Summer Re-runs: The Translational Challenges of Dubbing and Subtitling

Mobarak, as introduced by Samia Mehrez, was the star of a theatre group at the AUC. We do not have to have the same rhyming pattern as the original language but we have to have rhyme. Reading out the dialogue is a good way to assure that it is a good one. Mobarak showed examples of dubbing of (The Lady and The Tramp) in colloquial Arabic. If there is a sentence that is giving us any trouble, we certainly change it. Scenes with close-ups are a challenge especially in movie theaters because of the big screen. A translator has to be careful of the duration of the sentence to make it easy of the actor to pronounce. In lyrics, we have to have stress points in their places as well as rhyme. Who would leave the movie to look the word “lark” in a dictionary and double-check the accuracy when the reference is only to a bird? For instance, in the song   “My Bunny Lies Over the Ocean,”   there are three stress points in the tune: the first syllable of   bunny, the first   syllable of   over, and the first syllable of   ocean. She hoped to change some people’s minds about dubbing in general.  

This can been easily solved in any language if the dubbing translator has sufficient courage and resources. Dubbing in particular has opened her eyes to a whole new world. She did translating and dubbing and in those she mostly rewrote the songs to fit the films. Subtitling also does not work in children’s films. Naturally it could be translated into نام الأرنب فوق المحيط Now, how can this be really sung to the same tune? Zeinab Mobarak was also a writer on the Sesame Street project from its beginning in Egypt in the nineties and has continued to write many songs for it for many years. Five more syllables are not acceptable. Adults go with kids and must keep explaining to them what is happening. The sentence becomes:

مرحبا، كيف حالك اليوم؟

A dubber must be careful of the synchronization. Because many people look down on dubbed productions, she wanted to shed a light on how difficult this job is. The first animated film was Snow White, and it was made in 1937. However, what she said applies naturally to translating from any language into any language. This was another piece of advice from Mobarak. In a song, certain parts are stressed. How many kafs and qafs? Here is another example: كل قبرة كانت قريبة من الكواكب تموت ببطء   Again what?   So, even when sometimes a sentence fits the duration, sync, vowels and all, but is a terrible sentence to say, we end up with a whole tongue twister. The immense limitations of space and time in subtitling put great pressures on the translator. The characters speak, and certain sounds like “o”, “a” or “m” and “p” create a challenge because they make certain movements in the lips. A translator should bear in mind that the translated words are going to be sung, not acted or read out. Though Mobarak always gets the film and the script, she prefers to work from the film to get the feel of the words being spoken. Also read: Zeinab Mobarak’s Writing Journey; Alam Simsim and   Beyond She has led many translation workshops in Doha and Cairo. Why not use كطير    for example? If the translation is proper and word-for-word, she might be able to fit it, but the speed in which the lines will appear on screen will make it impossible for viewers to follow. In this case the ten syllable in English that resulted in 15 ones in Arabic. Dubbing has more limitations than subbing

Time is the first limitation of dubbing. Translating lyrics is even more challenging because the lyrics fit the music and so should the translation. She translated “The Burglar” by Tawfik al-Hakeem both into English and colloquial Arabic, to be performed at the AUC. In honor of the CTS’s long-running series of translation talks, which are now coming to an end, we re-run this short review:

By Mona Elnamoury

Renowned translator Zeinab Mobarak gave a fascinating lecture at the AUC last Monday about the challenges of translating and dubbing children’s movies from English into Arabic. In this particular film, the characters were street dogs. Why dubbing? In addition to keeping in synch, a dubbing translator has to watch another element, which is how the sentence is divided up. If what is being said in the film is more than that, editing is inevitable. She did great classics like   Cinderella, Pinocchio, The Princess and the Frog, The Smurfs   and many others. She also teaches at the MSA in the faculty of Languages and Translation, and has translated Ursula LeGuin into Arabic.  Though it was all hand–made, the drawing and dubbing of that film are fantastic, and it was done in 1975. Or even listen to it? On the other hand, it is difficult and enjoyable to be a dubbing translator. So if we have a character that   says “so” — which is one of Mobarak’s least favorite words because we do not have many monosyllabic words in Arabic ending in “o” — we cannot use its Arabic equivalent ثم, which necessitates closed lips. She also participated in compiling an English-Arabic dictionary for children that was printed and published in Egypt in the nineties. The main aim of translating for dubbing is to make the work sound as though it was originally produced in the dubbing language. Each line can only be six or seven words. To Mobarak, translation and dubbing are vital. Summer Re-runs: The Translational Challenges of Dubbing and Subtitling

Back in 2014, translator Zeinab Mobarak   gave a lecture on the creative arts of dubbing and subtitling   at the American University in Cairo (AUC), sponsored by the Center for Translation Studies. Subtitling is also a challenge because of limitations of time and space. There is this famous example, a line from Julie Andrews ‘s song in “Sound of Music.” The line says: “Like a lark that is learning to pray” has been translated into:

“كقبرة تتعلم الإبتهال”

Who says kakoboraten? It does not work. There is a lost element here that can only come through in dubbing, because you have a talented actor who acts anew what is being said in the target language. Editing is a must. There is a lost element here that can only come through in dubbing, because you have a talented actor who acts anew what is being said in the target language. What we need to do is to think of phonetics. “We always have to remember that it is a spoken text.” A tongue twister is a disaster.   صديقى   can be understood from the scene so the word goes off and good morning can be replaced by another shorter salute. Why would I use that word, or sing it?   Dr. She has worked with Disney in translating cartoons and songs since 1997. The actor won’t be able to fit them in. Mona Elnamoury is a lecturer at the faculty of Arts, English Dept., Tanta University. All a translator has is the space of two lines that are going to be typed on the screen. Mobarak said that subtitling conveys the meaning of what is being said, but it does not necessarily convey the feeling. A dubbing translator must have the words fit the visual that appears on the screen. The beauty of her lecture sprang from the practicality of her   professional tips, together with the sweetness of the examples she used to drive home her point. “Good morning” cannot be translated into صَبَاحٌ الخَيرِ   because it is too long especially as the Arabic signs add to the syllables. Most of the dubbing is done in Modern Standard Arabic and this puts extra limitations on the translator, because the sentences then have a certain structure. The third point is using easy words where phonetics are natural and suitable to the context. “.الدرس الذى يجب ان نتعلمه جميعا هو ان الصحراء بلا ذاكرة”

  The sentence sounds right, but it is too long. She also   writes. Here is another example: “A lesson we all have to learn is that the desert has no memory. So a translator has to make a decision here to delete some words without losing the meaning. She also has two published books for pre-schoolers. Of course, an addition has been made, with the word حبة. All the elements talked about earlier were observed in that film. We need dubbing because what is being presented is a spoken word that conveys meaning and nuances of the original language that needs to be presented as a spoken word. What I will have to say in colloquial is   أرنوب نام فوق المحيط حبة     where all the stress points are in their proper place. 18 syllables in English and like 31 in Arabic! Dubbing solves this problem and makes everyone enjoy the film. The language and performance consequently had to fit the concept of how a street dog’s language would sound. During the lecture, the audience came to realize that all those credentials were supported by real talent and a passion for both translation and the dramatic element of dubbing. For instance a sentence like “Good morning my friend, how are you today?” Will be naturally translated into:

صباح الخير يا صديقى، كيف حالك اليوم؟

That is fine, of course, but it does not work in dubbing because a dubbing translator actually counts the syllables of a sentence. Subtitling conveys the meaning of what is being said, but it does not convey the feeling. Ultimately, for this sentence,   there could be this translation: ” فلنعرف جميعا ان الصحراء   بلا ذاكرة    and if it is translated into colloquial Egyptian it would be even shorter and much better:

.اللى لازم كلنا نعرفه ان الصحرا نساية

A dubbing translator has to be brave enough to make important decisions that make the sentence as close to natural as possible. She graduated from the university with a BA in anthropology and a minor in theatre studies, and also took a number of courses in playwriting, short-story writing, and Arabic literature.