? LA: Come sei entrato qui?
N: I make myself invisible...
with gulapa magic!
N: Mi sono fatto
invisibile con magia gulapa!
N: Mi sono fatto invisibile con magia di gulapa!
LA: What do you want? LA: Che cosa vuoi? LA: Che cosa vuoi?
N: That balanda Fletcher
been curse this place
But you like
Rainbow Serpent
You mien-muk.
You heal this land,
so I sing you to me.
Like I sing a fish to me. […]
So that's why
I took him down the billabong
N: Quel balanda di Fletcher
Ha maledetto questo posto
Ma tu sei come
il Serpente Arcobaleno
Tu mien-muk
Tu curerai questa terra
E allora io canto te a me
Come canto i pesci a me […]
Per questo
io l’ho portato giù al Billabong
N:Quel balanda Fletcher  ha portato maledizione qui  ma tu come  Serpente Arcobaleno Tu Mien-muk Tu cura questa terra  E allora io canto te a me  Come canto i pesci a me […] Per quello io porto lui al Billabong

Table 3. Lady Ashley and Nullah’s first encounter

As the dialogue in Table 2 shows, the item gulapa signals a clear Aboriginal sociolinguistic pattern since in Aboriginal English varieties loanwords are often used to refer to secret/sacred knowledge. Secret/sacred knowledge is often taught to younger members of the family by an elder, such as Nullah’s grandfather. Following a methodology based on the cognitive cultural conceptualisations of Indigenous Australian speakers (Sharifian 2006), it may be argued that Nullah’s uses of the loanword gulapa, and mienmuk (The Rainbow Serpent of the Dreaming Law) are based on the well documented constitutive interconnection between spiritual knowledge, kinship, and place, where individuals are temporarily responsible for knowledge and custodianship of specific places due to particular ‘social positions’, kinship connections and languages. The scene’s informative function in relation to Aboriginal spirituality is also indexed by Nullah’s song, since singing in Aboriginal traditional cultures has the spiritual power of transforming reality and is related to the ancestral period of creation known as the Dreaming Law.

In the same scene, Nullah uses the loanword balanda (white man).Aboriginal English speakers often demonstrate their avoidance of English in referring to ‘white’ people. For instance, the term for white man is wajala in Western Australia, migaloo in Queensland, balanda in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory).The loanword balandain the film indicates another specific sociolinguistic function as the use of loanwords regarding matters of institutionalisation, such as the experience of life on reserves, cattle stations, missions, prison, police, and deaths in custody is frequent in Aboriginal English varieties. The choice of avoidance patterns to speak about the pain of dispossession, displacement, deaths in custody, etc., is made evident in the maintenance of loanwords related to brutal experiences of jail, alcohol, violence and sexual exploitation. In this case Nullah is referring to his mother’s sexual exploitation by Fletcher and follows widespread patterns of testimonies of trauma.

4. Conclusion

Contrary to what one would expect from a global target-oriented movie such as Australia, ‘authentic’ Aboriginal loanwords are often retained in English subtitles, the Italian Dubbed Version and Italian Subtitles. The retaining of the most source-oriented elements entails the privileging of the language which has the less privileged status, defying all laws of explicatory, adaptive and deletive strategies regarding subtitling against the current. The reasons for this may be identified through the aid of intralingual and interlingual audiovisual translation, which may be considered a central tool for the analysis of transcultural processes which underlie global media politics, and the fashioning of translocal communication, for as Gottlieb notes “upstream subtitling may indeed express a high degree of fidelity toward the original lines” (2009).

The endless deferral of Aboriginal languages – their untranslatability – has a central performative function in Australia. Although it is often merely referred to in songs voiceover and in a few instances of code-switching, Aboriginal languages alert readers to the cultural distinctiveness of Aboriginal culture and may prompt them to expand their cultural horizons. Within the interstices of the filmic dialogic space, differential realisations of language practice become intelligible, yet they may or may not draw viewers into a space where local agency may be exercised (Bartlett 2001: 33)


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About the author(s)

Katherine E. Russo, PhD University of New South Wales (Sydney), is a Lecturer/Researcher in English Language and Translation at the Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. Her research focuses on Language Variation and Change, Translation Studies, Critical Discourse Analysis, Gender, Post-colonial and Whiteness Studies. She is the author of Practices of Proximity: The Appropriation of English in Australian Indigenous Literature (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), winner of the ESSE Book Award for Junior Scholars, and of Global English, Transnational Flows: Australia and New Zealand in Translation (Tangram Edizioni Scientifiche, 2012). She is a member of the Board of the European Association for Studies of Australia and is a member the Management Committee of the European Programme - COST Action IS1101 “Climate change and migration: knowledge, law and policy, and theory

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©inTRAlinea & Katherine E. Russo (2014).
"Transmedia Storytelling, Translocal Productions:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Across Screens Across Boundaries
Edited by: Rosa Maria Bollettieri Bosinelli, Elena Di Giovanni & Linda Rossato
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL:

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