Audiovisual contextulization and the (non) translation of grammatical gender
This paper aims to study how English 3rd person singulars (female/male) which are explicit in their genders, are made explicit in translation of a movie. In Persian language there is only one 3rd person pronoun which is not explicit in its gender. The texts in movies are more contextualized since movies have audiovisual contents. This audiovisual contextualization may lead to rather low textual clarification of gender in the translation of such pronouns. All the cases of gender pronouns along with their translation were considered for specification. The results of this case study demonstrate that gender clarification has only happened in 3 percent of all the cases of pronoun translations. This can be due to the highly contextualized content of audiovisual products like movies.
One of the factors which makes a bulk of sentences a text is cohesion. A text is said to be cohesive if it hangs together lexically (Munday, 2001) and if it incorporates cohesive relations (Mollanazar, 2006). Halliday and Hasan (1976) have classified three kinds of presuppositions which make a bulk of sentences a unified whole. These are substitution, ellipsis, and reference. Reference is divided into personals, demonstratives, and comparatives. Of prime interest to the subject of this study are personals and among them those which are used to refer to the 3rd person singular cases which can demonstrate the gender of the referent.
English third person singular pronouns are explicit in their gender. For instance, ‘he’ refers to a male referent and ‘her’ is related to a female referent. This explicitness is sometimes very crucial to the comprehension of a text. Suppose this text:
Jack and Mary have been engaged since three months ago, but it seems that she does not like him very much.
The second part of the sentence would be completely ambiguous if the gender of the pronoun were not explicit.
In Persian third person singular is not clear in its gender. Therefore, a clarification is used in cases which might lead to ambiguity. This clarification is usually made by using a combination of a demonstrative or an article and words like ‘girl’, ‘man’, ‘lady’. For example, the back translation of the Persian translation of the aforementioned sentence might be a sentence like this:
Jack and Mary have been engaged since three months ago, but it seems that the girl does not like the boy very much.
Unless clarifications like this are made the meaning is not clear and the receiver of the text will not comprehend it. Therefore, in translation from a language with gender explicitness in pronouns, like English, into a language with no explicitness, the translator must consider the possible ambiguities which might arise in the translated text.
In real life exchanges, however, such clarifications might not be needed due to the high contextualization of the communications. For instance, in the case of the aforementioned sentence, a mere pointing to Jack or Mary – when the exchange is made in a party where Jack and Mary are also present - might be enough in order to make the receiver understand the message. This contextualization might also be present in some other cases. One of which is audiovisual texts.
Movies can be studied multi-dimensionally. However, O’Connell (2007) has noticed that the high speed of advances in technology mist not deviate the screen translation scholars from linguistic, cultural, commercial, political and pedagogical aspects of this kind of translation.
Audiovisual texts are mostly highly contextualized and as a result the clarification of gender in pronouns might seem not necessary. Movies can be said to be one of the most well-known type of audiovisual texts. Movies are highly contextualized and can be studied to see whether or not this contextualization leads to a relatively lower degree of gender clarification.
A view on the literature
Linguistically, any piece of text is surrounded by what is called co-text (Yule, 1985). Co-text is defined as the linguistic surrounding of texts and is distinguished from context which is defined as the situational conditions of the text. Both co-text and context are very important in comprehending a text. However, sometimes the context is so rich that the weakness of co-text does not impede the process of comprehension of text. In other words, since rich situational contextualization leads to a better comprehension, it might free the sender of the message (for instance: author of the text, producer of the movie, translator of the source text, etc.) from enriching the co-text. This is a possible case in the issue of translation of movie scripts.
House (2005) sees translation as re-contextualization, a term which she defines as ‘taking a text out of its original frame and context and placing it within a new set of relationships and culturally conditioned expectations’ (p. 356). She maintains that if one is to understand the meaning of a linguistic unit, one must consider the interrelationship between a linguistic unit and its corresponding context of situation. This context of situation seems to be what the translator of an audiovisual text takes into during the translating process. Therefore, the translation of a highly contextualized audiovisual text might have less clarification of some (complex) elements of the source text.
English third person singular cases which are explicit in gender contain the material of this study. These cases are collected from the original English text of a movie titled traffic and its Persian version.
First the original English text and its Persian version were written down. The sentences containing third person singular cases were separated from the whole text. In some cases a few of the preceding and subsequent sentences were also collected in order to see if textual context is prepared for. Then, the third person singular cases and their counterparts were highlighted and compared. One of the purposes was to check whether or not in case of non-transference of gender, the context has been considered for.
Results and discussion
After the English 3rd person singular cases were compared with their Persian counterparts, it was observed that the third person singular cases have been transferred into Persian according to four different categories.
In the first category the third person singular cases have been transferred into Persian neutral third person singular cases. This is because the context has been prepared for and no ambiguity occurs for the Persian audience.
The second category contains those cases where in the English third person singular cases have been transferred into Persian with an explicit reference to the gender of the original case; for instance, when ‘she’ has been transferred into ‘the woman’ in the Persian text. This has mostly happened when the context had not been visually and textually prepared for and the explicit reference to the gender has been necessary so that the audience could comprehend the movie without falling into ambiguity.
The third category contains cases similar to the cases in the first one. The difference is that here non-transference of the gender is done without the presence of any textual context. These cases are likely to lead the audience to ambiguity. If the audiovisual context is absent as well, the audience will certainly fall into ambiguity.
The fourth category contains third person singular cases which have been entirely changed being transferred into Persian. The Persian constructions containing the counterparts of these cases have been changed in a way that no reference to any third person singular is made.
Table (1): Categories of gender transference
Of the total number of third person singular cases which is 178, 128 cases have been transferred implicitly. That is, the third person singular case has been transferred to a neutral pronoun without any reference to the gender of the original pronoun (table 1).
Only 7 cases of explicit reference to the gender of the third person singular cases were found. This number consists less than 4% of the whole cases.
The number of cases in the third category is 20. That is, 20 of the cases have been transferred into Persian without any reference to the gender of the original and without any context.
Last category contains 23 cases. This means that 23 cases have been translated into different constructions from the original with no reference to the original English third person singular cases.
In this study, English third person singular cases – that is, the pronouns and adjectives, etc. which are explicit in their gender – of a movie text were compared with their Persian counterparts. There were four categories which covered all the cases. These categories are presented in table (1). It seems that because of the highly contextualized nature of movie less necessity is felt in transferring the gender into the target language. This might be the reason for the low number of explicit reference to the gender of the English third person singular cases in the Persian version of this movie. Of all the 178 cases, only 7 cases have explicitly referred to the original English gender of the third person singular cases. That is, explicitness is made only in 3.93% of all the cases. As it is said above, this might be due to the highly contextualized nature of the movie.
Further studies must be conducted to see if the highly contextualized nature of movies makes their translations less explicit in case of gender and other aspects. For instance, studies must be conducted on the comparison between pure text translations and audiovisual translation to check whether or not coherence, cohesion, and other aspects of the texts are transferred similarly in both cases. If not, then why are the translations of a pure text and an audiovisual text different from each other?
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House, J. (2006). Text and context in translation. Journal of Pragmatics, 38, 338-358.
Klein, A., Jones, C., Zwick, E., King, G., & Bickford, L. (Producers), & Soderbergh, S. (Director). (2002). Traffic [motion picture]. Tehran: Javaneh Institute.
Mollanazar, H. (2006). Principles and methodology of translation. Tehran: SAMT
Munday, J. (2001). Introducing translation studies. Theories and applications. London and New York: Routledge.
O’Connel, E. (2007). Screen translation. In P. Kuhiwczak & K. Littau (Eds.), A companion to translation studies. (pp. 120-133). Clevdon: Multilingual matters ltd
Yule, G. (1985). The study of language: an introduction. Cambridge University Press.
Published - July 2010
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