Subtitling the inaudible?
Subjectivity in audiovisual translation
Subtitlers often leave certain portions of the audiovisual text untranslated, whether for reasons of lack of space/time, or by choice. It may thus seem paradoxical to focus on the opposite scenario: when the subtitler chooses to translate elements that are hardly perceptible, or even completely inaudible, to a native speaker watching the film. A recent British DVD edition of Une femme mariée (Jean-Luc Godard, 1964) provides several instances of such subtitling, which can be usefully compared with other translations of the film. Godard’s oeuvre is notoriously complex, mixing sound, image and text in elaborate ways. It often poses challenges to translators, arguably culminating in his Histoire(s) du cinéma (1989-1998): “As ‘unwatchable’ and as ‘unlistenable’ in many respects as Finnegans Wake is ‘unreadable’, the first two parts of Godard’s Histoire(s)… are also almost as hard to translate as the Joyce book.” (Jonathan Rosenbaum). This paper will therefore also draw examples from other films by Godard to shed a light on the choices made by the subtitler.
Samuel BRÉAN has been a professional translator in the audiovisual field since 2002 (subtitling and voice over). He has translated numerous feature films, TV series and documentaries from English and German into French for DVDs, television channels and film festivals. He is a founding member of the French association of audiovisual translators, ATAA, created in 2006, and its current secretary.