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Pp. 107-125. Martha Garca Gato


Audiovisual translation (AVT) is a type of translation subjected to numerous

constraints. Until now, many studies have been carried out about subtitling
and dubbing in films. In musical films, which have been less studied, language
transfer is mainly made through songs and, due to their characteristics, their
translation is additionally constrained. This article provides some insights
into some elements that make translation of songs for dubbing and subtitling a
complex task using songs from the musical film My Fair Lady.


Subtitling, Dubbing, Musicals, Translation, My Fair Lady.

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films


La traduccin audiovisual (AVT) es un campo de la traduccin sujeto a numerosos

condicionantes. Hasta la fecha se han desarrollado mltiples estudios sobre
la subtitulacin y el doblaje de pelculas. En los musicales, menos estudiados,
la transferencia lingstica recae en gran medida en las canciones y, por sus
caractersticas, su traduccin est sujeta a limitaciones adicionales. El presente
artculo proporciona un anlisis sobre algunos elementos que hacen de la
traduccin de las canciones para subtitular y doblar musicales una labor compleja,
usando como ejemplo el musical My Fair Lady.

Palabras clave

Subtitulacin, doblaje, musicales, traduccin.

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

Introduction use of DVDs as one of the technologi-

cal devises has benefited subtitling and
The term subtitling is used to refer dubbing; it is possible to watch films in
the original version, with subtitles or
to an activity which consists of adding
printed words on a foreign film to trans- dubbed in different languages.
late the dialogue, or any other linguistic
element, bearing in mind the variables Dubbing and subtitling are practices
the translation is subject to. Dubbing which make part of the generic term
consists of replacing the original sound- audiovisual translation (AVT). There
track of a film by another soundtrack is not an agreement on the exact num-
on which the translation of the original ber of AVT modalities. AVT, apart from
version has been recorded, and it is also dubbing and subtitling, also encom-
subjected to extra-linguistic variables passes many other practices like voice-
over or subtitling. Ana Isabel Fernandez
Subtitles came into existence due to the and Gustavo Mendiluce (2005) have
need to convey the linguistic content of raised information about the multiple
the film in a foreign language. It was opinions on the number of practices
decided to insert titles on the screen. which are included in AVT. Due to the
In the 1930s, Jacob Karol invented a explosion of technology development
recording system by which it was pos- the list will probably continue being
sible to synchronize the movement of not delimitated. For the purpose of this
the lips of an actor in the film with the article, we will only refer to subtitling
voice in another language of another and dubbing.
actor who was in the recording studio.
Ever since, we have witnessed a deve- In subtitling, apart from translating the
lopment of the subtitling and dubbing dialogue and overcoming the linguistic
industry. Tendencies in the different problems of translation when dealing
countries towards one or the other only with written texts, the translation
modality differ. The reasons why a must be adjusted to the space provi-
country is more pro-dubbing or favors ded for the subtitle and to the time the
subtitling have been of interest for speakers are on the screen. On the other
many researches1. With the advent of hand, when dubbing a film the transla-
technological progress the film indus- tion must also be adapted to the time the
try has also developed and the wider original statement lasts and there must

Some of the scholars who have examined this issue in depth are Josephine Dries (1995) and Georg-Michael
Luyken et al (1991).

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

be a synchronization of the actors lips made when transferring songs between

to the translated speech. In the trans- two languages in musical films are
lation for both dubbing and subtitling similar to those taken when translating
coherence between image and sound dialogues in films. However, the num-
must be maintained. Several constra- ber of elements present in the songs
ints, thus, have to be taken into account of musical films, which are intrinsic
in both cases. to them, is an aspect that should not
be overlooked. These elements shape
Christopher Titford (1982, p. 113-116) the choices that have to be made in the
first used the term constrained trans- process of translating. Several scholars
lation when he referred to subtitling. have thoroughly examined language
Soon after, Roberto Mayoral, Dorothy transfer in films in general. Although
Kelly and Natividad Gallardo (1988) some have considered how songs in
made wider use of this term by applying films are or should be approached when
it to screen translation2. Constrained translating (Jorge Daz Cintas, 2003, p.
translation refers to limitations impo- 272-276; Ella Shohat & Robert Stam,
sed on the translation which prevent us 1985, p. 37; and Jan Ivarsson & Mary
from translating freely, as opposed to Carroll, 1998, p. 158), there is a lack of
translating isolated written prose. These in-depth research into the translation of
limitations include restricted space and songs in musical films in the literature
time in the case of subtitling (adapting available.
the translation to the time the original
utterance lasts) and synchronizing the The objective of this article is to contri-
movements of bilabial consonants and bute to the research by examining and
open vowels in the original language assessing a non-exhaustive list of cons-
with those of the dubbing language. traints in songs from the musical film
My Fair Lady (1964) and their trans-
In the case of musical films the ele- lations into Spanish for subtitling and
ments that constraint the translation are dubbing.
particularly evident. This type of films
cannot be considered as conventional 1. Song analysis
ones. In musical films, a large part of the
language contents lies in songs which We have identified some constrai-
combine music with a linguistic ele- ning elements for the translation of the
ment (the lyrics). Some of the decisions songs from the musical film My Fair

Screen translation is a broader term which included localization. Lately multimedia translation is gaining
ground. See Mayoral

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

Lady for dubbing and subtitling and we that we will mention further on) must
have grouped them into three catego- be taken into account.
ries: repetitions (rhyme and intratextual
sentences), equivalences (accents and Lets take the first six lines of the first
distinctive phonetic characteristics, uni- song in My Fair Lady and its subtitles3
versal referents and cultural references and dubbing in Spanish as an example.
and stereotypes) and technical aspects
(presentation rules for subtitling and The dubbed version keeps the rhyme
image-sound coherence for dubbing). and opts for a more poetic translation.
.The rhyme, the fidelity to the original
2. Repetitions and the image-sound coherence have
to be led by the music. Daz Cintas
2.1 Repetition of sounds: believes that Conviene conservar, si
Rhyme es posible, la rima- o al menos, cierto
ritmo- de las canciones, aun a costa de
Rhyme is one of the best-known featu- traicionar levemente el texto original
res of songs, although it is not always (2003, p. 275). Translating a song for
as evident as it is in written poetry. Get- dubbing is possible, and the musical
ting lines to rhyme is time-consuming film My Fair Lady is a good example
and a distinctive activity of creativity. of it; but it is far from easy, as can be
By such a practice the musicality of any seen in Mara del Mar Corts Ramals
language is highlighted, even more so analysis of scores of a song from the
when combined with other elements musical Grease.
in musicals, such as music, the plot or
actors actions. Rhymes are obtained In the subtitled Spanish translation,
by the repetition of terminal sounds of the English end rhyme has comple-
words or of verse lines. It is noticed by tely disappeared and the choices for
the audience of the same language and the translation have the tendency to be
it is also evident to the audience who more stick to the original. This lack of
speak a foreign language. In the trans- rhyme in the subtitles, however, is not
lation for songs, as happens with writ- due to physical constraints such as the
ten poetry, the meaning has to be con- limited spaces for the subtitles
veyed and also the poetic aspect has to
be transmitted. In musicals, moreover,
also music (amongst other elements

The subtitles have been literally copied from the DVD, including the Spanish quotation marks

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

Table 1. Why Cant The English By right, she Ahorcarla deberan

Original Subtitles Dubbing should be taken
out and hung,
Look at her, Mrela, Mira a ese
a prisoner of prisionera de desecho de la For the cold-bloo- Por el asesinato de
the gutters los suburbios calle ded murder of the la lengua inglesa a
English tongue sangre fra.
Condemned Condenada lo mismo
by every por cada habla que This is what the Esto es lo que la
syllable she slaba que una conde- British population, poblacin britnica,
utters. pronuncia nada calls an elementary llama educacin
By right she Deberan Valiera education. bsica.
should be ahorcarla quizs ms Source. By the author.
taken out and hacerla
hung, ahorcar
For the Por el Porque la 2.2 Repetition of sentences:
murder/ of
asesinato a
sangre fra /
muerte del
ingls quiere
Intratextual sentences
the English de la lengua lograr.
tongue inglesa Whether the translation has dubbing or
This is what Esto es lo Esto en Lon- subtitling purposes, whenever the song
the British que el pueblo dres piensan
population, britnico los maestros
includes a sentence, a reference or any
Calls an Llama que es de la
other element linked to a part of the film
elementary educacin enseanza which appears after or before the song,
education bsica los comien- the translation should normally be the
same so as not to mislead the audience.
Source. By the author.
This criterion of maintaining the same
translation depends on the level of
When there is the possibility, as in this
importance of the element. It is not a
case, a very slight change of the same
minor factor since these elements that
words used in the subtitles and a small
keep repeating could, and sometimes
adding, might give the audience the
have, become the most characteristic
illusion of reading poetry by maintai-
feature of the musical. In My Fair Lady,
ning a certain rhyme.
one of Professor Higgins exercises for
teaching Eliza to speak English correctly
Table 2. Suggested Subtitled Version. Why
is making her repeat these sentences.
Cant The English?
With The rain in Spain stays mainly
Translation For
Original in the plain Eliza practices her vowels.
Look at her, a Mrela, prisionera The aim of the second, In Hartford,
prisoner of the de las cloacas De los Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes
gutter, suburbios presa
hardly ever happen, is to practice the
Condemned by Condenada por cada
every syllable she slaba que profesa.
pronunciation of the letter H.

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

Table 3. Intratextual Sentences Used English one. Otherwise, the audience

Original Subtitles Dubbing could lose an important element for the
The rain in La lluvia en La lluvia threat of the musical.
Spain stays Sevilla es en Sevilla
mainly in the una mara- es una pura
plain. villa. maravilla. 3. Equivalences
In Hartford, En Hartford, En Jalapa,
Hereford and Hereford y Jamaica 3.1 Equivalences: Accents
Hampshire Hampshire y Java
hurricanes es raro que hganse en and distinctive phonetic
hardly ever haya huraca- junio enebros characteristics
happen. nes. y jaras.
Source. By the author.
A particularly challenging aspect for
translators is to transfer specific aural
Not only phonetic reasons are included
features of a speaker into another lan-
in the first one but cultural references
guage including accents, register, a
(which will be treated further on) are
speech impediment, a marked regio-
present too. La lluvia en Sevilla es una
nal accentOn what basis and with
pura maravilla plays with the phone-
what authority a particular accent can
tic sound [] (ll in ordinary script), as
be linked with the connotation which it
the English does it with the sound [eIn]
had in the original version? This thorny
(ain in ordinary script). Both sounds
issue has been approached by Mona
repeat three times in the sentence.
Baker (1993, p. 233-250) with a tech-
Thus, the translator not only has to bear
nique called leveling by which all the
in mind English phonetics but also the
geographical speaking differences are
movement of the lips of the actors.
While in the first example almost the
On this aspect, My Fair Lady is a par-
same choice has been taken in dubbing
ticularly difficult challenge. The plot
and subtitling; in the second example
(based on George Bernard Shaws Pyg-
(In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire
malion) focuses on phonetic characte-
hurricanes hardly ever happen) we can
ristics of English.
find one in subtitling and the other one
in dubbing. Their use in the musical is
The sentence The [reIn] in [SpeIn
consistent both in normal dialogue and
steIz meInlI] in the [pleIn] pronoun-
in the songs. The Spanish viewer, thus,
ced with Elizas Cockney accent reads
would receive the same logic as the
It should be mentioned that Disney, as a powerful film production company, is in charge of the dubbing of
its products and creates different versions of songs depending on the country. Similarly, there are several
versions of Spanish dubbed films; for Spain and for Latin America

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

as follows: The [raIn] in [SpaIn staIz influence his choice (see also image-
maInlI] in the [plaIn]. Many discourse sound coherence).
constraints shorten the translators range
of possibilities. It could be thought that Table 4. pronoincatin, phonetic and letter
one of the reasons to translate this sen- equivalences
tence as La lluvia en Sevilla es una English Spanish
maravilla in the subtitles and La lluvia Ordinary script The rain in La lluvia
Spain stays en Sevilla
en Sevilla es una pura maravilla in the mainly in es una
dubbed version is the fact that the posi- the plain maravilla./
tion of the mouth when pronouncing La lluvia
en Sevilla
[eIn] is very similar to the one when es una
pronouncing [] ll from a visual point pura
of view to maintain the image-sound
Pronounciation The rine in La lluvia
coherence. However, there is no para- as appears in Spine stais en Seviya
llel in the perception of non-standard the subtitles minely on en una
English (Cockney). Elizas Cockney the pline. maravilla.
accent5, together with the vocabulary Phonetic [eIn] []
equivalences [aIn] [dz]
she uses, automatically places her as
London working class. The spanish Letter -AIN LL
equivalence for this example in the film -INE Y
[dz] is not typical of a low register. The Source. By the author.
equivalence in the film of the sound in
the elocution exercise of the standard It also should be added that the dis-
english sound [eIn] ain is [] ll. [] tinctive features of her speech should
ll is the correct spanish equivalent of be ideally systematic throughout all
the mispronunciation [dz] y. Howe- the film. In practice, this is not always
ver, [] ll is even hard to pronounce possible. Her normal speech in the
for most spaniards nowadays, which is Spanish dubbed translation is full of
not the case for most english speakers low register vocabulary and mispro-
when pronouncing [eIn] ain. In this nounced Spanish words, which get the
case, though, Elizas difficulty in pro- same effect in the Spanish audience as
nouncing [] ll can be compared to the in the English version. In the dubbed
difficulty many spaniards would have songs, on the contrary, her working
at present. The room for the translator class accent has to disappear if we are
to maneuveris incredibly limited in to obtain an audible piece of art.
this case due to all the constraints that
An analysis about translating Cockney into Italian can be read in Irene Ranzatos work.

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

The spanish subtitles of Elizas inter- names, that is, the audience recognizes
ventions; when she sings (and when she them without the subtitles.
speaks) are neutralized and translated
as standard spanish, leveling them, as The rain in Spain stays mainly in the
mentioned above. It is obvious from the plain will also illustrate this aspect.
plot of the film, though, that Eliza does Spaniards would be familiar with the
not speak english correctly. It would be term Spain, even more if the articu-
an artistic and linguistic challenge to lation of the mouth is exaggerated and
find an equivalent, but in this case, the repeated, as happens in the song where
audience will not be missing the infor- they reel the sentence off in English.
mation that Eliza does not speak a stan- Therefore a play must be invented in
dard english. the Spanish version too.

It is worth noting that a different stra- Table 5. The Rain in Spain

tegy was employed for the French Original Subtitles Dubbing
subtitles in this film. We think they The rain in La lluvia La lluvia es
often withdraw important informa- Spain stays en Sevilla es maravilla es
tion and the content of the songs is mainly in the una mara- Sevilla.
largely changed, but they do draw the plain villa
distinction between Elizas way of Now once Una vez En qu
speaking (low French register) and again, where ms. Qu es ciudad dijiste
standard English (standard French) does it rain? la lluvia? que es?
by using low-register vocabulary and In the plain, Una mara- En Sevilla,
the outcome is very believable. Such in the plain villa, una en Sevilla.
an option of including vocabulary maravilla
associated to a non-standard Spanish And where Y dnde Y en qu
could have also been used in the Spa- is that soggy llueve? nacin la
nish version. rain ves?
In Spain, in En Sevilla, En Espaa,
3.2 Equivalences: universal Spain en Sevilla en Espaa.
referents Source. By the author.

Occasionally the translator will come In the fifth line Spain, it is obvious
up with universal words, words which even for a foreigner by the way it is
are understandable to anyone regard- exaggeratedly sung that the original
less of the language in which they are version does not correspond with the
said. Some of these words are proper subtitle. Since the song talks preci-
sely about the country for which this

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

translation is been made, it would be but also the choreography that comes
reasonable to be as careful as possible with the music.
when translating Spain. However, it
has already been pointed out the pho- Translation research has been prolific
netic importance of this sentence which in analyzing how to face the cultural-
narrows down considerably the possi- related problems for translation. Birgit
ble choices. Cultural references are also Nedergaard-Larsen established several
present and, as will be seen, act as addi- general strategies (1993, p. 216). These
tional constraints. five can be applied to solve culture-
bound problems: loan words, imitation,
On the contrary, the dubbed version has literal translation, idiomatic equiva-
come up with a very balanced decision. lence and cultural adaptation. Specifi-
All the aspects that must be combined cally to solve culture-bound problems,
for the importance of this particular two approaches have also been identi-
sentence have been taken into account. fied: depending on the context and the
And Spain (Espaa) is included in the type of reference, it can be translated
dubbed version. literally leaving the foreign nuance
and adding, if possible, an explanation
3.3 Equivalences: cultural (foreignization), which is complicated
references and in subtitling and dubbing because of the
stereotypes spatio-temporal constraints, or domes-
ticate the reference. This implies con-
Helen Reid (1987) said that If lan- veying the meaning of the element in
guage were just words, nothing would a way which is closer to the audience.
be easier. But behind the words lies a Certain cultures have been so much
world of associations, customs and ins- exposed to others that there is no need
titutions; a whole culture ( p. 29). In to substitute the reference for a natio-
films, cultural references can be repre- nal one. As an example, Spain is
sented through lyrics and in images. In stereotyped by bull-fighting or fla-
musicals it is frequent to see cultural menco because these items represent
mimics inserted in the song themselves. parts of Spanish culture.
The music is accompanied by a whole
range of gestures, movements and cho- Spanish cultural references are found in
reography. These cultural references My Fair Lady; when they sing The rain
have to be conveyed to the audience in Spain stays mainly in the plain. They
bearing in mind not only the technical pretend they are in a corrida de toros
constraints in dubbing and subtitling and dance flamenco. In the English
version, Spain is associated with these

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

references because for foreigners, these polite form was used as a sign of res-
references are stereotypes of Spain. In pect. However, nowadays more and
spanish, these allusions also fit with the more people are finding this form out-
setting used in the translation for dub- dated. Uncertainty often arises in the
bing and subtitling (En Sevilla) which case of adults of similar age. Other
is one of the places where these activi- factors such as social class, profession
ties are mostly known. or relationship between the speakers
must be taken into account. In films,
3.4 Equivalences: cross- the way most people address each
cultural politeness other is immediately established, as no
significant changes take place in their
When translating an oral text from relationship. However, the protagonists
english into spanish, the translator will often meet each other at a certain point
inevitably have to decide whether the in the film and later form a closer rela-
speakers should begin addressing each tionship. This change should be hand-
other in an informal manner. It is well led smoothly in order not to surprise the
known that in English the relationship audience. The time to make the change
between the speakers makes no diffe- will depend on the film and on the par-
rence to the verb conjugations used and ticular characteristics of the plot.
to the pronouns. In Spanish, the polite
form of addressing people will always In the case of musical films, songs
be used when the speakers do not have offer a good opportunity to introduce
a close relationship. For example, if these changes, presumably because the
they have only recently met (usted, audience is distracted by the music and
ustedes) will be preferred. An infor- does not pay much attention, so these
mal form (t, vosotros, vosotras) changes will be unperceivable. Songs
will be used, however, when a closer are used to establish when the cha-
relationship is forged. In Spain in recent racters fall in love or when there has
years the form usted has disappeared been a change in someones perception
in many situations, attracting attention of another person, making it easier to
and even alarm. Age tends to be the first decide when a relationship has become
criterion which determines how people close enough for two people to begin
address each other. Children learn to addressing each other in the familiar
address strangers and older people form. Therefore, songs are often used
by the polite form. Usually a person to switch forms of address or to intro-
addressed in the polite form asks for duce any other linguistic aspect that is
the informal form to be used if this is related to the relationship between the
what he prefers. Up until recently the actors.

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

This is seen in My Fair Lady. The rela- has the same number of syllables as
tionship between the speakers is pecu- Without you. This change, however,
liar and it evolves all along the film. for a Spanish audience is not noticeable
The close relationship that they have as it comes up very naturally. It would
at the end of the film (e.g. they recog- not have been appropriate to switch to
nize being in love with each other) is the t form at any other point because
transmitted to the audience linguisti- the relationship between the two cha-
cally, and mainly, through songs. The racters remains unchanged until the end
subtitled and dubbed versions use of the film. Eliza, due to her social class
different scenes to demonstrate that the and occupation, would be reluctant to
characters relationship is getting clo- address Higgins in the t form.
ser. In the subtitled version, Professor
Higgins addresses Eliza in an informal From this example it can also be clearly
way at the beginning of the penultimate seen that constraints in dubbing and
scene. The two have argued in the pre- subtitling have a different repercussion
vious scene and Eliza still addresses the on the translations choice. The subtit-
professor by the polite form. However, les, having to take fewer variables into
she begins addressing him informally account, have opted for a more infor-
when she claims she is no longer under mal translation and closer to the origi-
his control. In the dubbed version, Pro- nal version content- wise.
fessor Higgins addresses Eliza by the
familiar form from the beginning, to Table 6. Without you
show his superiority to Eliza, the diffe-
rence in their ages (he is around 40, ORIGINAL SUBTIT- DUBBING
while she is around 20) and their social LES
difference: Eliza is a street flower seller, If they can Si todos Pues, sin
do without pueden usted mi
while Higgins is a professor. Eliza you, Ducky, / seguir sin amigo fcil
addresses him in an informal way at the So can I ti, cielo, / yo es pasar.
very end, just before the song Without
I shall not No me Sola no
You, when she realizes she can live feel alone sentir sola quedar sin
without him. In the song itself she swit- without you sin ti usted.
ches back to the formal form of address I can stand Puedo vivir La existen-
probably because of the syllable count: on my own- sin ti cia mejor
without you pasar.
the words without you repeats seve-
So go back Vuelve a tu Su saber
ral times in the song (3 syllables). The in your shell caracol, / me gurdese
Spanish words Sin ti (2 syllables) are /I can do las apao ahora yo ya
too short to be properly synchronized bloody well muy bien me Valgo

with the music. Sin usted, however, Without... (no subtitle) Sin us
Source. By the author.

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

4. Technical aspects Presentation styles vary depending on

when the film was subtitled, and on the
4.1 Subtitling: presentation subtitling or broadcasting company.
In general reading, upper case letters
All too often subtitles are criticized take more space and take longer to be
because of their poor quality. Howe- read. This is also the case on the screen
ver, contrary to what is thought by the so it would be advisable to use them
general public, the translator is not the when they are really needed. In our opi-
only person involved in the subtitling nion My Fair Lady uses them too often,
process, and various obstacles have to always putting them at the beginning of
be overcome. Very often the translator every line regardless of grammar, e.g.,
does not have access to the film, but the use of the upper case after a full-
only to the dialogue list where all the stop.
details of the film and the dialogues
are specified. Thus, any minor mistake Whenever the source of the linguistic
in one part of the process will have elements is a different one from that of
a great impact on the final product. the dialogue, it is also marked on the
When the translator has accomplished subtitles. In the case of musical films,
his work, the adaptor adjusts the trans- it is further complex due to the constant
lation according to the timing of the interlink between dialogue and songs.
film (another link in the chain). The In My Fair Lady, each subtitle begins
translator and the adaptor rarely work by quotation marks and these are clo-
together. Moreover, as Daz (2001, p. sed only in the last subtitle of the song,
84) points out, the adaptors who make in order to show that it is not a part of
certain changes to the translation, do not normal speech. This acts an additional
always know the source language. And constraint for the translation availabi-
the translator is not always allowed to lity of space
see the final version in order to check
whether major changes in meaning Dubbing: Image-sound coherence
have been made. Both, Daz (2001, p. In musical films, actors act more than
84) and Luyken (1991, p. 57), believe in a conventional film. They accom-
that the ideal solution would be to give pany the lyrics with dances and
the jobs of translator and adaptor to a mimics. This aspect adds complexity to
single person. This would improve the find a translation that does not contra-
quality of the subtitles and increase the dict the image on the screen. This does
fee. not mean that subtitling does not have
to respect the coherence with the image

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

but, in this sense, fewer constraints are being strangled and he exactly ties a
imposed upon it because the subtitles knot around his neck.
do not have to deal with the sound track
of the musical. The elements analyzed Another expression is found in the
in this section include mouth and facial following example. Once again the
muscle movements, and other visual method used in the subtitles is different
features such as gestures and body from that employed in the dubbed ver-
movements that correspond to the dia- sion. The problem here is not the lack
logue. Examples of the constraints that of an equivalent expression in Spanish,
body movements impose on translation as shown in the subtitles, but the lack
music for dubbing are numerous. of time available to sing dar una pal-
madita en la espalda in the dubbed ver-
In My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins sion. The dubbed version, thus, opted
sings the following line while preten- for a shorter direct explanation.
ding to tie a knot around his neck.
Table 8. An Hym To Him
Table 7. I M An Ordinaty Man Original Subtitling Dubbing
Original Subtitles Dubbing Pickering,
Let The Deja que Que los Pickering, por qu
por qu
Others Of los de mi otros hom- why cant a las mujeres
no puede
My Sex sexo bres den woman be /no se
la mujer
more like a parecen
Tie The Se pongan En ahor- ser como el
man? ms a los
Knot la soga al carse me hombre?
Around cuello est bien.
Their S, por
Yes, why
Necks qu las
cant a S, nada del
mujeres / no
woman be hombre imi-
se parecen
Source. By the author. more like a tan jams
ms a los
In this case the subtitles convey prac- Men are so Los hom- Bueno y
tically the same meaning as the origi- honest, so bres son honesto, el
thoroughly honestos, hombre es
nal version, although ponerse la soga
square cabales tenaz
al cuello means to be threatened by a
high risk and to tie the knot means to Eternally Y suele
get married. The dubbing is brilliantly noble, ser noble
nobles, /his-
historically y justo
achieved using a different metaphor tricamente
fair adems
although there is a slight mismatch in
the gestures. The ones that would be
used to illustrate the Spanish expres-
sion would be clutching the neck as if

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013

Who, Cuando remarkable. Still we perceive that limi-

when you ganas, Si algo tations are so numerous that in some
win will quin te da haces bien instances, such as this one, the sounds
always give / una pal- te felicita tu
fail to be as well synchronized with the
your back a madita en la rival.
pat? espalda? lip movements as the usual standard.
Por qu Por qu Corts Ramal (2005) and also citing
Why cant Catalina Martnez, asserts that it would
una mujer una dama
a woman be
no puede no lo hace be very useful for the translator; when
like that?
ser as? igual?
working on a song translation for dub-
Source. By the author. bing to have musical knowledge. Thus,
the work would be more complete. It
Synchronizing lip movements with the is undeniable that it would contribute
dubbed version is as important as syn- positively to gain time and efficiency.
chronizing other images and sounds.
When the translation has been finished The sentence commented above has
it is passed on to the adaptor whose already been dealt with but since it also
task is to adapt the dialogues to the has to do with image and sound cohe-
lip movements, the length of the utte- rence. The aspects explained are not
rance and the phonetic structure. The part of a song themselves, but they are
distribution of vowels, consonants and worth mentioning because the senten-
stressed syllables should be as simi- ces are also used in a song in a different
lar as possible to the original. Special part of the film. Thus, when choosing
attention should be paid to the labial a translation option for the song, it
consonants (/p/, /b/ and /m/) and open also has to be considered that the same
vowels, particularly those at the end of election has to be used in this complex
a sentence since they are more evident scene for synchronization.
to the audience.
Eliza has to repeat In Hartford, Here-
A good example of this can be found in ford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly
Show me. The expressiveness of the ever happen. Every time she pronou-
actress, the exaggerated lip movements, nces the english H correctly a flame
the numerous close-ups, the extremely will move and if she drops it, the flame
poetic and synthetic english compres- will remain stationary. In english there
sed into very short lines, and the rhyme are 6 Hs at the beginning of words
impose too many constraints at once to and one word which does not begin
obtain good synchronization between with H. Eliza pronounces 6 words
lip movements and the dubbed transla- without H and one with it so the flame
tion. The professionalism of the dubbed moves 6 times and it remains stationary
(and subtitled) songs in My Fair Lady is

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films

once. The spanish subtitled version of to be maintained. The translation given

Elizas pronunciation (transcription is En Jalapa, Jamaica y Java hganse
from the Spanish subtitles: En art- en junio enebros y jaras. This option
ford, ereford y ampshire es raro que plays with the mispronunciation of the
jaya huracanes) tries to make up for sounds J and H. The flame stays
the impossibility of making a similar stationary when pronouncing Spanish
play on words and image, by adapting H correctly, that is, not pronouncing
the translation to the image as best as it, and the flame waves when pronou-
they can to obtain the same relation ncing J correctly. The content has
between the mispronunciation of a let- been changed for the dependency to
ter and the movement of the flame. The the image but the effect for the Spanish
dubbed version is even more difficult to viewer is the very same as when wat-
obtain because the synchrony between ching the original.
the lips, the sound and the image has

Gottlieb said that a good subtitler (apart from being a good translator) needs the musical ears of an
interpreter, the no-nonsense judgement of a news editor and a designers sense of aesthetics. In addition, as
most subtitlers do the electronic time-cueing themselves, the subtitler must also have the steady hand of a
surgeon and the timing of a percussionist. (2001)

Martha Garca Vol.4-No.1:Enero-Junio de 2013


In this article we have provided various In subtitling, rhyme is generally not

insights into some of the constraints that respected, music does not interfere with
determine the translation for dubbing the translation, visual coherence is not
and subtitling of the musical film My as strict as in dubbing but there is limi-
Fair Lady, which is, in our opinion, a ted spacing. On the contrary, a subtitled
remarkably well-achieved result bea- version is able to pay more attention to
ring in mind all the elements that must the original in content-synchronization
be taken into account. From this analy- with the images. It has been noticed
sis several conclusions can be drawn: that there is more content accuracy in
subtitling than in dubbing, or, at least
First of all, many activities are complex the content translation appears more
since they require not only the transla- synchronized with the original. This
tion knowledge but also to understand advantage of subtitling is a double-
the whole process. The adaptor plays edged sword because there is the risk of
an important role in the final product translating too close to the source. One
and sometimes his task overlaps with of the possible reasons why subtitles are
the translators because he has to adapt sometimes criticized of being too lite-
the translation to the space or the syn- ral or of lacking an element is because
chronization of lips. they are more exposed to comparison
with the original. Without taking into
Because the constraints are diverse in account all the constraints involved,
subtitling and dubbing songs, some it is far too easy to spot the error. In
differences can be drawn between the dubbing the content is easier to mani-
ways of translating. pulate or, at least, less noticeable.

In dubbing a song, rhyme, rhythm, After having analyzed several elements

music, content and visual coherence influencing the job of a translator for
must be necessarily taken into account. dubbing or subtitling songs in musical
We could say that in translating songs films, it seems evident that not only a
for dubbing, even better musical ears proficient command in all the registers
are required than the ones expected of the languages is necessary, but also
from a subtitler6. knowledge specifically on dubbing and
subtitling spatio-temporal constraints
and on the intrinsic characteristic of

Comunicacin, Cultura y Poltica
Revista de Ciencias Sociales Subtitling and Dubbing Songs in Musical Films


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Musical film: My Fair Lady (1964), George Cukor (director)