Rosetta International

The role of the subtitler is as a mediator between cultures, not simply languages, and a professional subtitler begins his work by critically analysing the film at hand, both visually and textually. Then he employs the best of his subtitling skills and strategies in the aim of maintaining the spirit and genre of the film or source while introducing them to his (different language) audience. Therefore, a subtitler must be competent both linguistically and culturally so that the film can be truly reflected to his target audience. Professional and good quality subtitling should allow a film experience to be universalised.

To quote from reports prepared by our Quality Checking team on some of the subtitling challenges facing subtitlers:

‘the hardest challenges lie in reflecting puns, word play, proverbs and cultural references so that a programme does not read as a technical translation, but is wholly enjoyed and understood. It’s crucial to maintain the humour and flavour of each and every show… Cultural references and pop culture [for example] are inevitably found in almost any show or movie. Often, using a cultural reference is a means to convey a particular idea to the viewer. In this case, if the icon is world famous, we make no interpretations and simply refer to the named icon as is. If, however, the icon will only be known on a limited national or regional basis, we find a cultural reference with which foreign viewers will identify. Or, we substitute the reference with keywords that express what the icon represents. For example, when reference is made to someone less well-known and therefore, without a cultural equivalent like Peter Jennings or Kilroy we can use a general phrase that acknowledges their position or work – “ talk show host.” As to the translation of proverbs: some proverbs have exact equivalents in other languages. For instance, “birds of a feather flock together” has a direct equivalence and phrasing in Arabic and therefore, is easily translated as it has strong roots in both English and Arabic. However, one will always come across a proverb that is specific to a certain culture and to no other. If such a proverb were translated literally its relevance and meaning would be lost on the target audience and it would just sound and read awkwardly. In this case, we must find the closest proverb in the target language with the same meaning.”