wrong translations! changing names, facts...

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Roi Marphille

Senior Member
Catalonia, Catalan.
Hi!,
sometimes the translators change some names, facts or something enabling the viewers to "catch" the meaning of the phrase.
I've seen many times English phonetical jokes being translated to Spanish in a very imaginative way.
As many of you are translators, and I don't have a clue about it, I'd like to ask you how does it work, I mean, which are the limits of translation? which license do you have to change names, facts or whatever in a movie?
The classical example is the metric system thing. You know, if they say seven miles you put "once kilómetros" and that's it. I'm personally against that.
Please, check out following example:
This dialogue is from episode “the boyfriend” from the Third Season of Seinfeld. (just few lines, hope no problem with copyright, pls don't delete my thread, I can change that if necessary!)
CAROL: So how do you think she looks like?
KRAMER: Lyndon Johnson.
CAROL: What? Lyndon Johnson?
JERRY: He's joking.
KRAMER: I'm not joking. She looks like Lyndon Johnson

This is the dubbing in Spanish:
CAROL: ¿a quién crees que se parece?
KRAMER: Bill Clinton
CAROL: ¿qué? ¿Bill Clinton?
JERRY: está bromeando
KRAMER: No estoy bromeando, se parece a Bill Clinton

Obviously, I understand that the President Lyndon Johnson is pretty unknown in Spain and Mr.Clinton is quite famous. But, is it fair to do that? I mean, they are just changing the meaning of the script! or does Bill Clinton look like Mr.Johnson?
that was just a little example. There are thousands of them in many movies, sitcoms...books..?
What do youguys think about it?
I'd like to know the opinions of the professionals because they have their "rules", I guess they sometimes are forced to do this.

pls, help me to understand!!!

PS: another thing is to translate "6 billion people" to "6 billones de personas" like the dumb translator of "Armageddon" had done. Real.
 
  • KateNicole

    Senior Member
    English (USA)
    I think when it comes to a sitcom like Seinfeld, the translators probably have a lot of freedom because the point is simply to make the audience laugh--not to transmit information. Replacing Johnson with Clinton is a bit of a stretch, but I can definitely see why they did it. I suppose that was a tricky one.
     

    zebedee

    Senior Member
    Gt. Britain - English
    I agree with KateNicole on that one.

    It completely depends on the genre of the programme you're translating.
    Translating a comedy has completely different rules than translating, say, a documentary.

    In your Lyndon Johnson/Bill Clinton example the translator must choose between retaining the original name and thus losing the comedy, because your target audience has no reference to this person in their culture, or substituting that person for a similar person who is familiar to your target audience. At the end of the day, the translator has to decide what is more important: retaining the comedy by extrapolating to the target audience's culture or respecting the original references and lose the comedy?

    An example of taking this too far, however, is the Spanish dubbing of Woody Allen's "Sleeper" where Woody Allen, waking up and finding himself in the future, has this dialogue with Diane Keaton:

    Diane: Sex is different today, you see. We don't have any problems. Everyone is frigid.
    Woody: Oh, that's incredible. Are the men impotent too?
    Diane:Yeah, most of them. Except the ones whose ancestors are Italian.
    Woody: Right. I knew there was something in that pasta.

    The 1970's Spanish dubbed version has 'Italian' replaced by 'Spanish' and 'pasta' by 'paella'...! That, to me, is taking an unnecessary liberty with the translation.

    In a documentary where the script is a constant relaying of facts I see no feasible reason for substituting one measurement or one set of data for another. If the translation is dubbed over the original, an easy solution is to say: "siete millas o once kilómetros". However, subtitling is a different case. It's a far more challenging form of translation than dubbing because you're constantly juggling synthesis and accuracy, limited to 32 characters in each subtitle.

    On a similar note I'd like to know why film titles are changed instead of respecting the original title, and on what basis are they changed?
    The film "Twins" (DeVito/Shwarzenegger) in Spain is given the name "Los Gemelos Golpean Dos Veces" where "Los Gemelos" would have been perfectly suitable. And "Splash!" (Daryl Hannah) was changed to: "1,2,3 Splash!" :confused:
     

    Cracker Jack

    Senior Member
    The act of dubbing which at times changes some points to adapt to the culture of the viewers deprives them of some information about cultural items native to the one depicted in the setting.

    It is common to learn from Spanish dubbing the mention of El Corte Inglés (ECI) even if the setting is in New York or L.A., where obviously there is no ECI. Sometimes, food is changed by dubbers, including some activities like having siesta. Americans are not known to adopt this 2-hour Spanish practice. Poor viewers, they lose a lot because of the translators.

    For those who are learning Spanish, dubbed DVDs are good. But for Spanish people learning English, it will be a great loss. Another sad thing is that the pronunciation of media personalities of foreign words is patterned after Spanish phonetics. And the names they pronounce badly are not necessarily English but those of other languages as well.

    Recent examples are: in WW2BAM (Quién quiere ser millionario), the host pronounces Déscartes as DES-CAR-TES and the name of the late Pope's assassin as AG-CA which should be AH-JA. Or even the name of John Paul II is pronounced as WO-TI-LA.

    Surprisingly, Blade is pronounced as such and not BLA-DE in contrast to COL-GA-TE. I hope media voice overs, commentators and translators would be more responsible because as the telemedium serves not only for entertainment but also education.

    I glad amic Roi you brought this up.
     

    diegodbs

    Senior Member
    Spain-Spanish
    Cracker Jack said:
    The act of dubbing which at times changes some points to adapt to the culture of the viewers deprives them of some information about cultural items native to the one depicted in the setting.

    It is common to learn from Spanish dubbing the mention of El Corte Inglés (ECI) even if the setting is in New York or L.A., where obviously there is no ECI. Sometimes, food is changed by dubbers, including some activities like having siesta. Americans are not known to adopt this 2-hour Spanish practice. Poor viewers, they lose a lot because of the translators.

    For those who are learning Spanish, dubbed DVDs are good. But for Spanish people learning English, it will be a great loss. Another sad thing is that the pronunciation of media personalities of foreign words is patterned after Spanish phonetics. And the names they pronounce badly are not necessarily English but those of other languages as well.

    Recent examples are: in WW2BAM (Quién quiere ser millionario), the host pronounces Déscartes as DES-CAR-TES and the name of the late Pope's assassin as AG-CA which should be AH-JA. Or even the name of John Paul II is pronounced as WO-TI-LA.

    Surprisingly, Blade is pronounced as such and not BLA-DE in contrast to COL-GA-TE. I hope media voice overs, commentators and translators would be more responsible because as the telemedium serves not only for entertainment but also education.

    I glad amic Roi you brought this up.
    Creo que no tiene nada de malo que la pronunciación de nombres propios se adapte a la fonética española. Yo, por ejemplo, nunca he oído en televisiones de habla inglesa o francesa, pronunciar bien el nombre de Rodríguez Zapatero. Dicen rodrigües sapateirou o cosas aún peores. Y no me parece mal, no todo el mundo tiene que saber cómo se pronuncian todos los idiomas.
     

    fenixpollo

    moderator
    American English
    Cracker Jack said:
    The act of dubbing which at times changes some points to adapt to the culture of the viewers deprives them of some information about cultural items native to the one depicted in the setting.

    It is common to learn from Spanish dubbing the mention of El Corte Inglés (ECI) even if the setting is in New York or L.A., where obviously there is no ECI. Sometimes, food is changed by dubbers, including some activities like having siesta. Americans are not known to adopt this 2-hour Spanish practice. Poor viewers, they lose a lot because of the translators.
    I agree. Apparently, translators assume that they need to completely sterilize their translation and remove any "foreign" cultural references.

    In your example, however, many foreign references are either already understood or they are understandable. While Americans don't know ECI, we do know what a siesta is, and we use that Spanish word to describe a post-lunch nap. The problem comes when the translator is not familiar with BOTH cultures, and doesn't know which references that can translate directly and which ones he/she can "take liberties with".
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    As a technical translator I always get angry when technical terms are translated wrong. Technical terms are not often mentioned in films, but when they are, they have a special importance.

    Recently I saw a documentary program "The supercharged Grand Prix car 1924-1939". The translator had no idea about supercharging nor Grand Prix racing, so she had translated the title as "The tuned-up sports car". There's quite a difference, and the translators ignorance spoiled the whole program.
     

    Roi Marphille

    Senior Member
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    well,
    what I'm asking is:
    - which freedom has the translator to use his/her own imagination while changing something?
    - how it works?

    I honestly don't know it.
    I do understand that some jokes, specially phonetical jokes have to be changed in a sitcom. But, I don't know the methodology the translators follow for the translation.
    Is there a guy who says: "ok, they won't understand this, that and the other, you have to change it"???
    Or it works like: "sorry Sir, I think it is better to change this because the Spanish audience may not understand this joke" "ok, what could we say instead?"
    How it works with this mile-kilometer changing?
    How it works with titles? who the hell said "ok, le llamaremos "teléfono rojo, volamos hacia Moscú" porqué queda mejor" !!!
    What the autors say about it? do they actually know about it? or they just don't care as long as they got the money...?
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Roi Marphille said:
    what I'm asking is:
    - which freedom has the translator to use his/her own imagination while changing something?
    - how it works?
    When I have translated automobile brochures from French into Finnish I have used freely my own imagination. It's the only possible way because the French advertising language is so much different from Finnish. If I had translated it directly the Finnish buyer would have laughed at it.

    Roi Marphille said:
    How it works with this mile-kilometer changing?
    The translator should understand if it's about an exact measure or an approximation. For example, "ten miles" should generally be translated "15 kilometres", not 16 kms or 16,1 kms.

    A few decades ago I read regularly Technical News Bulletins from UK. Expressions like "about one inch" were systematically translated "about 25,4 millimetres". I found it ridiculous.
     

    Roi Marphille

    Senior Member
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    zebedee said:
    An example of taking this too far, however, is the Spanish dubbing of Woody Allen's "Sleeper" where Woody Allen, waking up and finding himself in the future, has this dialogue with Diane Keaton:

    Diane: Sex is different today, you see. We don't have any problems. Everyone is frigid.
    Woody: Oh, that's incredible. Are the men impotent too?
    Diane:Yeah, most of them. Except the ones whose ancestors are Italian.
    Woody: Right. I knew there was something in that pasta.

    The 1970's Spanish dubbed version has 'Italian' replaced by 'Spanish' and 'pasta' by 'paella'...! That, to me, is taking an unnecessary liberty with the translation.
    yeah that's changing the meaning! bad, bad, bad! I bet Woddy Allen would not accept that.
    Sadly, we would find hundreds of alike examples.
     
    Very interesting topic for me, maybe I can shed some light because I often translate for subtitles and dubbing. There are a few questions I thought I might be able to shed light on, so, from the top:

    Roi Marphille said:
    Obviously, I understand that the President Lyndon Johnson is pretty unknown in Spain and Mr.Clinton is quite famous. But, is it fair to do that? I mean, they are just changing the meaning of the script! or does Bill Clinton look like Mr.Johnson?
    that was just a little example. There are thousands of them in many movies, sitcoms...books..?
    What do youguys think about it?
    I'd like to know the opinions of the professionals because they have their "rules", I guess they sometimes are forced to do this.

    pls, help me to understand!!!

    PS: another thing is to translate "6 billion people" to "6 billones de personas" like the dumb translator of "Armageddon" had done. Real.
    Here is my short theory on how that may have come about: If you are planning to broadcast a show in both a dubbed and a subtitled version, then you are going to need 2 translations, one for the former, one for the latter.

    The two translations will be slightly different, because of the different needs of each technique. For dubbing, you have to match up the mouth movements, especially the labial consonnants like "p, b, l, m, n", which force the mouth to close. For subtitles, length is the consideration, with a maximum of roughly 32 characters per subtitle, and the timing, spacing and placement of subtitles so they can be easily read and do not overlap onto the next scene.

    But they MUST be SIMILAR, because if they are not, you might have a situation like this:
    "Hey Gertrude, did you watch Seinfeld last night?"
    "Oh ya, that was so funny when Carol said he looked like Richard Nixon!" Richard Nixon? She said he looked like Bill Clinton"!"

    So even if the person looks more like Nixon than Clinton, a choice has to be made. I imagine that here, the translator(s) chose to use Bill Clinton because "se parece a Bill Clinton" corresponds to the labial movements of "she looks like Lyndon (B)* Johnson". (*I presume there was a "B" before Johnson, as it is always included in his name, and would explain the use of Bill Clinton). If you play around with the two lines while looking in the mirror, you'll understand what I mean. It may not be perfect sync, but you get the idea.

    So sometimes the constraints of one translation have to be taken into consideration for the other translation in order for the two to be compatible, and quite often, they are no done at the same time by the same person: The first might have been done in one LA, and then the second one done in Paris, six months later...

    Hakro said:
    When I have translated automobile brochures from French into Finnish I have used freely my own imagination. It's the only possible way because the French advertising language is so much different from Finnish. If I had translated it directly the Finnish buyer would have laughed at it.
    Yes it's true that we have to adapt a lot for translations, but the quantity depends on the media we're working in. For commercial products like brochures, press books, promotional films, etc., you HAVE to adapt your translation if you want your client to ultimately be successful with it.

    But dubbing and subtitling are tricky! You don't want to treat the viewer as a dumb-@$$ by adapting it so much to his culture that it has none of its original flavor (like the pasta-paella thing, above). But, you do have to make it understandable and find substitutes to things that most viewers would have a hard time understanding. But I think you should leave things in there that the viewer may not know yet, and let him discover it - call a "bagel" a "bagel", and don't change it to "petit pain", then the person might ask himself the question and find out that in New York, people like to eat something called a "bagel", and it's a small, round bread.

    Roi Marphille said:
    well,
    what I'm asking is:
    - which freedom has the translator to use his/her own imagination while changing something?
    - how it works?

    I honestly don't know it.
    I do understand that some jokes, specially phonetical jokes have to be changed in a sitcom. But, I don't know the methodology the translators follow for the translation.
    Is there a guy who says: "ok, they won't understand this, that and the other, you have to change it"???
    Or it works like: "sorry Sir, I think it is better to change this because the Spanish audience may not understand this joke" "ok, what could we say instead?"
    How it works with this mile-kilometer changing?
    How it works with titles? who the hell said "ok, le llamaremos "teléfono rojo, volamos hacia Moscú" porqué queda mejor" !!!
    What the autors say about it? do they actually know about it? or they just don't care as long as they got the money...?
    Atleast here, it works like this: Someone from a production company, distributor, dubbing company or subtitling compnay calls up a translator and asks them to do the work. Then as they work on the translation (or in some cases when they turn it in), they may ask the employer (or another person responsible) questions about the text and how they should or should not translate certain things. In the end, the translator may insist on certain things in his translation and defend his version, or the employer may insist on certain things, and impose his version. It can be frustrating because the employers are worried about seeling to the largest audience possible, while the translator wants to produce the best quality of work possible.

    And that is what the "Marketing" department takes care of - making things palatable to the masses. Including translations. And it is often a pity.

    A final note: I have seen a lot of pitiful translations, just horrible, with outright errors in them... But I also know how the system works, and too often, translators are given ridiculously short delays to turn in their work. A friend of mine only had four and a half days to dub a Cohen Brothers film. With that kind of tight deadline, there will be errors, or atleast many things that will be lost in translation.

    :)
     

    cyanista

    законодательница мод
    NRW
    Belarusian/Russian
    Here you can read about one more example of a "sterilized" cultural adaptation.

    Waddayathink?
     

    annettehola

    Banned
    Danish
    "well,
    what I'm asking is:
    - which freedom has the translator to use his/her own imagination while changing something?
    - how it works?"

    Ad 1) On one hand all the freedom (s)he can muster. On the other, (s)he has to stay within the frame of meaning of the text (s)he is translating.
    This is called respect for the text. A good translator in my opinion has an equal measure of freedom and respect and applies that in her/his work. A translator without imagination cannot interprete, only translate. This is the reason why machine-translations are fatal. And, my good Roi, we are talking about interpretation here; rather than translation. But, my good Annette, this is part of the same thing, isn't it? It certainly is. And that is my point. What you call freedom, I call interpretation. And I call a translator that cannot interprete, a machine. The first and foremost way a translator can take pride in her/his job is by being good at it. What does that mean for a translator? I means this: Being able to see what sense it is the text/author wishes to convey. Then translate the words. I believe the words to be tools of conveying meaning. So you can conclude from this, that I think sense is more important than mere words. I am not saying, mind you, that words are unimportant in translating. That would be non-sensical and selfcontradictory. I am saying that you need freedom otherwise you cannot interpret. And if you cannot interpret, I cannot see why you should translate anything at all. Translation is no more than this: Transferring words into other words. Translating needs interpretation like all other activities in life.

    Another thing is this case: The part of Denmark where Copenhagen is situated is in Danish called "Sjaelland." "Sjael" means "Soul" in English. But on all English maps this name is translated "Sealand." It is a mystery to me. But I think it's the same as the "Danish pastry" that in America contains cheese. In these two last examples I maintain that respect is lacking on part of those that translated these terms. This is not very imaginative.

    Annette
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    I don't know about movies but I've found all that's been said very interesting. I deal more with book translation. Someone mentionned jokes and more specifically phonetic-based jokes. Sometimes you can find an adaptation. Sometimes it's completely impossible and you have to forget it and add a footnote to explain.

    I believe all translators do not focus on the same things. Or, rather, that each individual translator doesn't focus on the same priority throughout a text. There are no rules, it depends on what was essential to the writer at that very moment. You can't always render everything : literal meaning, style, register, cultural references...So you have to choose and I make my choice according to what I think was most important to the writer in that specific passage. To take an example, I remember having a line of only three syllables. Obviously, style (or "form")was the priority for him in that precise instance. So I tried, at all costs, to translate with a 3 syllables sentence alone on its line. It's always better if you can keep the "music" of the original text, especially when it seems to be important.
     

    Roi Marphille

    Senior Member
    Catalonia, Catalan.
    cyanista said:
    Here you can read about one more example of a "sterilized" cultural adaptation.

    Waddayathink?
    wow!!! that's really interesting!!!
    thanks to all for your contributions, they are all really very interesting!
    I see that, in certain point, we may consider a translator to be a writer as well. What's the story with royalties then?
    Is it that like I suggested...that everybody is happy if they pay to the first guy?
    Nobody complains then...?
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Roi Marphille said:
    I see that, in certain point, we may consider a translator to be a writer as well. What's the story with royalties then?
    Is it that like I suggested...that everybody is happy if they pay to the first guy?
    Nobody complains then...?
    I have always had the opinion that translator's work is more demanding than writer's. Translators don't get royalties but sometimes we are better paid (per hour) than writers.

    I also think that it's not so rare that the translator's text is in fact better than the original. At least I have often corrected mistakes in the original text.

    You have to consider that I have been both writer and translator, so I should know!
     
    Came back to this thread because I just finished subtitling a few episodes of a sitcom from French to English. And I want to point out that, in fact, subtitles can be really tricky. In this show, the characters talked very fast, and it was impossible, in terms of making it all fit in, not to drop details! It's very frustrating, because even if you really want to put it in, you can't. And so yes, you definitely lose some of the "richness" of the original text.

    Also, it's true, you have to do some interpretation - if you didn't, the thing wouldn't have much spirit to it. And when it comes to word-plays and jokes, well, you have to wing it.

    Still, I prefer subtitles to dubbing for many reasons, including the fact that with subtitles, viewers can still listen to what has actually been said, even if they don't catch much of it. So all the details, the original words, are available to them should they be inclined to try to understand them. In dubbing, the new version covers up the original one entirely, you cannot access the original dialogues...
     

    Musical Chairs

    Senior Member
    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Interesting. I remember a similar situation in Pokemon when the onigiri (a rice ball wrapped in sea weed) was dubbed "donut" in English. Though I guess this made sense because if they said "onigiri" American audiences would wonder what in the world that was, and it wouldn't have made any difference in the plot if they said something more familiar like "donut".

    Edit: I've also watched American movies with French subtitles and I noticed that the French subtitles are simpler than what is really being said.
     

    aleCcowaN

    Senior Member
    Castellano - Argentina
    I remember the first time I saw Citizen Kane with subtitles. They translated all the dialogues with all the details and complexity and chose a similar language style in Spanish which has about 30% plus letters than English. As a result I was exhausted at the end of the film, with all the effort of following the performances and dialogues. Many years later I watched it again with lighter subtitles what was comfortable though many things got lost.

    "Lipsing" in dubbing and reasonable text chunks in subtitling are what public demands, and a reasonable balance of precision and practical needs should be obtained. In this scenario, I don't see a problem with matching cultural frames. The example of Seinfeld in post #1 is a good one. This TV series is not very successful in Latin America, at least, in the same scale, because it is very much of "American". Bill Clinton is a good substitute of Lyndon Johnson, being the person described in that way not really seen in the screen.

    Sometimes the tradutore traditore hit the center and makes the translation "better" than the original, as in Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" translated to Spanish as "Otra vuelta de tuerca". Sometimes they find a similar scheme in the language to get the same effect or a better one (some films):

    Dumb and Dumber = Tonto y retonto
    Police Academy = Locademia de policía

    Sometimes, they changed totally the titles to match what local public expect to be called such kind of content

    Peyton Place (1964-69, a Dinasty or Dallas of the '60s)= La caldera del diablo.
    Top Cat (a cartoon that was a flop in the States) = Don gato y su pandilla (a success in Latin America because of the excellent voices and performances in dubbing).

    The only things I find horrific are those similar to what I heard and watch in History Channel some years ago:

    sound: "...until benedictine monks..."
    subtitle: "...hasta que Benedicto Monks..."
     

    Montaigne

    Senior Member
    French, France
    For those who are interested in translation and why sometimes differences in cultural references command to "betray" the original text, I strongly recommend Umberto Eco's
    "Dire quasi la stessa cosa", a pure delight.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I agree. Apparently, translators assume that they need to completely sterilize their translation and remove any "foreign" cultural references.

    In your example, however, many foreign references are either already understood or they are understandable. While Americans don't know ECI, we do know what a siesta is, and we use that Spanish word to describe a post-lunch nap. The problem comes when the translator is not familiar with BOTH cultures, and doesn't know which references that can translate directly and which ones he/she can "take liberties with".
    I'd rather say it is because but a few Europeans would really have any association with names like Sears & Roebuck or Eaton's.

    What I think is really stupid in this case, though, is that the translator cannot know if the dubbed version at some later time is being showed to a Latin-American audience.
     

    ayupshiplad

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    The French title of the animated film "Over the Hedge" is "Nos voisins, les hommes". I really don't understand why that's necessary! Also, I think the German version is "Through the Hedge"...'through' and 'over' have clearly distinct meanings!
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    When I have translated automobile brochures from French into Finnish I have used freely my own imagination. It's the only possible way because the French advertising language is so much different from Finnish. If I had translated it directly the Finnish buyer would have laughed at it.

    The translator should understand if it's about an exact measure or an approximation. For example, "ten miles" should generally be translated "15 kilometres", not 16 kms or 16,1 kms.

    A few decades ago I read regularly Technical News Bulletins from UK. Expressions like "about one inch" were systematically translated "about 25,4 millimetres". I found it ridiculous.
    Dear colleague, I do understand. Some wannabe translators, with perhaps a fancy linguistics degree, can be rather lethally incompetent when exposed to areas they know nothing about. To translate a chemistry text, you must have had hands-on experience and know how a chem lab smells. Two years of working as a pharmaceutical field representative is way more important when chosing a translator for, say, a package insert for a prescription drug, than a doctorate in the source or target language.

    Hakro said:
    I also think that it's not so rare that the translator's text is in fact better than the original. At least I have often corrected mistakes in the original text.
    A good translator corrects more errors than what (s)he adds.
     

    Lilla My

    Senior Member
    Well, I think one of the worst translation of a movie title I've seen is "Norway of life" for "Den brysomme mannen" (The bothersome man) in France.
    They just had to stick the word "Norway" in it since it's such an exotic country, and to make this bad pun with it...
    I'm really upset with this because generaly French people allready have a false opinion of Norway and Norwegians. This kind of title not only use their belief as an advertisement but also reinforce it. :mad:
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    There is a very famous historical figure in French (mis)translations: General Staff. Note that General Staff, like Baron Münchhausen, is gifted with longevity, ubiquity, never gets killed, and changes nationality at all times.;)

    “Depuis le début de la guerre, le gouvernement impérial allemand et le général Staff étaient conscients du parti qu’ils pouvaient tirer du mouvement révolutionnaire russe”.
    Here, General Staff is a German general whose position is that the Russian revoution may have positive outcomes for Germany, in 1917.
    De son côté, David Ben Gourion confia à l’un des généraux sionistes, en l’occurrence le général Staff en mai 1948 : "Nous devons nous préparer à l’offensive."
    30 years later, General Staff is Israeli.
    Première guerre mondiale - 1916 - France. Un général donne l'ordre au Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) de prendre d'assaut une colline réputée imprenable. Pour justifier l'échec qui s'en suit, le général Staff convoque une cour martiale et condamne trois hommes à la peine de mort pour lâcheté devant l'ennemi.
    Back in 1916, General Staff is French...

    The first example comes from an article published by Pierre Vidal-Naquet in Le Monde (1974), under the title "Tuer le général Staff !" ("Kill General Staff!"). The second and third examples come from a Google search. Of course, the third one is a synopsis of Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory". There is no such character as General Staff in the film - instead, there is one General Broulard, of the French General Staff...
    The accurate French translation for General Staff is "l'État-Major Général"... :D
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Nanon's post reminded me of a common English-Portuguese mistranslation. I keep seeing over and over in the subtitles of English films and TV shows "marine" translated as... marine. I guess the translators don't know that we already have a perfectly good Portuguese word for marine, fuzileiro. :rolleyes:
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Nanon's post reminded me of a common English-Portuguese mistranslation. I keep seeing over and over in the subtitles of English films and TV shows "marine" translated as... marine. I guess the translators don't know that we already have a perfectly good Portuguese word for marine, fuzileiro. :rolleyes:
    Eh, "marine" in which sense?

    Like in US Marine Corps or Royal Marines

    or

    ???
     

    cyanista

    законодательница мод
    NRW
    Belarusian/Russian
    Which other sense do you have in mind?
    Another sense could be "related to sea".

    In Germany they quite counsciously translate Marines as Marines and even keep the original pronunciation. The same holds for "captain", "sir" or "Mister President".
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Another sense could be "related to sea".
    Nanon was speaking of military ranks, and so was I.

    In Germany they quite counsciously translate Marines as Marines and even keep the original pronunciation. The same holds for "captain", "sir" or "Mister President".
    Military ranks are translated in Portuguese, but there's a silly habit of keeping "Mr./Mrs. X" in the original, and in capitals (the same goes for M./Mme. in French, and Herr/Frau in German). You'd think we didn't have our own words for "Mr." and "Mrs." :rolleyes:
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Dear colleague, I do understand. Some wannabe translators, with perhaps a fancy linguistics degree, can be rather lethally incompetent when exposed to areas they know nothing about. To translate a chemistry text, you must have had hands-on experience and know how a chem lab smells. Two years of working as a pharmaceutical field representative is way more important when chosing a translator for, say, a package insert for a prescription drug, than a doctorate in the source or target language.
    Yes, but, OTOH, I have over the years had occasion to cross-check the output produced by a translation company which prides itself on using scientists with language qualifications rather than linguists with science experience. In *those* cases I frequently find that the scientist has either missed out on certain linguistic subtleties which would be more obvious to the linguist, and even sometimes translates things that are just plain wrong.

    I suppose it's swings and roundabouts, really ...
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Nanon was speaking of military ranks, and so was I.

    Military ranks are translated in Portuguese, but there's a silly habit of keeping "Mr./Mrs. X" in the original, and in capitals (the same goes for M./Mme. in French, and Herr/Frau in German). You'd think we didn't have our own words for "Mr." and "Mrs." :rolleyes:

    The only rank that was mentioned was the famous General Staff ...

    But now that you mention it: A common mis-translation in Danish television is taking the word "Marine" as equivalent for the Danish word "marine" - which is another word for navy. That is a much worse mistake, I'd say.

    Another thing that annoyed me a bit was in the Danish television series "En gang stroemer ..." which ran in Germany under the title "ein Mal ein Cop".

    At some point in the film one of the main characters i - of whichever political reasons - transferred to a totally different unit. In the German dubbed version he is raves something totally senseless about being transferred to one of the rocket-stations of the airforce and about young recruits etc. Based on the dubbed version it is totally impossible to understand what is going on.

    What the original version says is: "I am being transferred to the "Rockets" (in Danish "Raketterne"). I will probably be waistin my time with tracking down run-away kids ...". This of course makes sense, because they are splitting up a special organized crime investigation unit, and "Raketterne" was at that time a group of the Copenhagen police that searched for people, be it run-away kids or known criminals on the run.

    If the translator really had taken his time to try to find out, he could have picked up the phone and asked any cop or journalist or whomever, what "rocket" might mean in this connection. Anyone would have known.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    But now that you mention it: A common mis-translation in Danish television is taking the word "Marine" as equivalent for the Danish word "marine" - which is another word for navy. That is a much worse mistake, I'd say.
    I think I've seen that in Portuguese translations too, though fewer times, Marinha (navy) for Marines. "I'm a Marine" -- Estou na Marinha! :eek:
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    If the translator really had taken his time to try to find out, he could have picked up the phone and asked any cop or journalist or whomever, what "rocket" might mean in this connection. Anyone would have known.
    Very true, but the operative word is "if". Given unlimited time and unlimited resources, it is probably possible to produce as near to perfect a translation as possible. However, if you're under the sort of deadline pressure that has been indicated above, and it would seem that subtitle translators often are, then such things may not be possible. As for actually picking up the phone and talking to a policemen, well, I don't know what it's like in Denmark, but I've had plenty of cause to attempt to speak to my local police in recent months, and trying to fight your way past the answerphone/switchboard system to actually *get* to anybody is like a nightmare! (Plus it's not always clear to the translator who would be a good person to contact in any given instance). I'm starting to have rather more sympathy for the purveyors of poor-quality subtitling than I did before I started reading this thread.

    Incidentally, it's not only translators who have this problem. The TV series "Heroes" started here a few months ago, and I tend to have the BBC(?) subtitles on for clarity because I can't always catch what the cheerleader is saying. They made a big booboo in one scene simply transcribing the words! (In case it's of interest to anyone, it was the scene where future Hiro appears to Peter in the "frozen" subway train. He made some comment about not being able to appear in two places too close together because he might cause a rift in time, but that certainly wasn't what came up on the screen)
     
    Alison, I am glad you brought up the subject of time and resources again, because that is one of the biggest hinderances to quality subtitling that I and other translators are faced with. If you had to subtitle some great film, and you had a month to do it, you could really do something exceptional, fiddling around with all the finer nuances and getting to the bottom of every question before even beginning to try to make it all fit into the titles themselves...

    But that's a rarity, far more common is about a week's delay for a film, 2-4 days for a 52' documentary, etc. Sometimes even shorter and you just don't have time.

    However, unlike in the "olden days", today's translators have a lot less excuses for errors because of places like WR and the internet in general. You can look up any word, find sites with pertinent information on any subject, join forums, ask questions... I don't know how I did it back then with a few dictionaries and my telephone to call around and try to get the info.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Very true, but the operative word is "if". Given unlimited time and unlimited resources, it is probably possible to produce as near to perfect a translation as possible. However, if you're under the sort of deadline pressure that has been indicated above, and it would seem that subtitle translators often are, then such things may not be possible. As for actually picking up the phone and talking to a policemen, well, I don't know what it's like in Denmark, but I've had plenty of cause to attempt to speak to my local police in recent months, and trying to fight your way past the answerphone/switchboard system to actually *get* to anybody is like a nightmare! (Plus it's not always clear to the translator who would be a good person to contact in any given instance). I'm starting to have rather more sympathy for the purveyors of poor-quality subtitling than I did before I started reading this thread.

    Incidentally, it's not only translators who have this problem. The TV series "Heroes" started here a few months ago, and I tend to have the BBC(?) subtitles on for clarity because I can't always catch what the cheerleader is saying. They made a big booboo in one scene simply transcribing the words! (In case it's of interest to anyone, it was the scene where future Hiro appears to Peter in the "frozen" subway train. He made some comment about not being able to appear in two places too close together because he might cause a rift in time, but that certainly wasn't what came up on the screen)
    I think it is mainly lack of imagination of some translators. You usually get such information pretty fast. I mean it is often just one phone-call to the right person - someone you often just pick by random out of the phone book.

    I remember one translation problem we had as students - we were translating a financial article and there was one important sentence that was unclear. Next lesson we were discussing that and one guy seemed to be pretty sure that his translation was the right one. The "prof" asked why he was so sure? He: "I phoned the author."

    The author was working with KPMG in Dublin (as it said in the byline) and it was the simplest thing in the world to get his number.

    What the Danish film is concerned, when they are translating a series that is supposed to have a very realistic touch I expect that the translator can figure out such things. But you often have that problem when they (Gernan TV broadcasters) dub Scandinavian TV-series. Sometimes you can really only figure out what went wrong if you know the original language.
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    Alison, I am glad you brought up the subject of time and resources again, because that is one of the biggest hinderances to quality subtitling that I and other translators are faced with. If you had to subtitle some great film, and you had a month to do it, you could really do something exceptional, fiddling around with all the finer nuances and getting to the bottom of every question before even beginning to try to make it all fit into the titles themselves...

    But that's a rarity, far more common is about a week's delay for a film, 2-4 days for a 52' documentary, etc. Sometimes even shorter and you just don't have time.
    Exactly. I'm currently working on a translation I was trying to get finished by the end of last week (when I was very busy), and didn't. It's basically just a Powerpoint-type list of the advantages of a certain product - sometimes just a noun phrase, sometimes a truncated sentence. Now, with a little more freedom, this morning I've skim-read the client's sales literature, which has given me a far greater understanding of the situation, and some jumping-off points for further research. If I'd stuck to my (self-imposed) deadline last week, I wouldn't have had time to do this, and my translation would have been the poorer for it.

    I remember one translation problem we had as students - we were translating a financial article and there was one important sentence that was unclear. Next lesson we were discussing that and one guy seemed to be pretty sure that his translation was the right one. The "prof" asked why he was so sure? He: "I phoned the author."
    Sometimes I think that in an academic situation like that you may have an easier time of it. When you're actually working as a translator, and possibly taking on work from an intermediary who in turn has got the work from another intermediary and so on, the "production chain" between the original source and the translator can easily get broken and it can be far more difficult to contact the people you need to. For example, when work comes to me I rarely have any information as to who wrote the text in the first place, so queries need to be batted back and forth via all the intermediaries, and in the end I may end up with an answer.
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    It seems to me that much of the problem arises from the impossibly short deadlines the translators are given as well as a lack of written scripts. They have virtually no chance to replay or review their work before they have to submit it. Without a script, which is by no means unusual, they have to rely on their hearing and the quality of the actors’ pronunciation. This can be particularly difficult in sitcoms because of the speed of the response and frequent muttering or mumbling which is hard to catch the first time round. In the past, I have had to translate many UK commercials which frequently involve a lot a backchat and are very funny, but are pure hell to catch every word in order to translate them into meaningful Spanish.

    Personally I am against dubbing on two counts:

    • The viewer never gets to hear the original voices of the actors and has to put up with hearing the same one, whether the actor be Sir Lawrence Olivier or John Wayne!
    • It’s almost impossible to know what was really said when the dubbed voices appear to be saying things quite out of sync with the scene.

    Sub-titling as various merits, not the least being able to hear the actors’ own voices. The other great advantage is that even if the translation is a mess, the viewer can usually make sense of it. Howlers can also be extremely funny although the poor translator will never know about it. Two classics come to mind that I saw on TV in the last two years. One was where ‘penniless’ was translated as ‘sin pene’ (without penis) and the other ‘left-luggage locker’ translated as ‘caja de equipaje a la izquierda’ (safety box on the left). In both cases it is obvious that the translator’s knowledge of English was sadly deficient, or perhaps in the first instance he was having a private joke.

    Nevertheless, my heart goes out to those translators who undertake these Herculean tasks and wish them well. I consider myself to be fortunate that most of the translation work which I undertake has a written text and slightly more reasonable, but not always, deadlines. Furthermore I am blessed with having a pretty good knowledge of both the languages and cultures I deal with. Even so there can be some mind-benders at times!
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    The viewer never gets to hear the original voices of the actors and has to put up with hearing the same one, whether the actor be Sir Lawrence Olivier or John Wayne!
    I've seen a John Wayne movie in the French TV and there was John Wayne, speaking with the voice of John Wayne, but in French! It was fantastic!
     

    Montaigne

    Senior Member
    French, France
    Why do you focus on dubbing/subtitles and not concentrate on text translanslation.
    Again I recommend Umberto Eco's masterpiece"Dire quasi la stessa cosa", "Dire la même chose" "To say the same thing".
    It is about translation of texts, which is much more serious than movies dubbing.
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    Well, Montiagne, while I couldn't agree with you more that texts are probably more important, the original thread referred to dubbing and sub-titling of movies and TV programmes.

    Lucky you Hakro, unfortunately in Brazil, the most popular channel, TV Globo, uses one firm for dubbing (Herbert Richards) who appears to have only about half a dozen different male and female voices, so one frequently hears the same male 'appearing' as Brad Pitt one day and Omar Sharif the next!
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Lucky you Hakro, unfortunately in Brazil, the most popular channel, TV Globo, uses one firm for dubbing (Herbert Richards) who appears to have only about half a dozen different male and female voices, so one frequently hears the same male 'appearing' as Brad Pitt one day and Omar Sharif the next!
    Living in Finland where dubbing is used only for children's films, I'm not so lucky. I only wanted to point up that dubbing can be accomplished as a piece of art. In France (at least in the seventies) they did.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    They still do, Hakro. They use actors or imitators. Dubbing is rather good here. However I still enjoy the original version more than the dubbed one, but it's only me, the language freak, speaking - not your average TV watcher. Dubbing is usually not as good in other countries as here - as far as I can judge and when I understand the language, of course.
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    It's good to hear this, Nanon, as I haven't been in France for a couple of years. I've seen dubbing in several countries and I have to say that the French dubbing is absolutely the best. Still I prefer subtitles, even in France.

    I also remember a kind of 'translation mistake', although it wasn't exactly about dubbing. I was in Paris watching a rally program in TV; there were on-board cameras and microphones in the rally cars, and during a special stage Marcus Grönholm (a Finn driving a Peugeot) said clearly: "Voi vittu" (oh f**k). The commentator said: "As you heard, Grönholm said he has problems with the clutch!"
     

    aleCcowaN

    Senior Member
    Castellano - Argentina
    Two classics come to mind that I saw on TV in the last two years. One was where ‘penniless’ was translated as ‘sin pene’ (without penis) and the other ‘left-luggage locker’ translated as ‘caja de equipaje a la izquierda’ (safety box on the left). In both cases it is obvious that the translator’s knowledge of English was sadly deficient, or perhaps in the first instance he was having a private joke.
    It's most kind of you. That person must have been just a jerk.

    Those translations sound to me like the kind bad software renders, like the jocular sayings "between nomore" for "entre, nomás", and "bienvenido espalda" for "welcome back".

    If just these things were simply unintelligible, but sometimes they translate the opposite. I remember hearing "shares dropped" while reading "las acciones subieron". Sometimes the line between error and terrorism seems to be very thin.
     

    alisonp

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    It seems to me that much of the problem arises from the impossibly short deadlines the translators are given as well as a lack of written scripts. They have virtually no chance to replay or review their work before they have to submit it. Without a script, which is by no means unusual, they have to rely on their hearing and the quality of the actors’ pronunciation. This can be particularly difficult in sitcoms because of the speed of the response and frequent muttering or mumbling which is hard to catch the first time round.


    Again, that's very true. The lack of a script, even an unfinalised version (changes are sometimes made between the final script and the recording), is a great handicap, especially if you are under too much time pressure. If only companies could be made to understand how much it would improve the quality - but I wonder how much quality interests them and how much they just want to get something down in print.

    Incidentally, I meant to point out at the beginning of this thread that subtitles, even in the same language, by and large aren't word-for-word reproductions of the spoken text, but more a gist of it, depending on how much time and space is available. No good translating every word if the viewer won't actually have time to read it.

    The viewer never gets to hear the original voices of the actors and has to put up with hearing the same one, whether the actor be Sir Lawrence Olivier or John Wayne!
    Especially in countries which have only a limited number of voiceover artists (I think Germany may be one). I remember watching John Wayne films with the family I lived with in France, and they said "Isn't John Wayne a marvellous actor?" My instant response was to wonder how they could possibly tell, since it wasn't even him speaking!
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    [/size][/font]
    Again, that's very true. The lack of a script, even an unfinalised version (changes are sometimes made between the final script and the recording), is a great handicap, especially if you are under too much time pressure. If only companies could be made to understand how much it would improve the quality - but I wonder how much quality interests them and how much they just want to get something down in print.

    Incidentally, I meant to point out at the beginning of this thread that subtitles, even in the same language, by and large aren't word-for-word reproductions of the spoken text, but more a gist of it, depending on how much time and space is available. No good translating every word if the viewer won't actually have time to read it.


    Especially in countries which have only a limited number of voiceover artists (I think Germany may be one). I remember watching John Wayne films with the family I lived with in France, and they said "Isn't John Wayne a marvellous actor?" My instant response was to wonder how they could possibly tell, since it wasn't even him speaking!
    John Wayne even admitted that the voice of his German dubbing-actor was better than his own, for most of the parts he was playing.

    There actually are not that few actors dubbing movies in Germany, but sometimes you'd be surprised who is the same as who. I once heard a radio interview with the actress doing the voice of Julia Roberts and Calista Flochart (as Annie McBeal) - in moments she switched from one role to the other and I couldn't tell it was the same person talking.
    ----

    But back to the subject - lousy translations:

    Situation from a Bond movie - Car breaks down in the desert, translation says literally in the target language (Danish) "main cylinder broken" - that is a very important part of the brake system. Huh, why does that make them stop in the middle of the desert where they can't go fast anyway?

    Original version: "Cylinder head gasket is broken." (Important engine part. Water is running out and into the cylinders). Fine. Totally different information.
     

    Etcetera

    Senior Member
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    Ahh, what a topic! Thank you, Roi Marphille.;)

    Russian translations of books about Harry Potter have all the chances to become a textbook for future translators as they contain thousands of examples of wrong translations. Here are some examples of strangely translated names.

    Voldemort became Volan-de-Mort and Grindelwald became Grin-de-Wald. Why? No one knows!

    Victoire, Bill and Fleur's daughter, became Mari-Victoire (my friends say that this change was right, because Russian readers may not understand that Victoire is a female name; but then, it's clear from the text that Victoire is a girl!)

    Luna Lovegood became Polumna Lovegood; Polumna is a word invented by the translator, and can be rendered in English as "crazy, mad".

    Neville Longbottom became Neville Dolgopups ("Long-?doll"; a "pups" is the Russian for "baby-doll", a small doll looking like a baby).

    Severus Snape became Severus Snegg (and "sneg" is the Russian for "snow")...

    Can be continued.;)
     

    Einstein

    Senior Member
    UK, English
    On the question of kilometre-mile conversions, I'm going to be severe with the "Anglo-Saxon" community (horrible term). I feel that, in translation to English, metric units, °C etc. should be maintained because they are international units and by now everybody ought to be familiar with them. On the other hand, in translating from English, miles and °F are not international units and will sooner or later disappear (in GB now all weights and measures are metric and °C have been used for decades), so they need to be translated. The exception would be historical contexts where the metric system had not yet been invented.

    A ridiculous example comes to mind with the film "Miss Smilla's feeling for the snow", based on a Danish book and set in Denmark and Greenland. The film was American and I think the choice of speaking in degrees Fahrenheit was inappropriate... but far, far worse was the decision of the Italian translators not to convert to °C! What have Fahrenheit degrees got to do with a film about Denmark/Greenland shown in Italy??
     

    L4ut4r0

    Senior Member
    Chile, castellano/español
    Sometimes the tradutore traditore hit the center and makes the translation "better" than the original, as in Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" translated to Spanish as "Otra vuelta de tuerca". Sometimes they find a similar scheme in the language to get the same effect or a better one (some films):

    Dumb and Dumber = Tonto y retonto
    Police Academy = Locademia de policía
    Another can be "Rabbit-proof fence" which was translated as "Cerca de la libertad" = "Approaching freedom/Near the freedom" or "The freedom fence".
     
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