Cursing and bantering in English subtitles

Boum Productions pete
Thu Oct 24 18:21:13 EDT 2002

It's important to be sensitive to local usage. For example, the French use
"con" "merde" and "putain" a lot, but these should really only be translated
into English as "damn", as the more literal translation would put too much
emphasis on the words and, as Markus says, create an unwanted shock effect
for the subtitle reader.

Reading subtitles should as much as possible be an almost unconscious act on
the part of the viewer. Which is why subtitles that move about or change
colour are so distracting. However, we should never fall prey to
prudishness. Swear words in context that are intended to shock or stand out
should always be translated with the appropriate word.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark Nornes" <amnornes at>
To: <KineJapan at>
Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2002 7:44 PM
Subject: Re: Cursing and bantering in English subtitles

> It _is_ harder to read cursing than hear it. First, I think you need to
> be sensitive to the edge of the words, whether they blend in seamlessly
> to the atmosphere as in The Sopranos or Scorsese films or if they are
> themselves shocking for one reason or another. I'm reminded to two
> examples:
> Harada Masato's famous subtitles of Full Metal Jacket. Toda Natsuko did
> the original subtitles, but Kubrick fired her because she left out all
> the obscenities!  His translation is pretty creative (he also wrote an
> article or two about this experience).
> Also, the subtitles for Tenamonya Connection are interesting. If you've
> seen the film, you know how crazy it is. When faced with obscenity in
> Japanese or Chinese, the subtitler used subtitles like You #&$*(#&&!!!!
>     You can do that kind of thing in a transgressive comedy, tho.
> But isn't the standard practice to erase foul language?
> This creates protocols for translating and reading, protocols that
> become naturalized. The shock of reading obscene subtitles is partly
> from the way they break these long-established rules. If this is
> correct, than it's up to someone to start breaking those rules and soon
> we'll get used to seeing these, and know they indicate a certain kind
> of speech in the source language. They'll be shocking only when
> translators want to make them so.
> Markus
> On Thursday, October 24, 2002, at 12:32  PM, Fujioka Asako wrote:
> > Hello. During my work subtitling Japanese films into English, I've been
> > wondering how the international film community (film festival
> > programmers,
> > sales agents, general audiences, journalists) reacts to explicit
> > language in
> > subtitles. Understandably, having to "read" too many curse words in the
> > subtitles leaves a negative effect very different from "hearing" the
> > colloquial language of bantering. Aside from this issue of
> > communicating a
> > film and its nuances properly, are there any kinds of guidelines that
> > major
> > film festivals or movie companies follow in the use of explicit
> > language in
> > subtitles?
> >
> > "come" or "cum" is a word I've used often, now I'm faced with
> > translating
> > cursing: "fuck" and "goddamn" "dick" etc...
> >
> > Any advise would be helpful. Thanks.
> >
> > Fujioka Asako
> >

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