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November 13, 2007



"That is to say, instead of literally rendering the famous lines from the Hindi films ("How many men were there?" &c.) the subtitler chose a conceptual translation that slipped the category of "famous lines from Hindi films" to "famous lines from Hollywood films." This rendition conveys the force of what is happening on the screen - the dog is reenacting famous movie scenes - much better than could have been done by a literal translation."

Amen! I remember getting shot down for suggesting the same when attempting to defend similar conceptual translations in a thread about subtitling in another place. It is a mark of good quality subtitling, in my view. Even in my small collection of Hindi films, I can find many similar examples, and French movies seem to be very good an doing this too. I think that one can appreciate the value of conceptual translations a little more if one is able to at least partly grasp the original, enabling a view from both sides, as it were. A native speaker might get annoyed that their language was being played with fast and loose, and someone with no grasp of the spoken language would not realise that anything was "amiss". Perhaps this is one time when having only sipped at the Pierian spring is not such a bad thing, Pope's dire warning notwithstanding. :)


max, it will not surprise you to learn that when I expressed the above idea in that "other place" it was completely not understood, and was met with retorts like "yeah but what does Gone With the Wind have to do with DDLJ?"


Not to mention having x different versions of the trailer, one for each country, tailored according to the famous lines from the movies of that particular country. Quite some work.


"That other place" continues its non-comprehension of what makes for good contextual translation. From the OSO thread today:

"I gave Farah more credit than to dumb down the subtitles, but alas
Another example -- when Om refers to his mother as filmi the subtitles always say melodramatic. Uff!"

Is there a better translation for "filmi" than "melodramatic"? I can't think of one off the top of my head.


Since this is not etirely tangential, I wanted to say a public "Shabbash!" for these most excellent comments elsewhere, Carla:
"Indian English is just that - Indian English. It is no more "accented" than British English or American English or Australian. It is a living dialect of English that is as legitimate as any other, and is acquired as a first language (not necessarily a sole first language) of millions of speakers, a growing number of speakers. "

This is a subject dear to my heart, and not just because Indian English is my sole parent's mother tongue. I am passionate about the glorious smorgasbord that is World English, and that's why I have a large section on my list of links devoted to various flavours of English. Thanks for telling it like it is, Carlaji. One of the sad consequences of a web forum dominated by younger people from one country is the way that assumptions and presumptions become very evident. I once read someone criticise a subtitle from Swades that said "maths". The poster was scathing of this basic "error", not realising that in Indian English, as in UK, Oz and Zild, the common abbreviation of the word mathematics retains the final letter. So on behalf of all who speak other flavours of English, thanks!


I like the option of having both. Some anime DVDs include a literal translation, and a more westernized translation in the subtitles.


Sometimes literal translations do not work. As in, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun:

"daal mein kuch kaala hai, bhaiyyaji"
"mujhe kaali daal to pasand hain"

Literally this translates to something along the lines of:
"there is something black in the lentils, brother"
"I love black lentils"

but the subtitles instead read:
"something is fishy!"
"I love fish"

Or, in Jaanwar (1999), when the song eludes to (Waris Shah's) Heer and Ranjha the subtitles instead says Romeo and Juliet.

As a bollywood fan, I don't think I would enjoy the cultural translation of Roadside Romeo as much as a literal translation, but as a linguistic anthropologist in training, I do think it is a valid translation.

Regardless, I could live the rest of my life without seeing "Stop chewing on my brains" in the subtitles again -- unless maybe I'm watching a bollywood remake of a zombie movie.

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