Dubbing in print — will it ever stop?

We’ve all decried the prevalence of dubbing in the foreign-language-phobic US (and maybe the rest of the world too, but what do I know). Is reading a few subtitles really too much to ask of those who can’t understand the foreign language being spoken?

But what about “dubbing” in print? I’m talking about articles whose subject matter clearly involves another language, but in which not a single term from that original language is offered for reference. Thanks to Konrad Lawson at Frog in a Well, today we’ve got a classic example of “print dubbing” in several articles on China’s recent revision of anti-torture laws.

First, let’s consider the three mainstream sources: neither the NYT nor the BBC article offers a single reference to any of the original documents, not even the Xinhua article they almost certainly referenced. So I guess it’s no surprise that original Chinese terms — that might have been useful for further research — are nowhere to be found.

But I’m a bit surprised that Xinhua doesn’t include any Chinese terms either, not even so much as the characters for Pinyin’d names.

Contrast this with the original terminology offered in Konrad Lawson’s article:

  • Names for both new guidelines that all articles referenced: 《关于办理死刑案件审查判断证据若干问题的规定》… and the《关于办理刑事案件排除非法证据若干问题的规定》
  • Chinese Public Security Bureau: 公安部
  • A slew of other terms including torture (刑讯), persuasion (说服), and, my personal favorite, “treason elimination department” (鋤奸部)

I would wish for the inclusion of Chinese characters for individuals’ names, in an ideal world, but I guess you can’t be too picky.

Maybe I am being too picky, but here’s an editorial policy I’d love to see:

  • References to source materials, if available online
  • Names in original script, where available
  • Key terms from original language

To me, such a No Printed Dubbing policy would be consistent with No Video Dubbing: it leaves intact the original language for those who have an interest in listening to it or reading it.

To anticipate a couple of possible concerns…

  • Aesthetics: “It makes a mess for the 95% of readers with no interest in the original language.” Response: In this age of linking and mouseover text, not to mention old-fashioned asterisking and so forth, I think some creative type could find a way to preserve the monolingual flow while providing the additional info.
  • Difficulty: “It’s more work!” Response: well, some. But it’s almost certain the writer is already dealing with the target language — this is a matter of preserving that information, not forcing the writer to do more research to find information they didn’t already have.

That out of the way, it’s worth noting that lots of blogs do something close to No Printed Dubbing already. Besides the Frog in a Well example above, I mentioned justrecently a while back, and Adam Cathcart’s Sinologistical Violincellist always has loads of examples. So why not move the trend into mainstream media?

Maybe there are good reasons. Let me know if this is just a pipe dream.

7 responses to “Dubbing in print — will it ever stop?”

  1. Nick says:

    I heartily concur! I’d like to especially point out the case where quotes are translated; whenever I see a non-English speaker quoted in English, I find myself wondering what was *really* said.

    As for implementation, I lean towards footnotes — simple, everyone already knows how footnotes work, &c.

  2. Nicki says:

    I absolutely agree with you. I have a friend who did some translation of tourist materials into English for the local government. She made sure to keep characters and pinyin for names of places and major attractions. If you show the taxi driver “Evergreen Park” he won’t have a clue but if you show him 万绿园 he will take you there no problem. The government office didn’t like it though and carefully stripped all of those things out before publishing the English language materials.

  3. Syz says:

    @Nick: “what was *really* said” — exactly. Maybe that’s why writers don’t bother, they’re worried they’ve misinterpreted?

    @Nicki: great example — characters AND pinyin (with tonemarks, dammit) should be obligatory for all tourist stuff. Here in Beijing I don’t think you could guarantee a cab driver would know the English names of even the biggest attractions, let alone the second tier ones.

  4. GAC says:

    I very much support no print dubbing. And this isn’t restricted to Anglophone media. I often read El Pais and they have the same issue of translating all quotes into Spanish. As for why blogs do this and news organizations don’t, I have two (probably overlapping) reasons:

    1) Newspapers are more conservative than blogs, having established a method of newsreporting that is still more suitable for a printed paper than for the Web. You can see this in newspaper’s reluctance to link, while blog posts range from a few scattered reference links to practically every other word being blue and underlined.
    2) Newspapers are meant for a general audience, while blogs usually serve specific interests. Since only a small portion of the public will care (or even understand) what so-and-so said in his original language, let alone that Hu Jintao is actually 胡锦涛 in Chinese characters.

    Plus, is it really a certainty that the reporter was working in the original language? They may have employed an interpreter while giving an oral interview, which would significantly up the cost of retrieving the original. I think you are very much correct to not ask for anything more than the reporter is already handling directly. As much as I would love for every Korean name in the news to have it’s Chinese characters included so I can talk to my Chinese friends about that person, I know that realistically, even a reporter fluent in Korean isn’t likely to have that information without doing a little unnecessary extra work.

  5. […] original statement, is beyond me.  (Fortunately, Sinoglot has some very good ideas today about why we generally lack translations or links to things Chinese in the Anglophone press.) Of course,  the English-language site of the Foreign Ministry has yet to include a translation, […]

  6. Kellen says:

    Kind of off topic, but oh well. Nicki’s comment reminded me of this. One time friends came into Shanghai, with reservations at the Golden Gate Hotel on Nanjing Road. This they had in English. We drive around in a taxi for quite some time looking for 金门酒店 or anything like it, only to learn much later that the Chinese name of Golden Gate Hotel is 太平洋酒店. Thanks, guidebook!

  7. […] Times, but in fact in the Chinese-language version which is in fact called the Huanqiu Shibao.  But in neither case does anyone bother to provide a link or a translation of anything more than a fe….  And thus we are left as Anglophone readers with a vague sense of dread: China is getting so […]

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