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Frederic Chaume (2012). Audiovisual Translation: Dubbing.

Manchester, St Jerome: pp. 208, £30, ISBN 978-1-905763-91-7.

Much has already been written about dubbing, to tell the truth, which is totally understandable due to the fact that “Dubbing is one of the major modes of screen or audiovisual translation carried out all over the world” (1). However, it seemed that the ultimate book on dubbing was yet to be published, but this one could be it. Just as it happened with subtitling and the book published by Díaz-Cintas and Remael in 2007, St Jerome presents what definitely seems to be another cornerstone of the audiovisual translation field. From a translation point of view, Audiovisual Translation: Dubbing most likely includes everything there is to know about this audiovisual translation mode. Fortunately for the reader, in a book of 208 pages Chaume shares every single piece of knowledge about dubbing that he has been gathering throughout his extensive career as a teacher, researcher and translator.

The book is divided into eight chapters, which are summarised as follows:

In Chapter 1, titled “Translation for dubbing”, this mode is defined and also identified as a type of audiovisual translation. Since “Dubbing is just one way to translate audiovisual texts” (3), Chaume focuses on dubbing without losing sight of other essential audiovisual translation modes, such as subtitling and voice-over, and even considers newer expressions that the Internet has brought us, such as fan/fundubbing. He also takes us on a tour to explain to us the presence and weight of dubbing not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world. After summarising the history of dubbing, the chapter ends with a section devoted to dubbing quality standards, and relevant issues such as lip-sync, the coherence between images and words, the concept of loyalty, sound quality and acting are also addressed.   

In the second chapter, “The professional environment”, Chaume considers some aspects often neglected in academic papers on dubbing: those related to the profession. Thus, he pays attention to different issues which are  undeniably of particular interest to those aiming to become dubbing professionals. The current market is examined, and some tips to “get a foot in the market” (24) are provided. Besides, Chaume gives some relatively updated indications on different average rates in several European countries. Next, the dubbing process is explained thoroughly, and the different professionals who take part in every stage are also taken into account. Then, the focus lies on the translator’s task, since “the idea of this handbook is to prepare the future translator to carry out all the tasks the dubbing industry requires” (37). This chapter finishes with some considerations on globalisation and localisation and training. As regards  this last aspect, Chaume suggests that “dialogue writing can be best done by the translators themselves” (44), and advocates for it to be taught in universities.

Chapter 3, “Text segmenting and dubbing symbols”, starts by identifying takes or loops as the dubbing units, and from that assumption Chaume develops his discussion “to introduce the reader to some of the ways translations are segmented for dubbing” (46). Differences in layout, take segmentations and dubbing symbols in as many as seven countries are explored, revealing that “the dubbing industry is still very conservative, and resistant to change and homogenisation of its practices” (46).     

Chapter 4, “Synchronization or lip-sync: Read my lips”, is devoted to probably the most defining characteristic of dubbing: synchronisation. First, synchronisation is defined as “the process of matching a target language translation to the screen actors’ body and articulatory movements in a recording made in a dubbing studio” (67). Then, some voices on this particular issue are exposed, thus providing a complete portrait of this (basically) technical aspect. Chaume also looks at the different types of visual synchronisation (the acoustic synchronisation explained by Whitman-Linsen, 1992, is not considered on this occasion): lip synchrony, kinesic synchrony and isochrony. In the final part of this chapter, Chaume accounts for the different degrees of synchronisation implementation and demand depending on different factors such as the genre or text type, the languages in contact, the translation brief and the viewer.

In Chapter 5, “The language of dubbing: a matter of compromise”, Chaume offers a complete analysis of the language used in dubbing (dubbese), which shows certain characteristics that differentiate it from other kinds of discourse, the most notable being the balance between planned and spontaneous speech that results in “an orality which may seem spontaneous and natural, but which is actually planned or [...] feigned, false, prefabricated” (82). The linguistic and translation issues of this type of language are explained, and an analytical model for the study of prefabricated orality is proposed. The chapter ends with a case study based on calques.

Chapter 6, “The specific nature of AVT: acoustic and visual dimensions”, focuses on the two aspects that define audiovisual translation: sound and image, since “[a]n audiovisual text is a semiotic construct woven by a series of signifying codes that operate simultaneously to produce meaning” (100). Thus, on the one hand, Chaume pays attention to paralinguistic features, songs, special effects, the soundtrack and off- and on-screen sound. On the other hand, he considers the language and style of images, types of shots, body language, text on screen and editing.

In Chapter 7, “Translation issues”, Chaume turns his attention to some general translation problems and to some others which are typical of audiovisual texts, making clear that “[t]his chapter does not set out to prescribe the best way to translate certain elements, since in the end, this decision depends on the translator and the translation brief” (121). The original scripts are considered, and then a few lines are devoted to the translation of film titles. The case of the translation of multilingual movies is also dealt with, as well as the translation of language variation. The cultural dimension (cultural and intertextual references) is approached too. This chapter ends with a discussion of two of the probably trickiest aspects in audiovisual translation: humour and ideology.

Even though this book is in fact a handbook, Chaume does not ignore the research side of audiovisual translation, and in the last chapter, “Research in dubbing”, he offers a complete account of research in this particular field with a twofold purpose: “Firstly, [this chapter] reviews the kind of research carried out in audiovisual translation and dubbing to date; secondly it presents a semiotic model of analysis of dubbed texts taking a descriptive approach addressed to researchers, PhD students, MA students, and teachers of AVT” (158).

The book ends with a highly useful glossary of terms used in dubbing and AVT and with the necessary bibliography section. It goes without saying that, being a handbook, each chapter is full of useful exercises for the reader. Besides, it comes with a DVD that includes, for example, scenes in different languages and the appendices.
All in all, Audiovisual Translation: Dubbing is a must-read book if one is to understand what dubbing is all about (that is, from a translation perspective). The activity of dubbing, too often unfairly reviled, reaches new depths in this book which will hopefully help eradicate some misconceptions. Dubbing is deservedly described here as a complex activity that involves not only translation, but also acting and some technical issues. The debate of dubbing vs. subtitling does not make any sense any more, and it is great news that the year 2012 (amidst the subtitling and audio description fever) witnesses the publication of a high level volume entirely devoted to an audiovisual translation mode thanks to which millions of people around the world have access to audiovisual content originally recorded in a language different to their own. Briefly put, books like this one make me feel like shouting: yes, we dub!  

Juan José Martínez-Sierra
Universitat de València