LINGUIST List 12.3139

Wed Dec 19 2001

Review: Gambier & Gottlieb, (Multi)Media Translation

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  1. [iso-8859-1] Thorsten Schr�ter, Review of (Multi) Media Translation (Gambier and Gottlieb, eds.)

Message 1: Review of (Multi) Media Translation (Gambier and Gottlieb, eds.)

Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 16:58:35 +0100
From: [iso-8859-1] Thorsten Schr�ter <>
Subject: Review of (Multi) Media Translation (Gambier and Gottlieb, eds.)

Gambier, Yves, and Henrik Gottlieb, ed. (2001) (Multi)
Media Translation. John Benjamins Publishing Company,
hardback ISBN 1-58811-088-5, xx+300pp, $79.00, Benjamins
Translation Library 34.

Thorsten Schr�ter, Karlstad University, Sweden

The book is a collection of 26 papers presented at two
conferences, the Misano (Italy) Seminar on Multimedia &
Translation (26-27 September 1997) and a conference in
Berlin (15-16 October 1998) dealing with Quality and
Standards in Audiovisual Language Transfer. The papers have
been grouped into three main parts: part I is entitled
Concepts and contains seven papers; part II, Policies and
Practices, is the largest and features 12 papers; the
remaining seven papers make up part III, Empirical
Research. Furthermore, there is an introduction by the
editors, an "epilogue" by Anthony Pym, a common reference
list for all papers and two short indexes, the first
listing "comprehensive key concepts, individual languages,
and some TV broadcasting companies" and the other the
films, TV programmes and videos that are referred to in the

In the introduction, entitled Multimedia, Multilingua:
Multiple Challenges, the editors briefly mention some of
the many changes in the realms of communication and
entertainment that have taken place in recent years due to
new technology and globalization. One of the consequences
of these changes is that traditional notions of "text" and
"meaning" have to be revised as new genres that blend bits
of verbal expressions with non-verbal elements become more
widespread. At the same time, classical ideas of
translation as word-for-word transcoding no longer cover
what is now often described with the help of terms such as
localization, versioning or language management.

The editors also discuss the term "multimedia". They do not
deviate from the reader's expectations when they, for the
purpose of the book, seem to draw the line behind
everything that is usually experienced on a screen (cinema,
TV, video and DVD, as well as CD-ROMs and the Internet) or
on a stage. On the other hand, the brackets around "Multi"
in the title of the book are there to indicate that there
is in reality NO strict dividing line between multimedia
and media in general.

Perhaps most importantly, Gambier and Gottlieb claim that
increasing activity in multimedia translation will have a
strong impact on Translation Studies. As the working
conditions, the processes and the products are changing in
nature, their description, analysis and assessment must do
so, too.

(Now follow some very brief abstracts of the individual
papers and then a critical evaluation at the end.)

Part I:
P. Cattrysse focuses mainly on methodological questions. He
briefly describes some aspects of multimedia production and
translation and goes on to ask whether multimedia
translation is a discipline in its own right with own
topics and methods. He suggests that it would fit under the
umbrella of what could be called Comparative Communication
Studies and that a model developed by him (involving the
object of the study and many "modeling semiotic devices")
would fit multimedia translation. He goes on to say that
the approach would have to be interdisciplinary.

Frequently drawing on her research on screen translation,
A. Remael argues that the concepts of traditional
translation studies can be useful also in multimedia, but
that the multimodal nature of the texts should be accounted
for, and it should be kept in mind that the function and
relative importance of linguistic versus non-linguistic
elements can vary considerably, even within the same genre
(e.g. feature films). An interdisciplinary approach is
needed. Remael also calls for more research into the
reception of multimodal texts, not least for the benefit of
translators who often do not deal with traditional source
texts any more.

S. Viaggio, after presenting G. Landa's comprehensive model
of verbal communication, suggests this model can profitably
be adapted to the description of simultaneous interpreting
for the media (SMI) and the many factors that are involved
in it. He goes on to list and discuss, partly in the
terminology of Landa's model, the numerous constraints that
make SMI so demanding and complex. Finally, he calls for
more research into the communicative, translatorial,
neurophysiological and other aspects of SMI.

D. S�nchez-Mesa Mart�nez' paper bears the title Hypertext
and Cyberspace: New Challenges to Translation Studies.
Unfortunately, this reviewer has failed to grasp what the
author wanted to convey or even what the paper really is

G. Goethals touches briefly on the history of combining
images with words, referring to advertising, but also to
illuminated Bible manuscripts and liturgy as a multimedia
experience. The author then goes on to describe a project
of the American Bible Society, aiming at producing a
translation of the Bible that contains both images and
traditional text. This project exemplifies the new ways in
which texts and meanings can be translated into multimedia
events, while at the same time leading to interesting
questions about the often complex nature of text and

J. Ritter Werner's paper deals with the same project as
Goethals'. Here it is described in much more detail and web
addresses are provided where the results can be seen. Part
of the complex thinking and preparation work behind the
production is accounted for. This involved source and
target analyses of linguistic, para- and extralinguistic
features of the text and the media. It is stressed how
important teamwork and new forms of communication were for
tackling the complicated task of translating a both silent
and sacred text into a multimedia experience.

K. Wehn describes contexts in which it is not sufficient to
translate the verbal elements of a text. Often, the non-
verbal parts of a message must be altered (or at least be
taken into account) too, due to cultural differences
between source text and target text receivers. Providing
examples from the realms of advertising and film, Wehn
argues that Translation Studies must not restrict itself to
the translation of purely linguistic elements since this
would not reflect the true nature of many transfer

Part II:
In the longest contribution to the book, A. J�ckel gives an
account of the situation in European film production, also
in comparison to the US. Budgets, distribution, box office
results and production conditions are discussed. The
increasing use of English in European film, supposed to
increase profits especially on the American market, is
specifically addressed.

R. Meylaerts criticizes a Flemish report from 1994 that
states that the position of the Flemish/Dutch language in
the Flemish media is strong, that the Flemish TV audience
prefers domestic productions, and that the minute share of
books published in Flanders, in languages other than Dutch,
gives no reason for concern. According to Meylaerts,
translation issues have been neglected in the report, and
in reality there is strong English-language (especially
American) influence both on television and on the book
market. The claims are supported by several tables.

P. Zabalbeascoa, N. Izard & L. Santamaria provide an
overview of the TV landscape in Spain in general and
Catalonia in particular. The history and recent trends in
screen translation in Spain are touched upon, and some
insight is offered into the processes involved in dubbing,
including the work of translators and actors. The focus is
on dubbing into Catalan. Factors related to the plot, the
TV audience's preferences and the characters' personalities
are dealt with in some detail in a discussion of
domestication strategies.

B. Alexieva's paper deals with interpreter-mediated TV live
interviews. Drawing on a study involving 16 live interviews
with foreign guests on Bulgarian television and on two
enquiries aiming at TV viewers' attitudes towards this
genre, Alexieva presents a description of the phenomenon
and outlines important parameters for an analysis. The
participants' roles are discussed as well as textual
parameters and text-building strategies. Finally, common
inadequacies in the interpreter's performance are taken up
and exemplified.

G. Mack gives a general overview of the working conditions
of TV interpreters as described in the literature. The
specific constraints and requirements related to this kind
of activity are given special attention. This information
then serves as a background to findings from a small study
based on interviews with Italian TV interpreters.
Frequently, working conditions are considered
unsatisfactory due to a host of reasons. Especially the
clash between the producers' main concern with "natural
sounding, continuous speech flow" and the interpreters' own
standards "related to sense consistency and completeness"
are a source of frustration.

E. Gummerus & C. Paro have a long working experience from
the translation department of FST, the Swedish section of
the Finnish national broadcasting company. They share their
inside knowledge of the organizational decisions taken at
the department and discuss how the present organization
helps to ensure the quality of translations produced at the
company. They suggest six steps (from "start an in-house
translation unit" to "establish a reviewing system") that
would lead to improved screen translation quality. They
stress that translation has and must become a form of

F. Mueller, a subtitler and editor of subtitles with an
Australian broadcasting company, gives an account of how
the company assures good translation quality. The focus is
on the recruitment and training of the most competent
subtitlers as well as on the role of the editor. A good
subtitler's necessary skills are listed in the appendix.

H. James, a subtitle editor from Wales, focuses on the
editing procedure as a desirable form of quality control.
Ideally, the editing should consist of three stages: a
spell check, a reading of the subtitled texts and a viewing
of the subtitles in the context of the pictures. James also
gives some examples of inadequacies in subtitling that good
editing could remedy.

H. R. Morgan, responsible for subtitles at British Channel
4, provides a relatively detailed description of how
subtitles are prepared there. Some technical information is
included, as well as in-house rules about the look and the
quality of the finished product.

C. den Boer, a subtitler from the Netherlands, introduces
the reader to the quite new genre of live interlingual
subtitling. Information about the requirements, constraints
and training is given, followed by the description of a
real case, the live broadcast of the Clinton testimony in
the Lewinsky case. At the end, the pros and cons of the
procedure are discussed, especially the low quality of the
end product.

C. C�ron, a French freelance translator, comments on the
apparently increasing variation in the usage of typography
and punctuation in subtitling, calling for greater
uniformity of, and sensibility in, the different standards.

L. Dewolf offers an introduction to opera surtitling, with
some information about technology, constraints and general
rules. Comparisons with film subtitles are sometimes made.
Excerpts of a Wagner opera and a Brecht play are shown
together with differing Dutch and French translations.

Part III:
F. Karamitroglou examines the reasons why such a large
percentage of foreign programmes aimed at children in
Greece are subtitled and not dubbed. Factors such as the
nature of the programmes, the effects of different
translation modes on children, and the viewers' and the
decision-makers' preferences are considered. Economic
reasons apart, the very strong dominance of subtitling in
general seems to create a norm that also influences the
choice of translation mode for children's programmes.

J. D�az Cintas focuses on the important role that a good
dialogue list, i.e. an annotated transcription of the
original dialogue, can and ought to play in screen
translation. He denounces the frequent lack and
insufficient quality of such a list, but stresses also that
a dialogue list, where it is available to the translator,
should not be considered absolute law, but rather serve as
a valuable tool. Several comparisons between a)the original
dialogue, b)the content of the subtitles as suggested by
the list and c)the actual Spanish subtitles of sequences
from a Woody Allen movie illustrate the author's points.

After an introduction dealing with certain features of
subtitles in general and the difficult relationship between
the spoken original and the written translation in
particular, A. Assis Rosa discusses different choices when
it comes to the question of transferring specifically oral
elements to the subtitles. The influence of conflicting
norms and value systems is particularly stressed.

A. J�ckel's second contribution to the book is an analysis
of several aspects of the French film La Haine, more
specifically its non-standard language (including, among
other things, many Americanisms) and the difficulties this
posed for the subtitlers who translated the dialogue into
English. Some of their choices are taken up, and the
reception of the film in France, Britain and in the US is
compared and discussed.

In the only paper written in French, T. Tomaszkiewicz
explores a number a possibilities that a translator has in
dealing with culture-specific phenomena. Employing examples
from Polish, French and American movies and their different
subtitle versions, the author discusses strategies such as
omission, direct transfer, circumlocution and adaptation.

H. Gottlieb, one of the editors of the book, also
contributes with a paper on the influence of English-
language films and publications on other languages,
especially in minor speech communities. Categorizing
translation choices into four groups (from overt anglicisms
to covert anglicisms, adoptions and idiomatic Danish),
Gottlieb analyzes the impact of the English original
dialogue on the Danish subtitled versions of two American
films. This impact proves to be great in both cases
although the versions differ in the type of anglicism that
predominates. With results like these in mind, Gottlieb
warns of a bleak future for translations from English into
smaller languages and ultimately for these languages

M. Van de Poel & G. d'Ydevalle have conducted a complex
synchronic study designed to test children's acquisition of
a foreign language through the exposure to a subtitled
film. The set-up of the study is described in some detail,
as are the results. Statistically most significant is the
increased acquisition of vocabulary items, while any effect
on syntax and morphology remains unconfirmed. Many factors
need to be controlled, however, and further studies are

In this transcript of a speech given at the end of the
Misano seminar (from which several of the papers in the
book are taken), A. Pym critically sums up what he has
heard and what he thinks about the development in
multimedia translation research. He notices a clear
fragmentation in the research rather than coordinated,
programmatic studies. What is more, research seems to be
heavily influenced by the latest paradigm in Descriptive
Translation Studies, namely that it is the target side of
the process that matters. Thirdly, in an endeavour to
imitate practices from the natural sciences, translation
researchers tend to be, or pretend to be, completely
neutral and disinterested in the object of their studies.
In a reaction to these perceived trends, Pym would like to
see more involved, more intercultural and more "powerful"
research. He ends on a rather pessimistic note, however,
stating that the realities, especially the complexity of
the subject itself, will make it hard for the highly
specialized researchers into multimedia translation to
actually employ the powers they could gain through their
position and insights.

Critical evaluation:
According to the editors, the parentheses in the book title
(Multi) Media Translation are there to indicate that media
translation almost always is multimedia translation, too.
However, a closer look at the contents of the papers could
lead to the impression that the Multi was half excluded
because only 4 of the 26 papers actually focus on what at
least this reviewer thinks of first when hearing the term
"multimedia", namely special kinds of computer programmes
combining pictures, sounds and writing. In addition, 3 of
these 4 papers are highly theoretical. 1 paper treats opera
surtitling, and as many as 21 deal predominantly or
exclusively with TV-related issues (mostly subtitles).

As could be expected from a collection of conference papers
(from two different conferences), the contributions are of
varying quality and interest. Most are written by
researchers, some by practitioners. Some, especially in
Part I, appear unfocused and vague while others are well-
ordered and clear. In several instances, additional editing
could have improved language and punctuation, if not the

The time of publication deserves a comment, too. It is now
more than three and four years respectively since the
conferences from which the papers were selected took place.
This seems rather long, considering the fast-changing
nature of the topics addressed. A lot has happened in the
last years with the Internet, computer software,
international broadcasting and the spread of the DVD, to
name but a few areas. A book with "multimedia" (in one form
or another) in the title, published in 2001, might be
expected to reflect more of these recent developments.

The fragmentation in the field, made an issue in Pym's
epilogue, is certainly reflected in the book. Due to this,
(Multi) Media Translation would not function well as an
introductory book, especially if it is read from cover to
cover. It touches, however, on many interesting topics, and
most of the papers included would function well as a
reference in some specific subject area.

All the critical remarks above notwithstanding, it is a
very pleasant event indeed for researchers on and
practitioners in multimedia translation (especially if they
work with screen translation) that there is now available a
new and interesting addition to the relatively small number
of books dealing with these issues.

About the reviewer:
Thorsten Schr�ter is a PhD student in English linguistics
at the Division for Culture and Communication, Karlstad
University, Sweden. He is currently working on his thesis
on the dubbing and subtitling of language-based humour on
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