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I recently read a report that translators of the hit Danish crime drama The Killing had been asked by the BBC to tone down the translations of swear words in the English subtitles. This came following a complaint that many ‘softer’ expletives were being translated as the f-word.

Simon Chilcott, the programme acquisitions editor responsible for bringing the show to Britain said that they had felt the need to rein in the translators if they were being too edgy. According to a leaked memo, the translators were told: “Where there are a number of options of which word to use, err on the side of caution, and use the less strong word.” Chilcott did however acknowledge that the translators were effectively carrying out a re-write of the series, and that sometimes translators need to improvise where a direct translation would sound clumsy or not read well, adding that it was important to stay faithful to the characters and script.

On one article about the issue, a comment was made that the only thing unusual about this situation was that it was only just being discussed in the UK. Many other countries, who import foreign programmes more frequently than Britain, are much more accustomed to these type of considerations. I for one am pleased about the recent popularity of overseas programmes such as The Killing, and films like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and think it’s great that they highlight translation issues such as this. We Brits might be a bit behind when it comes to appreciating world cinema, but hopefully this is a sign that we’re starting to catch up!

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