34th ISFC 2007
Systemic Functional Linguistics in Use
Odense 16th -20th July
“Dubbing into English – an alternative translation
University of Trieste
1. Spoken Language
2. Film Language
3. Translation into English
In 1987 Michael Halliday wrote that
“ one of the most productive areas of
discussion between linguists and
educators in the past quarter century has
been that of speech and the spoken
“spoken language in its natural form,
spontaneous and unselfconscious, was not
taken seriously as a medium of
learning …… among linguists, by contrast,
the spoken language had pride of place.”
“the linguists‟ professional commitment to
the primacy of speech did not, however,
arise from or carry with it an awareness of
the properties of spoken discourse.”
• scriptwriters of films and TV series were
(and are) presumably even less aware of
„the properties of spoken discourse‟.
Hence the existence of what is variously
called the language of film, filmese, etc.
Complexity of spoken language
A We‟re looking forward to bonfire night at least the
children are do you indulge in this
B oh in in Sussex we did I‟ve in fact I went to one last
week but it was
A that was a bit early wasn‟t it?
B all the all the joys were joy was taken out of it for
me because it was a huge bonfire in a garden the
size of this room with big houses all around and the
bonfire was right under a big tree with its leaves all
(Crystal and Davy)
just the last turn
all the all the joys were joy was taken out
of it for me because it was a huge bonfire
in a garden the size of this room with big
houses all around and the bonfire was
right under a big tree with its leaves all
Lexical density & grammatical
• Lexical words 15
• Total words 47
• Ratio 1:3.1
• No. of clauses 3
• Ratio 5:1
• The fact that it was a huge bonfire under
a big tree with dry leaves, in a huge
garden surrounded by houses, spoiled it
Lexical density & grammatical
• Lexical words 12
• Total words 26
• Ratio 1:2.1
• No. of clauses 1
• Ratio 12:1
The thesis that film language, as part of a
semiotic whole, differs appreciably from
ordinary, everyday, spontaneous language
has been recognised, and little criticised,
since the beginnings of the cinema.
The language (and grammar) of film is a
scripted construct created by writers,
altered by directors and actors, in the
creation of an “artificially produced
Robin Hood 1938
Friar Tuck: Robber and thief! Give me
back my mutton joint!... I‟m
a girdled friar and vowed to
Robin Hood: If this is poverty, I‟ll be glad
to share it with you.
Friar Tuck: Give me back my mutton joint!...
Robin Hood: Not so close, my thunderous
• Lexical words 19
• Total words 43
• Ratio 1:2.2
Cf. previous written text
• Creator Kevin Williamson makes it clear
that he does not strive for authentic
• In fact his cast of teenagers talk like
Screw pity. I love you. I love you Jack. I
love that you‟re the bravest person I
know… the kindest. I love that no matter
what you do, your life is gonna stand out.
I want to stand out with you… and your
• Lexical words 19
• Total words 45
• Ratio 1:3c
Cf. Robin Hood
Who writes a film?
A film is a team effort, with a consequent
downplaying of its paternity. The „authors‟
of a film (and its translated version)
consist of: screenplay writers, directors,
cameramen, editors, actors,
translator/adaptors, dubbing directors,
dubbing actors, subtitlers, producers...
• there is a co-existence of
• written language features (complete sentences,
no hesitation, no repetition, high lexical density,
lower grammatical intricacy) and
• spoken discourse (eg. self-correction, frequent
use of linkage items such as discourse markers,
overlapping speech, low lexical density, higher
Comparison of written, oral and
film language modes.
Rossi (2003) compared the three modes,
appying a series of relevant parameters,
to show the specificity of film language.
Language Written Oral Film
Uniformity of - - +
and textual units
Tendency to + - +/-
Extension of the + - +
Overlapping, - + -
Planning, + - +
Recourse to para - + +
Morphosyntactic - + +/-
Lexical density + - +/-
Presence of dialect - + +/-
In translation, all this becomes ever
– script [written dialogues]
• Spoken dialogue
• Continuity script (transcription and postsynchronization)
– translated spoken dialogue
Translation of Dawson‟s Creek.
• Given the original‟s stated intention of not
aiming at authentic dialogue the dubbed
version on Italian television, follows suit …
only more so.
„Dawson‟s Creek‟ in Italian
• According to Zandegù:
The language can be given the label
referring to the reduction in variation at a
stylistic, sociocultural and dialectal level.
Translation of previous passage
• Al diavolo la compassione! Io ti amo. Ti amo,
Jack. Ti amo perché sei la persona più
corraggiosa che conosca… la più gentile. Ti amo
perché qualunque cosa tu faccia, la tua vita sarà
speciale, e io voglio esserlo con te.. e tua figlia.
• (very theatrical, too high a register – eg. use of
subjunctive - and pays no heed to semi-vulgar
language and substandard „gonna‟, etc.)
The nature of the translation
• Comparisons of corpora of original texts
and translated texts in the same semantic
area have led to the identification of a
number of „translation universals‟ –
• REGULARLY OCCURRING PATTERNS OF
• (see Baker, Laviosa, Olohan, Ulrych)
Four main categories (applicable to
(examples taken from „The Gilmore Girls‟)
• Make explicit what is implicit in the
• RORY: This is about Harvard
• RORY: Io rischio Harvard
• Tendency to simplify the language
• RORY: This is the end of this particular
• RORY: La conversazione finisce qui!
• Tendency to conform to patterns that are
typical of the target language and to opt
for unmarked forms and collocations.
• LORELAI: There‟s nothing like a nice
salad of lemony goodness.
• LORELAI: Niente coma un‟insalata al
• Tendency to gravitate towards the centre of a
continuum of written and spoken modes and to
shift away from the two extremes.
• LORELAI: Okay, well, um, the… Max
and I have been serious for
quite a while now.
• LORELAI: Max e io, da un po‟, ci
„Friends‟ in Spanish displays all four
Good morning Buenos dias
In English it is observable in
• Type-token ratio (less diversity, more predictability)
• Average sentence length (general shortening)
• Lexical density
• Interestingly, these features combine to make translated
text appear more „native‟ than originals.
• The concept of „translationese‟ (foreign language
interference, etc.) can be observed in the work of
students, trainees and other less experienced
So, to recapitulate, compared to
• spoken language is less lexically dense,
more grammatically intricate, consists of
features specific to the genre (hesitation,
use of discourse markers, tag questions,
• film language has been shown to be
different from spontaneous spoken
language even thought it often attempts
to recreate it with varying degrees of
• Brunetta (1977) explains that original
(Italian) film texts already use a simplified,
normalised and levelled language.
• For example when based on a book, story,
etc. word order is usually normalised eg.
„sempre li guardavo/li guardavo sempre‟;
„si chiama essa‟/‟essa si chiama‟
• Cf. Antonioni, Visconti
the language of translation has been
shown to have its own specificities
(explicitation, simplification, etc.) and to
accentuate a number of the features
associated with film language
So where does this leave us with
regard to translating films into
• Well, very few films and television
programmes are translated into English,
due to the predominance of English
language products in the media.
• And to a certain linguistico-cultural
• But those few films that are translated are
• This is regarded as a good thing by
language students, language enthusiasts,
film buffs, the deaf and indeed by the
general public, who are not used to any
other form of film translation.
• we have seen that written language differs
considerably from spoken language (even
as heard on a film);
that the differences between film
language and genuine spoken language
are accentuated in translation;
and that written translation differs from
original texts of a similar nature.
So what about subtitling?
• Series of constraints
Script (written to be
spoken as if not written)
>transcription (more spoken style)
> translation (further deviation)
>adaptation (partial remodifying)
> composition (written)
Philadelphia – script
• You want to apply the foundation
• as evenly as you can, Andy. You
• don't want to look like you've
• thrown it on with a spoon.
• Uh huh.
Okay. You try.
Philadelphia – film transcription
• Okay, now, you gonna wanna apply the
foundation as evenly as you can
Andy, okay? ‘Cos you don’t want to
look like you’ve thrown it on with a
spoon, Okay? So, okay, you try it.
Philadelphia – Italian subtitle
• Il fondotinta va applicato il
più uniformemente possibile,
perché non sembri che te lo sei
spalmato con un cucchiaio.
Lexical density - script
• Lexical words 10
• Total words 30
• Ratio 1:3
• No. of clauses 3
• Ratio 3:1
Lexical density – film transcription
• Lexical words 10
• Total words 39
• Ratio 1:3.9
• No. of clauses 4
• Ratio 2.5:1
Lexical density - subtitles
• Lexical words 7
• Total words 19
• Ratio 1:2.7
• No. of clauses 2
• Ratio 3.5:1
Dubbing into English?
England is not a dubbing country
cf. Germany, Italy, Spain, France?
• Survey to test British (and American)
attitudes to dubbing.
• It has always been assumed that British
audiences would not take to dubbing.
• But it has never been investigated, let
Dubbing versus subtitlng
• It runs in the family dubbed into Italian and Russian
• “The dubbed version consists of many marked terms
which more effectively maintain the communicative
value of the original. The subtitled version tends to go
for unmarked choices and idiomatic expressions which
fail to reflect the colloquial tone.”
Trieste dubbing project
• Students had to produce subtitled and
dubbed versions of „Il Commissario
Montalbano‟ and „Prime Suspect‟
• In the case of „Montalbano‟, no dubbed
version had yet been attempted.
So is dubbing better?
• Series of constraints:
– Lip synchronisation
– Supralinguistic elements
– Coordination with visual (multimodal text)
Mi sembra davvero improbabile.
That‟s very unlikely.
fra cinque minuti
Hang on, Dad!
1) helps anchor stress patterns, but imposes modifications.
2) good dubbing actors recreate suprasegmental items
Line length and delivery speed
• Non voleva essere di peso alla famiglia
• He didn‟t want to be a burden.
• L‟ho accompagnato adesso in prigione a Vigata.
• I have just taken him to prison.
• Greater timing synch gives impression that
characters are speaking Italian (or whatever)
but there is enforced loss of some details.
Coordination with visual
• Il signor La Russa questa notte si è spogliato nudo, si è applicato ai
polsi e alle caviglie questi, la fascia grande se l‟è legata al petto, ha
indossato la cuffia, si è coperto il corpo, con la maschera il viso.
Sembra tutta roba che si è fabbricato lui cu‟ santa pacienza.
• Mister La Russa, last night, stripped himself naked, applied these
things on his wrists and ankles, tied the large strap to his chest, put
on the cap, covered his body, and his face with the mask. It seemed
like he made all the stuff himself with saintly patience.
• Verbal and non-verbal more aligned but can impose strained syntax
Semiotic impact on audiences
Genre: Original Dubbed Voiced- Subtitled Deaf & Audio-
Drama production version over version HoH described
version version version
Image 55% 55% 55% 40% 50% 0
Writing 2% 1% 0% 32% 50% 0
Sound 18% 18% 18% 18% 0 35%
Speech 25% 26% 27% 10% 0 65%
All 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Dubbed Subtitled Voiced- Domestic TV
TV TV over TV production
Affordability ** **** **** *
Semiotic authenticity *** * ** ****
Dialogue authenticity 0 **** * ****
Full content mediation **** ** *** ****
Foreign-culture ** *** **** Ø
Foreign-language 0 **** * 0
Literacy training 0 *** 0 0
Domestic-language **** ** *** ****
Dialogue idiomaticity * ** *** ****
But of course, if dubbing into
English takes off…
• we are going to be dealing with a use of
language that is different from any
hitherto studied in terms of information
structure, cohesion, transitivity patterns,
lexical choice, register, etc.
• I hope by next time to have some
examples to show you and discuss.