Subtitles of Italian films in Dutch (2000-2006). A sociological, linguistic and media analysis

I sottotitoli dei film italiani in nederlandese (2000-2006). Un'analisi sociologica, linguistica e mediatica
Start - End 
2008 - 2014 (completed)
Department of Linguistics
Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication



This study investigates the Italian film in Flanders and its translation, more specifically its Dutch subtitles. Traditionally, many disciplines have featured in films: economics, engineering, computer science, psychology, sociology, cognitive sciences, semiotics , linguistics, translation studies, and so on. In this PhD, we look at film as a cultural object, according to a tradition initiated by the sociology of culture. Considering a film as a cultural object allows us at the same time to study its double nature: material and symbolic. After all, a film has a material dimension - it is a commodity that is bought and sold and produced by an industry – but it also upholds. immaterial, symbolic values, as it may be a film about life and love, it may mark an era, or it may be life-changing. The sociology of culture provides the theoretical framework that allows us to study a film in this double capacity and to investigate how an Italian film is received in cinemas in Flanders, the professionals who import it and the symbolic values it represents. To understand how a film is accepted at a transnational level, the sociological aspect is complemented by concepts developed in the framework of Cultural Studies and Reception Studies. The Theory of Cultural Discount, where the value of a single film , if exported, is discounted due to cultural differences concludes the theoretical framework which is aimed at reconstructing the social world of the Italian film in Flanders. Sociology of culture, Cultural Studies, Reception Studies and Cultural Discount constitute the theoretical paradigm which enables us to respond to questions about why, and how, an Italian film arrives in Flanders. These disciplines are not concerned, however, with the study of the film dialogue and its meanings. The meanings (symbolic or not) of the film are not only transmitted by the film as a whole, but also, and perhaps above all, by the words of the film which, in our case , are the translated words of the film, i.e. the subtitles. The audiovisual translation is the object of Translation Studies and, in particular, Audiovisual Translation Studies . The Dutch subtitles of Italian films are thus addressed in this study with the tools offered by this discipline. Traditionally, Translation Studies does not concern itself with the underlying issues when a film is exported from one country (Italy ) to another (Flanders). This study tries to show how a sociological framework is nevertheless useful for improving the analysis of translation problems. Particular attention will be paid to the cultural problems posed by the translation of realia. The realia, otherwise also referred to as cultural words, names of particular entities, culture-bound words, extralinguistic culture-bound references (ECRs), are words that refer to elements of daily life, history, culture, products of a certain country and that do not exist in other countries. In this research, it is believed that realia, the cultural elements that are most frequently encountered in film dialogue, constitute a very relevant object of study and help us appreciate the presence of the symbolic values in films. Accordingly, Audiovisual Translation Studies offers the theoretical paradigm within which questions about how certain themes and certain words of Italian films are presented to the Flemish public are addressed. The linguistic research consists of a corpus that collected the Italian film dialogue, along with the Dutch subtitles, of six films: La meglio gioventù (Giordana 2003), L’ultimo bacio (Muccino 2001), Malena (Tornatore 2000), Non ti muovere (Castellitto 2004) and Pane e tulipani (Soldini 2000). Realia are the connection between the two parts of research. They are the bridge that allows us to study both language and culture in the film dialogue. The case-study: The only Italian film that stood out in Flanders during the period under scrutiny was La meglio gioventù. The film, exceptional for its duration, setting and content, has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon in Flanders. Its success was party driven by the fact that the film was presented at an event that determined the pattern of its consumption and a renegotiation of its meanings. For these reasons, we used the film as a case study that helped us analyse other films of the corpus. The findings : The journey that Italian films make to arrive in Flanders is very much determined by the cultural intermediaries who choose and distribute them. Usually working for small, or very small, enterprises that also own Art-houses, they generally decide on which films to bring back at film festivals,Cannes and Berlin being the more prestigious ones. At those festivals, some films acquire what is known as a buzz, a positive reputation that circulates and makes them interesting. These films are bought more willingly than others. When an Italian film has been purchased and brought back to Flanders, it is distributed exclusively in the Art-houses, or else broadcast by the state television. It is not distributed in multiplexes or transmitted on private television. Somewhat surprisingly perhaps, the fact that Italian films are in Italian is the key factor that determines the type of buyer, distributor, theatre, public that will choose it. This happens regardless of the content, the director and the genre of the film. The language is the single greatest influence factor that determines a film’s fate (not in English) in Flanders. The identification of the significance of this linguistic factor is one of the most important findings of this research, not least because it is an innovative viewpoint that opens up many research prospects. The language factor becomes particularly important when you realise that films are subtitled in Flanders. Subtitles translate the film dialogue and, in doing so, contribute significantly to the transmission of symbolic values and cultural themes of the film. These are conveyed by the film dialogue and, consequently, by its translation. When a film crosses national borders, it conveys elements that are difficult to export from a thematic and linguistic point of view. These elements are expressed by the film dialogue and must be translated. The words that give voice to these elements are the realia, because they are words that are understandable in the light of the cultural tradition of one people, but not of another. The realia, coagulating elements of the real world and of the fictional world, play a vital, cohesive role in a film, and constitute one of the elements that guarantee its credibility. The study of the translation of realia, however, has highlighted the fact that very often, the translation strategies adopted to render them tend to omit their connotative dimension. Despite the significance of the language factor, the cultural intermediaries consider subtitles to be a marginal element of the film, relegating them to one of the technical elements that are necessary for the distribution of films, while the translators are primarily concerned with the quality of subtitles as a product. Research and innovation of subtitles do not appear to be within the sphere of interest of either film distributors or translators. The study of translation strategies that is applied to render the realia has shown that there is a common strategy that brings near the interpretation of the film in Flanders and the importance of some of its mono-cultural elements. When realia refer to mono-cultural themes of the Italian films, they are often rendered with one single, dominant translation strategy, a choice that suggests a lack of awareness of the need to translate the connotative dimension of these realia. This research has also highlighted a general lack of promotion of Italian films, particularly with regard to the absence of intervention in new media. Conclusions : The conclusion is twofold. On the one hand, the Italian film should be distributed along with a discourse that makes them more easily accessible to the Flemish public, while . on the other hand, the translation of their mono-cultural realia should include the film’s huge number of mono-cultural themes. In future, we suggest more time and money is invested in a general reflection on the techniques used for creating subtitles in order to make them more flexible and suitable to modern communication. Ideally, subtitles should be generated as the film develops



Phd Student(s)


Stefania Marzo