• Mar 20, 2020

Audiovisual translation (1/4)

by Mirco Carlini


In a world like today's, packed with multimedia input, from TV to the so-called over the top multimedia content, i.e. online video platforms such as YouTube but also the endless sea of streaming services such as Netflix, audiovisual translation is increasingly fundamental in ensuring globalized and therefore accessible content to as many people as possible.


What is it?

By definition, audiovisual translation (AVT) is the translation of any content that leverages not only the verbal channel (whether written or spoken) but also the visual channel, and therefore has a polysemiotic dimension. To put it simply, films, TV series, documentaries, but also videos on YouTube, are part of the content that audiovisual translation is concerned with localizing. Compared to "paper" translation, audiovisual translation therefore presents the added difficulty of having to translate content in the target language that is not in itself "complete", but is always accompanied by a video and audio component, i.e. non-verbal elements. This mixture of distinct media channels constitutes an added difficulty for the translator or translator (as if there weren't enough of them already!), who has to make sure that the mix of audio and video elements works and blends as perfectly as in the original product.


When was it born?

It seems rather obvious to say, but the first form of audiovisual content was cinema. Initially, the problem behind audiovisual translation didn't even arise. When the actors in the cinema were not yet speaking, they would rely on exhaggerated expressions or gestures to convey emotions and moods, while the unfolding of the plot or the most important moments were entrusted to the so-called intertitles, (or captions) the forerunners of subtitles. They were screens between two scenes of a film that had the function of "replacing" dialogues between the characters or the narrator's voice. However, since I know you are all smart, you will have understood that the translation of intertitles is not classifiable as an audiovisual translation, since it is in fact a good old written translation. For real subtitles, we would have to wait for the birth of sound cinema. Only with sound cinema comes the need to make the content of the film accessible even to people who could not understand what the characters were saying. Someone, like Warner Bros., initially tried to experiment with shooting the film again with different actors, depending on the language: this creates a series of problems that are not even worth listing, but certainly deserves praise for the ambition. So the two best known forms of audiovisual translation developed in parallel: subtitling and dubbing. From the moment the latter was born, the indignant voices of millions of film fans began to rise up, reaching the present day: "What, you watch dubbed films? I only watch in the original language!" Of course, these are not the only forms of audiovisual translation.


Types of audiovisual translation

According to Gambier (2000) there are as many as 13 types of audiovisual translation and, in addition to the well-known ones, it is certainly worth mentioning the audio description, which consists of a description of a scene for the benefit of visually impaired or blind users, the closed captions, i.e. subtitles for deaf people, which therefore integrate music and sound effects marks within them, and also intralingual subtitles for deaf people, i.e. subtitles in the same language of the film for the hard of hearing (a kind of transcription! ). After this brief introduction, we are going to see 3 of the main forms of audiovisual translation, with their characteristics and translation challenges that come with them:


  • Subtitling
  • Dubbing
  • Voiceover


Until next time!



Mirco Carlini – Translator & Post-editor, Unstoppable reader and videogame lover, he loves peaceful hikes in the mountains as well as relaxing and swimming in the sea.



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