An Intercultural Perspective on Subtitling Cultural Gaps for International Films: A Case of Fifteen Iranian Films
Culture and translation are two inseparable entities. People coming from different linguistic backgrounds often need to communicate, and this communication requires some type of translation. As a result, cultural exchange is the origin of translation, and translation is the result of culture exchange. That is, culture cannot survive without translation (Yan & Huang 2014). One area where culture and translation are inextricably connected is film translation and subtitling.
International film festivals are held annually to celebrate, evaluate and award the best film productions as well as recognize outstanding achievements in the cinematic arts. Audiovisual translation (of either type dubbing or subtitling) arose in the film industry for the same reason: to assure cultural export of the leading films to the rest of the world because as Díaz-Cintas remarked in an interview, there may be frequent errors, ambiguities, content-related and linguistic misunderstandings which can have a very negative impact (Roldán 2015: 2) on the ‘export’ and distribution of the product. Although film subtitling appears to be straightforward at first glance, it is not without its challenges. Apart from the issue that cultural interchangeability is possible through cultural substitution (Pederson 2007:30), cultural and linguistic variations complicate the problem even more. These issues can, sometimes, result in the loss and inexplicable transfer of the audiovisual products’ major language or cultural content. The product may fail to ‘export’ its core message, resulting in confusion. The ‘lexical gaps’ frequently, commonly associated with culture-specific items, are among difficult areas rooted in cultural variations that, according to Darwish (2010), may disqualify the subtitling work.
In the case of the language and process of subtitling films for international festivals, a variety of languages is used depending on the region where the festival is held. As Díaz-Cintas explained in an interview:
In most cases, they come from exotic countries where minority languages are spoken. Although the film may be Iranian, Czech, Portuguese, or Polish, the translator usually receives a dialogue list in English. So English is used as a pivot language, a widespread practice in this field. English is generally used in the master list for the preparation of multilingual subtitles of films shot originall
in lesser-known languages. English is used as a pivot language or a bridge language, that is, an intermediary language (cited in Roldán 2015: 2).
As for other languages, he states:
They are projected in their original language with a set of subtitles in the language of the host country: German, if traveling to Berlin, or French in the case of Cannes; and another set in English, for the international audience (cited in Roldán 2015: 2).
Regarding the festival film audience and quality of translation, Díaz-Cintas maintained
the audience of a film festival is very different from the audience of commercial cinema. They are movie buffs, cinephiles. Among them, there are also the film directors and producers, cultural agents, journalists, film critics, who can see that movie with a more critical eye. They are the ones to decide on its impact and its future, or whether it is going to be distributed, or just going to end up in the film festival. From this point of view, the quality of the translation should be given priority. The chances to go further will always increase if the translation is good (cited in Roldán 2015: 7).
Regarding the above points, in the present study, the English subtitles do not mean that a specific type of ‘English culture’ but rather the international audience of a film festival, which may not necessarily come from an English language background, is being addressed. Following Díaz-Cintas’ statement, the (international) audience of the English subtitles of the Persian films are assumed to be those who decide on the films’ impact and their future. Therefore, examining the quality of translation (subtitling) is given priority.
Persian, like all other languages, contains a large number of lexicalized words, phrases, and expressions that are unique to it. While subtitling Iranian films from Persian to English, lexical gaps might emerge, resulting in an unintelligible transfer of content. These differences may present complications for viewers at international film festivals as they come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds. Many culture-specific concepts may be unfamiliar to the international viewers, and the specific terms, phrases, and expressions untranslatable in English other cultures. In other words, they are not lexicalized in English. As a result, a part of the quality and appeal of films presented at international film festivals will be determined by the quality and accuracy of subtitling of these lexical gaps. The challenges of subtitling culture-specific items from Persian into English in internationally nominated films have rarely been addressed. This study was an attempt to address the different subtitling standards that the subtitlers have employed in translating cultural gaps in selected Iranian international films, especially those nominated for the most famous global film festivals.
2. Theoretical background
This section introduces the theoretical frameworks of the study. To cover all aspects of the research, including cultural translation, subtitling, and lexical gaps, this study triangulated Katan’s (2012) methodology for examining the role of cultural translation, Darwish’s (2010) taxonomy for identifying and analyzing lexical gaps, and Pederson’s (2011) taxonomy for categorizing the strategies used in the subtitles of the selected films.
2.1. Culture and translation
Culture is a highly controversial concept (Katan 2009). It originally referred to the humanist ideal of what was civilized in a developed society (e.g., music, art, food and drink, dress, language and so on). This is the out-of-water tip of the iceberg in his “iceberg representation of culture.” Then, it came to be defined as the way of the life of a people (e.g., rituals, traditions, and so on). This is partly a hidden part of the iceberg. With the development of sociology and cultural studies, it was related to forces in society or ideology (Katan 2009:74-78). The first two more simplistic definitions of culture are accounted for the analyses of the films in this study.
In intercultural communication, misunderstanding arises not through language but through other, silent, hidden or unconscious yet preferred factors, in short cultural differences (Hall 1990 cited in Katan 2009:74). This study impinges on Katan’s (2012) idea that culture is a manifestation of difference. Translation, as an act of communication, requires treating the text itself as only one of the cues of meaning. Other ‘silent, ‘hidden’, and ‘unconscious’, which when shared may be termed cultural, determine how a text will be understood. In translating, a new text will be created which will be read according to a different map or model of the world, through a series of different set of perceptions (Katan 2009: 91). One area that arises misunderstanding, related to cultural differences, and may contribute to the emergence of lexical gaps is lexical gaps (Janssen, 2012). Such lexical gaps need special approach in intercultural communication or translation. Such an approach, which came into existence in 1990s under ‘cultural turn’, became known as ‘cultural translation’.
2.2. Cultural translation
There are many approaches to cultural translation, given the numerous definitions of both culture and translation. Following Katan (2012), we might say that both culture and translation revolve around differences. Thus, we require translation when that ‘difference’ significantly impacts communication. In other words, as cultural features of every society are different from the other, translators should attempt to show the differences between two cultures. As Yan and Huang (2014) stated, people from different languages need to exchange and such exchange must be followed by translation since language is the most important tool for cultural exchange. As such, culture exchange are the sources of translation, and translation is the product of culture exchange. In other words, translation can never exist without culture. Cultural translation helps to connect cultures, enable better communication between societies and eradicate the cultural gaps that may be present. As a result, cultural translation serves not only as a tool for language transfer, but also more importantly as a tool for cultural mediation, which entails explaining, reducing, highlighting, or reconciling differences (Katan 2012). That is why, under this paradigm, translators are referred to as mediators. To quote Roldán (2015):
Given that in international film festivals there is a very direct contact among different languages and cultures, it seems unquestionable that this audience goes looking for cultural knowledge. In this sense, the role of subtitler as a cultural mediator is crucial. (p.7)
The approaches to cultural translation may then be divided according to how the difference between ‘self and other’ should be managed in translation: translation from cultures where differences should be explained, translation for cultures where differences should either be reduced (domestication) or highlighted (foreignization), and translation between cultures, which, as he pointed out, gauges the likely tolerance for difference and attempts to mediate or reconcile differences, creating an interspace. Katan (2012) used the metaphoric language of global interactions and maintained that the three approaches are good for the export, import, and transport of cultures. Cultural products, particularly films, are frequently used to export cultures to other parts of the world. According to Kostopoulou (2015:53), “films are a medium in which the translator mediates between languages and cultures.”
2.3. Translation of lexical gaps
‘Lexical gap’ was originally a term in semantics within one language, and then it was introduced into the translation field, where it refers to the phenomenon that we have no ready equivalent in the target language (TL) for an existing word in the source language (SL). Lexical gaps, like other linguistic gaps, are the result of communication between cultures and languages (Janssen, 2012). From a translation equivalent perspective, “when the source language expresses a concept with a lexical unit where the target language expresses the same concept with a free combination of words, or with phrases” (Darwish, 2010:244). Despite its high frequency of appearance in translation, the ‘lexical gap’ has not yet been fully investigated or considered as a standard entry in many translatology lexicons, and many translators cite the term according to their comprehension of it. Culture and linguistics are two sets of factors that may contribute to the emergence of lexical gaps. To put it another way, translation inevitably involves two cultures and two languages, and discrepancies in these two fields are the most significant barriers to translation equivalence. The lexicon of a language reflects the cultural environment it lies in; hence we cannot expect the words specialized in one culture to have equivalents in another language reflecting another culture.
Different word-forming mechanisms and metaphorical uses of words, on the other hand, have expanded the gaps between the two lexicon systems. In their description of the language, linguists occasionally consider the non-existing word, words, text, or utterances. The non-existing items indicate lexical ‘gaps’ or ‘holes’ in the lexicon of a language, resulting in lexical gaps. There are lexical gaps in the lexicon of every language. For example, in the Persian-Islamic culture, the word /nadjes/ refers to foods and beverages that are prohibited, such as pork and alcoholic beverages. Although such a concept is translatable (in a variety of ways such as description, paraphrasing or cultural substitution), there is no one-to-one equivalence or word for it in other cultures.
As Darwish (2010) put it, lexical gaps appear in translation in a variety of situations: First, when the SL uses a lexical unit to convey an idea whereas the TL uses a free combination of words or phrases to express the same concept. Second, when an SL concept does not exist in the TL. Although there may be some overlap, this type of lexical gap does not always have cultural connotations, such as computers, laptops, iPad, mobiles, iPhones, and so on. Yet the lexical items can be worked out in the target language from the stock of the language without cultural restrictions. The constraints may be administrative, technological, socio-economic, or governmental (Personal communication 2022). Third, when the SL denotation of a concept is different from the denotation of the same concept in TL. Fourth, when the SL and TL taxonomies are not congruent. For example, in English, the terms ‘engine’ and ‘motor’ intersect, whereas, in standard Arabic, there is only one term, muharrik (محرک), which subsumes both. Fifth, when there is a cultural gap (Darwish 2010:244). This type of lexical gap is culture-specific. For example, skyscraper was translated into Arabic as Cloud Butters (ناطحة سحاب) instead of (Xadishat as-sama’) (خادشات السماء) for two reasons: one was aesthetic, as the latter did not sound nice, and the other was cultural (with religious connotations), as scraping the sky was reminiscent of the story of Nimrud and the tower of Babel (Personal communication 2022).
2.4. Subtitling strategies
The majority of lexical gaps between SL and TL users are attributable to cultural and socioeconomic variations (Janssen 2012). To put it another way, lexical gaps are frequently related to culture-specific items, which have shown to put translators into trouble, particularly in an audiovisual format. In terms of subtitling, culture-specific items are considerably more challenging to render because they require descriptive techniques that conflict with the spatial and temporal constraints that govern subtitling. Subtitling cultural references is often problematic. Subtitlers may replace the original reference with a similar one in the TL, but the similar reference does not always convey the original reference correctly. Pedersen (2007) argues that in some genres such as comedy, eliciting a similar reaction is what is most important, so replacing the reference is acceptable. But, as he points out, sometimes the target audience understands the original reference, making its replacement unnecessary. As a result, Gottlieb (1992) referred to subtitling as ‘diagonal’ translation because subtitlers simultaneously need to be interpreters, literary translators, film cutters, and book designers. Therefore, a problematic issue when translating for subtitles is the length of the text produced. Omission or the insufficient rendering of culture-specific items, a recurrent case, making subtitling a vulnerable form of audiovisual translation anybody can judge and critique it based on seeing and hearing source and target texts (Diaz Cintas & Remael 2014:8).
A variety of translation strategies has been proposed for translating culture-specific items in the audiovisual mode. Pedersen (2005) proposed six strategies for translating Extralinguistic Cultural References (ERCs) under two Venuti’s (1995) SL- and TL-oriented categories (domestication and foreignization). However, he modified the model slightly in 2011. Pederson (2011) categorized the SL-oriented strategies as Retention occurs when the ERCs are rendered into the TL in an unchanged (complete retention) or slightly adapted (TL adjusted) form; Specification, further subdivided into addition and completion, occurs when the ERCs are specified by adding more information; Direct translation is, in fact, word-for-word translation, further subdivided into calque and shifted. The TL-oriented strategies are Generalization (hyponymy or paraphrase) occurs when the culture-specific items are rendered less specifically in the target text than it is in the source text; Substitution (cultural or situational) occurs when the ERCs in the source culture are replaced by other ERCs; Omission occurs when the ERCs are ignored and not rendered at all. Pedersen (2011) distinguished one more strategy for translation of ERCs for the audiovisual mode: official equivalent existing between the source and target cultures. This strategy differs from those identified as target and SL-oriented because it involves an administrative process rather than a linguistic one (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Pederson’s typology of subtitling strategies
According to Pederson (2017), cultural references constitute one of the translation problems in the subfield of audiovisual translation. Pederson’s (2011) model was employed in this study to investigate how the Persian cultural terms and expressions were subtitled in the films nominated and screened at global leading festivals.
The following section elaborates on the methods used to explore whether and how the cultural translation of the selected films took place through the subtitling practice, thus will aid in answering the research question: How did the translators choose to culturally fill the gaps in the English subtitles of the Persian films.
3. Methods and materials
In the first qualitative phase of the study, the collected data were analyzed in terms of the subtitling strategies used to convey the culture-based lexical gaps in the selected Iranian films. In the second quantitative phase, the collected data were analyzed and depicted in bar charts to make more meaningful comparisons. As for the analysis of the films, every single utterance in the Persian films was watched thoroughly, and the utterances containing cultural items that could be considered a type of lexical gap were retrieved and coded. The sentences expressed by the characters were chosen as the unit of analysis. A total number of 146 codes were identified. Following the identification stage, the subtitled versions of the films were watched for the retrieved lexical gaps, and the corresponding English items or expressions were identified, compared, and categorized into Pederson’s subtitling categories. The results of the analyses were also visualized through bar charts. These included the descriptive statistics for lexical gaps, subtitling strategies, and source- and target-oriented subtitles.
The corpus of the study consisted of 15 Iranian films which were screened at the world’s leading international film festivals between the years 2008 and 2018. The selected films have Iranian themes with many types of lexical gaps including religious, cultural, and even geographical.
|Persian/English titles||Director||Release year||Festivals|
|درباره ی الیAbout Eli||Asghar Farhādi||2009||Berlin International Film Festival 2009 Oscars 2009Vienna International Film Festival, 2009 Chicago International Film festival, 2009|
|جدائی نادر از سیمینA Separation||Asghar Farhādi||2012||International Film Festival of Berlin Golden Globe AwardThe Oscars, Academy Awards|
|عصبانی نیستمI Am Not Angry||Reza Dormishiān||2014||Berlin International Film Festival|
|فروشندهThe Salesman||Asghar Farhādi||2015||Cannes Festival, 2016Oscars, 2017Golden Globe AwardsVancouver International Film Festival|
|نفسBreath||Narges Abyār||2015||Asia Pacific Screen AwardsTallinn Black Nights Film Festival|
|ناهیدNāhid||Aydā Panāhandeh||2015||Chicago International Film Festival, 2015Brussels International Independent Film Festival, 2015Bratislava Film Festival, 2015|
|ماهی سیاه کوچولوThe Little Blackfish||Majid Ismāeili||2015||International Film Festival of Fajr|
|21 روز بعد21 Days Later||Mohammad Reza Kheradmandān||2015||Norwegian International Film Festival Asia Pacific Screen Awards|
|بادی گاردThe Bodyguard||Ibraāim Haāami Kiā||2016||Vienna International Film Festival|
|برادرم خسروMy Brother Xosrow||Ehsaā Biglari||2016||Swedish Film Festival|
|زردYellow||Mostafā Taghizādeh||2017||Shanghai International Film Festival, 2017|
|تابستان داغ داغThe Hot Summer||Ebrāhim Irajzād||2017||Stocxolm Film Festival, 2017|
|ماجرای نیم روزMidday Adventures||Mohammad Hossein Mahdaviān||2017||International Film Festival of India|
|سد معبرBlockage||Mohsen Gharāyi||2017||International film festivals of Rotterdam, Sofia, Munich|
|به وقت شامDamascus Time||Ibrāhim Hātami Kiā||2018||Cannes Film Festival, 2018|
In this section, the qualitative and quantitative findings of the study are presented and illustrated.
4.1. Analysis of lexical gaps
A total number of 146 lexical gaps were identified in the selected films and categorized into Darwish’s (2010) lexical gap categories. As a result, 40 of the 146 identified lexical gaps were of type 1, 29 cases were of type 2, 43 cases were of type 3, five cases were of type 4, and 29 cases were of type 5. Table 2 summarizes the descriptive statistics:
|Type of lexical gaps||Frequency||Percentage|
Figure 2: Percentage of the identified lexical gaps in the selected films (Darwish, 2010).
As Figure 2 shows, the most frequent type of lexical gap (type 3) was due when the denotation of the SL concept was different from that in the TL, and the least frequent type of lexical gap (type 4) was due when the SL and TL taxonomies were not congruent.
4.2. Analysis of subtitling strategies
4.2.1 Lexical gaps type 1
Type 2 lexical gaps occur when the SL expresses a concept with a lexical unit when the TL expresses the same concept with a free combination of words or phrases instead of a single word. Quantitatively, 40 cases of type 1 lexical gaps were identified in the films’ utterances. Of these 40 cases, 19 were subtitled through ‘cultural substitution’. Many religious and swearing expressions that are commonly used in Islamic culture are replaced by the expressions which are common in the target culture and language. For example, the phrase حلالیت گرفتن /halāliat gereftan/ that is used in Islamic culture is replaced with ‘clear conscience’ which is very common in the target culture. Ten cases were subtitled through ‘generalization (paraphrasing)’. For example, the insulting phrase خاک بر سرت /xāk bar saret/ is generalized as ‘You are stupid’, or the phrase بی شرف کثافت /bišaraf-e kesāfat / is generalized and replaced with the word ‘filth’ as used in the target culture. Nine cases were subtitled through ‘generalization (hyponymy)’. For example, the cursing expression الهی جوون مرگ بشی /elāhi javoon marg beshi/ which is common in Persian culture is replaced by the more general term ‘May God kill you!’ that is used in the target culture, or the praising expression قربون قدت برم /qorbun-e qadet beram/ which praises a person by referring to his height and is a common expression in Persian culture is replaced by the more general expression ‘I love you’ in English. Two cases were subtitled through ‘omission’. For example, the cursing expression به اسفل سافلین/be asfal-o sāfelin/, as commonly used in Persian culture, is replaced by nothing. Other Pederson’s strategies were not found for type 1 lexical gaps. For a thorough list of the identified lexical gaps, their corresponding subtitles, and the employed strategies see Appendix. Figure 3 illustrates the percentages of each subtitling strategy (the unused strategies are not included in the figure).
Figure 3: Type 1 lexical gaps subtitling strategies
As Figure 2 illustrates, the most frequent strategy used in subtitling type 1 lexical gaps is ‘cultural substitution’ (47.5%), and the least frequent one is ‘omission’ (5%).
4.2.2 Lexical gaps type 2
Type 3 lexical gaps occur when the concept stated in the SL does not exist in the TL. Examples are concepts that are related to religious lexical units like سینه زدن /sine zadan/. This expression is an act that Muslims of Iran do in a religious ceremony for the death of the third Imam of the Shia Muslims. The absence of this religious ritual in other cultures creates a lexical gap when translating from Persian to English. From a quantitative point of view, 29 cases of type 2 lexical gaps were identified in the films’ utterances. Of these 29 cases, 8 were subtitled through ‘generalization (paraphrase)’. For example, the Persian phrase خسته نباشید /xaste nabsāšid/ which is told to a person after hard work is generalized and paraphrased as ‘You ok?’ as a more common phrase in such a situation, or the phrase چای ذغالی /chāy-e zoqali/ as the tea that Iranians sometimes make on charcoal is generalized and replaced with ‘This kind of tea’. Two cases were generalized with hyponymy. For example, the Persian term نجس /nadjes/ which is a religious term in Islamic culture meaning ‘forbidden’ is subtitled as the general term ‘dirt’ in the other cultures, or the word نقل /Noql/ which is a Persian type of sweet used by Iranians in ceremonies is replaced with the general hyponymy ‘sweet’. Three cases were subtitled through ‘cultural substitution’. For example, the phrase حاج خانوم /hāj xānoom/ which is a religious address term among Muslim women is substituted with ‘madam’ as it is a more common term in English, or the phrase خروس قندی /xoroos qandi/ which is a kind of chocolate among the Persians is substituted with the word ‘lollipop’ as used in other cultures. Six cases were found not to be translated and omitted by the subtitlers, perhaps because they were not familiar concepts for the viewers. Example areسفره عقد /sofre-ye aqd/ or خطبه عقد /xotbeye aqd/. Eight cases were directly translated (shifted). For example, the religious termsعاشورا /Ašurā/ or تعزیه /Ta’ziye/ were directly translated (transliterated) as ‘Ashura’, and Taziyeh’ because they were unfamiliar concepts for the viewers. Two cases were directly translated as a calque. For example, the phrase شکلات اطلسی /šokolāt-e atlasi/ which is a common kind of chocolate in Persian culture is directly translated as ‘Atlasi Chocolate’ in English. For a thorough list of the identified lexical gaps, their corresponding subtitles, and the employed strategies see Appendix B. Figure 4 illustrates the percentages of each subtitling strategy.
Figure 4. Type 2 lexical gaps subtitling strategies
As Figure 4 illustrates, the most frequent strategy used in subtitling type 2 lexical gaps is ‘generalization (paraphrasing)’ (27.5%), and the least frequent one is ‘direct translation (calque)’ (7%).
4.2.3 Lexical gaps type 3
Type 4 lexical gaps occur when the SL denotation of a concept is different from that of the TL. For instance, some terms used in the Persian language for swearing has not the same denotative meaning in the English language. Persians swear to the Qur’an, God, Imam Hussein, and other religious elements of Islam but the English people have the same concept of swearing but express it in other ways. In other words, the concept is similar but not equal in both languages. Quantitatively, 43 cases of type 3 lexical gaps were identified in the films’ utterances. Of these 43 cases, 12 cases are subtitled through ‘generalization (paraphrase)’. For example, the praying phrase حلالم کنید /halālam konid/ in Persian is paraphrased as ‘Forgive me’ in English, and the praising phrase تصدقت برم /tasadoqet beram/ which is commonly used in Persian culture is paraphrased as ‘I love you!’ in English. This indicates that the praying and praising concepts exist in both cultures, but are expressed differently in the two languages. 8 cases were subtitled through ‘cultural substitution’. For example, generalization (paraphrase)’. For example, the Persian cursing phrase درد بگیری /dard begiri/ is translated as ‘Damn you!’ which is a more common cursing phrase in English. Eleven cases were subtitled through ‘generalization (hyponymy)’. For example, the Persian phrase دختر محجوب /doxtar-e mahjoob/ which conveys an Islamic concept is generalized by the more common English term ‘Good girl’, or the phrase رقص بندری /raqs-e bandari/, which is a common style of dancing in the south of Iran is generalized by the more general word ‘Dance’ in English. Three cases were substituted through ‘direct translation (shifted)’. For example, the phrase آقامون /āqāmoon/ which is used by some Iranian married women is directly translated (shifted) as ‘My master’ in English, or the term سربند /sar band/ which is used in Persian is directly translated as ‘Headpiece’ in English. Three cases were ‘omitted’ in the subtitles. For example, the Persian cursing term به درک /be darak/ is not translated. Two cases were subtitled through ‘retention (adjusted)’. For example, the Persian Islamic-based phrase پول حروم /poo-le haroom/ is preserved and a little adjusted as ‘Dishonest money’ in English, or the Persian cursing expression بری سینه قبرستون الهی /beri sineh-ye qabrestoon elāhi/ is preserved as ‘May you lie in the graveyard’ in English. One case is subtitled through ‘direct translation (calque)’. The Persian Islamic-based term صیغه ی خرید /siqe-ye xarid/ which is used to make any transaction Halal is replaced by the English concept ‘purchase Oath’. Three cases were subtitled through ‘specification (completion)’. For example, the Persian term تمرد /tamarrod/ is specified and completed by the term ‘Disobeying orders’ in English, or the Persian phrase شاگرد بنا /shāgerd-e banā/ is specified by the English term ‘Coolies help!’. Also, the Persian praying expression دردت به سرم /dardet be saram/ is specified as ‘My dear daughter’ in English. For a thorough list of the identified lexical gaps, their corresponding subtitles, and the employed strategies see Appendix C. Figure 5 illustrates the percentages of each subtitling strategy.
Figure 5. Type 3 lexical gaps subtitling strategies
Figure 5 shows that ‘generalization (paraphrasing)’ (28%) was the most frequent strategy for subtitling type 3 lexical gaps, and the least frequent one was ‘direct translation (calque)’ (2.5%).
4.2.4 Lexical gaps type 4
Type 5 lexical gaps occur when the SL and TL taxonomies are not congruent. In other words, lexical gaps originate from differences between the SL and TL taxonomies. Examples are the words that are related to family relationships, a concept that is more detailed in the Persian language. Quantitatively, only 5 cases of lexical gaps type 4 were identified. Two cases were subtitled through ‘cultural substitution’. For example, the Persian phrase ننه آقا /nane- aqā/ which is used in Persian for addressing the father’s mother, while it is culturally substituted with ‘granny’ in English which is a term used for both father’s and mother’s mother, or the Persian word خاله /xāle/ which is used for mother’s sister, while it is culturally substituted with ‘Auntie’ in English which may be used for both father’s and mother’s sister, as well as the wives of both mother’s and father’s brothers. Three cases are subtitled through ‘generalization (hyponymy)’. For example, the phrase پسرعمو /pesar-amoo/ which is specifically used in the Persian culture for the sons of a father’s brother is generalized with the word ‘cousin’ in English which is used for all the sons and daughters of both the father’s and mother’s sisters and brothers. Also, the word عمو /amoo/ which is used in Persian for father’s brother is generalized with the word ‘uncle’ in English which can be used for both mother’s and father’s brother, as well as husbands of father’s and mother’s sisters. For a thorough list of the identified lexical gaps, their corresponding subtitles, and the employed strategies see Appendix D. Figure 6 illustrates the percentages of each subtitling strategy.
Figure 6: Type 4 lexical gaps subtitling strategies
Figure 6 shows that the most frequent strategy used for subtitling type 4lexical gaps is ‘generalization (hyponymy)’ (40%), and the least frequent one is ‘cultural substitution’ (60%).
4.2.5 Lexical gaps type 5
Type 6 lexical gaps occur where there is a cultural gap between the source and TLs. In other words, the differences are more rooted in sole cultural than cultural-linguistic variations. The examples below show the cultural gap between the SLs and TLs. Quantitatively, 29 cases of lexical gaps type 5 were identified. Eight cases were subtitled through ‘direct translation (shifted)’. For example, the word چادر /chādor/ as an Islamic style of covering for women in Persian culture is directly translated into ‘Chador’. The Persian word تکیه /takie/ as a place (smaller than a mosque) for worship is directly translated into ‘Takiey’. The other Islamic-based words such as افطار /eftār/ (the time for breaking the fast in Islam) and اذان /azān/ (the time of prayer in Islam) are subtitled directly as ‘Adhan’ and ‘Iftar’. Five cases are subtitled through ‘cultural substitution’. For example, the Islamic word صلوات /salavāt/, also used in Persian culture, is culturally substituted by the phrase ‘Praise God to…’ in English, or the Persian phrase صحرای محشر /sahrā-ye mahshar/ is culturally substituted by the phrase ‘Judgment Day’ as used in English. Five cases were ‘omitted’ perhaps because they were unfamiliar to the international viewers. For example, the word حاجی /hāji/, used in the Persian culture for a man who has gone to Haj (Ka’ba), or the Persian phrase سینه زدن /sine zadan/ as a praising ritual done in Moharram (for the martyrdom of Imam Hussein) are replaced by nothing in the subtitle. Four cases were subtitled through ‘generalization (paraphrase)’. For example, the expression خسته نباشید /xaste nabāshid/ as widely used in Persian culture is generalized as ‘You ok’ in English, or the phrase کل کشیدن /kel kešidan/ which is a sound that women produce at the time of happiness or sorrow is generalized as ‘Make noises’ in English. Three cases were subtitled through ‘generalization (hyponymy)’. For example, the addressing term حاج خانوم /hāj xānoom/ as used in Persian culture to address a woman who has done her Haj ritual is replaced by the general word ‘Madam’ as used in English, or the religious word نجس /nadjes/ is generalized into the words ‘Wet’ or ‘Dirty’ in English. Two cases are subtitled through ‘direct translation (calque)’. For example, the Persian phrase صیغه ی خرید /siqe-ye xarid/ is directly translated into ‘purchase oath’ in English. In one case only, the Islamic expression یا علی /yā Ali/ which is occasionally used instead of ‘goodbye’ is substituted with the English expression ‘way to go’ which is used in similar situations. In one case, the Persian word مقنعه /maqne’e/ which is a style of covering for women is replaced by the English word ‘Bag’. No subtitling strategy was identified for this case which might have been due to a mistranslation. For a thorough list of the identified lexical gaps, their corresponding subtitles, and the employed strategies see Appendix E. Figure 7 illustrates the percentages of each subtitling strategy. As Figure 7 shows, the most frequent strategy used in subtitling type 5 lexical gaps is ‘direct translation (shifted)’ (27.5%), and the least frequent one is ‘situational substitution’ (3.5%).
Figure 7: Overall percentages of the subtitling strategies
As Figure 7 shows, the first three more frequent strategies used by the subtitlers to treat lexical gaps in the English subtitling of the Iranian films were ‘cultural substitution’ (25.5%), ‘generalization (paraphrasing)’ (24.5%), and ‘generalization (hyponymy)’ (18.5%). Following these three were ‘direct translation’ (shifted) (13.5%) and ‘omission’ (11%). The four last less frequent strategies used by the subtitlers to treat lexical gaps in the English subtitling of the Iranian films were ‘direct translation’ (calque) (3.5 %), ‘specification’ (completion) (2%), ‘retention’ (adjusted) (1.5%), and ‘situational substitution’ (0.5%). In one case (0.5%), the identified item could not be categorized into any of Pederson’s typology.
As Pederson’s (2011) typology is based on source-oriented, target-oriented, and official equivalent strategies, Figure 8 presents such results. Accordingly, of 146 identified lexical gaps, 45 cases (about 32%) were categorized into the first three categories of Pederson’s typology, i.e., retention, specification, and direct translation, and 99 cases (about 68%) were categorized into the last three categories, i.e., generalization, substitution, and omission. No cases were found to be categorized as official equivalent (neither ST- nor TT-oriented) (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Percentages of source and target oriented subtitles.
As Figure 8 demonstrates, the difference between the percentages of the source- and target-oriented results, indicates that the subtitlers of the selected films adopted more target-oriented strategies than source-oriented ones. In other words, they were more concerned with the culture/language of the target language (in this case, English) than with the culture/language of the source language (in this case, Persian).
The current research was carried out on two levels. At the macro level, the study attempted to see if the cultural translation could provide a framework for analyzing the export of the Persian culture in films that were nominated for and screened at international film festivals. In terms of Katan’s (2012) cultural translation approaches, the findings showed that the subtitlers of the selected films have translated from the Persian culture, by explaining the cultural differences through ‘generalization’ of paraphrasing or hyponymy types, for the international audience (of film festivals) who decide on its impact, export, distribution and its future, by either reducing the differences through cultural substitution, or even omitting them, and between the two cultures, by mediating or reconciling the differences through other strategies. In other words, the selected films were shown to be appropriately subtitled for cultural export.
At the micro-level and to conduct the micro-level analysis, the study sought to identify the culture-specific lexical gaps used in the selected films using Darwish’s (2010) typology of lexical gaps. Type 3 lexical gaps were found to account for a significant proportion of the identified lexical gaps. In other words, the foremost lexical gaps occurred due to the difference between the source denotation of a concept and the target denotation of the same concept. This was followed by type 1 lexical gaps where SL expressed a concept with a lexical unit, and the TL expressed the same concept with a free combination of words or phrases. The third most frequent lexical gaps were types 2 and 5 where they appeared when a concept did not exist in the TL, and when two languages of Persian and English had different linguistics taxonomies for some lexical units. The least frequent lexical gaps were type 4 where they came into existence due to the cultural gaps. Finally, the identified lexical gaps were examined against Pederson’s (2011) three source-oriented subtitling strategies of ‘retention, specification, direct translation’, and three target-oriented strategies of ‘generalization, substitution, and omission’.
Based on the results, ‘culture substitution’, justified by Pederson (2007) as the presupposed means of cultural interchangeability, was the most frequent strategy used in subtitling lexical gaps in the Iranian films selected for the study. One possible explanation for this finding is that the majority of lexical gaps were rooted in cultural variations between Persian and English, and that’s why subtitlers adopted more target-oriented strategies (in 68.5% of cases). ‘Generalization (paraphrasing)’ was found to be the second most frequent strategy. Closely tied to cultural substitution, it is concluded that ‘paraphrasing’ was a target-oriented strategy in which subtitlers compensated for the lack of culture-specific lexical gaps by describing and explaining the concepts to the target audience, though not perfectly or completely. Furthermore, ‘direct translation (calque)’, ‘specification (completion)’ and ‘retention’ were less frequently used subtitling strategies (in 32.5% of cases) in treating the lexical gaps in the selected films. One explanation for these findings may be that the subtitlers rarely chose to directly translate, explicate or retain the source concepts or transfer them directly into the TL because the subtitling process was more target-oriented thus they took care not to enter odd or unfamiliar concepts, words, or expressions into their translation of the films so that they confuse the audience. Generally, the findings of the study indicate that the subtitlers have sought equivalence of effect, rather than equivalence of information. To discuss the results in terms of cultural translation, it can be argued that subtitlers and AVT practitioners have largely tended to enhance intercultural communication and cared for the international audience’s grasp of the film contents rather than absolute loyalty to source contents.
To discuss the results in the context of similar studies, it should be noted that the results of this study highly corroborated some of the earlier studies concluding that ‘generalization (paraphrasing)’, ‘transfer’, ‘substitution’, specifically ‘paraphrase with sense transfer’ were among the most common and ‘deletion’ and ‘decimation’ were among the least common strategies used for subtitling culture-specific lexical gaps. In few cases, however, the findings of this study were not consistent with those of others. For example, there was little evidence to support ‘culture substitution’ as the most common subtitling strategy for transferring culture-specific items as it was shown in this study.
This study had certain limitations which might have negatively impacted the results. These limitations include the rarity of analytical frameworks for identifying lexical gaps or subtitling strategies that might be more precise, a small corpus, and subjective identification of lexical gaps or categorization that might have made the findings less generalizable to other similar situations. Given the limitations listed above, future studies could use more updated and relevant frameworks for data analysis, or even draw on interdisciplinary theories from the field of (inter)cultural studies. Future research may also look at a wider number of films (or possibly feature films, documentaries, and so on) and use more raters to improve the reliability and generalizability of the findings.
This study contributes empirical evidence to the idea that “culture and translation are two inseparable entities.” In so doing, one area where culture and translation are inextricably connected was taken into consideration, i.e., the cultural translation of Persian films with a focus on culture-based lexical gaps. International film festivals annually promote, analyze, and award the best film productions, as well as recognize achievements in the cinematic arts. Film festival rules establish the features under which filmmakers are allowed to show their audiovisual works to a broad international audience. Subtitling is one of these features. Within the film industry, film subtitling arose to guarantee the cultural dissemination of excellent films to the rest of the globe. Film subtitling appears to be a simple task at first appearance, but it is not without its difficulties. Separated from the fact that cultural interchangeability is possible through cultural substitution, cultural and language variations exacerbate the difficulty. These difficulties might lead to the loss and unexplainable transfer of the films’ cultural content. To put it another way, the films may fail to ‘export’ the message for which they are produced, leaving the audience perplexed. The current study illustrated how subtitling, when done by professional subtitlers and accredited subtitling companies, can overcome the aforementioned difficulties and be a reliable mode of transfer, especially when translating between cultures and mediated intercultural contacts in global film festivals, where cultural export is as important to the international audience as the cinematic aspects of the films. The study further proposes that through film subtitles, cultural authorities may continue to export and introduce Persian culture to the rest of the world, allowing them to comprehend not just Persian films but also Persian culture. This research could have several theoretical, practical, and pedagogical implications. Theoretically, the study supports the ability of subtitling, as a mode of transfer in audiovisual translation, to convey essential cultural features of audiovisual products, particularly the outstanding films at international events and festivals. In other words, culture as a complex phenomenon can largely be conveyed via linguistic elements of subtitling. Practically, the findings will aid subtitlers in employing more effective strategies when subtitling films and other audiovisual products. Pedagogically, translation teachers and trainers in introducing them to translation students and trainees.