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Review of  Theatrical Translation and Film Adaptation

Reviewer: Ka-wai Yeung
Book Title: Theatrical Translation and Film Adaptation
Book Author: Phyllis Zatlin
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Translation
Issue Number: 17.721

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Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2006 19:35:44 +0800
From: Ka-Wai Yeung
Subject: Theatrical Translation and Film Adaptation

AUTHOR: Zatlin, Phyllis
TITLE: Theatrical Translation and Film Adaptation
SUBTITLE: A Practitioner's View
SERIES: Topics in Translation 29
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2005

Ka-Wai Yeung, Department of Chinese, The University of Hong Kong


This book belongs to the Topics in Translation series published by
Multilingual Matters. Even though it is not the first in the series on
drama/ theatre translation, the practical suggestions to theatre
translators and the in-depth realistic illustrations the book provides are
informative and unprecedented. The book subtitle correctly depicts
the focus of the author's analysis and this book has to be on the shelf
of anybody who has an aspiration to become a theatrical translator or
playwright. The observations and suggestions are based on the
author's years of experiences as a theatrical translator, as well as the
responses to questionnaires from veteran translators and theatrical
professionals in several countries. The book also presents
discussions of bilingual theatres and subtitling and dubbing practices
for stage plays, which have received little attention in previous studies.
Another neglected area the book explores is the application of film
adaptation theories and strategies in translating stage plays to films.


The book is divided into eight chapters with a preface and an
appendix. The major focus of the first five chapters is in theatrical
translation. The sixth chapter discusses cases applicable to both
theatre and film. The last two chapters are devoted to the theories
and strategies in film adaptations from stage plays. The appendix is
the questionnaire for veteran theatrical translators, from which
responses are adopted in the book.

Chapter 1 ''In Theatrical Translation, There is No Lack of Conflict''
serves as the introductory chapter of the book that identifies the
possible difficulties encountered by a theatrical translator. It discusses
the role of a translator from a perspective of practicality and relates
the confrontations (and sometimes collaborations) between translators
and other stage personnel, including playwrights, actors, directors,
editors, as well as audiences. All problems are revealed from real
experiences encountered by the author, as well as by other theatrical
translators, and they range from academic ones, like the discussion
of ''performability'', to practical ones, like the possible judicial
confrontation between a playwright and a translator in play
adaptation. Also included is a discussion of political and economic
censorship, which poses the greatest difficulties for a translator who
adapts a play from one place to another.

Chapter 2 ''Out of the Shadows: The Translators Speak for
Themselves'' reports and evaluates the responses to a questionnaire
from 36 veteran theatrical translators working in Western Europe and
the States, sometimes complemented with author's own experiences
and personal communications with other translators. The
questionnaire explores some of the greatly concerned presumptions
regarding theatrical translation. For instance, the responses have
revealed that in reality, theatrical translators take dramatic skills and
the knowledge of the source language very seriously and they object
strongly to adaptations based on ''literal translations'', but consulting
other' translations as references is legitimate. The responses also
give some sound advices for aspiring theatrical translators on how to
get into the field and share some of their own experiences with regard
to practical issues, including the meager incomes generated by play
translation, how to get a play translation staged or published, the
marginal role of agents and the helpfulness of membership in
playwrights/play translators societies.

Chapter 3 ''Networking: Collaborative Ventures'' is devoted to
introducing several projects and associations that foster and network
for theatrical translation. The chapter narrates the missions, history,
and functions of various collaborative ventures in France, Germany,
Spain, the United Kingdom and the States. Some cases in which
translators acquired help from these ventures are also described.

Chapter 4 ''Practical Approaches to Translating Theatre'' shifts the
discussion from practical issues to approaches to translating. The
author illustrates the common problems encountered in theatrical
translation with realistic examples. Examined problems include the
setting of a translated play, translating character names and forms of
address, the rhythmic and syntactic differences between original and
translated texts, recreating characters' ''voices'', the creative
adaptations in translation, translating dialect, slang and idioms,
representing literary references within the text, translating or
substituting song lyrics in text, tackling wordplay or puns, and deciding
play titles.

Chapter 5 ''Variations on the Bilingual Play Text'' elevates the
discussion of translating dialect and explores the paradoxical situation
confronted by theatrical translators when the source text is bilingual or
multilingual. It examines the possible extent and impact of the use of a
second (or third) language in a play and presents the varying
strategies adopted by translators in different cases.

Chapter 6 ''Titling and Dubbing for Stage and Screen'' discusses
issues more than the practical approaches of subtitling and dubbing
for theatre and films. It reports a small-scale research about the
acceptance and popularity of subtitling vs. dubbing in theatres and
movies in various countries. Some technical considerations of
subtitling and dubbing, such as formatting rules of subtitling, teletext
technology, subtitling and dubbing technology in theatres, are
provided. Also included is the various strategies of dubbing
and ''simultaneous translation'' for theatres.

Chapter 7 ''On and Off the Screen: The Many Faces of Adaptation''
reviews the theories of film adaptations and pinpoints the negative
criticisms and neglect on the studies of film adaptations from stage
plays. It reasserts the importance of adaptation of plays in film history
by providing concrete examples of film adaptation from plays.

Chapter 8 ''From Stage to Screen: Strategies for Film Adaptation''
presents a general study on film adaptations from stage plays based
on Wagner's (1975) and Andrew's (2000) film adaptation theories.
Realistic illustrations of film adaptations from stage plays are analyzed
according to the three film adaptation strategies,
namely ''transposition'' (''intersecting''), ''analogy'' (''borrowing''),
and ''commentary'' (''transformation'').


Bassnett (2002:119) has correctly stated that in literary translation
studies, ''theatre is one of the most neglected areas''. Most analyses
on literary translation have been focused on narratives and poetry. In
light of this, this book successfully achieved its objective by providing
a unified account on special problems of translating theatrical texts. As
Zatlin (2005: viii) observes, ''there is a growing bibliography on
theatre'', such as edited anthologies by Johnston (1996) and Upton
(2000); or the theoretical work by Aaltonen (2000), another book
published in the same series by Multilingual Matters. Contrasting a
descriptive theoretical approach to theatrical translation like Aaltonen
(2000), the book is distinctive of focusing its concerns over the
practical problems encountered by theatrical practitioners. For
instance, previous studies have suggested that a translator has to
collaborate with other members of the theatre (e.g.
Bassnett,1998:106). This book applies a practitioner's approach on
the issue and provides practical suggestions on HOW to collaborate
with playwrights, authors and editors. These advices are based on the
author's years of immersion in theatres, as well as realistic
experiences confronted by veteran theatrical translators and they
make the book an outstanding mine of information for theatrical

The surveys and interviews conducted with seasoned translators and
theatre professionals in different countries in Chapter 2 have
contributed to the richness and depths of discussions on practical
approaches to aspiring theatrical translators. The responses to the
questionnaire, together with the author's expertise as a theatrical
translator and professor, have presented a realistic portrayal of the
theatrical translation industry. Another excellent instance of the
informative nature of the book is the chapter on various networking
ventures in Western Europe and the States (Chapter 3). The
discussions presented in the first three chapters have provided crucial
prerequisite understandings of theatrical translation practice in
addition to the practical approaches to theatre translating, which is
also included in a separate chapter (Chapter 4).

Practical approaches to theatre translating have been introduced in
Chapter 4. It deals with most of the commonly encountered problems
in theatrical translation, such as adaptation of settings, translation of
names, wordplays, slang, dialects, recreating characters' voices, etc.
The problems examined are specific to theatrical translation and are
illustrated with appropriate examples mostly drawn from contemporary
theatres. The diversified array of problems explored in the chapter
resembles the approach taken in Lander (2001) and results in a
reader-friendly practical guide to theatrical translation. Due to its
limited length, the condensed discussion in this chapter does not aim
at, as Zatlin (2005:ix) confesses, providing an ''all-inclusive study'';
hence, some issues are left unexplored, such as translation of verse
drama, opera libretti, musical comedies, etc. Still, the illustrations have
adequately highlighted some important strategies adopted by
theatrical translators during the translating process.

Unique to the book are the analyses presented in the later chapters
(Chapter 5, 6 & 8). Even though many translators have identified the
most difficult task in theatrical translation is to deal with the dialectal
variations within the play text, the examination of bilingual or
multilingual play texts in relation to theatrical translation has been
missing in the literature. Chapter 5 has been the first published work
that provides a general analysis of the subject. The research on the
practices of subtitling and dubbing for films in Chapter 6 has refreshed
the general beliefs on the subject in previous studies. In addition, the
examination of the practices for theatres has been a rarely explored
area and the investigation presented here is unparalleled. Although
the author does not propose any new theories on film adaptation, the
application of Wagner's (1975) and Andrew's (2000) film adaptation
theories to the translation of stage plays to films in Chapter 8 is
unprecedented. Practical approaches to the adaptations of movies
from plays based on concrete illustrative examples of adapted films
are also exceptional in the literature, which has tended to concentrate
on narrative into film. All these analyses contribute to the current
studies on literary translation, subtitling and dubbing, and film
adaptation that have overlooked the theatres.

Being an experienced theatrical practitioner, the author puts theatre
under the spotlight and all the discussions in the book center around
theatre. The later part of the book is distinguished in probing into
various unexplored areas regarding theatrical translation, while the
earlier part excels in providing sound practical advices to theatrical
practitioners. Both directions are potential areas for further pursuit
and the effort in addressing these neglected areas in this book is
highly appreciated.


Aaltonen, Sirkku (2000) Time-sharing on stage: drama translation and
society. Clevedon, Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.

Andrew, Dudley (2000) Adaptation. In Naremore (2000), 28-37.

Bassnett, Susan (1998) Still Trapped in the Labyrinth: Further
Reflections on Translation and Theatre. In Bassnett & Lefevere
(1998), 90-108.

Bassnett, Susan (2002) Translation studies. London: Routledge.

Bassnett, Susan & A. Lefevere (1998) Constructing cultures: essays
on literary translation. Clevedon, Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

Johnston, David, ed. (1996) Stages of translation. Bath, England:
Absolute Classics.

Lander, Clifford E. (2001) Literary Translation: a practical guide.
Clevedon, Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.

Naremore, James, ed. (2000) Film Adaptation. London: Athlone Press.

Upton, Carole-Anne, ed. (2000) Moving target: theatre translation and
cultural relocation. Manchester, Northampton: St. Jerome.

Wagner, Geoffrey (1975) The novel and the cinema. Rutherford, N.J.:
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Zatlin, Phyllis (2005) Theatrical Translation and Film Adaptation: A
Practitioner's View. Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters.

Ka-Wai Yeung is a doctoral candidate in the University of Hong Kong.
Her doctoral research attempts to apply linguistic theories into
translation practices with specific reference to Chinese-English and
English-Chinese translation. Her master thesis is a comparative
linguistic study between Chinese and English to the problems of
syntactic categories. Her major research interests include syntactic
categories, pragmatics, comparative linguistics and translation

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ISBN: 185359833X
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 240
Prices: U.S. $ 99.95