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Foreignizing subtitling versus domesticating dubbing: Finding Nemo in German.

Abstract: Dubbing is often regarded as more domesticating than subtitling as it erases the foreign audio, negating the viewer any direct access to the original dialogue, while subtitling supplements the foreign audio instead of erasing it. Furthermore, the translation method (dubbing or subtitling) has an impact on the translation discourse, as both methods confront translators with technical constraints which they need to accommodate. Proceeding from the hypothesis that subtitling constraints call for foreignizing translation strategies, while dubbing more easily allows for domesticating translation choices, this essay will examine if and to what extent the translation discourse of the German subtitles of Finding Nemo tends to move the viewer towards the film, while the translation discourse of the German dubbing version tends to move the film towards the viewer, to adopt (and adapt) Schleiermacher's famous metaphor.

Keywords: Finding Nemo, audiovisual translation, subtitling, dubbing, foreignization, domestication


In Germany major film productions often get dubbed as well as subtitled, both for theatrical release (cinema) and DVD (Digital Versatile Disc). Dubbing is generally seen as the more domesticating of these two translation methods as it erases the foreign audio, negating the viewer any direct access to the original dialogue, while subtitling is seen as the more foreignizing method as it supplements the foreign instead of erasing it. Contrary to dubbing, subtitling never conceals being a translation. Furthermore, the translation method (dubbing vs. subtitling) has an impact on how domesticating or how foreignizing the translation discourse is or can be. Both subtitling and dubbing confront translators with technical constraints, and these constraints have an impact on micro-level translation strategies as the translator will need to accommodate them. However, as the nature of these constraints differs according to the translation method chosen, it follows that accommodating these constraints will call for different translation solutions. Proceeding from the hypothesis that subtitling constraints tend to call for foreignizing translation strategies, while dubbing more easily allows for domesticating translation choices, this paper will examine if and to what extent the translation discourse of subtitling tends to move the viewer towards the film, while the translation discourse of dubbing tends to move the film towards the viewer, to adopt (and adapt) Schleiermacher's famous metaphor. To this purpose, I will, after a brief outline of the main differences between both translation methods, compare the German dubbing version with the subtitled version of Finding Nemo available on DVD (Disney/Pixar) (1). As I will illustrate, the German dubbing version of this film features domesticating translation choices that are not available to the subtitler who has to work within different technical constraints. What this essay will not attempt, however, is to engage in the perennial debate on the pro and cons of subtitling versus dubbing and draw conclusions about what method is preferable, as eventually any preference will be merely personal. I maintain that both methods complement each other, instead of excluding each other.


Constraints in Subtitling

Subtitling provides viewers of audiovisual material with added information. Subtitles can be intra- or interlingual; mono- or bilingual; live (also called online or real-time) or pre-prepared (also called offline); open (forming part of the film or broadcast, for example laser-engraved subtitles on a film print) or closed (subtitles that do not form part of the film or broadcast but can be voluntarily added for example via teletext, by means of a decoder or by selecting them from a DVD menu) (for a detailed discussion of the classification of subtitles see Diaz Cintas and Remael 13-28). This essay focuses on the peculiarities of pre-prepared interlingual subtitling.

The constraints interlingual subtitling (also called translation subtitling) imposes on the translator are several. Firstly, there is the shift of medium, as spoken dialogue gets transferred into written dialogue. (2) Secondly, there are constraints of time and space. Monolingual translation subtitles usually do not exceed two lines (ECI; Diaz Cintas and Remael 82; Ivarsson and Carroll 158) with a character limit of approximately 40 characters per line in the case of DVD subtitling (3) (Diaz Cintas and Remael 84; mbc). As far as the duration of the subtitles is concerned, the subtitler has to take into account the reading speed of the average viewer, which is considered to be approximately two seconds for a one-line subtitle and four seconds for a two-line subtitle for adult viewers and slightly below this for a younger audience (ECI; see also Diaz Cintas and Remael 95-96 on reading time). (4) Furthermore, in order to aid speaker-identification, the subtitles have to be synchronized with the audio. Ideally, the subtitle appears on screen in exactly the same frame (5) as the utterance sets in and does not stay on screen longer than one second after the character stops speaking (ECI; Ivarsson and Carroll 72-73). Additionally, shot changes have to be taken into account in order to adhere to the rhythm of the film and make the subtitles as inconspicuous as possible and avoid the optical effect of "jumping subtitles" (ECI; Ivarsson and Carroll 75-76; see also Diaz Cintas and Remael 91-92). Thirdly, convention has it that translation subtitles have maximum one speaker per line; hence, a two-line subtitle can transcribe the verbal exchange of not more than two characters (ECI; Ivarsson and Carroll 93). The shift of medium and the constraints of space, time and number of speakers make editing and condensation necessary. Research shows that subtitling tends to condense the original dialogue by 20-40% (Lomheim in Gottlieb). This demands creative solutions from the translation subtitler as a one-to-one reproduction of the original dialogue is neither feasible, nor desirable.

Subtitling--A Foreignizing Strategy

In order to avoid confusing the viewer and to facilitate the comprehension of the subtitles, the content of the subtitles should correspond to the content of the audio as far as possible (Ivarsson and Carroll 158). Any discrepancy between what viewers hear and what they read disrupts their viewing experience and undermines their trust in the translation (Ivarsson and Carroll 73-74). Ideal subtitles are therefore source-oriented. This is particularly true for English-language productions as most viewers will have at least some knowledge of the original language. Gottlieb, in "Language-political implications of subtitling", furthermore points out that there is a tendency in subtitling to adopt English-sounding constructions as the audience of subtitled films can easily spot when the translation deviates-or seemingly deviates--from the audio, and practice shows that in the eyes of many viewers a translation that stays close to the source as regards lexis and syntax is a good translation.

With the advent of DVD and multi-language subtitling, content synchrony becomes an even bigger issue for the translator. As the process of determining exactly in what frame a subtitle should appear and disappear is laborious (the technical term for this process is "timing" or also "cueing" or "spotting") using a template or master file is common practice in modern DVD subtitling, where one production often gets subtitled into several different languages at the same time. (6) In other words, a timed subtitle file with the transcribed and edited original dialogue gets prepared and then translated into several languages, without allowing the translator to alter the duration (7) or the number of subtitles (for a more detailed discussion of this method see Sanchez 15-6). Accordingly, translators cannot edit, merge or split the subtitles as they deem necessary given the language they are working in, but rather have to adapt their translations to a given format. This implies that if a sentence is split over more than one subtitle, translators might feel obliged to alter the syntax of their translation in order to follow the syntax of the original, either by opting for a less natural sounding word order, or by shifting the emphasis in order to create a natural sounding sentence that mirrors the word order of the source text. The constraints of synchronization between audio and subtitle content, therefore, imply that translation subtitles tend to be foreignizing in Schleiermacher's sense insofar as sentences are often shaped to mimic the foreign sentence structure, especially if the translator works with a template file.

Therefore, due to the constraints mentioned above, subtitling is source-text oriented, but it is this orientation towards the source text that ensures that viewers accept the subtitles. For this very reason, Zlateva (29) criticizes Toury's definition that a "translated text can be located on an axis between the two hypothetical poles of adequacy (source text oriented) or acceptability (target culture oriented)" (34). Toury's concept "seems to exclude the possibility that a translated text could ever be both adequate to the original and acceptable in the target language" (Zlateva 29). However, as is the case with subtitling, adequacy and acceptability are not necessarily mutually exclusive: "the acceptability of a translated text in the target language should be considered part of the adequacy of its translation" (Zlateva 29).


Constraints in Dubbing

The term dubbing, when used in a broad sense, refers to any technique of "covering the original voice in an audio-visual production by another voice" (Dries 9) and therefore includes voice-over; when used in a more restricted way, it refers to lip-sync dubbing, a technique in which "the foreign dialogue is adjusted to the mouth movements of the actor in the film" (Dries 9). Chaume Varela calls dubbing in the latter sense "interlingual sound postsynchronization". According to Chaume Varela, the three generally accepted conventions for sound postsynchronization are lip synchrony (synchrony between the lip movements of the screen actor and the dialogue of the voice artist), kinetic synchrony (synchronization between the dialogue and the head, arm or body movements of the screen actor) and isochrony (the exact timing of the screen actor's opening and closing of the mouth and the deliverance of the dubbing dialogue). While subtitling prioritizes the synchronization of audio content, dubbing therefore prioritizes visual synchronization. In dubbing, content becomes less important than form, as the visual constraints of lip sync, kinetic synchrony and isochrony demand that the reproduction of formal elements takes priority over a close rendering of semantic meaning. As in subtitling, the dubbing translator has to be creative in order to find translation solutions that respect the constraints imposed by the medium. (8)

The German dubbed version of Finding Nemo, although it falls into the category of lip-sync dubbing, shows one peculiarity: as it is an animated film, the dubbing does not have to follow the mouth movements of real actors, but merely the "mouth" movements of the animated characters on screen. As these are far less precise than the speech articulations of real humans, even in close-up shots there is no necessity to make sounds visually coincide. (9) The dubbing translator of animated films, therefore, faces less constraints as only kinetic synchrony and isochrony need to be respected.

Dubbing--A Domesticating Strategy

Attention is often drawn to the fact that dubbing carries with it the risk of censorship, as the erasure of the original verbal exchange means that the viewer has no longer direct access to this exchange. (10) Due to this negation of direct access "a text can be censored to conform with local morals or political viewpoints, without the audience having the least suspicion" (Ivarsson and Carroll 36). This view is supported by the fact that countries with totalitarian governments tend to prefer dubbing to subtitling (Bassnett 136), a tradition that then often lives on even after the country has become a democracy, as is the case in Italy and Germany (Ivarsson and Carroll 6) or Spain (Gambier 173). However, even if no drastic censorship (a particularly accentuated form of domestication) is involved, dubbing remains a domesticating strategy, as the foreign language is supplanted by the target language, usually the dominant language of the target audience. Indeed, Gambier sees dubbing as an instrument "of the protectionist use of culture, violating ethic principles to some extent by erasing traces of the other" (179). Gottlieb, on the other hand, takes a more positive stance, factoring in translation direction, and sees in dubbing a way to challenge the supremacy of the US media industry ("Language-Political").

Dubbing certainly allows for more domesticating translation choices in the sense of Schleiermacher's idea of moving the text towards the audience than subtitling does, as content synchronization is not a crucial factor in dubbing. Dubbing translators therefore are free to translate proper names, not to adhere to the syntax of the original dialogue, or even to alter entire sentences, for example to make the dialogue more idiomatic or more entertaining. Furthermore, as they are working in a spoken medium, they can easily introduce dialects, sociolects and accents of the target language to enhance the domesticating effect. In a sense, domestication is the ultimate goal of dubbing; lip-sync dubbing gives viewers the illusion that they are watching a domestic production.

Foreignization and Domestication in Findet Nemo

The following will analyse certain aspects of the dubbed and the subtitled version of Findet Nemo--namely the translation of proper names, cultural references, puns and idiomatic expressions--in order to establish whether the translation discourse of the subtitled version tends to stay closer to the original dialogue as regards lexis and syntax and therefore tends towards foreignization, and whether the translation discourse of the dubbed version tends to move the reader further away from the original dialogue, thus showing a tendency towards domestication.

3.1 The Translation of Characters' Names and their Characterization

English original  German subtitles  German dub

Marlin            Marlin            Marlin
Coral             Coral             Cora
Nemo              Nemo              Nemo
Bob               Bob               Knut
Ted               Ted               Alois
Phil              Phil              Urs
Mr. Johanssen     Mr. Johannsen     Herr Johannsen
Sheldon           Sheldon           Egon
Mr. Ray           Mr. Rochen        Herr Rochen
Sandy Plankton    Sandy Plankton    Sandy Plankton (11)
Dory              Dorie             Dorie
Bruce             Bruce             Bruce
Anchor            Anchor            Hammer
Chum              Chum              Hart
Peach             Peach             Bella
Jacques           Jacques           Jacques
Bloat             Puff              Puff
Deb (& Flo)       Deb (& Luv)       Lee (& Luv)
Chuckles          Chuckles          Gluckser
Barbara           Barbara           Barbara
Nigel             Nigel             Niels
Gerald            Gerald            Gerald (German pronunciation)
Gill              Kahn              Kahn
Crush             Crush             Crush
Squirt            Racker            Racker
Darla             Darla             Darla

A comparison of how the character names are translated in the subtitled and the dubbed version shows clearly that the degree of domestication is higher in the dubbed version: for example, the characters named "Bob", "Ted" and "Bill" in the English original as well as in the German subtitles, are named "Knut", "Alois" and "Urs" in the German dub. Furthermore, Knut, Alois and Urs not only have domestic names, they also speak with a domestic accent: Knut, who has a typical Northern German name, speaks with a High German accent; Alois, who has a typical Bavarian name, speaks with a Bavarian accent; Urs, carrying a Swiss name, has a distinctively Swiss accent.

It is interesting to compare this acculturation with the translation of the names of Crush and Squirt. The exact location of the reef where Bob, Ted and Bill live has little relevance for the plot and therefore relocating them geographically creates no problems. Crush and Squirt, on the other hand, are Australian sea turtles who show Nemo and Dorie the way to Sydney. It is therefore crucial that they remain Australian also in the German versions; both in the dubbed and in the subtitled version they are named "Crush" and "Racker". (12) In the dub, Crush and Racker speak German with an Australian accent, enforced by the use of Anglicisms (Dude, cool) and surfer slang in particular (Cutback, Wall, jumpen, carven, floaten). The subtitled version, however, uses fewer Anglicisms in the characterization of Crush and Racker. At first sight, it might seem that in this regard the dubbed version is more foreignizing than the subtitled version. In fact, a comparative study of three US feature films and their subtitled and dubbed versions into Danish conducted by Gottlieb ("In video Veritas: Are Danish voices less American than Danish subtitles?") showed that there were twice as many Anglicisms in the dubbed versions than in the subtitled versions. However, subtitling, unlike dubbing, can rely on the original soundtrack to convey elements of atmosphere and characterization. Furthermore, commonly understood slang words like "dude" or interjections like "hey" are often omitted in the subtitles due to time and space constraints.

Another two character names were domesticated in the dubbed version but not in the subtitled version, namely the names of two of the sharks, "Anchor" and "Chum". While the subtitles keep the original names, the dubbed version names them "Hammer" (hammer) and "Hart" (hard). In so doing, the German dub gains an element of humour, as combined they form the word "hammerhart" (hard as a hammer), semantically roughly equivalent to the English slang word "awesome", a lexical choice in key with the social stereotype they portray. Furthermore, their names underline the notion that they are a team. Thirdly, the fact that Hammer is a hammerhead shark (Hammerhai) adds another comic element. And last but not least, it allows the translator to translate the play on words "A little chum for Chum, eh?" (see point 3.2 further below on the translation of puns).

Furthermore, the dub employs a well-known German comedy duo for the voices of Hammer and Hart: Erkan and Stefan. Erkan (whose mother is Turkish) and Stefan are both born and raised in Munich, but became popular as comedians impersonating the stereotype of Turkish youngsters growing up in Germany. Their trademark is their language--a mixture of ungrammatical, Turkish-inflected German and Bavarian, replete with slang words like "fett, krass, checken". In their roles as Hammer and Hart they stay true to their trademark language. Having two sharks speaking with the (stereotypical) sociolect of German-speaking Turks is a highly domesticating choice; a choice that builds upon and relies on the familiarity of the German-speaking audience with this particular comedy duo and its type of humour.

Another domesticating choice that builds upon target-culture humour is illustrated by the following example. In the English source text, Bob calls Marlin "Marty" in three instances. The subtitles reproduce "Marty", but in the dubbed version Marlin is called "Manni" in these instances. In the 1980s and early 1990s jokes about Opel Manta drivers where very popular in Germany. This trend culminated in the release of the movie "Manta, Manta" in 1991. In many of the jokes the driver is called Manni, a common nickname for Manfred. "Manni Manta" became the embodiment of the cliche of a macho motorsport freak with limited intelligence, little formal education and low social status. This allusion to domestic popular culture and the connotations that go with it adds a further element of humour to the dubbed version, an element present neither in the subtitles, nor in the original.

The Translation of Cultural References

English original (13)     German subtitles

BLOAT                     343 01:25:31:15 01:25:33:19
Yeah, you know,           Ja, ich komme
like I'm from Bob's Fish  zum Beispiel aus Bobs Fisch-
Mart.                     Shop.
GURGLE                    344 01:25:33:21 01:25:35:08
Pet Palace.               - Zoopalast.
                          - Fisch-O-Rama.
DEB                       345 01:25:35:10 01:25:36:20
Mail order.               - Mail-Order.
                          - eBay.

English original (13)       German dub

BLOAT                       PUFF
Yeah, you know,             Ja, ich zum Beispiel komme aus
like I'm from Bob's Fish    Vronis Fischstubchen.
GURGLE                      SUSHI
Pet Palace.                 Zoopalast.
BUBBLES                     Fischer's Fritz.
DEB                         BELLA
Mail order.                 Quelle Katalog.

PEACH                       LEE
eBay.                       eBay.

While the subtitled version translates literally and creates hybrids (Bobs Fisch-Shop; Fisch-O-Rama; Mail-Order), the German dubbed version domesticates and includes allusions to realities familiar to the German audience. "Vronis Fischstubchen" (Vroni's fish place (14)) is the name of a fish restaurant or take away, fictitious or not; "Fischers Fritz" (15) is the beginning of a well-known tongue-twister (16) as well as the name of a fish restaurant in Munich (17); "Quelle Katalog" is a popular mail-order catalogue. The dubbing thus displays more creativity, moving further away from the original dialogue, and German viewers can probably appreciate the humour more than the (foreign) humour of the subtitles. On the other hand, due to the time constraints, translating for example "mail order" with "Quelle Katalog" in the subtitles would pose a serious challenge for the viewers who have 35 frames (less than 1.5 seconds) to take in the written verbal exchange (Quelle Katalog.--eBay.) simultaneously with the audio (Mail order.--eBay.) as well as the visual images. This span of time would be too short for most viewers to cope with the seemingly contrasting information of "mail order" and "Quelle Katalog", as the brain needs time to elaborate that "Quelle" is indeed a mail-order company, time that is not available to the audience as the verbal exchange between the characters in this scene is extremely quick.

While the subtitles keep "Reader's Digest" in English, the dubbed version replaces it with "Lesezirkel". "Lesezirkel" supplies its subscribers with magazines and journals on a rental basis and is very popular with GP and dentist surgeries as it is a cheap and convenient way to provide waiting patients with reading material. As the scene is set in a dentist surgery, this allusion seems appropriate. Nevertheless, the dentist surgery is in Sydney and "Lesezirkel" a relia firmly belonging to the cultural context of Germany and Austria. As Elena Di Giovanni points out, it is a common strategy in Disney productions set in "faraway lands or times" to scatter "through the narration a number of elements and expressions which belong to the contemporary Western and American culture" in order to achieve familiarity (213). This same technique is used here in the dubbing, inserting German cultural elements in an Australian context.

English original               German subtitles

PEACH                          635
Potty break! Potty break! He   Pinkel-Pause mit Reader's Digest.
just grabbed the Reader's      Wir haben 4,2 Minuten.
Digest! We have 4.2 minutes.

English original               German dub

PEACH                          BELLA
Potty break! Potty break! He   Klopause! Er hat sich was
just grabbed the Reader's      vom Lesezirkel
Digest! We have 4.2 minutes.   geschnappt. Wir haben 4,2

Another linguistic strategy Disney employs to define otherness and achieve familiarity at the same time consists of adapting cultural references "to fit in with modern, Western expressions: exclamations and other fixed phrases, for instance, have one or more elements modified or replaced by others which refer to the culture portrayed" (Di Giovanni 213). This strategy was also employed in the transformation of the fixed expression "going to see a man about a dog" into "going to see a man about a wallaby". The wallaby is of course endemic to Australia and thus closely associated with it, similar to the kangaroo. The German dub has imitated this strategy, equally exchanging the noun in the idiomatic phrase "fur kleine Jungs gehen" (literally, to go for little boys) with the German word for kangaroo (Kanguru). The subtitles instead translate with an unmarked expression, without any attempt to adapt it, although there would have been enough space and time to permit a similar strategy ("Wahrend das fest wird, geh ich mal fur kleine Kangurus"). In a way the German dub could be seen as more foreignizing than the subtitled version in this instance, as by imitating Disney's strategy it stays closer to the source than the subtitles do. On the other hand, it echoes a strategy Disney employs to assimilate foreign cultures and therefore is domesticating in the sense of bringing the foreign culture closer to the domestic audience.

The Translation of Puns

English original (20)             German subtitles
CHUM                              267
Oh, thanks, mate. A little chum   -(...)
for Chum, eh?                     - Danke. Ein kleiner Trost fur

English original (20)            German dub
CHUM                             HART
Oh, thanks, mate. A little chum  Hey, merci, Bruder. Hey,
for Chum, eh?                    wei[beta]t schon, bin ich hart,
                                 aber herzlich.

The subtitles do not attempt to translate the pun. As the subtitler has left Chum's name untranslated, there is little he or she can do to render the pun here. The German dub instead creates another pun around Chum's German name "Hart". "Hart, aber herzlich" is a common German expression as well as the German title of the TV series Hart to Hart starring Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers and literally means "hard but warm-hearted". Slang words ("merci", "Bruder") indicate Hart's social background as does the non-standard grammar ("wei[beta]t schon", "bin ich hart").

English original (21)        German subtitles

MARLIN                       615
The question is, Dory, are   Hast du Hunger?
you hungry?
Huh? Hungry?
MARLIN                       616
Yeah, 'cause you're about    Du schluckst jetzt meine
to eat my bubbles!           Luftblaschen.

English original (21)        German dub

MARLIN                       MARLIN
The question is, Dory, are   Prag dir mein Gesicht gut ein, Dorie!
you hungry?
DORY                         DORIE
Huh? Hungry?                 Dein Gesicht, warum?
MARLIN                       MARLIN
Yeah, 'cause you're about    Weil du von jetzt an nur noch meine
to eat my bubbles!           Heckflosse siehst.
                             (Back-translation: Have a good look
                             at my face, Dorie!-Your face? Why?-
                             Because from now on you will only
                             see my tailfin.)

The subtitles translate literally, keeping the image (hunger/eat my bubbles), while the dub changes the imagery of the pun. The term "Heckflosse" (tailfin) plays on a double meaning, the tailfin of a fish or of a car respectively, and thus underpins the association of the character Marlin with the stereotype of "Manni, the Manta driver", a distinctively German reference. (22)

English original (23)        German subtitles

MARLIN                       1115
So just then, the sea        Dann mustert
cucumber looks over to the   die Seegurke die Muschel
mollusk and says, "with      und sagt:
fronds like these, who
needs anemones?"!            1116
                             "Mit solchen Fransen
                             braucht man keine

English original (23)       German dub

MARLIN                      MARLIN
So just then, the sea       Und da dreht sich die
cucumber looks over to the  Miesmuschel zu dem Heilbutt um
mollusk and says, "with     und sagt: "Wenn du Schuppen
fronds like these, who      hast, musst du dir die Haare
needs anemones?"!           waschen".

                            (Back-translation: And so, the
                            mussel turns over to the halibut
                            and says: "If you have
                            scale/dandruff, you must wash
                            your hair".)

The subtitles translate literally, while the dub replaces the pun with another one alluding to a well-known German "Haschenwitz" (bunny joke) (24) and playing on the double meaning of "Schuppen" (scale, dandruff). Again, the dubbing uses a strategy typical for Disney seen already in another example above: "elements and expressions which belong to the contemporary Western and American culture" are inserted into the narration (Di Giovanni 213). It is interesting to note that the dub here employs this strategy although it is not present in the source text at this point. The reason for this could be either that the translator felt the need to compensate for an instance of this strategy not translated at another point, or the translator has assimilated Disney's strategies to such an extent that he or she employs them even if they are not present in the source.

The Translation of Idiomatic Expressions

English original (25)    German subtitles            German dub

ANCHOR                   305                         HAMMER
Hold it together, mate!  -(...)                      Cool down, Bruder!
                         - Rei[beta] dich zusammen.

German has an equivalent idiomatic expression for "holding it together" and the subtitles use this expression. Nevertheless, although an equivalent expression exists in the target language, the dub opts for another solution (Cool down, brother!), translating the English expression with another English expression. Is the dub therefore more foreignizing than the subtitles in this instance? Not necessarily. The expression "cool down" is commonly used in German and in key with the sociolect of Hammer and Hart. If the intent was to foreignize, the translators could have chosen to keep "mate" for example or use "brother" instead of "Bruder".

English original (26)      German subtitles        German dub

CHUM                       321                     HART
Don't fall off the wagon!  Werd nicht ruckfallig.  Bleib eisern, Alter.

Whiile the subtitles translate the meaning of the idiomatic expression with an unmarked expression that repeats the image of "falling", the dubbed version replaces it with a colloquial idiomatic equivalent in German.

English original (27)    German subtitles      German dub

PEACH                    1142                  BELLA
That's the shortest red  Das war               Die Ampel hatten sie
light I've ever seen!    die kurzeste rote     ruhig langer schalten
                         Ampel meines Lebens.  konnen

English original (28)       German subtitles    German dub

DORY                        575                 DORIE
Little red flag goin' up..  -(...)              Meine Alarmglocken
                            - Die rote Flagge   lauten
                            geht hoch.

In the dubbed version, both utterances reproduced above are translated by substituting the source-text expressions with idiomatic German expressions that are semantically equivalent. In the subtitled version, on the other hand, the source text's idiomatic expressions are translated literally, although no such idiomatic expressions exist in German. The subtitler clearly gave content synchronization priority over fluency. However, as pointed out above, the aim of content synchronization is to facilitate comprehension. In the two above-cited instances, however, the opposite is the case--comprehension is made difficult by following the English original too closely. This is especially true for the last example, as a linguistic hybrid is created that is only intelligible to someone who is familiar with English.


This essay set out to illustrate how the different constrains present in subtitling and dubbing impact on the translation discourse, favouring a discourse that tends towards foreignization in subtitling and towards domestication in dubbing. In dubbing as well as in subtitling, the constraints derive from both the visual image and the original audio. (29) While the reading of subtitles is disrupted when there is a mismatch--or an apparent mismatch--of audio content and subtitle content, the viewing experience of a dubbed film is disrupted when the formal criteria of visual synchronization are not respected. For this reason, subtitles do not enjoy the same freedom as does dubbing when it comes to deviating from the lexical and the semantic content, the syntactic structure and the cultural connotations of the source text. (30)

The examples from Findet Nemo discussed above illustrate that the translation discourse of the dubbed version tends to move further away from the source text, while the discourse of the subtitled version tends to follow the source text more closely. One might argue that the subtitles, when read on paper, may sometimes seem uninspired compared to the dubbed version. However, one has to keep in mind that the synchrony between audio and subtitle content is one of the prime priorities of the translation subtitler. The dubbing script is often available to the DVD translation subtitler as the subtitles are usually produced at a stage when the dubbed version has already been released. The German translator of the DVD subtitles for Finding Nemo, too, must have had access to the dubbing script as the identical translation of some of the character names suggests (cf Kahn, Puff, Racker, Luv). The fact that he or she nevertheless opts for an alternative solution--instead of simply copying the dubbing translation--underpins the assumption that these choices are not explained by a lack of inspiration or creativity on the part of the subtitler, but are deemed necessary. Furthermore, unlike dubbing, subtitles do not need to convey the entire semantic load of the original dialogue, as they can rely on the original audio to convey elements like accent, intonation, mood and so on. Subtitles, contrary to dubbing, are not a substitution of the original, but an addition to the original.

According to Schleiermacher, domestication and foreignization fulfil a different purpose: while foreignization is a tool to enable an audience with limited knowledge of the source language to appreciate foreign literature, a tool that would become futile if ever the audience acquired sufficient knowledge of the source language to access the source directly, domestication instead is a luxury, as it produces texts for the purpose of entertainment, but these texts do not fulfil a need and are not translations in a strict sense. From this perspective, the dubbing version can therefore be seen as pure luxury, its purpose being the entertainment of its audience. Thanks to the existence of a subtitled alternative, the dubbed version is freed from any pressure to remain close to the source text. Subtitling, on the other hand, does not have to live up to the same expectations as dubbing as far as easily accessible, thought-free entertainment is concerned. Needless to say, this argument is not universally valid. The German audience is in a privileged situation as they often can choose between the dubbed or the subtitled version of a feature film (or view both). The buying power of the German-speaking population is most likely the main reason for this wealth of choice, while smaller or less wealthy countries often produce only subtitled versions (31) as these are ten to twenty times less expensive than dubbing (Ivarsson and Carroll 36); in Eastern Europe, voice-over versions are customary (37).

While subtitling is a very visible form of translation, dubbing is often seen as an invisible translation practice. According to Gottlieb ("Language-Political" 36-7), the professional viewpoint is that "the criterion for good synchronization is met when the original actor appears to be actually speaking the translated dialogue, in other words, when translation is invisible". As Kahane puts it, "the ultimate goal is credibility, complete make believe" (in Gottlieb, "Language-Political" 39). These criteria seem to coincide with the criteria Venuti associates with domesticating translation; domestication conceals "the translator's crucial intervention in the text" (Venuti 1) and gives the illusion of transparency, the illusion that the reader has unobstructed, direct access to "what is present in the original" (Venuti 5). Put in a nutshell: the more domesticating the translation, the more invisible the translator. However, is the translator of the subtitled version of Findet Nemo really more visible than the translator of the dubbed version? True, the subtitles are clearly visible on screen and never deny being a translation. However, the ultimate aim of the synchronization of audio and subtitle is to attract the viewer's (conscious) attention as little as possible. Highly domesticating choices like the use of dialects (Alois, Urs) or sociolects (Hammer, Hart) seen in the dubbing instead, in my opinion, do draw attention to themselves. Whenever translation choices draw attention to themselves, the viewer, or at least the adult viewer, will be reminded that they are watching a translated product. That the awareness of reading (or, in our case, viewing) a translated product can fluctuate during the reading or viewing process has been suggested for example by Munday as well as Hermans. Hermans has argued that the reader's awareness of reading a translation becomes acute whenever something in the translation cannot realistically be attributed to the source-text author; in some cases, this awareness can become mandatory for the comprehension of the text. The illusion of transparency is clearly disrupted when the Bavarian of Alois or the Turkish-German of Erkan and Stefan (who lend Hammer and Hart their voices) display the gap between what the viewer is hearing and what can and cannot be present in the original. The translator becomes visible and viewers are invited to reflect on the role of translation and their expectations. As regards text-external visibility in the case of Findet Nemo, neither the translator of the dubbing script nor the translator of the subtitles is credited at the end of the film, as regrettably is often the case.

Works Cited

Bassnett, Susan. "The Translation Turn in Cultural Studies". Constructing Cultures. Eds.Susan Bassnett and Andre Lefevere. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1998. 123-140.

Chaume Varela, Frederic. "Synchronization in Dubbing: A Translational Approach". Topics in Audiovisual Translation. Ed. Pilar Orero. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004. 35-52.

Diaz Cintas, J. and A. Remael. Audiovisual Translation: Subtitling. Manchester: St. Jerome, 2007.

Di Giovanni, E. "Cultural Otherness and Global Communication in Walt Disney Films at the Turn of the Century". The Translator 9. 2 (2003): 207-223.

Disney/Pixar. Findet Nemo. Munich: Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2004.

Dries, Josephine. Dubbing and Subtitling: Guidelines for Production and Distribution. Manchester: The European Institute for the Media, 1995.

ECI (European Captioning Institute). ECI Style Guide. London: ECI, 2004.

Fodor, Istvan. Film Dubbing: Phonetic, Semiotic, Esthetic and Psychological Aspects. Hamburg: Buske, 1976.

Gambier, Yves. "Screen Transadaption: Perception and Reception". The Translator. 9. 2 (2003): 171-189.

Gottlieb, Henrik. "In Video Veritas: Are Danish Voices less American than Danish Subtitles?". La Traduccion en los medios audiovisuals. Eds. F. Chaume Varela and R. Agost. Castello de la Plana: Universitat Jaume I, 2001. 193-220.

--. "Language-Political Implications of Subtitling". Topics in Audiovisual Translation. Ed. Pilar Orero. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004. 83-100.


Hermans, Theo. "The Translator's Voice in Translated Narrative". Target. 8.1 (1996): 23-48.

Ivarsson, J. and M. Carroll. Subtitling. Simrishamn: TransEdit, 1998.

Martinez, X. "Film Dubbing: Its Process and Translation". Topics in Audiovisual Translation. Ed. Pilar Orero. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004. 3-7.

mbc (Museum of Broadcast Communications). Subtitling.

Munday, Jeremy. Style and Ideology in Translation. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

Sanchez, Diana. "Subtitling Methods and Team-Translation". Topics in Audiovisual Translation. Ed. Pilar Orero. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2004. 9-17.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. "On the Different Methods of Translating". Translation/History/Culture: A Sourcebook. Ed. Andre. Lefevere. London: Routledge, 1992. 141-166.

Toury, Gideon. In Search of a Theory of Translation. Tel Aviv: Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics, 1980.

Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge, 1995.

Zlateva, Palma. "Translation: Text and Pre-Text 'Adequacy' and 'Acceptability' in Crosscultural Communication". Translation, History and Culture. Eds. Susan Bassnett and Andre Lefevere. London: Pinter, 1990. 29-37.

(1) The German dubbing script was prepared by FFS Film-und Fernseh-Synchron GmbH, Munich-Berlin (Disney/Pixar), while the DVD subtitles were prepared by Technicolor Creative Services, London (personal communication with D. Navarro-Ros, Project Manager at Technicolor Creative Services, London, March 2005).

(2) As regards film translation, there is usually a double shift of medium: the written dialogue of the film script is translated into spoken dialogue by the actors and then again translated into written dialogue by the subtitler.

(3) Figures refer to the Roman alphabet. The character limit can vary depending on media and subtitling software used (see also Ivarsson and Carroll 100).

(4) Conventions vary from subtitling company to subtitling company, country to country, and media to media. The figures here are taken from the 'Style Guide of the European Captioning Institute' (ECI) and represent their policy. For a more detailed discussion about reading speed see Ivarrson and Carroll 63-71.

(5) In the case of DVD/PAL, one frame corresponds to 1/25th of a second.

(6) This is also the method employed when producing the German DVD subtitles for Finding Nemo (personal communication with D. Navarro-Ros, Project Manager at Technicolor Creative Services, London, March 2005).

(7) Unless a conversion from one format to another becomes necessary (e.g. NTSC to PAL or vice versa).

(8) For a detailed description of the dubbing process see Martinez 2004.

(9) For an in-depth analysis on how the illusion of synchrony in lip-sync dubbing is achieved, see Fodor 1976.

(10) Nevertheless, censorship can be found not only in dubbing but also in subtitling, where technical constraints can likewise "be used as means of removing material deemed unacceptable" (Bassnett 136).

(11) Plankton has the same meaning in German and English.

(12) "Racker", pronounced with an Australian accent in the dub, is a colloquial German expression meaning "rascal", and therefore particularly suits Squirt, Crush's cheeky little son. "Squirt" was probably perceived as too foreign for a (young) German audience by both subtitler and dubbing translator. By the time a feature film gets subtitled for DVD, a dubbed version produced for theatrical release usually already exists. Often the script of the dubbed version is available to the DVD subtitler, so I assume the subtitler has copied some of the character names from the German dubbing script (cf. Kahn, Puff, Luv).

(13) 25th film minute

(14) "Vroni" is a Bavarian short form for "Veromka".

(15) Literally "fisher's Fritz" or "Fisher's Fritz", as "Fischer" can be both a surname or the profession; German surnames often derive from professions.

(16) Fischers Fritz fischt frische Fische, frische Fische fischt Fischers Fritz.

(17) FFS Film- und Fernsehsynchron, who prepared the dubbing script, is based in Munich.

(18) 46th film minute.

(19) 27th film minute.

(20) 20th film minute.

(21) 44th film minute.

(22) "Heckflosse" is also the nickname of a particular type of Mercedes.

(23) 87th film minute.

(24) Trifft Haschen einen Fisch und fragt: "Hattu Schuppen? " Fisch: "Klar! " Haschen: "Muttu Haare waschen!" (Haschenwitze). [Little bunny meets a fish and asks, "Do you have scales/dandruff?" Fish, "Of course" Little bunny, "Wash your hair!"]

(25) 22nd film minute.

(26) 23rd film minute.

(27) 88th film minute.

(28) 42 film minute.

(29) As regards the original audio, in subtitling these constraints are based on acoustic content; in dubbing they are based on the visual expression of the articulation of the acoustic content, that is, the synchronization of mouth movements and sound.

(30) To what lengths this freedom can go is illustrated by an experiment shown at the dubbing workshop of the German ZDF network during a conference on dubbing and subtitling in 1987: a scene showing a policeman aggressively interrogating a criminal was dubbed "reversing the roles, playing the scenes as pure farce, putting lines from Shakespeare into the mouths of the actors, etc." (Ivarsson and Carroll 36). According to Ivarrson and Carroll (36) all dubbed versions managed to maintain the illusion of authenticity.

(31) "In all former Western European speech communities with less than 25 million speakers, foreign-language films and TV programs are subtitled rather than dubbed. One exception to this rule is Catalonia" (Gottlieb "Language-political implications of subtitling" 83).
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Date:Mar 22, 2017
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