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Review of  Mapping the Dubbing Scene

Reviewer: Josep Soler-Carbonell
Book Title: Mapping the Dubbing Scene
Book Author: Josu Barambones Zubiria
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 23.5030

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AUTHOR: Josu Barambones Zubiria
TITLE: Mapping the Dubbing Scene
SERIES TITLE: Audiovisual Translation in Basque Television
SERIES TITLE: New Trends in Translation Studies, Vol. 2
YEAR: 2012

Josep Soler-Carbonell, Institute of Communication, Tallinn University and Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, University of Tartu


This monograph examines the question of audiovisual translation (AVT) in Basque using the framework provided by Descriptive Translation Studies. It constitutes an original endeavor particularly because its focus and the majority of the data it uses come from animated products for children. As the author states in the introductory section, in the global era, translation has gained in importance and relevance, as it can help to bridge cultural and linguistic divides, enabling larger audiences to have access to works originally produced in other languages. Small demographic groups may find it more difficult to make use of their own resources in order to cover all their needs in the audiovisual realm, and therefore AVT becomes even more important for them. In the case of animated products for children, dubbing is also a more common feature than subtitling, as such audiences are not able to read at the required pace. Furthermore, the Basque Country is situated in what could be called a ‘dubbing world area’ in that France and Spain tend to resort to this solution when importing audiovisual products.

From the outset, the author clearly sets out three main objectives: the first, taking a macro perspective, is “to compile a catalogue of dubbed audiovisual programs in order to gain an overall view of foreign programming on ETB” (p. 3) (Euskal Telebista, the publicly owned Basque television). The second objective of the study, this time from a more micro point of view, is to identify the “potential regularities and strategies followed by screen translators” (p. 3), something that should help in identifying the translation norms and techniques used in a translation process such as that being analyzed here. The third and final objective is to compare and contrast the linguistic models used in dubbed texts with those used in original productions in Basque. This is possibly one of the most innovative features of the monograph, and the systematic contrasting of two language models allows rich conclusions to be drawn.

The book is structured in seven main chapters preceded by a brief introductory section.

Chapter 1, “The Linguistic and Cultural Context”, provides a general background on the Basque language with a focus on the sociolinguistic situation surrounding it, the Basque education system, translation studies and Basque language, the media, and language planning. The chapter contains some essential information that assists greatly in comprehending the author’s starting point. First, it is stressed that the majority of the population of Basque-speaking areas cannot speak the language (p. 9): in total, between the French and the Spanish territories, 953,000 people are either French or Spanish monolinguals. In the Basque Country, this amounts to 51.5% of the total population. By contrast, 30.1% are fluent Basque and Spanish bilinguals and 18.3% are passive bilinguals (those who cannot speak Basque but who can understand and read it well or very well). Furthermore, the chapter explains that the majority of the school-age population attends schools that follow what is known as Education Model D (all subjects are taught in Basque, except for Spanish language), at least until the end of compulsory education.

Chapter 2, “Dubbing into Basque: A Historical Perspective”, offers an historical account of the presence of Basque in the media since ETB was founded in 1982. Initially, dubbing was a crucially important means of meeting audiences’ needs, but since then, over time, the number of dubbed products has progressively decreased. One of the striking facts that the author highlights is that since 1986, when ETB2 was created, a diglossic situation has arisen sprung: ETB1 remained committed to broadcasting animation series or films dubbed in Basque, whereas ETB2 now airs mostly American series or movies dubbed not into Basque but into Spanish. This chapter also presents the language model used for dubbed products, which tends to follow the standard register of the language. The author links this strategy to the fact that, particularly in minority-language contexts, the media are often ascribed a didactic and educational function. However, as Barambones himself notes, this strategy is misleading, because it makes use of a standard model that belongs to the written, rather than the spoken, domain, ultimately “rendering the audiovisual text less expressive and less credible” (p. 43).

Chapter 3, “Descriptive Methodology Applied to the Field of Audiovisual Translation”, provides a detailed explanation of the methodological steps followed by the author in order to compile the corpuses of texts from which he garnered his data. The author has clearly implemented a fine-grained methodology in order to prove that the texts chosen for the study were not selected merely at random. Seven selection criteria are established: the predominance of a genre or subgenre, the origin of the audiovisual material, the source language, marketing, different translators/adaptors and dubbing studios, and availability. On the other hand, the original texts in Basque are chosen according to the following elements: the predominance of a genre, the number of repeats, awards, audience rankings, and availability.

Chapter 4, “Characterization and Translation of Animated Cartoons”, offers further details concerning the most common features found in the world of animated cartoons, in relation to the creative process behind both the original version (the characterization process) and the translated and dubbed version of it.

Chapter 5, “A Model for the Analysis of Audiovisual Texts”, presents the methodology followed for textual analysis. Once again, the researcher follows a number of very rigorous steps, which suggests that the study is methodologically sound. There are four levels of analysis: the first involves “Preliminary data”, where as much extra-textual information as possible is collected. The second is “Macro-structural analysis”, the translation of graphic codes (titles, intertitles and inserts) and the translation of the musical code. “Micro-structural analysis” is the third stage, where the lexical and the syntactic features are analyzed. Finally, the “Intrasystemic analysis” is applied, where the phonetic, lexical, morphological and syntactic characteristics of both the dubbed and the original audiovisual texts in Basque are analyzed and contrasted.

Chapter 6, “Descriptive-Comparative Analysis”, is dedicated to a complete analysis of two audiovisual texts dubbed into Basque. The texts chosen for this study are those that have already been selected following the steps explained in Chapter 3, namely one episode of each of two series, ''Totally Spies'' and ''Braceface'' (in Basque, ''Berediziko espioak'' and ''Burdin aho'' respectively). The three first levels of analysis as explained in the previous chapter are applied to both texts. The fourth, ‘Intersystemic Analysis’, is dealt with separately in the next chapter.

Chapter 7, “Intersystemic Analysis”, examines and contrasts the different models of the Basque language in the texts studied by the author: the dubbed ones (stemming from a source text originally in another language) and the original ones (from productions created directly in Basque). The findings indicate that the dubbed versions contain a higher degree of homogeneity, particularly at the lexical and morphosyntactic levels, with forms closer to the standard register of the language, whereas the texts from the original version make use of forms and expressions that are much closer to the characteristics of the oral and colloquial language.

Finally, Chapter 8 presents the conclusions of the study. Here, the author returns to the main objectives that he had set down in the introduction and provides a recapitulation of the results. Clearly, the data compiled in this study allow the dubbing scene and audiovisual translation into Basque to be accurately mapped. Secondly, the author’s analysis of dubbed texts provides a description of the language model used in these texts, highlighting the fact that translators struggle between two poles: adequacy and acceptability (veracity). Finally, the contrast between dubbed and original texts brings a further important nuance: original texts tend to make use of forms which are closer to the oral register of the language, whereas dubbed versions are more homogeneous and employ forms more typical of the standard language.


One of the foremost strengths of the monograph under review is the methodological aspect. The author is consistently clear and emphatic about the steps taken for data collection and analysis. This means that the results are sound and trustworthy, and, all in all, the reader is left with the impression that this is a coherent study, even though its conclusions may not be groundbreaking. Moreover, in his introduction, the author is explicit about the objectives he sets out to achieve in his research, and then returns to them in the conclusion, summarizing the most relevant findings stemming from the investigation.

As far as the results and main outcomes of the study are concerned, one of the most significant conclusions derives from the section on ‘intrasystemic analysis’, i.e. from comparing and contrasting dubbed texts in Basque with the original works produced in this language. The dubbed texts tend to make more use of forms belonging to the standard language, closer to the written register, whereas the original texts use forms which are more typically oral and colloquial. As intimated above, this might not be a groundbreaking finding, as a smaller-scale study led by Vila i Moreno (Vila i Moreno et al. 2007) already detected the ‘homogenizing’ effect of dubbed versions and the extensive use of standard-variety forms in the dubbings of American animated films into Catalan and Castilian. The cited study also mentioned that locally produced films and TV series contained a higher degree of language varieties and registers than dubbed products, even though no data from such local films or series were presented. Therefore, Barambones’ study provides a strong, neatly explained and detailed methodological framework to adopt when conducting such audiovisual research and analysis.

On the weaker side of the monograph, a few key references are missing. Although it appears that the author centers his study on the general field of Translation Studies and, more specifically, AVT, given that the topic of his analysis is so closely related to key areas of sociolinguistics, such omissions should not have occurred. First of all, and most significantly, when discussing the language models and particularly that of cartoons and animated movies, there is virtually no reference to Lippi-Green’s (1997) work. Although it is acknowledged that language plays an essential role in shaping the characters’ personalities, it is important to recognize that such linguistic characterization is not carried out at random. Language attitudes and ideologies constitute an important element in that sense, and they have consequences that the analyst should not overlook.

Moreover, as seen previously, the question of the standard language is very relevant throughout the book. However, there is no reference to authors who have devoted a substantial part of their work to analyzing the effects of standardization and language ideology (these include Milroy and Milroy 1999; Milroy 2001) or, more broadly, language ideology (including Schieffelin and Woolard 1994; Schieffelin, Woolard and Kroskrity 1998). The question of language ideology is linked to the perceived lack of registers that Basque translators and dubbers may encounter, which is not exclusive to the Basque case, but shared with many other minority or minoritized language situations. In the Catalan context, Frekko (2009) finds support for this perceived lack of registers from ethnographically collected data: interviews with Catalan language professionals and observations of the work of a language editor at the recording sessions of a Catalan television series.

This book constitutes a relevant contribution to the field of AVT, provides a very useful model that can be adopted by researchers in future studies in this field, and offers a detailed analysis of audiovisual translation in Basque. The work could have been enriched with the references cited above, but it still represents a substantial and positive contribution to Translation Studies. It will therefore make useful and insightful reading for students in this field. It is likely to prove particularly helpful at the undergraduate level, but may also be fruitfully exploited for the purposes of postgraduate study or indeed by anyone with an interest in Basque language and culture.


Frekko, Susan. 2009. Normal in Catalonia: Standard language, enregisterment and the imagination of a national public. Language in Society 38(1), 71-93.

Lippi-Green, Rosina. 1997. English with an accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge.

Milroy, James. 2001. Language ideologies and the consequences of standardization. Journal of Sociolinguistics 5(4), 530-555.

Milroy, James & Lesley Milroy. 1999. Authority in language: Investigating standard English (3rd edn.). London: Routledge.

Schieffelin, Bambi & Kathryn Woolard. 1994. Language ideology. Annual Review of Anthropology 23, 55-82.

Schieffelin, Bambi, Kathryn Woolard & Paul Kroskrity. 1998. Language ideology: Practice and Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Vila i Moreno, Francesc Xavier, Sarah Cassel, Núria Busquet Isart, Joan-Pau Callejón i Mateu, Toni Mercadal Moll, Josep Soler Carbonell. 2007. Sense accents? Les contradiccions de l’estàndard oral en els doblatges catalans de pel·lícules d’animació. Revista de Llengua i Dret 47, 387-413.

Josep Soler-Carbonell obtained his Ph.D. in Linguistics and Communication at the University of Barcelona (2010) with a contrastive analysis of the sociolinguistic situation in Estonia and Catalonia from the point of view of speakers’ language ideologies. His main research interests gravitate around the broad areas of sociolinguistics and language anthropology, language ideologies, language and identity, language and media, and inter-cultural and inter-group communication. He now works as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Tartu and as an Associate Professor at the Institute of Communication, Tallinn University.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9783034302814
Pages: 191
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U.K. £ 35.00