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Díaz Cintas, Jorge, Anderman, Gunilla (eds) (2009). Audiovisual Translation: Language Transfer on Screen.

London: Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pp.  £50   ISBN 978-0-230-01996-6.

As the editors of the book, Jorge Diaz Cintas and Gunilla Anderman, aptly point out, nowadays the media is omnipresent, since it informs, sells, entertains and educates. In particular, one can only refer to the rapid growth of television channels and programmes—with the undisputable help of digital technology—the flourish of cinema, the arrival of the DVD, the growing use of computers and the Internet and the significant number of theatre and opera productions and other live events. As these domains grow, so does the need for audiovisual translation (AVT). What is more, the rapid developments in the field of accessibility to the media render the—until recently largely ignored—subtitling for the deaf and the hard-of-hearing (SDH) and audio description for the blind and partially sighted (AD) an integral part of the audiovisual landscape.

Within this unprecedented interest and activity in the area of AVT, which has come a long way since its early days in the late 1950s when it was struggling to be accepted as a subject in its own right, many problems remain to be addressed. They mainly have to do with the old methods competing with new techniques, with subtitle styles varying from country to country or from company to company and with the global dominance of the English language. It is the editors' aim to provide an overview of the many different ways in which audiovisual programmes cross linguistic barriers and frontiers and to underline the importance of AVT at this time of rapid technological and sociocultural developments, while trying at the same time to establish whether a harmonisation of AVT practices is feasible or even necessary and whether AVT can be considered intercultural or not.

To this end, the book includes contributions from scholars and practioners in a variety of AVT issues and is divided into four parts: Subtitling and Surtitling, Revoicing, Accessibility to the Media and Education and Training. There is also a very informative and well-structured Introduction by the editors which successfully provides a clear account of the wealth and scope of AVT. 

Part I of the book is devoted to Subtitling and Surtitling, two forms of AVT which respect the original soundtrack and add translation in the form of written text. In the well-structured overview of Subtitling for the DVD Industry, Georgakopoulou, besides discussing some of the inherent constraints and possibilities of subtitling, uses data originating from the database of the European Captioning Institute (ECI), a UK based subtitling company and one of the world leaders in multilingual DVD subtitling, to stress the impact of centralisation on the profession. Most importantly, she uses these data to hail the ‘template’ –or genesis file or transfile as it is called– as “the Holy Grail of the DVD subtitling industry”. Although, she admits that the creation of such a file, which basically includes the master subtitles in English and is used as the basis for translation into all the languages required, is far more complicated than the creation of any other subtitle file, she underlines that its advantages far exceed its disadvantages.

Sokoli emphasises the value of norms as a heuristic tool in the field of Translation Studies and AVT in particular and their significant contribution to the evolution of Descriptive Translation Studies and she proposes bringing in an evaluative element. In her article Subtitling Norms in Greece and Spain, she focuses on matricial and textual norms, as defined by Toury (1995), in the Spanish and Greek subtitled versions of the films The English Patient and Notting Hill. Her proposals cast light into the production of subtitles and can be used for pedagogical reasons as well.

Bogucki’s contribution, entitled Amateur Subtitling on the Internet, looks at amateur Polish subtitles with a view to assessing the criteria for quality assessment and their application to AVT. Since Poland is a voice-over country, subtitling is being limited to feature films released for the cinema. Yet, lately, freeware computer programs and the Internet, helped the birth of amateur subtitling. Bogucki uses examples from the amateur translation into Polish of the film The Fellowship of the Ring in order to demonstrate that amateur subtitling, which is based on a recording of the original, differs greatly from professional subtitling in that it abounds in mistakes and misinterpretations. He also raises significant questions relating to the future of home-made subtitling and the threat that it might pose to professional subtitling.

In his contribution entitled The Art and Craft of Opera Surtitling, Burton looks into the translation of operatic texts discussing both subtitling of opera on television, video and DVD and surtitling of live opera in the theatre. He focuses mainly on surtitling, which is the most common approach to the translation of operatic texts, and he stresses its particularities, difficulties and pitfalls.

Desblache concludes the section on Subtitling and Surtitling with her contribution Challenges and Rewards of Libretto Adaptation. In her article, she stresses that in libretto adaptation, a translator does not only need to remain faithful to the author’s intentions and communicate to the audience the original message with its cultural references, but should take into account the transfer of non-semantic and extra-textual aspects as well. Desblache draws from her own experience of writing the French version of a comic opera written by Benjamin Britten, Albert Herring. She discusses the challenging problems that such a translation involves and focuses mainly on the difficulties which arise from culture non-equivalence, humour and rhyming.

Part II of the book focuses on Revoicing, the opposing strategy to subtitling, which involves the technique of replacing the soundtrack of the original audiovisual programme. Tveit in his article Dubbing vs Subtitling: Old Battleground Revisited outlines the advantages and disadvantages of dubbing and subtitlingand reaches the conclusion that, generally speaking, subtitling is preferable to dubbing mainly because dubbing is more expensive and time-consuming and, above all, involves a loss of authenticity.

In their contribution The Perception of Dubbing by Italian Audiences Antonini and Chiaro set out to discuss the findings of a large-scale research project which aimed at exploring and assessing the quality of dubbed television programmes. Italy is a ‘dubbing country’ and as a result Italians were tested on their perception of dubbed Italian or ‘dubbese’. Antonini and Chiaro used a corpus of over three hundred hours of dubbed television programmes and by means of web technology, more than five thousand Italian viewers were tested. The results of the analysis indicate that viewers are aware of the fact that ‘dubbese’ is unlike real, natural Italian, but are willing to accept it as long as it remains on screen.

Caňuelo Sarrión’s contribution entitled Transfer Norms for Film Adaptations in the Spanish-German Context discusses some findings on the relationships between cinema, literature and translation in a Spanish-German context. First, she identifies and analyses from a Polysystem Theory perspective the works from a corpus of Spanish films, based upon Spanish literary works and produced between 1975 and 2000, which have reached the German market. Secondly and more importantly, she proposes a number of transfer norms for film adaptations on the basis of recurring patterns which have been detected in adaptations of literary works in Spain and distribution and reception in Germany.

Orero looks into a rather neglected form of AVT: voice-over, i.e. the audiovisual translation whereby two soundtracks in two different languages are broadcast at the same time. In her article Voice-over in Audiovisual Translation she describes the technique of translation for voice-over taking into consideration a difference in the process depending on whether the translation takes place during the production or post-production phase and she tries to raise the academic visibility of voice-over in general and voice-over for production of TV and radio programmes in particular.

The final contribution in the Revoicing section of the book is Shibahara’s Broadcasting Interpreting: A Comparison between Japan and the UK, which focuses on interpreting as an audiovisual translation mode and addresses the question of conformity to different house rules. In particular, Shibahara discusses the term ‘broadcasting interpreter’ and its differences between Japan and the UK. He draws on his own experience to describe the interpreting style, policy and quality control procedures at the BBC Japanese Unit and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) and he also discusses the advantages and disadvantages of working as a full-time member of staff and as a freelance interpreter.

Part III of the volume is centred on Accessibility to the Media, which refers to the access to audiovisual media by minority social groups such as the deaf and the blind. Neves in Interlingual Subtitling for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing attempts to set the record straight and show that SDH is not intralingual subtitling, that the deaf and the hard-of-hearing (HoH) are not the same group and that these specially conceived subtitles are not for hearing impaired viewers alone, but can prove of particular help to less proficient readers. She also claims that with the help of digital and interactive television, it is essential to produce multiple solutions (dubbing, interlingual subtitles, interlingual and intralingual SDH, adapted subtitling) for each audiovisual programme so that the needs of different audiences are addressed.  

Holland in his contribution Audio Description in the Theatre and the Visual Arts: Images into Words talks about the other main technique, i.e. Audio Description, which offers access to viewers with disabilities, and in particular viewers who are blind or visually impaired. He provides a clear account of the role of audio-describers, the problems which they often have to face during the process and their effective training. He mainly focuses on audio description for the theatre and he posits that a good audio-describer must aim at integrating the description “so that it becomes part of the artistic experience, rather than keeping that experience at arm’s length”.

De Bortoli and Ortiz-Sotomayor discuss the rather limited success as well as the problems faced by big international companies when they translate their English websites into the languages of the main foreign markets. In their article Usability and Website Localization they claim that successful localisation does not only involve the translation of content but also the addressing of cultural challenges which requires professionals with expertise in a variety of fields, including user-centred design, Human Computer Interaction (HCI), psychology and linguistics. 

Part IV, an overview of the education and training practices in the field of subtitling, concludes the volume. In his contribution Teaching Screen Translation: The Role of Pragmatics in Subtitling, Skuggevik focuses on the sensitivity of the subtitler and provides students and trainers with underused tools to break down the constituents of the dialogue of the original and the subtitles of the translated programme. Drawing from Grice’s (1975) Speech Act theory and Jakobson’s (1960) six functions of communication he identifies five levels of subtitling competence, i.e. technical competence, linguistic competence, understanding of social and cultural aspects, comprehension of the psychological or emotional dimension inherent in the action that accompanies the spoken words and the balance between action, meaning and words. He then proposes an analysis of communication that enables us to quantify more closely the constituents of subtitling.

In Pedagogical Tools for the Training of Subtitlers, Taylor discusses the ways in which Thibault and Baldry’s (2000) multimodal transcription allows for the minute description of film texts, thus helping subtitlers to make translation choices on the basis of the meaning which is already provided by other semiotic modalities contained in the text such as visual elements, music, colour and camera positioning. This particular process has proved to be an excellent pedagogical tool. A second stage in the research has led to the creation of transcriptions based on phasal analysis, the division of film texts into phases and sub-phase, following the ideas of Gregory (2002). This constitutes the basis for a thorough analysis of any film text and a valuable pedagogical tool for film translation.

Bartrina in her article Teaching Subtitling in a Virtual Environment points out that given the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tutors need to transfer teaching skills from the face-to-face classroom to the virtual environment. In particular, she refers to online subtitling courses and subtitling, dubbing and voice-over computer programs developed by Universities for the purposes of online teaching of AVT. She stresses the fact that when teaching subtitling online, a set of activities needs to be designed aiming at familiarising the student with the whole process and the spatial, temporal and textual parameters involved. Overall, Bartrina’s contribution emphasises the challenge posed by virtual courses to the teaching of subtitling and investigates the ways in which trainers can develop the skills of students via online courses.

The volume’s final contribution is Caimi’s Subtitling: Language Learners’ Needs vs Audiovisual Market Needs, where the author underlines the importance of subtitling for language learning, with a view to bridging the gap between the producers’ budgetary constraints and the linguists’ demand for quality subtitling, in order to meet the needs of the ever growing number of second language learners as well as those of film marketers. 

The articles in this book cover an interesting range of AVT topics and are not restricted to technical issues but go beyond those to cover pedagogical aspects and the reality of AVT through the growing use of cutting-edge technology. What is more, the editors' aim, which was to underline the importance of AV and provide an overview of the many different ways in which audiovisual programmes cross linguistic barriers and frontiers, was clearly achieved. It should be noted, however, that more articles on the areas of SDH and AD would have been welcome, since accessibility to the media is still very much in the making and would benefit from further reflections and observations. Overall, the book combines practice-led and research-based contributions and provides much-needed information on all current developments in the area of AVT. As a result, it undeniably fills a gap and is of great interest to students, trainers, professionals as well as to scholars. A keyword index is also a plus since it enhances the informative character of the book.


  • Gregory, Michael (2002) “Phasal Analysis within communication linguistics: two contrastive discourse.” Petr Fries et al (eds) Relations and Functions within and Around Language.London: Continuum, 316-345.
  • Grice, Herbert Paul (1975) “Logic and Conversation.” Peter Cole and Jerry Morgan (eds.) Syntax and Semantics. New York: Academic Press, 41-58.
  • Jacobson, Roman (1960) “Closing Statement: linguistics and poetics.” Ricahrd DeGeorge and Fernande DeGeorge (eds) (1972). The Structuralists: From Marx to Levi-Strauss. New York: Anchor Books, 85-122
  • Thibault, Paul and Baldry, Anthony (2000) “The multimodal transcription of a television advertisement: theory and practice.”  Anthony Baldry (ed.) Mutimodality and Multimediality in the Distance Learning Age. Campobasso: Palladino Editore, 311-385.
  • Toury, Gideon (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Vilelmini Sosoni, Athens Metropolitan College, Greece