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Friday, January 11, 2013

Is All Subtitling This Bad?

I'm watching Il Commissario Montalbano on DVD. I can now understand enough spoken Italian that I can often compare what is being said with the subtitles. All the time, the subtitler is doing things like translating "She was 15 or 16" to "She was 15."

It's not like this is ambiguous, or the English is just a different wording, or something. The medical examiner said the corpse had been 15 or 16 when she died. The subtitle is just wrong: if you gave this translation in Italian class, you would get half credit.

How can that happen?

6 comments:

  1. I think there is a concern to keep subtiles short. Not everyone reads quickly, and even if you do you wanna watch the pictures. I have certainly noticed this sort of thing on a few Germen movies subtitled in English when I strain to listen to the dialogue (just a bit beyond my capability most of the time.)

    In German I expect they leave Hamlet's question at "Sein oder nicht?" for similar reasons.

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  2. I am a German native and I have never read (or heard) Hamlets question beeing translated to "Sein oder nicht?". It's always "Sein oder Nichtsein". :)

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  3. I watched Farewell The other night. Russian, French and English, with english subtitles. One russian spy says to the other "au revoir"
    subtitle "adeiu". There were a few plays on the words 'goodbye' and 'farewell' in the script itself. I would guess that this is a continuation of that theme.

    Pretty good movie.

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  4. If you're lucky when shopping for DVDs in China, you can get bootlegs of American movies with English subtitles that are a pretty solid translation of the Chinese subtitles ... they bear only the loosest relationship to the actual English words being spoken on the screen naturally. I have no idea why they would put so much more effort in translating the ridiculous Chinese into English than in translating the original into Chinese, but I have witnessed this phenomenon myself several times during my stay in China.

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  5. If you're lucky when shopping for DVDs in China, you can get bootlegs of American movies with English subtitles that are a pretty solid translation of the Chinese subtitles ... they bear only the loosest relationship to the actual English words being spoken on the screen naturally. I have no idea why they would put so much more effort in translating the ridiculous Chinese into English than in translating the original into Chinese, but I have witnessed this phenomenon myself several times during my stay in China.

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  6. I often watch DVDs with the french subtitles turned on to practice all that french I had to take in high school. Yes, they're often that bad.

    Mike

    French closed captioning for this post: "Oui"

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