The Translation of Identity: Subtitling the Vernacular of the French cité

Pierre-Alexis Mével

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities (2007), pp. 49-56, doi:10.59860/wph.a6b57a8

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A contribution to: Working Papers in the Humanities 2

Edited by Louise Crowther, Astrid Ensslin and Jennifer Shepherd

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities 2

Modern Humanities Research Association


Abstract.  This paper looks at how the process of translation impacts on the relocation of identity in the field of audiovisual translation, more specifically in that of subtitling. The language used by the three protagonists in the French film La Haine is remarkable both linguistically and culturally, and is clearly a means for them to assert their identity. In using such a variety of French, the three young people in the film not only assert their belonging to a very specific community of practice, but also exclude whoever does not belong to their group. This paper looks at the particular case of La Haine, and comments on what is achieved – as well as what is not achieved – by the English subtitles written by Alexander Whitelaw and Stephen O’Shea in the Tartan Video version (1996). The paper will analyse the implications of using a variety of English such as African American Vernacular English to translate a variety of French such as the one spoken in the cités (projects). The use of a dialect-for-dialect approach means that all cultural references in the original are transposed to the target culture. The implication of this is that the original undergoes a displacement of identity in the process of translation. I question whether the identity thus fabricated by the translators matches the images shown on screen, and subsequently if this approach is, in this particular context, successful or not. This paper draws on my MA dissertation, the wider purpose of which is to analyse the various reasons why a dialect-for-dialect approach may not necessarily work when it comes to audiovisual translation, through the study of the two sets of subtitles available for La Haine.

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