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Introduction to Audiovisual Translation


We spend a large portion of our days in front of screens (television, cinema, computer, etc.). They provide information, affect our emotions, ideologies and thoughts, reflect cultures, open us up to new languages or values. Nowadays even though you choose not to read novels or newspapers, you hardly can avoid reading what is displayed on screens – scrolling texts, instructions, forms, subtitles, etc.

In some communities, television even reinforces abilities to read and assists with language learning – BBC World, France 24, French TV5, etc. This is typically done through intra-linguistic subtitles which role is important to help migrants and to integrate the deaf and hard of hearing in a more efficient way.

A Developing Sector

Audiovisual translation is a relatively new sector which rapidly develops as technology advances, mainly caused by the increasing demands and the growing number of theses, conferences, articles, essays, memoirs, etc. Even though audiovisual translation is a field in expansion, it covers a large number of activities in relation to media – including adaptations or editions for newspapers, magazines, press agency dispatches – and multimedia – goods or services online (on the Internet) or offline (CD-ROM). It is also linked to drama, opera and illustrated books. Amongst these activities, we can mention accessibility (subtitling for the deaf and the hard of hearing, audio description, live subtitling), dubbing, subtitling, multimedia localisation and voice over for films. There are however many other aspects and modes in audiovisual translation.


Three main problems apply in regard to performing a language and audiovisual transfer: the connection between images, sounds and speeches; the connection between oral codes and written codes; and the relation between source languages and foreign languages. This shows how essential it is for the translator to develop their skills and their service offers. But what are the common features of all the activities in audiovisual translation? First of all, the boundary between oral and written is entirely erased for translation and interpretation become confused. Secondly, it indicates how necessary it is to assign a great importance to the target audience (children, hearing-impaired, deaf).

In audiovisual translation, accessibility prevails over anything else, including:

  • acceptability: stylistic elements, rhetoric, terminology;
  • readability: location, size and scrolling speed of subtitles;
  • pertinence: information to be added, deleted, omitted;
  • synchronisation for voice over, dubbing, commentary;
  • cultures: to what extent people can accept the proposed narration, the showed values and behaviours?

Therefore the challenge for the translator is to know if they have to bring the target audience and the foreign cultures face to face, or if they have to manipulate the source material so as to meet the target audience’s expectations and liking, even though it implies to censor, take on linguistic purism or change a part of a plot. Here, the translator’s ethical code is at stake. That being said, some modes of audiovisual translation already transgress the ethics insofar as the Other is completely erased: his voice and his speech.

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