Chapter 7: English and the global perspective

7.3.2 Entertainment translations (synthesis)

Tate Zeman

English 102, February 2021

Throughout all of human history, entertainment has been a staple of society. There was a time, however, when people were unable to enjoy the entertainment and culture of a different society. That time has long passed, as advancements in technology and interest in other cultures have grown tremendously. Food, traditions, art, history, and many other aspects that are vital to a specific culture are being experienced by many other cultures in a great melting pot of societies. An incredibly important piece of any culture’s puzzle would be the shows and movies they create as well. There is much speculation in this area though, as many people believe that others who watch shows or movies from a different culture do not grasp the entire concept of it, or even understand any of it for that matter. The primary purpose of anyone who works in the field of translation of entertainment is to effectively provide the translation while preserving the original intent of the film or show.

There are many dialects and languages that must be incorporated into a single production in order for the work to be enjoyed by a larger audience consisting of multiple cultures. While the cause is just, the effect may sometimes have a negative effect. A specific example comes from an article titled Development of Language Attitudes by Jordan Harden. In this article, Harden discusses how the portrayal of a certain dialect, Hawaiin Pidgin English in this instance, causes a false and negative stigma revolving around the language and its history as a whole. Language discrimination is often viewed as an excusable practice and is commonplace in numerous public settings and workplaces. This practice not only deems a particular dialect as inferior but demeans the speaker of the dialect as well (Harden 2). In the movie “50 First Dates” one of the main characters is a lazy, unmotivated, immature Hawaiin Native. Because he speaks in Hawaiin Pidgin English, a connection is made between the dialect and the personalities of those who speak it. This type of translation is ineffective and damaging to the culture of people who speak Hawaiin Pidgin English as opposed to Standard American English. A lasting effect of this type of translation error is that the dialect and those who speak it are deemed inferior by those who are not exposed to it outside of a Hollywood production (Harden 2). The problem that lies within this when it comes to translating films and shows, is that if the person in charge of the translation does not understand the language and dialect, there will be a continued false perpetuation which destroys the integrity of the production.

In order to watch and follow a show or movie that is in a foreign language one cannot speak or understand, there must be a translation. The translation that must occur only comes in two forms, which are overdubs, and subtitles. Each form is quite literal in its definition, as overdubs are when a studio or group removes the dialogue from the original production and replaces it with another one. Subtitles are when the original audio and dialogue are kept, but there is a written translation on the screen that viewers can read in their own language. In an article written by Tatsuya Fukushima titled Translation Course in Film Subtitling, he states, “The ultimate goal of a film translator is to produce the kind of translation that preserves the cultural identity of the source language while it is optimally accessible to the prospective audience at the same time.” One of the most daunting prospects of film translation is maintaining the original identity of the original production. Enter in the decades-long dispute of over-dubbing versus subtitling. In Fukushima’s article, he provides four critical reasons why subtitling edges out overdubs when it comes to economic viability, technical efficiency, and artistic integrity. The first reason Fukushima provides is that overdubbing from a financial standpoint is much less attractive than subtitling. There must be casting done to select the team of voice actors that will provide the dialogue for the overdub. Factoring in studio time, editing, and the voice actors themselves, overdubbing is generally ten times more expensive than subtitling (Fukushima 59). Second, Fukushima tells how the process of overdubbing is much more time-consuming and intricate than subtitling, due to its high degree of skill and collaboration. A good example of this would be overdubbing a Japanese film in English. Japanese is a syllable timed language, with each syllable occurring in regular intervals. On the other hand, English is a stress-timed language, where each stressed or emphasized syllable occurs randomly. This reason alone causes the out-of-sync dialogue to occasionally distract viewers from the experience (Fukushima 59). Third, Fukushima sheds light on how overdubs tend to cut corners and rewrite the dialogue occasionally to achieve a more accurate depiction of lip-synchronization. Lastly, subtitle advocates defend their stance by contending that by using subtitles instead of overdubs, the cultural and artistic integrity of the foreign film is retained (Fukushima 60). Combining all these points together, Fukushima provides a solid logistical argument that can be incorporated into the subtitles versus overdub debate. Additionally, Fukushima does not forget to mention that advocates for overdubs argue that subtitles force the viewer to read at a pace that is not their own, on top of having to watch and listen. Three cognitive efforts are bound to tire the viewer exponentially faster than just two and will result in the viewer missing out on key components and important events that occur due to their mental fatigue (Fukushima 60).

Despite the numerous pros and cons people have for either subtitles or overdubs, there are certain cultures that will only watch a foreign production if it is dubbed. A book titled Reassessing Dubbing, by Irene Ranzato and Serenella Zanotti tackles many issues and theories regarding overdubbing in modern times. These cultural trends are different in every country, and they are normally based on social, financial, and historical reasons as to why they are so (Ranzato 1). Netflix conducted interviews with their US consumers about preferences when watching foreign films and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of watching with subtitles compared to overdubs. Contrary to that result, 81% of English-speaking countries streamed the German TV series Dark with overdubs. It was also found that those who began watching shows with overdubs were more likely to finish the series than those who watched it with subtitles (Ranzato 4). While much work has gone into overdubbing and the strategies behind it, there has been a steady decrease in the research into it. This is because worldwide interest in subtitles has been increasing, and the two are inverses of each other, so the worldwide interest in dubbing has been trending downward (Ranzato 6). On the other hand, many countries have been flipping their preference and leaning more towards the other side of the discussion than they previously had. Many dubbing countries have begun using subtitles more, whereas countries that primarily use subtitles are beginning to experience the ease of viewing that comes with overdubs (Ranzato 2).  There are some places where broadcasting a show or movie with subtitles in a market where overdubs are popular will lead to audience drops of 30% or more (Ranzato 2).

Focusing on the historical aspect of it, dubbing has long been a symbol of oppression and an efficient censorship tool used by dictators and supreme leaders alike. Often, dubbing is seen as a relic from a disturbing past (Ranzato 6). It has also been the subject of much scrutiny, with Herbert Fielden-Briggs stating, “Dubbing is a lie. You lie from beginning to end. It’s a complete invention, so it can be more or less faithful to a given market” (Ranzato 7). Since many renowned figures in literacy and society have negative opinions on overdubs and are not shy to let it be known, it would make sense that most people would share that opinion and subtitles would be more popular than overdubs. That is not the case in many places. A large number of countries prefer dubbing over subbing, and an even larger number will use overdubs when children are involved. This is a particularly fascinating topic, because each side will die defending their own side, when in reality, it is all a personal choice and should not influence anyone else. In an ideal world, all dubs and subs play out perfectly and are displayed smoothly on the screen. Unfortunately, this world is anything but ideal.

Whether one enjoys their foreign show or movie with subtitles or overdubs, they will not be able to experience it in the way someone of that culture would be able to. Any person who watches with subtitles or overdubs is not a part of that production’s primary audience, and not included in the discourse of that culture. In Gee’s “What Is Literacy,” Gee states how each person is equipped with an “identity kit” for a certain discourse. Whether it comes from learning, acquisition, curiosity, or birth, this “identity kit” places someone with other people of similar interests and skills. The “identity kit” comes with the appropriate characteristics and instructions for one to be grouped in with the members of a particular discourse (Gee 18). Relating to this topic, there is no subtitle discourse versus overdub discourse. The “identity kit” people obtain comes from watching foreign films and shows. The method in which it is viewed is different, but not enough to make the discourses two separate entities. This discourse is a form of communication, and it is not the individuals interacting with each other through the discourse, but rather the discourse interacting with itself and others through individuals (Gee 20).

Works Cited

Fukushima, Tatsuya. “Translation Course in Film Subtitling.” Translation Review,

Gee, James Paul. “What is literacy.” Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning  across languages and cultures (1998): 18-25. Accessed February 25, 2021.

Harden, Jordan. Development of Language Attitudes, 3 Nov. 2019,

Ranzato, Irene. “Reassessing Dubbing.” Google Books, Google,

This is simply a link to a page that illustrates which countries prefer overdubs versus subtitles.

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