Translation of Extralinguistic Culture-Bound Elements In Persian Movies Subtitled Into English: A Case Study of The Lizard
Translating cultural elements can be a demanding task due to the fact that such elements have specific meanings in the culture and language in which they arise but not necessarily in others. Taking this fact into account, the present study investigated the strategies used in translation of culture-bound elements in the English subtitles of the Iranian film The Lizard and the frequency of such strategies.
The culture-bound elements were classified based on the taxonomy presented by Pedersen (2005). The data were gathered from the Persian movie The Lizard which was subtitled into English. To gather the required data, the mentioned film was viewed and its original transcript was used. Then, the culture-bound elements of this film were detected and were compared with their English subtitles to identify the strategies used in translating them. Finally, the frequency of the employed strategies was studied in order to find which strategy has the highest potential for conveying the intended meaning.
Keywords: Audiovisual Translation, Culture-bound elements, translation, subtitling
The subtitle is an abbreviated version of the dialogue, which is projected on the screen. It is considered a complex and challenging variant of theatrical translation. Gottlieb (2005) states that whenever affordability, dialog authenticity, acquisition of foreign-language and reading skills are prioritized in audiovisual translation, subtitling is the obvious solution.
The present study aims to investigate the problems which translators encounter in translation of culture-specific items used in Persian language films subtitled into English. In doing so, the strategies used in dealing with culture-bound elements will be identified and finally, the frequency of the applied strategies will be studied in detail.
The main challenge in the present study is to investigate cultural elements pertaining to the language and to the source text being translated. In this regard, the problems found in the subtitles of this film are studied in order to determine which translating strategies are used and how they reconstitute the cultural notion of the source text in the target text.
The culture-bound terms were classified based on the taxonomy presented by Pedersen (2005). The data were gathered from analyzing the English subtitles of the Persian film The Lizard. The acquired data are analyzed on the basis of the following translation strategies: 1) retention, 2) specification, 3) direct translation, 4) generalization, 5) substitution and 6) omission.
So, the present study could gain significance as it draws attention to different strategies employed by the Persian translators to render Persian culture-specific items into their English equivalent in Persian into English subtitled films.
Culture-bound terms or as some call them cultural-specific items refer to those which have no equivalents or different positions in target reader’s cultural system, thus causing difficulties of translation of their functions and meanings in the source text into target text. According to Hatim and Mason (1990, pp. 223-4) “it is certainly true that in recent years the translator has increasingly come to be seen as a cultural mediator rather than a mere linguistic broker. It is also true that, in any form of translation, translators tend to apply a general strategy that will favor either an SL-oriented approach, or a TL-oriented approach.”
Newmark (1988, p.78) maintains that translation problems caused by culture-specific words arise due to the fact that they are intrinsically and uniquely bound to the culture concerned and, therefore, are related to the “context of a cultural tradition”. There are many ways to categorize culture-specific items, for instance Newmark (1988) points out five areas that cultural items may come from: (1) ecology (flora, fauna, winds, etc), (2) material culture (artifacts food clothes houses and towns, transport), (3) social culture (work and leisure), (4) organizations, customs, ideas (political, social, legal, religion or artistic), and (5) gestures and habits.
Theoretical Model for Analysis
In order to analyze the extracted data from the dialogue and transcripts of the film under study, the researcher has used the classification proposed by Pedersen (2005). He classifies culture-bound terms into two categories, namely intralinguistic and extralinguistic culture-bound references; the former category consists of idioms, proverbs, slang and dialects, while the later refers to the expressions pertaining to cultural items which are not part of a language system.
As Pedersen (2005) states extralinguistic culture-bound references consist of two categories, the first one is labeled source language oriented which includes retention, specification and direct translation, whereas the second category, labeled target language oriented, includes generalization, substitution and omission.
The purpose of this study was to find the strategies employed in translation of Persian culture-bound terms in the English subtitles of the abovementioned Iranian film and to investigate the frequency of the used strategies to determine which one has the highest potential for conveying the intended meaning.
This study is mainly descriptive. In the present study, English subtitles of the before mentioned Persian film as research samples have been compared with the original samples’ script in order to find culture-bound terms and to investigate in details the translation strategies adopted by the translators in dealing with these terms.
The data will be gathered from analyzing the English subtitles of the Persian film,
The Lizard (2004) which is a 2004 Iranian comedy directed by Kamal Tabrizi. Although a comedy, the film makes serious points about the clergy, religion, society in Iran, and life in general. This film broke all Iranian movie box office records and was the top grossing Iranian movie of all time.
The Procedure for obtaining required information had four stages which are as follows:
1) Viewing the film in order to get the overall idea of it and to find instances of the Persian culture-bound terms in the aforementioned Persian film.
2) Using the transcripts and focusing on the English subtitles of this film.
3) Estimating the correctness of the applied translation strategy and determining the degree to which the translations were close to the original samples.
4) Tabulating the translation strategies according to the taxonomy proposed by Pedersen (2005).
Framework of the Study
One of the most revealing translation crisis points is when some reference to the Source Culture is made, and there is no obvious official equivalent. According to Pedersen (2005) culture-bound terms are of two main types, namely intralinguistic and extralinguistic culture-bound references.
The strategies to render extralinguistic culture-bound elements as Pedersen (2005) proposed includes two categories, namely SL oriented and TL oriented.
Source language oriented strategy consists of three subcategories:
1. Retention: It is the most source language oriented strategy, as it allows an element from the source language to enter the target text. Sometimes the retained culture-bound term is marked off from the rest of the target text by quotes and occasionally by italics. This strategy consists of two parts, namely complete and target language adjust.
2. Specification: It means leaving the culture-bound term in its untranslated form, but adding information that is not present in the source text, making the target culture-bound term more specific than the source culture-bound term. This is done in one of two ways: either through Explicitation or Addition.
2.1. Explicitation: Explicitation could be seen as any strategy involving expansion of the text, or spelling out anything that is implicit in the source text.
2.2. Addition: This means that the added material is latent in the source culture-bound term, as part of the sense or connotations of the term. By using this strategy, the translator intervenes to give guidance to the target audience.
3. Direct translation: This strategy is like literal translation and it could hardly be used on proper names, but it is not uncommon for rendering the names of companies, official institutions, technical gadgetry etc. based on the outcome of translation, it has two subgroups; the first one is calque which is not familiar to target audience and it may sound odd to them, and the second one is shifted direct translation which refers to those terms that are common in target culture so the audience are familaiar with them.
Target language oriented strategy consists of three subcategories:
1. Generalization: This strategy means replacing an culture-bound term referring to something specific by something more general. Typically, this may involve hyponymy or not.
2. Substitution: This strategy involves removing the sourec culture-bound term and replacing it with something else, either a different term or some sort of paraphrase, which does not necessarily involve a cultural term. This strategy consists of two subgroups: cultural substitution and paraphrase.
2.1. Cultural substitution: This strategy means that the source culture-specific item is removed, and replaced by a different cultural term.
2.2. Paraphrase: This strategy involves rephrasing the source culture-specific item, either through reduction to sense, or by completely removing all trace of the cultural term and instead using a paraphrase that fits the context.
3. Omission: As Toury (1995, p. 82), has pointed out Omission is a valid translation strategy, and in the present model it simply means replacing the ST ECR with nothing.
Since the strategies to transfer culture-bound terms are of two main groups, namely SL oriented and TL oriented which are further divided into three salient subcategories, first the culture-bound terms of the before-mentioned film are presented in their context followed by giving necessary explanation and analysis, Then two tables are offered which specified different types of culture-bound terms with respect to the taxonomy proposed by Pedersen (2005) in this film. Furthermore, the frequency of each strategy used by the translators will be mentioned in charts.
Analysis of Culture-Bound Elements of the Chosen Film
In the following parts the collected data will be analyzed after being classified on the basis of the before mentioned framework. It should be added that although the emphasis of this study is culture-bound elements, but in the following sections some of the culture-bound elements will be offered in their contexts, i.e. the entire sentence or sentences to help the reader have a clear understanding of culture-bound elements and their meaning in context.
Analysis of “The Lizard”
1. SL Oriented strategies
This film contains 36 instances of SL oriented strategies to render culture-bound terms, some of which are discussed below.
There are 8 instances of complete and 3 instances of TL adjust retention in this film, some of which are analyzed below.
The leading actor’s name is “رضا مثقالی” which is retained completely as “Reza Mesghali”.
The subtitler has resorted to marked complete retention to render some of the names, for instance the name “رستم” is rendered using italic letters as “Rostam”, and also the noun “عنکبوت” in the SL phrase “سوره عنکبوت” is placed in quotation marks and it is rendered as ““Ankabout” verse”.
The subtitler opted
for TL adjust retention strategy to render the words
There are 3 instances of addition and 6 instances of explicitation strategy in this movie.
The instances of this strategy are as follows:
“فقط تو قم درس خوندم” (1
1) “I just studied in the city of Qom”
Since the SL word “قم” is a small city in Iran, it may not be known to the English viewers of the film, thus the subtitler added the word “city” in order that the audience know what this word refers to, more easily.
“هفت بسته فروردین و چهار بسته مونتانا بده” (2
2) “Give me seven packs of Farvardin cigarettes and four packs of Montana cigarettes”
In this example the culture-specific term “فروردین” and “مونتانا” are rendered as “Farvardin cigarettes” and “Montana cigarettes” respectively. Since “فروردین” is an Iranian cigarette and TL audience may not be familiar with it, the subtitler correctly added the word “cigarettes” to make it understandable for the English viewers of the film.
Some of the instances of this strategy are presented below.
“Our savior’s birthday”
This word which is the name of an Arabic month is probably unknown in target culture, therefore the subtitler instead of using retention strategy, resorted to explicitation in order to help the audience know why this day is important.
1.3. Direct Translation
There are 9 instances of calque and 7 instances of shifted direct translation in this movie.
“ستاد اقامه نماز” (1
1) “Prayer Organization”
The subtitler has translated the SL words literally regardless of the fact that the outcome seems strange and unusual to the target viewers since they cannot make head or tail of such organization.
“تو زندگیم حتی تفنگ بادی هم دستم نگرفتم” (2
2) “I’ve never even held a blowgun in my life”
In the above example, the SL word “تفنگ بادی” is rendered word for word as “Blowgun” which is awkward and meaningless and as a result it sounds odd to the target audience. The subtitler should have resorted to shifted direct translation and rendered this word as “Airgun” which is its appropriate equivalent.
“این شیره یا خطه؟”
“Heads or tails?”
This refers to a game which is played when two people want to decide something by chance. The subtitler has correctly translated this phrase as “Heads or tails” which shares the same meaning in the target culture as the source phrase.
2. TL Oriented strategies
This film contains 41 instances of TL oriented strategies to render culture-bound terms, some of which are discussed below.
There are 7 instances of generalization strategy in this movie, 3 of them are hyponymy and the rest are not.
“غسل ارتماسی” (1
There are many kinds of ablutions, such as “ترتیبی”, “ارتماسی”, etc. but since they do not exist in the target culture, the subtitler has decided to use hyponymy strategy by replacing this culture-specific term with a more general term.
“کله پاچه حاضره” (2
2) “The food is served”
In this example since the culture-bound term “کله پاچه” is a unique Persian food and English people are not familiar with this food, so the subtitler retained uniqueness of the SL referent and replaced the SL word with its superordinate.
“محرم و رمضون و صفر سرقت تعطیل” (1
1) “No stealing in the holly months”
Since the Arabic months “محرم”, “رمضان” and “صفر” might be unknown to target language viewers, the subtitler chose not to retain the names of these months and instead s/he employed a more general term to render them.
“خمس و زکاتمون رو ندادیم” (2
2) “We’ve never paid our religious debts”
In the above-mentioned example, the SL words “خمس” and “زکات” are rendered using a general term “religious debts”. Since the SL word “زکات” exists in the target culture, the subtitler could have also resorted to shifted direct translation and rendered it as “Alms” which is known to target audience.
There are 24 instances of paraphrase and 2 instances of cultural substitution strategy in this movie.
“من نمیخوام برگردم تو اون خرابشده” (1
1) “I don’t wanna go back to that hell-hole”
In this example, the subtitler substitutes the SL word “خرابشده” with the word “Hell-hole” which means a very unpleasant place. Not only the TL word conveys the same sense as does the SL word, but also it carries the same semantic loads.
“اگر آدمها مرام داشته باشند” (2
2) “If people live by the codes”
The subtitler paraphrased the SL word “مرام” as “Living by the codes” which shares the same sense. S/he could have also rendered it as “If only people live up to their principles”.
“قیافه اش مثل نظرکرده هاست”
“He looks like a saint”
Since the SL word “نظرکرده” cannot be translated literally, the subtitler has correctly decided to substitute the cultural word “Saint” for it that makes the same effect on the TL audience.
There are 8 instances omission strategy which some of them are as follows:
1) “چای دبش”
The SL word “چای دبش” is left untranslated which may be due to the subtitling constraints that force the subtitler to omit it in order to shorten the TL utterance.
The subtitler has left the SL word “ناموس” untranslated which may be due to his or her inability to find an appropriate Persian equivalent for it.
Frequency of the Employed Strategies by the Translators
So far, some of the examples of culture-bound elements have been mentioned. In the following section, the frequency of each strategy will be tabulated in order to show which strategy has the highest potential for conveying the intended meaning.
In doing so, first two tables are presented to show the number of different strategies of translation according to Pedersen’s model, then the frequency of the strategies used by translators for rendering culture-specific items will be shown in four charts, and finally After the indication of the frequency of the strategies employed by translators, the percentage of the overall employed strategies are shown in a pie chart.
Table 1. Number of different categories of SL oriented strategies that appeared in The Lizard
Table 2. Number of different categories of TL oriented strategies that appeared in The Lizard
Chart 1. Frequency of the employed strategies in The Lizard
Chart 2. Percentage of the overall employed strategies in The Lizard
Chart 3. Frequency of the overall six major strategies in The Lizard
Chart 4. Percentage of the overall six major strategies in The Lizard
Strategies Adopted For Rendering Culture-bound Elements
There were 77 instances of culture-specific elements in this film. As it was clear in most of the examples, the most common strategy adopted by the subtitlers of this film was paraphrase.
As it was stated earlier, the data of this study were elicited form descriptive analysis of some of the instances of culture-bound terms and were examined against six major translation strategies proposed by Pedersen, namely (1) Retention, (2) Specification, (3) Direct Translation, (4) Generalization, (5) Substitution, and (6) Omission; The first three strategies are source language oriented while the other three strategies are target language oriented.
There were 36 instances of SL oriented strategies and 41 instances of TL oriented strategies to render culture-specific elements in this film.
As the results showed, substitution strategy and more specifically paraphrase with sense transfer which is employed 26 times by the subtitlers in this film, is the most common strategy to render cultural elements in subtitling. Since most of the Persian culture-bound elements do not exist in target culture, the subtitler preferred to replace them with some sort of paraphrase which does not necessarily involves a target culture-bound term in order to transfer the intended meaning. Although paraphrase is used frequently in subtitling, it has its shortcomings; for instance there is conflicting nature between subtitling and paraphrase, because paraphrase involves replacing one SL cultural term with a TL phrase or sentence that conveys the same sense while subtitling is a condensed form of translation in which parts of the original dialogue are usually omitted.
The next most common strategy is direct translation which is used 16 times. As the chart 1 showed, 9 instances out of these 16 instances belong to calque which is the second most frequently used strategy after paraphrase.
The next strategy which consists of 11 instances
is retention strategy.
The next strategy is specification which includes 9 instances that can be further divided into 6 instances of explicitation and only 3 instances of addition strategy.
The next strategy which is used 8 times is omission. One of the reasons of employing this strategy may be due to the subtitling constraints.
As it was shown in charts 1 and 4, generalization strategy and more specifically hyponymy which is adopted only 3 times in this film is the least common strategy for rendering culture-bound elements in subtitling.
Gottlieb, H. (2005). Screen Translation, Eight studies in subtitling, dubbing and voice-over. Center for Translation Studies, Department of English, Univ. of Copenhagen.
Hatim, B. and Mason, I. (1990). Discourse and the Translator. Longman: Longman Group Limited.
Newmark, P. (1988). A Textbook of Translation. New York and London: Prentice-Hall.
Pedersen, J. (2005). How is culture rendered in subtitles? In MuTra Conference Proceedings. Retrieved 7 November 2009 from: http://www.euroconferences.info/.../2005_Pedersen_Jan.pdf
Toury, G. (1995). Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins. P. 82.
Published - February 2010