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My dissertation paper is about the usage of appropriate subtitles for taboo language. The one who writes subtitles can face several problems while trying to translate prohibited vocabulary:
1. Lack of sufficient research and understanding of this subject may cause people to consider this work trivial and not worthy of wasting time and effort over.
2.Taboo by itself refers to topics that society does not permit to be discussed or practised openly. Inhibition and peer pressure within a particular society can be a hindrance as it would seem to be going against moral standards of contemporary society. Reaction from audiences and translators can create an environment unfavourable for the study of this subject.
3.The dynamic nature of the concept of taboo adds to the problem. Taboo changes with time, regions and the socio-moral framework of a particular society.
4. The role of censorship in editing controversial scenes and offensive language does away with the need of subtitles for the tabooed portions. This further undermines the role of subtitles and translations.
The first chapter of the dissertation deals with precise vocabulary used for subtitles. It also discusses the factors that influence the choice of words used. The advantages and disadvantages of using subtitles, the co-relation between language, translation and subtitles has also been highlighted in this chapter. It focuses on the arguments and counter arguments put forward by scholars regarding the issue of subtitles being accurate translations. One must keep in mind that while studying film discourse subtitling is merely one of out of many aspects, such as gestures and non-verbal communications, and are interlinked. A subtitle writer or translator must not overlook the role played by these other elements in preference to literary forms as that would not be effective in conveying the message across to the audience.(Bassnett- McGuire & Lefevre 1990)
The second chapter in my thesis deals with the various approaches one may engage to go about subtitling the tabooed material. The two methods used for advancing the topic are domestication and the use of dynamic equivalence. Both these theories are complementary and sometimes quite difficult to segregate. Subtitling, in fact, closely resembles a balancing act as there is the possibility of losing out on the essence of the foreign culture with too much domestication and on the other hand too little of it may make the film obscure and difficult to comprehend.
The mode of translation often determines the function of taboo. If offensive language is used just for the sake of using it then omitting it entirely from the subtitles will not impact the overall comprehensibility of the film. Nonetheless, taboo must not be completely ignored from the translations as they give context to the scene, the socio-economic and linguistic background of the speakers.
A translator has to face a number of shortcomings while trying to translate that which is tabooed. The biggest problem is that often the exact terms for the taboo may be absent from the target language or may not convey the same meaning in direct translations. The translator then has to decide whether he should translate word for word or choose a phrase in the target language that is equally shocking or intense. Katan (1999, qtd. in Schwarz 2002) has suggested that "chunking sideways" may be a good option as it entails using curse words with the same degree of vulgarity as that in the source language. Subtitling can result in a shift in the meaning of the taboo if the translator tries to tone down the degree of obscenity or omits the sections wilfully (Delabastita 1998).
The job of subtitling is often made easier as written obscenity has lesser impact on the emotions of the audience when compared to spoken vulgarity. It makes the translations more "tolerable" and less harsh. In more recent times the convention of including colloquialisms and slang expressions while translating offensive vocabulary has reduced the negative impact of the taboo and also the gap between source and translation. This has enabled taboo to no longer be "untranslatable"(Bassnett 1991)
The third chapter of the thesis analyses the examples chosen from the four given films. It examines the different methods and tactics used by translators while dealing with obscenities. The principle strategies used are: omission or disregarding the taboo entirely; domestication or localizing of the taboo language; finding the closest equivalent in the target language and using literal meanings of the taboo language. In the four movies, the translations were able to adequately convey the vehemence of the utterances, especially when used for politically incorrect statements. But in the case of sexual taboos success was harder to come by. Translations either omitted the profanity completely or tried to neutralize its effect or to deaden the impact resulting in partial success. Added to this was the use of modern classical Arabic (which has a high register) for subtitling which sounded strange because the curse words were uttered in the colloquial language (with low register) and not in classical Arabic.
In a few examples the ignorance of the subtitler was evident because certain slang expressions were used to replace taboo words which did not correspond in meaning and therefore were quite confusing and meaningless. This reinforces the theory that the subtitler must possess excellent knowledge of SL and good writing skills in order to be successful. On the brighter side, not too many errors of this nature were found in the given examples.
The cultural values and intent of the subtitler as well as the expectations of the target audiences are responsible for the acceptance and success of the subtitling. In addition to this are the usual constraints generally found in all audio-visual translations which may create a few inconsistencies. The motive or the aim of subtitles is very important, particularly when translating profanities or offensive language. The translator must try and be as neutral as possible without diluting the impact or making it more explicit. This way the sanctity of what is being communicated will be maintained without influencing the interpretation of the audience. Good subtitles must remain subordinate to the rest of the visual (Shwarz 2002) and aural stimuli (Hatim & Mason 1997)
The overall aim of this dissertation was to encourage more people to come forward and take this study seriously and take it a step further. It also attempted to inspire scholars to delve deeper into the realms of the rapidly growing technological developments that can make this exciting field of study more so by enabling easy digitization and compression of files so that they can be transported readily via the electronic mail. It emphasizes the fact that the so called controversial field of taboo can no longer be ignored in audio-visual translations as the visuals are very much present on the screen.
I have also tried to prove that taboo language is not as "untranslatable" as previously believed by citing some suggestions on how to deal with offensive vocabulary and make for successful subtitling. It might help to remember that at the end of the day swearing is universal as it helps to express our pent-up emotions and relieve us of stress. All those who are working in communication and language studies must bear in mind that whatever the methodology, translating taboo must be approached with sensitivity and handled with and care and rare creativeness.