Proposal For Dissertation English Language Essay

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With the rapid advancement in technology in recent years, more and more information has been presented in or transferred into audiovisual formats, and subtitling has become an essential technique for facilitating communication and has been widely discussed. As a matter of fact, subtitling translation, indeed, should not be overlooked since, according to a survey, ninety-five percents of moviegoers are not able to entirely understand the dialogues in English movies (Yiu, 2001). Such being the case, in Hong Kong, a large number of moviegoers rely on reading the Chinese subtitles to follow the storyline of English movies; and for that matter, almost all movies in theatres in Hong Kong are equipped with Chinese subtitles. Since I realised that subtitling is now turning to be the preferred mode of screen translation in Hong Kong, I found that it is of utmost importance to construct an in-depth study on the Hong Kong Chinese subtitling.

More specifically, this thesis concerns Hong Kong Chinese subtitling of English slangs because it is interesting to find that slangs appear in English speaking movies are often inadequately translated. For instance, in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, after John and Jane encountered each other on a job and discovered they are both skilled assassins working for different firms, they sought to eliminate the other and Jane called John "pussy" when he balked and laid his gun down. "Pussy" is subtitled as bou2zhong4 (孬種; lit: coward), a term which is of formal register, and to some degrees, not commonly used in both spoken and written Hong Kong Chinese nowadays. Much of the evoked meanings are lost in the Chinese subtitling as a result. Up to this point, the aim of my study is to show the ways in which English slangs are inadequately translated in Hong Kong Chinese subtitles and to illustrate different reasons for this phenomenon. Furthermore, since English movies, especially teen movies, are always full of colloquialisms and provide a numerous collection of practical examples, this specific film genre is selected as the medium for investigating the norms of English slang as well as the Hong Kong Chinese subtitling.

Based on Chen's (2004) research on Chinese subtitling of English swearwords, I would like to review previous literatures and further study the characteristics of Hong Kong Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese subtitles and how it affect the style of subtitling of English slangs. In addition, I would like to focus on analysing local norms, especially people's attitudes towards slangs, and demonstrate that it may be counted as one of the causes of the inadequate translation.

The new knowledge or understanding I hope to contribute is that this paper will reveal characteristics as well as limitations of Hong Kong Chinese subtitling. Ways for improving the Chinese subtitles are then suggested accordingly. Besides, investigation of the attitudes towards slangs will reveal aspects of cultures vary from those of English speaking countries. Greater understanding of different cultures may help lessen problematic communication to some extents.


To show the ways in which English slangs are inadequately translated in Hong Kong Chinese subtitles and to illustrate different causes of this phenomenon.

Project discussion issues:

to illustrate how English slangs are translated in Hong Kong Chinese subtitles;

to study the Hong Kong system of film censorship and its relation to the inadequate translation;

to analyse the characteristics of Hong Kong Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese subtitles and their relations to the inadequate translation;

to investigate how people's attitudes towards slangs may link to the inadequate translation; and

to suggest ways for improving the subtitles.


1. Parallel texts

Melamed (2001, p. 235) suggested that a source text and its translation can be seen as "a coarse map between the two languages". In this study, parallel subtitles (English and Chinese) of the selected movies will be extracted then word correspondences will be identified and used as an intriguing source of data for illustrating how English slangs are translated in Hong Kong Chinese subtitles.

2. Literature review

To investigate the Hong Kong system of film censorship and the characteristics of Hong Kong Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese subtitles, prior literatures in related areas will be reviewed. Cooper (1988) commented that a literature review reports original scholarship and aims to clarify or integrate the content of one's own study. Bolderston (2008) further indicated that a literature review can be an informative and critical synthesis of a particular topic since it identifies what is already known and what is still controversial in the subject area.

Summarising previous studies, Webster & Watson (2002) suggested that an ideal literature review article is characterized by critical and systematic evaluation and analysis of prior literature in related areas. Besides, motivating the research topic, clearing the review's contributions, describing the key concepts, specifying the boundaries, and guiding future research are also important components of a good literature review.

3. Survey

A survey seeking to examine people's attitudes towards slangs will be conducted between June and July 2010. 60 anonymous questionnaires will be distributed. 30 native English speakers and 30 native Cantonese speakers will be selected as the participants and both genders will be equally distributed in each group, i.e. 15 female native English speakers, 15 male native English speakers plus 15 female native Cantonese speakers and 15 male native Cantonese speakers. Furthermore, these participants should be of different ages, occupations, as well as education levels.

There will be two sets of questions which the first set (questionnaire 1) targets the English speaking group and asks their opinions on the offensiveness of some English slangs by circling the appropriate numbers on scales from 1 (least offensive) to 5 (most offensive). Questionnaire 2 divided into three parts targets the Cantonese speaking group. Part A asks the Cantonese speaking group their opinions on the offensiveness of the same set of English slangs. Similarly, they are required to circle the appropriate numbers on scales from 1 to 5. Part B gives the corresponding Chinese subtitles of the English slangs and again, asks the Cantonese speaking group their comments on the offensiveness of these Chinese subtitles by circling the appropriate numbers on scales from 1 to 5. Part C aims at investigating the acceptability of different translations of the slangs. Both the Chinese subtitles and the suggested Cantonese equivalences of the English slangs are provided and that Cantonese participants are required to circle the more acceptable ones.

Literature Review:

A. General research on subtitling

Subtitling as a means to screen translation

Creation of subtitling dates back to 1927, when the first sound film reached the audience. The method of adding textual strips of translated dialog to films, usually displayed at the bottom of the screen, was soon afterwards invented as an inexpensive alternative to dubbing (Gottlieb, 2001).

Linguistically, two main types of subtitling can be distinguished: (1) 'intralingual subtitling', which is subtitling of domestic programs for the deaf people; and (2) 'interlingual subtitling' which "the subtitler 'crosses over' from interpreting the spoken foreign-language dialog to presenting a written domestic language translation on the screen" (Gottlieb, 2001, p.1006). I will concentrate on the latter type in the following.

Subtitling, as stated before, is initially divided into two main categories i.e. 'intralingual subtitling' and 'interlingual subtitling' by Gottlieb (2001). Compare to Gottlieb's research, Dries (1995, p. 26) added the point that interlingual subtitling somehow encompasses the communication from spoken dialogue into "a written, condensed translation". This corresponds to what De Linde & Kay (1999, pp. 1-2) mentioned in their book, that "the amount of dialogue has to be reduced to meet the technical conditions of the medium and the reading capacities of non-native language users" in its attempts to "achieve something approaching translation equivalence when conducting subtitling".

Some scholars suggested that nowadays, the approach to screen translation is gradually shifting towards subtitling rather than dubbing for economic reasons since the increasing production calls for a quicker and cheaper method of translation (Gottlieb, 2001; Sanchez, 2004). But to most of the scholars, the economic advantages of subtitling are secondary; while retaining the authenticity of the original production is the most important.

B. General research on slang

Defining "slang"

Early last century, Greenough & Kittredge (1901, p.55) had already considered slang as legitimate speech and defined slang as "a peculiar kind of vagabond language, always hanging on the outskirts of legitimate speech, but continually straying or forcing its way into the most respectable company." The concept of slang was much clearer in the old days, however, the idea of slang then "gradually evolved to denote other subcultural speech" (Allen, 1998, p. 878). For instance, Eble (1996, p. 11) related slang with sociality and defined slang as "an ever changing set of colloquial words and phrases that speakers use to establish or reinforce social identity or cohesiveness within a group or with a trend or fashion in society at large." Others, such as Dumas & Lighter (1978, p. 14-16), avoid definitions altogether and instead proposing four identifying criteria for slang. They argued that an expression should be considered "true slang" if it meets at least two of the following criteria:

Its presence will lower the degree of formality of speech or writing.

Its use implies user's special familiarity either the referent or with that class of people who have such special familiarity and use the term.

It is a tabooed term in ordinary discourse.

It is used in place of the well-known conventional synonym, especially in order (a) to protect the user from the discomfort caused by the conventional item or (b) to protect the user from the discomfort or annoyance of further elaboration.

One special perspective on slang pointed out by Mencken (2009, p.364) is that, "what slang actually consists of doesn't depend upon intrinsic qualities, but upon the surrounding circumstance. It is the user that determines the matter, and particularly the user's habitual ways of thing. If he chooses words carefully, with a full understanding of their meaning and savours, then no word that he uses seriously will belong to slang, but if his speech is made up chiefly of terms poll-parroted, and he has no sense of their shades and limitations, then slang will bulk largely in his vocabulary."

The origin of the word 'slang' is regarded as unknown by most scholars (Eble, 1996; Stenstrom, 2000). One notable exception is Skeat (1963, p. 490), who claimed that slang is of Scandinavian origin. Similarly, Partridge (1970, p. 2) indicated that there are certain resemblances between the English word 'slang' and the Scandinavian 'sling' suggesting that these words seem to be developed from a common Germanic root. Another conjecture is suggested by McKnight (1923, pp. 37-38), who referred slang to the specialized vocabulary of underworld groups.

Generally, most scholars e.g. Andersson & Trudgill (1990), Eble (1996), and Allen (1998) agreed that slang is often creative, playful and metaphorical; and it is a group-related, short-lived, ever changing colloquial language variety. More specifically, some scholars e.g. Eble (1996) further suggested that slang usually occurs in teenage talk. Up to this point, I will mainly target on the subtitles of teen movies in my study.

Linguistic properties of English slang

Jespersen (1922, p. 299) argued that "slang is more productive in the lexical than in the grammatical portion of language". Andersson & Trudgill (1990) likewise stressed that slang affects above all vocabulary. In the literature, it is usually pointed out that slang affects vocabulary but not grammatical constructions. However, while most linguists tend to assign slang to the lexicon, Mattiello (2008) contrasts this opinion and instead, assign English slang's relevance to phonology (plays with sounds or assimilation), morphology (e.g. compounding, affixation, conversion, shortening and blending), semantics (e.g. metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, euphemism, and irony) as well as grammar and pragmatics. As far as grammar is concerned, three main features have been regarded by Mattiello as typical of slang: (1) an unusual affective use of the definite article 'the'; (2) the omission of copular 'be' in present tense sentences; and (3) the special use of adjectival word 'total' with the adverbial function of 'completely'.

The social role of slang

Slang is often used on purpose. Partridge (1954, p. 4) commented that being the quintessence of colloquial speech, "slang must always be related to convenience rather than to scientific laws, grammatical rules and philosophical ideals. As it originates, so it flourishes best, in colloquial speech."

It is commonly agreed that slang is often used to show belonging to a group or adherence to a trend, so as to "keep outsiders outside" (Andersson & Trudgill 1990). Eble (1996) also argues that slang is used by speakers for the purpose of creating or reinforcing relationship with a group or a trend. Allen (1998, p. 878), likewise, emphasizes that slang is a sociological rather than a linguistic phenomenon, and it is generally used to mark social differences.

So why is slang used at all? Partridges (1954) synthesized previous literature and believed that slang is employed because of one (or more) of the following 15 reasons:

In sheer high spirits or for fun by mostly teenagers.

As an exercise either in wit and ingenuity or in humour.

To be different, to be novel.

To be picturesque (either positively or, as in the wish to avoid insipidity, negatively).

To be unmistakably arresting, even startling.

To escape from clichés, or to be brief and concise.

To enrich the language.

To lend an air of solidity, concreteness, to the abstract; of earthiness to the idealistic; of immediacy and appositeness to the remote.

To soften the language.

To speak or write down to an inferior, or to amuse a superior public; or merely to be on a colloquial level.

For ease of social intercourse.

To induce either friendliness or intimacy on same remark.

To show that one belongs to a certain group or trend.

Hence, to show or prove that someone is not in certain group or trend.

To be secret, not understood by those around one.

C. Research on slang based on the context of Hong Kong

The impact of English slang on Hong Kong Chinese

Several authors have introduced slang terms from the English language, but the most popular in Asia is Teacher Ben (Benjamin Tankittikorn), a famous best-selling author in Thailand who has single-handedly popularized American slang through his book "American Slang." Having grown up in America and has been a frequent user of ghetto slang, he made the book interesting by telling Thai people about his life and how to use American slang properly.

Translatability in CE/EC translation

It is generally believed that, in effect, a perfect translation from one language to another is not always possible, and that there are limitations on translatability. Guo (2001) argued that in CE/EC translation, there are always differences at cultural level, grammatical level as well as stylistic level.

In the same year, Liu (2001) studied the translation procedures in CE/EC transfer and found that the whole process can be broken down into three stages:

The First Stage: Analytical Studies, chiefly on the source language:

Morphological / lexical analysis

Semantical analysis

Syntactic analysis

Textual analysis

The Second Stage: Synthetical Studies, chiefly on the receptor language:

Word order readjustment

Sentence organization

Textual arrangement

Stylistic polish

Cultural regulation

The Third Stage: Check and test routines

She further pointed out that the systematic methodology developed in CE/EC translation practice has been so far described in various surveys comprises techniques including: cutting, combining, splitting, converting, substituting, reversing, shifting, extending, decoloring or restoring, annotating, adding, subtracting or omitting, recasting, and blending.

D. Research on subtitling based on the context of Hong Kong

Subtitling in Hong Kong

With the rapid developments in high technology in recent years, more and more information has been presented in or transferred to audiovisual formats, and subtitling has become a key technique for facilitating communication and has recently been widely discussed. Indeed, subtitling translation should not be overlooked since ninety-five per cent of moviegoers cannot entirely understand the English dialogue (Yiu, 2001). Such being the case, in Hong Kong, a number of moviegoers count on reading the Chinese subtitles to understand the storyline; and for that matter, almost all movies in theatres in Hong Kong are equipped with Chinese subtitles. Hence, I found that it is of utmost important to construct an in-depth study on the Hong Kong Chinese subtitling. Furthermore, subtitles can be a useful medium for investigating the norms of English slang since movies, especially teen movies, are always full of colloquialisms and therefore provide a numerous collection of practical examples.

In Yiu's (2001) article, he mentioned thirty years ago, most translators in Hong Kong were not very familiar with American colloquial expressions and therefore many amusing and alarming mistakes occurred when they subtitled. Their understanding of both British and American expressions improved in 1990s, and since then, translators have made great progress in subtitling translation.

To study the characteristics of Hong Kong Chinese subtitling, in particular that of erotic dialogue, Chen (2005) looked into the Chinese subtitles of Kaufman's film, Quills, and identified six major problems:

Language not being audience-oriented enough (Although Cantonese is the mother tongue of most Hong Kong Chinese, Hong Kong subtitling is primarily done in standard Chinese or Mandarin which is far less intimate and personal to Hong Kong people.)

Unidiomaticality in terms of elegance (Unnecessary neutralization of Western metaphors)

Unidiomaticality in terms of vulgarity (Undertranslation of English swearwords)


Inappropriate Westernization especially the misuse of articles and word order

Occasional inaccuracy

The use of Cantonese for subtitling English movies

Lung (1998, p. 4) has pointed out that sexually suggestive elements are often omitted or mistranslated in English-Chinese subtitling, as a result of which impact is lost in their rhetorical uses.

From the point of view of Nornes (1999), only by fully utilizing the power of the target language are we able to "intensify the interaction between the reader (audience) and the foreign," which, is one of the most significant functions of subtitling, and therefore, one of the greatest joys of going to the cinema.

Chen (2004, p. 142) also advocated the use of Cantonese equivalents for subtitling English in movies because "they convey the original spirit most effectively and arouse the greatest empathy on the part of the Hong Kong audience, who are mostly native speakers of Cantonese."

According to a survey done by Lo (2001) on the attitude of the Hong Kong audience towards using Cantonese in subtitles, more than 50% of the 413 respondents consider that Cantonese, compared to standard Chinese, is better able to render the spirit of the original English vulgar expressions. Additionally, movie fans writing in Internet chat rooms agree that Cantonese subtitles are "direct," "familiar," and since they can catch the original spirit, they make the audience feel more engaged and the movie-watching experience more pleasurable.

Finally, it does not constitute a Category III rating when f-words are spoken and heard in English, only when they are written and seen in Chinese. In fact, although swearwords can be heard everywhere in everyday life, they appear much less frequently in texts of Chinese culture which stresses the importance of the cleanliness of written language. However, swearwords can readily be seen in Western plays and scripts. The under-translation of English swear words is a phenomenon which obviously demonstrates linguistic prejudice and inequality, and Hong Kong people should struggle for the right to see the original features of English swearwords revived in the subtitles.