Practical Aspects of Script Translating: Conflicts and Advantages

Sàrries, Teresa
Quaderns Divulgatius, 12 1999

The work of a translator in television and cinema is aimed at making a film, a documentary or a cartoon available to the people of this country in their own language. In fact, the translated text cannot go directly to the dubbing room because before this the translator or synchroniser must synchronise it with the mouths of the characters while trying to be as faithful as possible to the original. In this case the Diccionari de sinònims (Dictionary of Synonyms) can help in getting a fit not only with the length of the text but also in the lip movements. Synchronisation is not unlike poetry translation as the number of syllables in the sentence, the rhythm and the music of the characters are very important.
At times we have the additional problem of a very clear image or gesture accompanying a sentence or a play on words, this being a nightmare for the television translator, especially in the case of jokes. In this situation, if the translation does not work, it is better to modify the joke or even change it for another as long as this does not interfere with the dramaturgy of the film.
As for the question of regional or social accents, the policy of TV3 (the Catalan-language channel) is to eliminate them. However at times it would be very useful to be able to employ xava (adolescents' talk) or pijo (trendy, posh) language in order to define characters. Again, with respect to register, swearing and slang are always controversial. Unfortunately, in television translation, spectators can also have a say, and sometimes swearing touching on blasphemy has to be eliminated, a situation which might be avoided by a small warning at the beginning of the screening of the film that it could offend the sensibility of some viewers.
At times the script is in English, but it happens that the film is from another country and dubbed into English, or still worse, into a language we do not know. In such cases, we have to listen to the music and rhythms of the characters' voices and translate the text from English into Catalan but with the rhythms of the third language.
In sit-coms, in particular from North America, which have a weekly slot and are shot a few days before broadcasting, there are often jokes made about news items of that same week. In such a case, one tries to "neutralise" the reference, or let it pass as it is, though it is a pity to waste a gag for such reasons.
As might be deduced, translating for television or cinema is very stimulating, as it permits a high degree of creativity though it is also very frustrating, not only because of a series of (textual and visual) limitations, but also because the translation goes through different hands and when one sees the final product one regrets at times the changes that have been made, but this is team work, and the most important thing is that the end product appeals to the spectator.