In the Margins: Representations of Otherness in Subtitled French Films

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Translation involves integration of a multitude of disciplines and perspectives from which to compare two or more cultures. When translation is extended to film dialogue, in subtitling, the target language viewer unfamiliar with the source language must rely upon the subtitles to access the film's dialogue provided within the space of the verbal exchange, and often the subtitles offer an altered version of the dialogue, particularly given the time and space constraints of the medium. Subtitling, a unique form of translation, not only involves interlingual transfer but also intersemiotic transfer from a spoken dialogue to a written text.

This work examines the linguistic treatment of three marginalized groups--homosexuals, women, and foreigners--as expressed in subtitles. In many instances, translation of certain elements in the films, such as forms of address and general referential language, change the meaning for the TL viewer. Cultural references present in the oral dialogue often get omitted or modified in the subtitles, altering the TL viewer's perception of the narrative and characters. These differently rendered translations have connotative qualities that are often differ significantly from the oral dialogue. In many cases, epithets and grammatically gendered language in the SL dialogue get diluted or omitted in the TL subtitles; likewise, power relationships expressed through use of forms of address, such as titles or tutoiement and vouvoiement, cannot be adequately conveyed, and the TL viewer is excluded from this nuanced form of discourse. Cultural references providing supplemental information, including non-dialogic text, are not always rendered in the subtitles, depriving the TL viewer of additional layers of meaning. In dual-language films featuring foreigners, nuances expressed by code switching and code mixing cannot be completely represented in the subtitles.

Close analysis of subtitles within the framework of the sociolinguistic and cultural interpretations of the resultant TL dialogue reveals a great deal about the transmission and reception of cultural ideas and has not been addressed to this extent from this perspective. It is to be hoped that this study will inspire interest in further explorations of this nature and contribute to the ever-growing corpus of research in subtitling studies.