2008 10

Languages & the Media 2008 – 7th International Conference on Language Transfer in Audiovisual Media

The translator’s point of view:

goodbye quality, hello Quality!

As presented by Estelle Renard on behalf of the ATAA

Last year, the sensation at the French box office was not a Hollywood blockbuster, but a small comedy about language differences and the prejudices and bonds they produce. Bienvenue chez les Chtis was a huge success and over half the French population went to see it. This film, relying as it does on language and linguistic jokes, should have been lost in translation. It was not. Thanks to the competence of the English translator and the director’s attention to it, the subtitles were so good that a Guardian journalist suggested that this tour de force deserved the creation of a whole new Oscar’s category for subtitlers. It is because it was so well translated that this film has had the chance of an international career. So kudos to Michael Katims for his great translation.

If this story proves something, it is not the refinement of the French people’s tastes, but the value of the work of audiovisual translators.

And indeed,

- it it is not only that without translation, an audiovisual product will not cross the borders of the country where it was created,

- nor that without a good translation, the program will be aired, but not appreciated as it should be and sometimes, not even understood.

- Translation is even more than that, it gives an added value to what we call a “product”, if we want to use the language of business.

This story is also interesting, because the comedy of cultural differences and especially those embodied in language is the ultimate challenge for an audiovisual translator. It demonstrates that what we do is something that is, essentially, not quantifiable. This ’something’ that cannot be quantified is also at the heart, the very core of the industry in which we work. Creativity and efficiency cannot be measured or quantified in industrial and business language.

So how can we evaluate something that is not quantifiable? This question seems relevant, but in our industry, it leads us down the wrong path. In this sector, all companies, whatever their size, boast about the high quality translations they provide. At the same time, they boast that they can achieve that quality for a price defying all the odds, shrinking year after year. My question is : what is behind that boast? I would like to demonstrate how quality, as defined by the industry, always results in a cut in the rate paid to the translator. Why is this the case?

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