Saturday, August 11, 2012

What Native Translators can Teach the Experts

Under its able editor, Miranda Moore, the bi-monthly magazine The Linguist is always full of lively and informative articles for the Professional and Expert translators, language teachers and other linguists who form its readership. As a by-product, it occasionally has content too that concerns non-professional Native or Natural Translation and hence this blog. One such is the article The right way to sub? by Adriana Tortoriello in the current issue.

Sub here – in case you don't know – is short for subtitling. Adriana is herself a professional subtitler and also a lecturer in audiovisual translation at Imperial College, London, one of the numerous universities that offer courses in the speciality these days. Part of the article is an update on technological advances in the industry. There is also some advice on how to get into it.

The rest of the article – the part that concerns us – is about fansubbing.

Fansubbing has featured in several posts on this blog; in fact in one of the very earliest, back in February 2009:
"A fansub is a fan-produced, translated, subtitled version of a video programme. Fansubs are a tradition that began with the creation of the first Japanese anime clubs back in the 1980s. With the advent of cheap computer software and the availability on Internet of free subbing equipment, they really took off in the mid 1990s.
"It would be no exaggeration to state that fansubs are nowadays the most important manifestation of fan translation, having turned into a mass social phenomenon on Internet, as proved by the vast virtual community."
To find the posts, enter fansubbing in the Search box on the right.

There was a whole session at the Forli conference (see References) on Non-professional Translation on Screen, and it included fansubbers .

What is strikingly new, though, about Adriana's article is her suggestion that, whereas the usual progression is for Native Translators to learn from the Experts, in this case professional subtitlers may have something to learn from fansubbers.
"Fansubs differ from traditional subtitles in a number of ways – most, if not all, resulting from the fact that, not being constrained by the demands of the industry, fansubbers are more free to experiment with content and format.
"Considering the number of years commercial subtitling has been around, innovations are conspicuous by their absence.
"Traditionally, subtitles were meant to be discreet... Fansubbers are bold, and happy to do away with the invisibility of subtitles. They flaunt their identity.
"They place subtitles all over the screen and use a variety of orthotypographic means to convey additional features [and] allow them to incorporate paralinguistic features. And last but, in my view, definitely not least, their use of glosses to explain cultural references allows them to produce subtitles that are more foreignising than traditional ones, giving greater access to the culture of the original programme."
She concludes,
" I believe that the innovations brought about by technology and by fansubbing might come together in contributing to the creation of a new subtitling modality."
The lessons of all this are that
  1. Native Translators (and a fortiori Natural Translators) may be less aware or less respectful of the norms followed by Expert, and especially Professional Expert, Translators.
  2. Consequently they may be more creative and innovative.
  3. The impact of their innovations may end up in the Natives influencing the Experts rather than vice versa.
 Adriana Tortoriello. The right way to sub? The Linguist, vol. 51, no. 4, August-September 2012, pp. 8-9. The online edition of The Linguist can be accessed here through the website of its publisher, The Chartered Institute of Linguists. This issue will be available online from 17 August.
Jorge Díaz Cintas and Pablo Muñoz Sánchez, Fansubs: audiovisual translation in an amateur environment’, Journal of Specialised Translation, no. 6, July 2006.

 Delia Chiaro (chair). Non-professional translation on screen. Book of Abstracts, 1st International Conference on Non-Professional Interpretation and Translation, Forli, May 2012, p. 16 and following. The document is here.

A fansub. Source: Fansub Review, accessible here.


  1. Another interesting feature of fansubbing is, in my opinion, speed (the excerpt gives the impression that pro subtitlers are the only ones 'constrained' by 'demands'): each anime 20-min episode is translated, timed, checked and released (by different persons, of course), sometimes overnight (quite literally true for popular shows, for the concurrential reason of first subbed first watched). Whereas the professionals have time (to rip the fansubs, that is, and not only 'learn' from them)...

    1. I would like to point out that fansubs are produced by the users themselves whereas "professional" subtitles are ordered by companies who make their own decisions about format. Professional translators or whoever gets paid to do the job have no say when it comes to "innovations" in format so I would say that if fansubbing has anything to teach, it has to teach the entertainment industry rather than professional translators as such... actually, the rates for translations are so low in subtitling that very often the translators are not as professional as they should be.
      And I am afraid that fans are usually very poor translators. True, they are fast, and they allow fans to have a pretty good idea of what is going on, which I am thankful for... but the mistakes in meaning and language use in the target language are too many for anyone to take them seriously.

      Dear n, speed is one of the characteristics of cheap translation in every sense of the word.

      Don't get me wrong: as a user, I am thankful of fansubs but as translations, it is ridiculous to compare them to the work of trained professionals (whenever there are professionals doing the job.)

    2. Dear Anonymous (now, that's original), I am afraid you are exaggerating for the sake of your "argument" (fans can't deliver a proper translation, industry doesn't pay, real pros stay away from subtitling).

  2. Totally agree, that's why I'm freelance!!! I learn from experts but still keep my own style!!!

  3. Yes Native Translators can Teach the Experts.
    You can check the Language translator online and find the better result.

  4. intersting article, as a language expert i really like the way you discussed and share with us.Thanks

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I really appreciate your post.... and I got useful information about the matter... I just tried to write the same post...
    best online legal translation companies in dubai at low cost