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Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2), pp.

211–232 (2004)


Department of English, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb
Ivana Lučića 3, HR-10000 Zagreb, Croatia
Phone: +385-1-6120055

Abstract: Subtitling for television is an area that has only recently found its niche in
Translation Studies. This paper, based on the author’s M.A. research into a corpus of
subtitled material shown on Croatian Television (HRT), is a modest contribution to the
growing sub-field(s) of Translation Studies variously referred to as ‘screen translation’,
‘audiovisual translation’ (AVT) or, more broadly, ‘multimedia translation’. The paper of-
fers a brief survey of the key features of subtitling and then goes on to illustrate how
these may shed light on particular aspects of translation in general. The analysis focuses
on interpersonal relations between the fictional characters of a popular U.S. TV series
(ER) and examines what happens to those relations when the audiovisual source product
is subtitled for the audience of a nationwide, public TV network in south-eastern Europe.
The constraints inherent to the subtitling technique prove useful for isolating particular
pragmatic elements and examining their function in the achievement of the overall com-
municative goal. The analysis focuses on various forms of address, which are examined
in terms of the pragmatic notions of ‘power’ and ‘solidarity’. The approach is a descrip-
tive one, applying the theoretical framework and analytical tools adopted from Hatim and
Mason (1990 and 1997) and Mason (1989).

Key words: subtitling, power, solidarity, forms of address, intentionality, pragmatics


Although subtitling has been used for more than a century now1, it was until re-
cently regarded as the poor relative of translation “proper”, with only a small
amount of research conducted in the area. The few papers that were written
about translation for television and the cinema before 1990 were for the most
part anecdotal, focusing on particular difficulties involved in the translator’s
task. Authors contrasted subtitling with another frequently employed technique
– dubbing – ardently advocating one in favour of the other (e.g., Reid 1977). It
was only in the 1990s that translation scholars began to recognise subtitling as
an area of research in its own right.
As recent bibliographies suggest (Gottlieb 2002; Ivarsson 2004), the past
decade has seen a steady rise in the number of scholarly publications in the field

1585-1923/$ 20.00 © 2004 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest


that has variously been referred to as ‘screen translation’, ‘screen transadapta-

tion’, ‘audiovisual translation’ (AVT) or, even more broadly, ‘multimedia trans-
lation’. This rapidly growing field has expanded to encompass such diverse
types of research areas as live TV interpreting (e.g., Alexieva 1999; Mack 2001;
Jääskeläinen 2003), live interlingual subtitling (den Boer 2001), surtitling op-
eras (Dewolf 2001) and Bible translation for the World Wide Web (Werner
2001). Descriptive research concerned with norms that govern AVT (e.g., Dela-
bastita 1989; Goris 1993; Karamitroglou 2000; Remael 2003) has not precluded
quality concerns (e.g., Gummerus & Paro 2001; Mueller 2001; James 2001;
Díaz Cintas 2001); humour has been a popular topic of interest (e.g., Lorenzo,
Pereira & Xoubanova 2003; Fuentes Luque 2003), but so have punctuation
(Cerón 2001), explicitation (Perego 2003), Anglicisms (Gottlieb 2001a and
2001b), language and translation policies (Danan 1991; Zabalbeascoa, Izard &
Santamaria 2001), foreign-language acquisition (Blane 1996; Van de Poel &
d’Ydewalle 2001) and training for AVT (e.g., Gottlieb 1994; James 1995).
‘Multimedia translation’ has become the subject of conferences and seminars,
as well as university courses at under- and post-graduate levels.
Given the nature of both the (multi)media and translation, it is not surpris-
ing that ‘multimedia translation’ has been an interdisciplinary field, drawing
from a wide range of theories, such as globalisation and postglobalisation com-
munication theories (e.g., Jäckel 2001), reception studies (Jäckel 2001; Fuentes
Luque 2003; Kovačić 1995; Gottlieb 1995), relevance theory and other prag-
matically-oriented theories (Mason 1989; Kovačić 1994; Hatim & Mason 1997;
Agost Canós 1999), social sciences and cultural studies (e.g., Delabastita 1989;
Di Giovanni 2003), social psychology (Remael 2003), deaf studies (de Linde &
Kay 1999; Franco & Santiago Araújo 2003) and so forth. This inter- and multi-
disciplinarity has created some terminological and conceptual confusion, which
has in turn led to subsequent attempts at systematisation and classification of
basic concepts and types of AVT (Gottlieb 1994 and 2001b; Gambier 1994 and
2003; Gambier & Gottlieb 2001; Cattrysse 2001). In recent years, scholars have
also felt the need to address the important issue of research methodology (e.g.,
Karamitroglou 2000; Cattrysse 2001; Taylor 2003), as well as the specificities
and aims of the budding field of research (e.g., Pym 2001; Cattrysse 2001; Re-
mael 2001).
Considering the width and depth of the field of multimedia translation, this
paper is a very modest contribution. It focuses on the interpersonal relations be-
tween the fictional characters of a popular U.S. TV series and examines what
happens to those relations when the audiovisual source product is subtitled for
an audience of a nationwide, public TV network. The study was originally part
of my M.A. research, in which I analysed a 2000-subtitle corpus2 by adopting
the theoretical framework and analytical tools from Hatim and Mason (1990
and 1997) and Mason (1989). In this paper I focus on the pragmatic dimension

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


– on our ability to “do things with words” (Austin 1962) – on forms of address
in particular, and examine them in terms of power and solidarity3. It has often
been claimed that interpersonal dimensions of speech tend to get lost in subti-
tling4, but very few studies (e.g., Mason 1989; Remael 2003; Pavlović 2002–
2003) have been dedicated to a thorough analysis of what exactly, and how
much, gets lost and what possible effects those losses might have. First, some of
the major issues regarding subtitling will follow.


If we accept that ‘every translational act forces the translator to make priorities’
(Gottlieb 2001:19), we also have to accept that the constraints of interlingual
TV subtitling are different from those of other types of translation. For a sub-
titler translating television feature films and series (‘TVF/S texts’), the question
of priority is closely related to the specific features of the subtitling technique,
the most important of which are the following:

ƒ The constraints of available time and space, requiring reduction and adap-
tation of the source text (ST);
ƒ The requirement to match the target text (TT) with the language compo-
nent, the picture component and the sound component of the source
product, which is a polysemiotic text (PST);
ƒ The co-occurrence of the original (Gottlieb 2001:12);
ƒ The mode shift from speech to writing;
ƒ The existence of two sets of participants in the communication act (Hatim
& Mason 1997:83)5.

These factors place exacting and often conflicting demands on the transla-
tor and his or her choices, which is why we should comment briefly on the most
relevant ones before any concrete analysis can take place.

2.1. Constraints of Time and Space

The main goal of TV subtitling, which is one of the techniques6 employed in the
translation of television products, is to enable the viewers to watch the pro-
gramme originally created in a language they do not understand, or do not un-
derstand well enough. A TV subtitle consists of one or two (occasionally three)
lines of translation, mostly in white or yellowish letters against a darker back-
ground, appearing near the bottom of the screen simultaneously with the source
text and its accompanying moving image. The number of characters allowed per

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


each subtitle depends on the equipment used in the process. On Croatian Televi-
sion (HRT) it is up to 33 characters per line (including spaces), that is, 66 char-
acters of centred text per subtitle.
Another type of constraint is that of available time. It is usually said that a
subtitle should remain on the screen for at least two seconds, while a two-line,
“full” subtitle should not disappear before six seconds have expired. A subtitle
should remain on the screen long enough – for obvious reasons – but not much
longer than necessary. The latter is just as important as the former: a subtitle
staying on the screen for too long can be as irritating as that which disappears
before one has had a chance to grasp its content. Furthermore, the reception of a
TVF/S text is a linear activity, in the sense that textual elements appear one af-
ter another in a sequence of time. The possibility of returning to preceding ele-
ments, which characterises the reception of written texts in general – and even
of translated films on video tapes – is not an option here.7 For this reason the
subtitler must make painstaking efforts to ensure maximum coherence and re-
trievability of meaning for the end receiver, who does not get a second chance
once the soundtrack dialogue and its correspondent subtitles have moved on. To
do this in the very limited time and space available to the subtitler requires no
small amount of skill and ingenuity.

2.2. Polysemiotic Text

Another factor governing the subtitling technique has to do with the nature of
the television product as a ‘polysemiotic text’ (PST). The latter notion refers to
the fact that what TV audiences receive via the audio-visual medium is a text
consisting of a variety of audio and visual, verbal and non-verbal components,
all of which stand in a complex relationship with both one another and the sub-
titled TT. In translating the verbal component of a PST, coherence is required
not only between the subtitled text and the verbal component of the source text,
but also between the subtitled text and the elements/signs/values of the non-
verbal components.
For the subtitler, the most important component is the verbal (linguistic)
component, which is mostly spoken (oral), but occasionally also written. Al-
though the non-verbal (extralinguistic) component, which includes the visual
image, sounds, music, etc., is normally not translated as such, it is very closely
connected to the translator’s task, precisely because the verbal component is
only one – and arguably not even the most important – component of the
polysemiotic text. Matching the subtitled text to what the audience can see on
the screen may be relatively simple most of the time, with the moving image ac-
tually benefiting the translator and enabling him or her to reduce the ST with lit-
tle or no loss to the end receiver. Gottlieb (2001:47), for instance, claims that

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


‘fully benefiting from the polysemiotic nature of television, the necessary quan-
titative reduction of the dialog can be reached with only minor qualitative losses
in stylistic and/or denotative information’.
However, the picture component can create additional constraints, not the
least important of which is the requirement of allowing the viewers enough time
to watch what is happening on the screen rather than have to spend all their time
reading the subtitles. According to Gottlieb (2001:48), ‘the time left for non-
verbal viewing should match the time spent reading’. This means that the TT
needs to be not only shorter8 than the ST, but also clearer, more readable and
more coherent9. The translator must adapt the cohesion strategies to the con-
ciseness of the TT in such a way as to ensure maximum retrievability of mean-
ing for the end receiver. Cohesion devices, such as recurrence, which is nor-
mally motivated in TVF/S texts, are often a luxury the subtitler cannot afford to
preserve in the TT. ‘Face-saving strategies’ (Brown and Levinson 1987) and
other pragmatic devices tend to rest on circumlocution, or the use of many
words, which is why they are among those elements that may suffer in the proc-
ess of subtitling (Pavlović 2002–2003).
Another type of problem arises when there is a play on words hinging on
the connection between the language component and the visual image, which
requires a fair degree of ingenuity on the part of the subtitler10. Modern technol-
ogy may enable translators to bypass this problem by manipulating the original
picture, although this type of intervention has caused some authors (e.g., Gam-
bier 2003:179 and 181) to wonder about the ethical issues involved.
Virtually all authors writing about AVT mention the polysemiotic nature of
TV products as a key factor, but few empirical studies have dealt with this as-
pect thoroughly enough to provide us with analytical tools necessary for serious
investigation. Taylor (2003) has applied to subtitling a model that may prove to
be useful for future studies in this direction. For the time being, my references
to the relationship between the verbal and non-verbal codes as well as between
the sound and picture components remain rather impressionistic.

2.3. Mode Shift

Translation into subtitles also involves a shift in ‘mode’ from speech to writing.
‘Mode’ here refers to that aspect of register describing the medium selected for
language activity. The ‘mode’ of TVF/S texts is mainly spoken and only spo-
radically written.11 The ‘mode’ of subtitled translation is by definition written.
The resulting mode shift is an important and relatively well-documented aspect
of subtitling, especially insofar as it affects other aspects of register, such as
‘tenor’12, features of dialect, sociolect, tonal register, etc. A prominent tenor-
related feature of a subtitled translation is neutralisation or levelling in the TT of

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


various kinds of ST tenor. This is due primarily to the mode shift from speech
to writing, but also to the nature of television as a means of mass communica-
What we are interested in here are the features of register in the service of
interpersonal pragmatics of fictional characters or, other words, how this mode
shift affects the pragmatic dimension of context.

2.4. Two Sets of Participants

If we define texts as acts of communication, the same can be said of TV texts.

What makes a TV text, particularly a ‘TVF/S text’, interesting is the existence
of two sets of participants in communication.13 Writing about subtitling for the
cinema, Hatim and Mason (1997:83) provide a useful scheme for looking at the
communicative situation of a film dialogue, as shown below:

TVF/S texts: participants in communication according to Hatim and Mason


• Text producer 1 = scriptwriter (film producer, director, etc.)

• Text producer 2 = character A on screen
• Text receiver 1 = character B on screen
• Text receiver 2 = viewer(s)
• (Text receiver 3 = other potential receivers, such as programme edi-
tors, censors, etc.)

If the text is encoded in a language that the end receiver does not under-
stand, the situation is made all the more complex by the existence of an addi-
tional participant in communication, the translator. The translator’s task is to
‘preserve the coherence of communication between addressees on screen at the
same time as relaying a coherent discourse from screenwriter to mass auditors’
(Hatim & Mason 1997:84).


When considering forms of address, it is particularly important to bear in mind

the scheme shown above. Two kinds of intentionality can be discerned in every
TVF/S text: one operating on the level of communication between the fictional
characters on screen, and the other on the level of communication between the
scriptwriter and the viewer. If, for instance, character A addresses character B
as ‘Mr. Smith’ and not ‘Kevin’, on the level of communication between the

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


characters, the form of address may signal a certain ‘distance’ or ‘status’, re-
spect, or even irony. On the level of communication between the script-
writer/director and the viewer, the form of address contributes to the characteri-
sation of the fictional characters and their relationship. The scriptwriter’s inten-
tion can be as banal as introducing a character that appears on screen for the
first time. The intentions of text producer 1 and text producer 2 (scriptwriter and
character A) can, but often do not, coincide. The translator frequently finds
him/herself torn between the two conflicting demands, and has to decide which
of the two levels of intentionality to preserve. I would like to suggest that in
situations of conflicting loyalty, the subtitler’s aim to establish coherence for
the end receiver (the viewer), conveying the scriptwriter’s intention – if differ-
ent from that of character A – tends to take top priority.

3.1. Communication between the First Producer and the End


The first producer (the scriptwriter) will tend to introduce the characters early
on in the film or series, usually the first time they appear on the screen, fre-
quently by having other characters address them by name. This is a standard – if
not very ingenious – procedure adopted in TVF/S texts. The subtitler will fol-
low suit and include the characters’ names in the TT in order to introduce them
to the TT receivers. What now seems a waste of character spaces – always a hot
commodity in this type of translation – will prove to have been a profitable in-
vestment in all the later scenes featuring the same character, when his or her
name can safely be omitted.

Sample 1

Erica: What is it, Što je, Jeannette? – What is it, Jeannette? UW

Jeannette? Upoznala sam jednog – I met a man. – Terrific! 035
Jeannette: I met a man. muškarca. – Divno!
Erica: Well, that’s terrific!

The character Jeannette from Sample 1 appears for the first time in the sub-
title UW 03514 and the viewers are not familiar with her name. In order to en-
sure unhindered communication between the first producer and the end receiver,
the translator will make an investment in the form of precious character spaces
to include the name in the vocative position in the TT. Due to the constraints of
time and space discussed above, the name of a character that has already ap-
peared on screen and has once been introduced to TT viewers in this way need
not be mentioned again for purposes of identification. This is especially true if

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


the omission means extra space for preserving other, more important elements.
The ‘co-text’15 and ‘internal intertextuality’16, together with the picture compo-
nent and the sound component of the TV product, help the subtitler to preserve
coherence for the end receiver and facilitate the retrieval of this information
without its being explicitly mentioned.
In Sample 2, taken from ‘ER’, the translator has left out the name in the
vocative position because the viewers are familiar with the character and the
picture component allows them to see who Hathaway is addressing. Further-
more, the sound component will allow most viewers to hear the familiar name
she mentions. For these reasons, names in the vocative position that do not ap-
pear to have a vital identification role tend to be among those elements that are
likely to be omitted if condensation is required:

Sample 2

Ross: So, they do this thing Kuhaju školjke u umaku od They do sea-shells in a wine ER
with scallops and a vina. sauce. – What is this lunch 082
white wine sauce – Kojim je povodom taj about?
that... ručak?
Hathaway: Doug, what is this
lunch about?

It would however, be wrong to assume that the name has no function other
than to identify the addressee. Hathaway interrupts Ross’s description of the
sumptuous meal to find out about his cause for celebration, something he is not
willing to divulge before they meet at lunch. ‘Doug’ could here be interpreted
as “Wait a minute”, “Hold on”, “Tell me”, “I’m not interested in what they
serve.” In fact, if there were enough space in the subtitle, the item would proba-
bly be more functionally translated as “Čekaj” (“Wait”), “Stani” (“Hold on”), or
“Reci mi” (“Tell me”), rather than “Doug”. As a result of the omission, Hatha-
way’s question in the subtitle sounds disinterested or even bored. Obviously, the
end receiver will retrieve her interest and curiosity from the picture component,
and to some extent also from her intonation. To an attentive viewer, the sound
component might even reveal the fact that she interrupted him, which is not ap-
parent from the ‘normalised’ subtitle. This is due to the mode shift discussed
above: the TT is a written text, and as such tends to be more polished; hence no
sign of Ross’s unfinished sentence.
Let us now consider another type of situation in which a name in the voca-
tive position has been included in the TT in order to preserve coherence for the
end receiver:

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


Sample 3

Carter: What?
Randi: You’re starting to look Što je? – Dobivate mitski What is it? – You're ER
kind of mythical. zgled. starting to look 047
Weaver: Carter, Curtain Four, – Cartere, starica s mythical. – Carter, an
LOL, weak and dizzy. vrtoglavicom. old lady with dizziness.

In ER 047, Carter is talking to Randi when Weaver approaches. There are

two potential fictional receivers of what Weaver is about to say: Carter and
Randi. The name Carter needs to be mentioned for the benefit of the end re-
ceivers as much as it does for the benefit of Carter and Randi in the fictional
world. The speed of the exchange prevents the translator from dividing the TT
into two separate subtitles, and the result is a single subtitle comprising dis-
course from all three characters. While the end receivers can easily guess that
the line about mythical appearance is directed at Carter – who is seen on the
screen sporting a Zeus-like beard – the additional line from Weaver, without the
form of address, would probably perplex even the most attentive of viewers.17
On the other hand, the element ‘Curtain Four’ has been omitted in the sub-
titled TT, although it is quite clear that in the fictional world the information
about the patient’s whereabouts is of the essence. It is important to Carter, who
without it would not know where to find the patient he has to examine; it is less
important – or even completely irrelevant – to the end receivers, who can safely
assume that the patient has been admitted to ER, and who can rest assured that
Carter will find her without their help. What the end receivers will want to
know are the details about the newly admitted patient – ‘LOL, weak and dizzy’.
As Croatian has no equivalent shorthand for ‘little old lady’ in the medical jar-
gon, the translator had to use seven character spaces for the equivalent of ‘old
lady’ (‘starica’), and the Croatian word for dizziness is unfortunately rather long
(11 spaces). That, with the name Carter identifying the addressee, leaves no
room for the less important information about Curtain Four. Here is another ex-
Sample 4

Rachel: Hello? Oh, hi, mom. I Bog, mama. Hi, mom. ER

(on the just knew it was you. Znala sam da si ti. I knew it was you. 018
phone) Yeah.

In Sample 4, the conversation takes place over the telephone, i.e., without
the benefit of the picture component. Again we can conclude that the ST uses
the address ‘mom’ as much for the sake of the end receiver, as it does in the

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


phatic function of inter-personal relations between mother and daughter. The

translator has decided to include the element, without which the viewers would
not know whom Rachel is addressing.

3.2. Forms of Address as ‘Solidarity’

So far we have discussed the omission or inclusion of names in the vocative po-
sition serving the intentionality of the communication between the first pro-
ducer and the end receiver. What is more interesting, however, is to look at the
use of particular forms of address in interpersonal relations among the fictional
characters, in terms of ‘politeness’, ‘power’ and ‘solidarity’, ‘distance’ and
‘role’.18 Forms of address become pragmatic devices that the characters use to
‘do things with words’. We will try to show to what extent the pragmatic indica-
tors are lost in subtitling and what effects that loss may have on the pragmatics
of interpersonal relations between the fictional characters.
In Sample 5, the conversation is between Weaver and Anspaugh. Weaver is
acting chief of ER, doing her best to become permanent chief. Anspaugh is in-
volved in the process of selecting the right person for the position. In this scene,
he has just informed Weaver that her status has been changed from ‘acting’ to
‘interim’. As the scene unfolds, and especially in later scenes in which this issue
is taken up, it becomes more and more evident that someone other than Weaver
will be appointed. Here, however, Weaver is trying to win Anspaugh over in a
relatively subtle way. Since she is in no position to exercise ‘power’ over him,
as she does over the subordinate ER staff (see Sample 9), her strongest card is
‘solidarity’, and she attempts to reduce ‘distance’ between them. One of the de-
vices she uses is the form of address.
In ER 027 Weaver addresses Anspaugh by his first name, which is an un-
ambiguous signal of ‘solidarity’ or, in this case, her attempt to emphasise
‘equality’ and ‘closeness’ between them. Anspaugh is the first to use the same
device (‘Kerry’) in ER 026, but for a different motive: to soften the blow, or at-
tenuate what she might perceive as a ‘face threatening act’19 and what he in fact
knows to be bad news for her. An attenuator can be found at the beginning of
his sentence (‘So, uh…’), and another conventional down-toner (‘actually’) ap-
pears at the end of the scene’s final sentence. These indicators, together with the
tentativeness of expression (‘around the table we felt…’), signal Anspaugh’s at-
tempts to save Weaver’s ‘face’. The element ‘Kerry’ is a lifebelt of sorts, mean-
ing more or less the following: ‘I do rank above you in the hospital’s hierarchy
and I bring you bad tidings, but we are friends and everything is all right.’ By
using the element ‘Don’ in return, Weaver accepts the lifebelt and underlines
the equality between them.

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


Sample 5

Weaver: Interim? ER
Anspaugh: Yes. Privremeno? – Da. Interim? – Yes. 023
Weaver: Well, has there been Ima li promjena u Are there any changes in ER
any change in my mojim dužnostima? – Nema. my responsibilities? – No. 024
Anspaugh: No. It’s just around Samo smo smatrali da je We only felt that the ER
the table we felt that izraz privremen točniji. expression interim was 025
“interim” was a more more accurate.
accurate term.
Anspaugh: So, uh... you’re the I sad si privremena And now you* are the ER
Interim Chief, Kerry. šefica. –Dobro. interim chief. – Fine. 026
Weaver: Fine. But, you know, ER
Don, it has been over Ali Morgenstern je dao But Morgenstern resigned 027
ninety days since Dr. more than 90 days ago.
Morgenstern otkaz prije više od 90 dana.
Anspaugh: Then policy dictates Tad propisi nalažu Then policy dictates the ER
that a permanent imenovanje stalnog šefa. To appointment of a 028
chief be named. It’s je u postupku permanent chief. It's in the
all in the process. process.
Anspaugh: We’ve put out feelers. Raspitali smo se i zasad We've asked around and ER
And thus far we have imamo četiri sjajna so far we have four 029
four outstanding kandidata. outstanding candidates.
Anspaugh: We’re forming a Upravo osnivamo odbor. – We're just forming a ER
committee right now. Četiri kandidata uključujući committee. – Four 030
Weaver: So, four candidates mene? candidates including me?
including me?
Anspaugh: Actually, you make it Zapravo, pet s tobom. Actually, five including ER
five. you*. 031

In the Croatian language, the ‘power and solidarity’ indicators are to be

found in the so-called ‘pronouns of power and solidarity’20, or T- and V-forms
of address21, rather than in the choice between the first and last names. But
Croatian is, like Spanish, among those languages that can easily omit the pro-
noun, so the indicator of the T- versus V-form of address is often to be extracted
from the form of the verb. In Sample 5, the TT indicator appears immediately in
the case of Anspaugh’s ‘Kerry’ (‘I sad si privremena šefica’, where ‘si’ is the
contracted second person singular form of the verb ‘to be’), but is conspicu-

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


ously absent from her reply and appears much later, at the end of their conversa-
tion, in ER 035 (‘Pomoći će ti da odlučiš treba li postati stalni pedijatar’ – ‘This
will help you (T-form) decide (T-form) whether or not he should be made At-
tending Paediatrician’.). The inter-personal pragmatics of solidarity would have
been better preserved if the indicator had been included in the TT where it ap-
peared in the ST – immediately after Anspaugh’s ‘Kerry’, as these two elements
are closely connected. There is not much elbow-room in ER 027, but a few
character spaces could be gained if another, less important and better known
element were contracted (‘dao otkaz’ → ‘otišao’ – ‘resigned’ → ‘left’), and a
verb in T-form squeezed in:

Sample 6

Ali znaš da je Morgenstern But you know that Morgenstern left more than
otišao prije više od 90 dana. 90 days ago.
Ali znaš da je prošlo 90 dana otkako je But you know that it's been 90 days since
Morgenstern otišao. Morgenstern left.

In this latter solution, the most important element ‘90 days’ appears early
on in the sentence, which is rather good. Both our solutions, however, are more
explicit and therefore longer than that in ER 027 and it is arguable whether the
gain in ‘effectiveness’ is worth the loss in ‘efficiency’.22

Sample 7

Malik: I got his legs. Lucy, get Držim mu noge. Lucy, I got his legs. Lucy, get* his ER
his left arm! primite lijevu ruku! - left arm! – I’ll get the 118
Hathaway: I’ll get the restraints! Idem po remenje. restraints.

Lucy: He’s tied! Vezan je! – Lucy, He's tied! – Lucy, look*. ER
Greene: Okay, Lucy, take a pogledajte. Vrh noža je The tip of the blade's in 124
look. Tip of the blade’s u orofarinksu. the oropharynx.
in the oropharynx. (*V-form)

Greene: Carol, can you come ER

over here and hold his Carol, drži mu glavu da Carol, hold* his head so 123
head? I want to look in mu pogledam usta. Zinite, that I can look in the
the mouth. Sir, I need you molim mouth. Open wide,
to open your mouth. please.

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


The first-name address in an English ST does not necessarily imply the use
of T-form in Croatian. Rather than transfer automatically, the translator assesses
the interpersonal relations between the characters in terms of ‘power’ and ‘soli-
darity’, ‘role’ and ‘distance’, as illustrated in Samples 7 and 8.
In ER 118, Malik is a nurse and Lucy an intern, a future doctor. In ER 124,
the intern Lucy is addressed by Greene, a doctor, and in ER 123 Greene ad-
dresses a nurse, Carol. All names have been included in the TT because the
scene features a large number of characters and the end receiver needs to know
who is talking to whom (cf. Sample 3). But the pragmatic indicators are to be
found elsewhere, in the T- or V-forms of address, as these are the signals of in-
terpersonal pragmatics in the target culture. In this episode, Lucy has joined the
ER staff relatively recently, which, together with her ‘role’, is the reason every-
one uses the V-form to address her (‘primite’, ‘pogledajte’). Carol and Greene
have been working together for a long time, which must have been an overrid-
ing factor in the translator’s decision to have them address each other using the
T-form (‘drži’) despite the difference in their ‘roles’ (‘nurse’ and ‘doctor’).23

Sample 8

Roxanne: Dr. Carter, do you Dr. Carter, sjećate me se? Dr. Carter, remember* ER
remember me? me? (*V-form) 088

Carter: Sure. Hop up here. Svakako. Sjednite ovamo. Sure. Sit* up here. ER
(*V-form) 093

Roxanne: Oh, whatever you Kako vi kažete, Whatever you say*, Dr. ER
say, Dr. Carter. dr. Carter. Carter. (*V-form) 101

Roxanne: I can live anywhere Mogu živjeti svagdje ako I can live anywhere if I've ER
as long as I’ve got imam glazbu. – Doista to got music. – You really 453
music. znaš učiniti? know* how to do this?
Carter: Are you sure you’re (*T-form)
up for this?
Roxanne: I told you I worked Radila sam za Best Buy. I've worked for Best Buy. I ER
for Best Buy. Cijele sam dane slagala linije. assembled systems all day 454
I assembled systems Daj mi. long. Give* me that.
all day long. Come (*T-form)
on. What have you

The interpersonal relations can change during the course of a movie or a se-
ries, especially regarding their ‘distance’. This is reflected in the use of prag-

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


matic indicators, as shown in Sample 8. The first three subtitles are from a scene
at the beginning of the episode, and the remaining two from the last scene, in
which Carter and Roxanne are in Carter’s apartment.
The ST indicators of ‘distance’ in the first scene are to be found in Rox-
anne’s addressing Carter as ‘Dr. Carter’, and the TT has both Roxanne and
Carter using the V-form of address apparent in the verb form (‘sjećate’, ‘sjed-
nite’, ‘kažete’). The latter scene has no first-name indicators in the ST, but the
translator has naturally switched to the T-form (‘znaš’, ‘daj’), judging that the
distance between the two characters has been reduced as their relationship de-
In addition to the use of names and T- or V-forms, other forms of address
are employed to reduce ‘distance’ and enforce ‘solidarity’.

Sample 9

Dana: If they amputate, is it Ako amputiraju, je l If they amputate, is it ER

certain I’ll live? sigurno da ću ostati živa? certain that I'll live? 381
Ross: No. Nije. No. ER
Ross: But it’s your best shot, Ali imaš najveće izglede. But you have the biggest ER
kiddo. chance. 383
Ross: If you were my daughter, Da si moja kći, pokušao If you were my daughter, I ER
I would try to persuade bih te uvjeriti da to učiniš. would try to persuade you 384
you to do it. to do it.

In the scene featuring Dr. Ross and Dana, a girl who has been diagnosed
with a malignant disease, Ross uses an affectionate term (‘kiddo’) to establish
solidarity and reduce the distance. The attempt is also apparent in the whole of
his next sentence beginning with ‘If you were my daughter…’. In the transla-
tion, the affectionate term has disappeared, and intentionality relies on the con-
tent of ER 384, as well as on the picture and the sound components.

3.3. Forms of Address as ‘Power’

The dynamics of ‘distance’, ‘role’ and ‘power’ are apparent in the forms of ad-
dress in the scene from Sample 10 featuring Weaver, interim chief of ER, and
Carter, a resident (only relevant subtitles are given):
Carter addresses Weaver using her title and surname (‘Dr. Weaver’), ac-
knowledging her ‘role’ and ‘power’. By contrast, she uses only his surname,
which is reserved for two possible situations in English: either between equals
(e.g., two men who went to school together), or to address a subordinate

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


Sample 10

Carter: Dr. Weaver? Dr. Weaver? –What is it? – ER

Weaver: What do you want, Dr. Weaver? -Što je? – I want to tell you* about 337
Carter? Želim vam reći o the patient in One. (*V-
pacijentici u jedinici. form)
Carter: I wanted to tell you
what’s going on with
that patient in Trauma

Weaver: She can’t stay in the ER

ER. Either get her Ne može ostati. Ili je She can't stay. Either 340
admitted or get her primite, ili preselite. – admit* her or transfer*
transferred. Intubirana je. her. – She's intubated.
Carter: Well, she’s... she’s (*V-forms)
intubated. So, she’s not
stable for transfer.
Weaver: You know what, Ako želite biti If you want* to be chief ER
Carter? If you want to glavni specijalizant, resident, 341
be chief resident, (*V-form)
Weaver: you can’t continue to ne tražite da vam don't ask* me to solve ER
run to me when things ja rješavam probleme! your problems! (*V-form) 342
don’t work out.
Weaver: Deal with this yourself. Rješavajte ih sami! Solve* them yourself! ER
Improve your problem- Randi, Randi, get me Dr. 343
solving skills. Randi! nazovi mi dr. Anspaugh!
Get me Dr. Anspaugh! Anspaugha! (*V-form)

(teacher to pupil, in the army, etc.). The difference in their address of each other
clearly shows that this is the latter type of situation. As opposed to the first-
name address, which implies a certain level of intimacy and ‘solidarity’, the
‘surname-only’ form is used by Weaver as a power-wielding device and under-
lines the difference in their ‘roles’. This is complemented by her direct and curt
sentences full of imperatives, and in particular by the downright rude ‘What do
you want, Carter?’ and ‘You know what, Carter?’. In addition to describing the
interpersonal relations between the two characters, these linguistic indicators
portray Weaver as an authoritative person, and tell the viewer something about
her frame of mind: she is angry because she has just found out that a surgery is
being set up for Ross, against whose promotion she has been fighting. While the
relationship between Weaver and Carter is primarily a matter of interpersonal
pragmatics between the two fictional characters, the characterisation of Weaver
and her mood is closely connected to the intentionality of communication be-
tween the first producer and the end receiver.

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


In the Croatian translation, both characters have to address each other by

using the V-form, which neutralises the parameter of ‘power’ between them de-
spite the fact that Carter’s ‘Dr. Weaver’ has been maintained in the TT. Thus
the pragmatic dimension of the TT hinges on the contrast of what is left of
Carter’s tentativeness (‘Želim vam reći…’ – ‘I want to tell you…’) and
Weaver’s direct and curt replies full of verbs in the imperative. The intonation,
available from the sound component, as well as the kinaesthetic features evident
in the picture component, will make up to some extent for what is lost in the
translation of the language component of the ST.
In the scene from which ER 128 was taken (Sample 11), doctor Greene is
trying to maintain his ‘role’ and keep control over the situation in which a very
aggressive patient has been admitted to ER. This situation causes him to use
imperatives in addressing the patient, which is not the norm24.

Sample 11

Greene: Carol, give him five Haldol, Carol, daj mu Haldol. Carol, give him Haldol. ER
IM. Sir, don’t spit. – Stavite ovo na lice. – Put this on the face. 128
Hathaway: Here. Put this on.
Hathaway: Not you, Lucy! Him! Ne na svoje, na Not on yours, on his! ER
njegovo! 29

To keep the distance and remain firm and polite at the same time, Greene
adds ‘sir’ to his imperatives which serves as a down-toner. In the process of TT
reduction, the whole sentence with an imperative and ‘sir’ has been omitted,
and as a result the pragmatics of Greene’s position have been watered down in
translation. If we were to preserve them, the remaining elements would have to
be rephrased, as illustrated in Sample 12:

Sample 12

Daj mu Haldol. Molim vas, Give him Haldol. Please, don't spit*! – Put this on.
Ne pljujte! – Stavite ovo. (*V-form)
Ne sebi, Lucy! Njemu! Not you! Him!

We have omitted the name in the vocative position (‘Carol’), whose pur-
pose was to identify the addressee and which seems a less important element
here. The rest of the text was reduced without much loss. Instead of ‘gospodine’
– ‘sir’ –, we have used a conventional formula of courtesy, ‘molim vas’
(‘please’), which at the same time reflects the ‘distance’ because it comprises
the V-form of address (‘vas’).

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)



As we have seen, forms of address are effective indicators of ‘power’ and ‘soli-
darity’, two factors regulating the pragmatics of interpersonal relations. In Eng-
lish, the choice is between the first-name, surname, and title-plus-surname ad-
dress, with other forms, such as terms of endearment, serving to establish ‘soli-
darity’ or reduce ‘distance’ between the speakers. In Croatian, the equivalent
pragmatic indicators of ‘power’ and ‘solidarity’ are to be found in the choice of
T- or V-forms of address, often implied in the verb form. The translator does
not transfer automatically, but rather bases his or her decision on the pragmatic
parameters of ‘distance’, ‘role’, ‘status’, etc.
What makes the linguistic analysis of a subtitled translation particularly in-
teresting for translation studies is the inevitable loss of some elements due to the
constraints inherent to this technique. In this paper we have tried to provide ex-
planations for the motivation behind the translator’s choices, while also examin-
ing the subtle changes that the sacrifice of certain items has produced in the
pragmatic dimension of the TT. This type of translation has enabled us to iso-
late particular pragmatic elements and examine their function in the achieve-
ment of the overall communicative goal.
Apart from the obvious implications of this type of research for the training
of future subtitlers, it seems to me that this type of pragmatic analysis of inter-
personal relations might be useful for the study of other types of translation in-
volving dialogue, such as dialogue interpreting (community and liaison), con-
ference interpreting, court interpreting, as well as drama translation and transla-
tion of dialogue in novels and short stories.
Notions of power and solidarity could also be profitably investigated in the
broader context of socio-cultural relations among the various participants in the
translation process, such as the distributors, broadcasting networks, box-offices
and translation policy-makers, but this goes well beyond the scope of the pre-
sent study.

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Subtitles developed from “intertitles”, descriptive titles drawn or printed on paper, filmed and
placed between sequences of the film. The first intertitle appeared in 1903 and disappeared
with the invention of sound film (1927). The idea to place the printed text in the image ap-
peared very early and was later used for the purposes of translation. For more details on the
history of subtitling see Ivarsson 1995 and Gottlieb 2001.
The corpus comprised a film – An Unmarried Woman, translated into Croatian as Slobodna
žena, written and directed in 1978 by Paul Mazursky and featuring Jill Clayburgh and Alan
Bates – as well as three different TV series, an episode of each: ER (Emergency Room),
translated as Hitna služba, V/25, episode no. 467553: “They Treat Horses, Don’t They?”;
Seinfeld, VIII/3, episode no. 803: “Bizarro Jerry”; Beverly Hills, 90210, VI/3: “A Mate for
Life”. All the products were translated by competent and experienced subtitlers, and shown
on the Croatian public-service television channel HRT2 in 1999.
Power and solidarity are the factors regulating the pragmatics of interpersonal relations. Power
emanates from the text producer’s ability to impose his or her plans at the expense of the
text receiver’s plans. Solidarity is the willingness of the text producer to relinquish power
and work with his or her interlocutors as members of a team (Hatim and Mason 1990 and
Rosa (2001:216), for example, explicitly mentions forms of address as being routinely omitted
by Portuguese translators, but does not elaborate.
A number of authors mention as additional constraints the low social and professional standing
of AV translators (Zabalbescoa, Izard and Santamaria 2001:107), who are often not cred-
ited, and the working conditions under which the subtitler is forced to work. Díaz Cintas
(2001:199), citing Fawcet, mentions ‘poor wages’, ‘absurd deadlines’, ‘poor originals’ and
‘poor training of translators’, adding to this list the ‘excessive atomization of the profession
with the unfruitful and unnecessary split between translators, spotters, subtitlers, adaptors,
Having worked as an AV translator for a number of years, I must say that TV translators-
cum-subtitlers who work for the two nationwide public channels of Croatian Television
(HRT1 and HRT2) receive decent fees, are always credited, work to deadlines that are often
tight but never unreasonable, and, although they are all freelancers, receive in-house train-
ing. They are in charge of the whole process and usually work with both videotapes and dia-
logue lists. As of recently, they also have relatively modern equipment at their disposal.
But social constraints exist, and one of the tightest is the harsh criticism of the general pub-
lic, who have very high expectations and do not shy away from voicing their discontent if

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


they feel that those expectations have not been met. Letters sent by annoyed viewers to the
TV network’s editors or the head of the Translation Department are a regular occurrence,
while language students make a hobby of collecting the subtitlers’ howlers (which are, in
fact, relatively rare on HRT).
Standards are not as consistently high when it comes to private and local TV channels,
video distributors and, in particular, the cinema. In those segments, poor fees and lack of
training are often painfully obvious in the subtitles.
The other techniques are voice-over, dubbing, and consecutive or simultaneous interpreting. On
Croatian Television (HRT), voice-over, sometimes combined with subtitling, is used for the
translation of documentaries. The translator produces a written translation of the ST, which
a professional TV narrator reads in the studio and this is recorded “over” the original sound
recording. Dubbing, on the other hand, is aimed at creating the impression that the on-
screen characters are actually saying the words that the viewer can hear. HRT employs dub-
bing very successfully, but its use is limited to the translation of cartoons. Simultaneous or
consecutive interpreting is used in programmes featuring a guest in the studio, while big
news breaking stories taken directly from satellite stations are generally interpreted simulta-
neously simply because time is of the essence.
Except, of course, if a TV product is videotaped. This possibility is not an integral part of a
TVF/S text, which is why the subtitler cannot – and should not – count on it.
On average, a subtitled text is about 30 percent shorter than a corresponding “full” translation
according to Ivarsson (1992) and even ‘close to 50%’ shorter according to Gottlieb
(2001:20). My own statistics, based on authentic materials translated by other subtitlers, are
astonishingly close to Ivarsson’s 30-percent figure.
For possible adverse consequences of this norm, see Remael 2003.
On wordplay in subtitling see Gottlieb 1997.
To be more precise, we can embrace the model proposed by Gregory and Carroll (1978:47) and
describe these texts as having been ‘written in order to be spoken as if not written’. If we
analyse any supposedly spontaneous conversation between the fictional characters, we can-
not disregard the presence of a scriptwriter somewhere in the background, nor can we forget
that there existed a script, a written text, before there was any on-screen dialogue. Neverthe-
less, a script is all the more successful if it resembles spontaneous conversation, which is
why the two types of communication have a lot in common. See also Remael (2003:226–7).
‘Tenor’ is that aspect of register related to the relationship between the participants in commu-
nication (level of formality and distance), as well as to what a language user is trying to
achieve with a particular use of language (‘emotional’, ‘manipulative’, ‘authoritative’
Two sets of participants in communication exist in certain other kinds of texts featuring fic-
tional dialogue, such as novels. While the characters communicate as real persons within
the textual world, the author (through their conversation) communicates with the reader. As
far as other types of TV texts are concerned, the most obvious example is the TV interview,
in which the host interviews a guest in the studio. The communication takes place between
the two interlocutors, who alternate in their roles of text producer and text receiver. But in
addition to these participants we can see on screen, there is another type of text receivers –
the viewers – for whom the text is in fact intended. Whatever the host and the interviewee
say to each other, they do so for the sake of the viewer. Furthermore, behind the host of the
programme, we can sense the presence of another participant (or group of participants) in
communication: the author(s) of the programme (producer, editor, TV station), who are in
fact the initiators of the situation in the studio and who are trying to say something to the
viewer in this particular way (Alexieva 1999:348). Remael (2003:227) traces this feature of
film dialogue back to Bakhtin’s notion of ‘secondary speech’ and to Vanoye’s distinction of

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)


‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ levels of communication, with the former referring to the interac-
tion between the characters, and the latter to the interaction between film and audience.
The number in the far right-hand column of each text sample denotes the ordinal number of the
subtitle as it appeared in chronological order in the TVF/S text in question. The first column
contains the source text with the respective names of characters, the second column shows
the subtitled translation as it appeared on the screen, and the third column is the backtransla-
tion into English, as is customary, for the benefit of non-Croatian readers.
By ‘co-text’ we mean the textual environment of a linguistic item, as opposed to ‘context’,
which is the extra-textual environment that exerts a determining influence on the language
used (Hatim and Mason 1997:240).
Internal intertextuality is that which exists between elements of a given text, as opposed to a
second type of intertextual relationship that exists between distinct texts (Lemke 1985).
The TV subtitler cannot afford to forget that there is no such thing as the ‘ideal viewer’. See
Kovačić 1995.
Not forgetting, of course, that these interpersonal relations also ultimately serve the first pro-
ducer's intention, albeit in a more oblique way.
The ‘politeness’ theory proposed by Brown and Levinson (1987) rests on the assumption that
all language users have what they describe as ‘face’, which they want to maintain in com-
munication. It is in the language users’ mutual interest to maintain each other’s face; hence
they maintain their own face, but also their interlocutor’s in order for the interlocutor to
maintain their face in return. For this purpose they employ a series of ‘face-saving strate-
gies’, which minimise risk in situations that are referred to as ‘face-threatening acts’ (FTA).
The more an act threatens the speaker’s or the hearer’s face, the more drastic the strategy
the speaker will select.
This expression was, to my knowledge, first used in Brown and Gilman’s seminal work from
1972. Power and solidarity have since become key words in pragmatics.
The Croatian V-pronoun is formally the second person plural and corresponds, with different
functional distribution, to the French vous, Italian Lei, Spanish Usted, etc.
De Beaugrande and Dressler (1981:123) identify a number of principles that control textual
communicaton. These include ‘efficiency’ (achievement of a communicative goal in the
most economic manner posisble, communicating with minimum expenditure of effort by
participants) and ‘effectiveness’ (optimum achievement of a communicative goal, creating
favourable conditions for the attainment of goals). See also Gutt (2000), and Grice's ‘con-
versational maxims’ in Grice (1975) and (1978).
There is a scene in the same episode where both Carol and Greene have been invited to lunch
by Ross, who is celebrating his imminent appointment as Attending Paediatrician with these
two close friends. In the subtitled translation of that scene, Carol uses the T-form to address
Cf. ER 123: “Sir, I need you to open your mouth” or ER 068: “I need to put this thermometer
under your arm. I want you to hold it there for me.”


I would like to thank my M.A. thesis supervisor Professor Vladimir Ivir, the anonymous reviewer,
and Professor Yves Gambier for their advice and comments. Thanks are also due to Bojana
Zeljko-Lipovcsak, head of the HRT translation department, Lelija Ricijas, the Croatian translator
of ‘ER’, and Branko Erdeljac, the reviser, for making available the material I used in my analysis.
I am also grateful to Dr. Krisztina Károly for her patience and support.

Across Languages and Cultures 5 (2) (2004)