Translation and language acquisition – a literature review on the translation of interlingual subtitles

  • 0


This review article forms part of a broader research project on translation and language acquisition. The aims of the article are, in the first place, to look broadly at the use of translation for language acquisition and, secondly, to study the use of interlingual subtitles in language acquisition classrooms – mainly to learn vocabulary.

The theoretical framework for the study is the input hypothesis in the second language acquisition theory of Krashen (1982 and 1985). According to Krashen (1985:4), language learners will acquire a new language through exposure to comprehensible input. This comprehensible input can be linked to vocabulary learning – vocabulary input needs to take place repeatedly and repetitively. As language learners are exposed to comprehensible vocabulary input, the link between form and meaning is strengthened (Sass 2017:11). The theoretical framework of Hulstijn (2013) on incidental and intentional language acquisition is also used. Hulstijn (2013:1) states: “Incidental learning stands in contrast to intentional learning, which refers to a deliberate attempt to commit factual information to memory, often including the use of rehearsal techniques, like preparing for a test in school or learning a song by heart.” In language acquisition, vocabulary learning is an important skill, therefore its theoretical underpinnings are integrated throughout the article.

The article furthermore places emphasis on the use of translation in language acquisition – see for instance Newmark (1991), Jones (2010), Yadav (2014) and Van den Berg (2019). According to Jones (2010:1), certain researchers support the use of only the foreign language in language acquisition and does not allow the use of any translations in the class. Cunningham (2000) claims that translation can be used successfully under certain circumstances in language acquisition. Newmark (1991:6) alleges that translation is useful because it allows the language learner to learn the foreign language faster and it saves time. A small-scale empirical study by Van den Berg (2019) is discussed. She undertook a case study with lecturers teaching foreign languages at Stellenbosch University. The study was aimed at getting their opinions on the use of translation in their foreign language acquisition classroom. The majority of lecturers use translation in their classes and believe that translation is a beneficial tool to use.

The focus of the article shifts to the use of interlingual subtitles in language acquisition – see the research by Harji, Woods, and Alavi (2010), Caimi (2013), Du Plessis (2015) and Peters and Webb (2018). Jakobson (1959:139) defines intersemiotic translation as “an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems”. Munday (2001:9) gives examples of intersemiotic translation and states that “(it) occurs when a written text is translated into a different mode, such as music, film or painting”. Subtitles are an example of intersemiotic translation because the meaning of one modality – spoken language – is translated to another modality – written language. Subtitles can be divided into interlingual and intralingual subtitles. Intralingual subtitles (also called bimodal subtitles) are subtitles within the same language and interlingual subtitles are a translation from one language to another. Muller (2019) uses a questionnaire to get the opinions of thirteen students learning Afrikaans as a foreign language at Stellenbosch University on the use of interlingual subtitles in soap operas. Eleven of the students stated that subtitles can help with the learning of vocabulary, but only seven thought that it can help with the learning of a new language. When asked whether they thought you could learn a new language if the translation was not a word-for-word translation, only three said it would be possible.

The translation strategies of Gottlieb (1992 and 1994) form part of the theoretical framework on interlingual subtitles. Gottlieb believes, according to Kianbakht (2015:27), “that to assess the quality of specific subtitling, the rendering of each verbal segment of a film must be analyzed concerning its stylistic and semantic values”. That is why Gottlieb proposed ten translation strategies to translate subtitles for films. The translation strategies according to Gottlieb (1992:161–70) are:

Expansion: This strategy is used when the original text requires an explanation because of some cultural nuance not retrievable in the target language.

Paraphrase: Paraphrasing is used when the phraseology of the original text cannot be reconstructed in the same syntactic way in the target language.

Transfer: When this strategy is used, the complete source text is accurately translated.

Imitation: The translation maintains the same forms, typically in the case of names of people and places.

Transcription: This strategy is used where a term is unusual even in the source text. Examples are the use of a third language or “nonsense language” (gibberish).

Dislocation: This strategy is used when the original text employs some sort of a special effect; for example, a silly song in a cartoon film where the translation of the effect is more important than the content.

Condensation: This strategy involves the shortening of the text in the least obtrusive way possible.

Decimation: This is an extreme form of condensation where perhaps for reasons of discourse speed, potentially important elements are omitted.

Deletion: This refers to the total elimination of parts of a text.

Resignation: Resignation is the adopted strategy when no translation solution can be found and meaning is inevitably lost.

Gottlieb (1994) explains that the first seven strategies create corresponding translation while decimation and deletion lead to a shortening or abbreviation of semantic and stylistic elements.

Studies using Gottlieb’s taxonomy are briefly discussed in the article.

Muller (2019) analysed one episode each of three South African soap operas: 7de Laan, Binnelanders and Suidooster. She transcribed the dialogue as well as the interlingual subtitles. The aim was to see which strategies were used. She concluded that there are not many differences between the strategies used in each soap opera. The preferred strategy in all three soap operas was to use transfer, while dislocation and resignation were not used.

Sichani, Amiryousefi en Amirian (2019) analysed the translation strategies employed in the subtitled version of A separation and I, Daniel Blake. The theoretical framework was based on Gottlieb’s (1992) classification of interlingual subtitling. The obtained results depicted that except for dislocation and transcription, all Gottlieb’s strategies were applicable and used in the translation of the subtitles. The results also showed that the film’s genre played an influential role in the decisions the translators made.

Bąk en Gwóźdź (2016) aimed to analyse the translation strategies applied by the informal internet group known as Hatak in the English-Polish translation of the first episode of the American TV series House of cards. Following Gottlieb’s typology, they explored the following seven translation strategies: transfer, paraphrase, condensation, dislocation, deletion, resignation and imitation. Bąk en Gwóźdź (2016) analysed each strategy separately by referring to the original expression and the message produced in the subtitle. They confirmed that these strategies are frequently applied together to deliver an audience-oriented text.

In Kianbakht’s (2015) study, he investigated the subtitling strategies adopted in the Persian translation of humor of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and sought to determine which strategy was utilised more frequently than others. The study is a descriptive comparative content analysis based on the dialogues and the corresponding subtitles. The theoretical framework of the study was also based on Gottlieb’s classifications of subtitling strategies. The results of the study showed that the most frequent strategy was transfer. The high frequency of the transfer strategy meant that the Iranian translators transferred the dialogues of the original film into Persian in the most comprehensible and natural way possible.

Similar to Kianbakht’s study, the study of Ghaemi en Benyamin (2011) also followed a descriptive and comparative analysis to identify the interlingual strategies employed to translate English subtitles into Persian and to determine their frequency. The study comprised English audio scripts of five movies of different genres with their Persian subtitles. The study’s theoretical framework was based on Gottlieb’s (1992) classification of subtitle translation. The results indicated that all of Gottlieb’s proposed strategies applied to the corpus with some degree of variation of distribution among different film genres. The most frequently used strategy was transfer at 54,06% and the least frequently used strategies were transcription and decimation, both at 0,81%. It was also concluded by Ghaemi and Benyamin (2011) that the film genre played a crucial role in which strategies were used.

This review article on translation and language acquisition indicates what other researchers concluded: There is a place for translation in the language acquisition classroom, but it is not the only approach, method or resource tool that can be used. It is a pedagogic tool because the strategic use of the first language benefits language learners, although they need a lot of exposure to and input from the foreign language. On the grounds of different literature reviews on the use of translation as a language acquisition resource, Krashen’s input hypothesis and the distinction Hulstjin makes between incidental and intentional vocabulary learning, it appears that translation can be useful in language acquisition. More empirical research on the use of translation in Afrikaans language acquisition is needed.

Keywords: Afrikaans language acquisition; interlingual subtitles; translation; translation strategies


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Vertaling en taalverwerwing – ’n literatuuroorsig oor die vertaling van intertalige onderskrifte

  • 0


Jou e-posadres sal nie gepubliseer word nie. Kommentaar is onderhewig aan moderering.