Friday, May 30, 2014

Two translation traps

Here are a couple of translations I've found in the Ukrainian-dubbed tv show Теорія брехні (Theory of Lies), or as it was originally titled, Lie to Me.

In this bit of dialog, a TSA agent stops the main character as he waits in the security line:
Як справи, сер?
Ви б не могли вийти за лінію?
Ви серйозно?
Так. У вас є причини хвилюватися, сер?
Боюсь спізнити на літак.
Я попрошу вас відкрити кейс.
Я краще сам подивлюся.

How are you, sir?
Just fine.
Could you step out of the line?
Are you serious?
Yes. Is there a reason you're nervous, sir?
I'm afraid of missing my plane.
I'm going to ask you to open your briefcase.
I'd better look at it myself.
Wait, what?

Now, I'm well aware that translators have to take into account cultural differences (hence, for instance, a reference to the US "Ministry of Defense"). And I also realize that translators for dubbed dialog have additional concerns - coming up with something that matches the original in duration and (as far as possible)(for some cultures) comes close to the lip movements of the speakers. But this line isn't a result of either of those. It just doesn't make sense.

I feel silly for not realizing what had happened. The original?

"I'd better check it."

Aha. Yes. "Check it" has two distinctly different meanings in English, and even seeing the character's attempt to take the briefcase away from the agent, the Ukrainian translator went for the more common one.

As translators we always have to ask why when things don't make sense. And we have to be ready to admit that the problem is probably with us.

Here's another one, just as classic:
Ви обоє і ваш син брешете. Слухайте сюди, троє людей можуть зберегти таємницю тільки якщо двоє з них мертві. Хочете розбурхати пекло?

Both of you, and your son, are lying. Listen here: three people can keep a secret only if two of them are dead. Do you want to rouse hell?
This one also seems obvious in retrospect, though I couldn't begin to figure it out before hearing the original: Do you want to wake the hell up?


This trap is not recognizing an idiom.

While "wake up" has the standard alternation of a phrasal verb - "wake the man up" and "wake up the man" are both valid while "wake up him" is not - "wake the hell up" is not the same thing as "wake up the hell" (or rather "wake up hell"). In this case, "the hell" is not the direct object of "wake up". Instead, it's an adverbial, an intensifier, often seen in wh- questions (how the hell did this happen, who the hell are you, what the hell just happened) and, often with "out of", in commands (stand the hell up, sit the hell down, get the hell out of here, crank the hell out of that thing) and occasionally emphatic statements (I'm gonna break the hell loose, he edited the hell out of that article, she annoys the hell out of me).

So, "wake the hell up" is not розбурхати пекло. In fact, пекло, Hell, has no place in the sentence. A better translation would be відкрить очі!, open your eyes!

note: I tell these stories partly as a warning to translators and partly because they're funny, but always in the knowledge that I have done things that cracked Slavic speakers the hell up. 

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At 6:05 PM, May 30, 2014 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Wish I'd kept a list of bloopers I spotted in Portuguese subtitles of English-language TV shows and movies we saw in the Azores recently. Not that there were too many, in all fairness -- especially on recently-aired shows, it's amazing what a good job the translators do on such a short turn-around.

One example comes to mind, though: When a character speaks of going downtown, instead of using the correct "ao centro" (i.e., the center of town) the subtitle uses "ao baixo" (i.e., going downhill), which was NOT the meaning in that context.


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