Lost in Translation

Rose found this nice report in the IMDB news:

Efforts by overseas film distributors to cut costs by outsourcing subtitle translations to such countries as India and Malaysia have resulted in creating dialog that makes little sense to local audiences, according to today’s (Monday) London Times. The newspaper observed that translators with little understanding of the nuances of English are taking the place of British subtitlers, many with long careers in the business. Kenn Nakata Steffenson, who translates English films into Danish and Japanese films into English, cited one film in which the line “Jim is a Vietnam vet” became “Jim is veterinarian from Vietnam” in the farmed-out Danish subtitles. In another film, the words “flying into an asteroid field” became “flying into a steroid field.” In yet another, “She died in a freak rugby accident” became “She died in a rugby match for people with deformities.” In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Uma Thurman’s line, “We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment” was translated into Taiwanese as “We hold the highest standards for sexual harassment.” The Times said that Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro was so upset with the English subtitles for his 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone that he himself worked on the subtitles for last year’s award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth.

I remember watching one of the Die Hard movies in Malaysia, where the censor had been hard at work, especially on Bruce Willis’s stronger language, simply by cutting and splicing the film. I particularly recall one of the less subtle bits of editing where Willis turns to another character and says, “Yeah? Well I’ve got two words for you. Off!”

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You know with those specific examples it really looks like someone had a copy of the transcript and ran it through a babelfish-esque foreign language dictionary search/replace system. In fact just using the Dutch/English converter on the actual AltaVista babelfish I get (for the same phrase above) a round-trip conversion (careful not to say translation :)) of “flying into an asteroid field” into “flying in a star-shaped area” which would appear to be the calibre of those above “translations.”

Reminds me of the (perhaps apocryphal) story of one of the first language translation systems – I heard this back in the early 80s – which could translate from English into Russian and vice versa.

The story goes that they fed it the phrase “Out of sight, out of mind”, translated it into Russian and then back again. The result? “Invisible idiot”

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