A song and dance for translation

Published 29th June 2012
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Subtitling - Lingua TranslationsToday’s blog comes from blog competition winner, Emma Wilberforce.

I think one of the best tests for translation, viewed by millions of people all over the world, is the Eurovision Song Contest.

Someone has the job of subtitling everything that is said and sung, with over 26 different countries taking part and more joining in for the voting.

What’s more is that the songs that are sung are often translated directly from the native language, so you get some unusual phrases, such as Hungary’s ‘let it fill your cells’ or Bosnia and Herzegovina ‘you have many worries’ so ‘don’t make it harder these days’.

The Russian grannies took first place for singing about bread and telling us that ‘the dough is rising joyously’, whereas Italy was slightly more morbid and claimed to have ‘bought a brand new gunshot’.

Moldova really made us puzzle though, when they boasted that ‘you haven’t seen before how looks the trumpet’; a phrase that you wouldn’t even know where to start with interpreting that.

Instead, it was better just to enjoy the song and revel in the fact that translation can provide a bit of fun as well as embarrassing slips, such as the subtitles for the English commentary; after three songs in, that was the ‘last ballot for a while’ meaning ballad, of course.

There was also a bit of a contradiction when the subtitles read ‘if you haven’t just joined us, you’ve missed..’, although that’s not what the commentator said.

While I had put the subtitles on for fun, what would someone have thought who was relying on them to catch what had been said? I expect they would have been very confused and frustrated, as it then turns into a guessing game as well as trying to watch the show.

However, it’s probably best to be taken with a little humour too, after all the people who type them are just as fallible as the rest of us and can’t always be 100% correct, especially on live TV.

Despite the errors on live TV, subtitling is invaluable. Not only does it allow you to follow a film in a foreign language, subtitles are also helpful to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and make TV and film much more accessible for everyone.

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