Through the wonder of DVDs I’ve been watching more and more movies in their original English language. In Germany almost all video content is dubbed (i.e. dialogue is replaced with a German translation); it actually is kinda hard to get original language content unless you buy the DVD, since untranslated movies are only shown about once a week, late at night. And only in cinemas, not on TV.
It’s great to have a movie in your native language, but now that I started paying attention, I noticed that the result is often imperfect – sentences not finished properly, awkward language, timing issues (German words are longer on average than English ones), or ocasionally outright translation errors. I was really startled when I started paying attention, because all but the most gross issues kinda are corrected subconsciously.
The thing that surprised me most was that accents generally are ignored. In retrospect it seems logical, since there is no German equivalent to, say, Cockney. Generally, the only accents kept – or rather replaced with German equivalents – are the clichéd ones: French, Russian, Chinese, Texan, etc. Some others do keep their vocabulary (say, the scottish ‘aye’), but that’s mostly it.
It’s confusing when the dialogue directly touches the accent – sometimes it’s smoothed over (e.g. someone – falsely – claiming that the character in question falls into mumbling sometimes, instead of pointing out that he’s Canadian), but other times no explanation is given.
Another topic is humour. That’s hard to get right, and it is the area where most of the mistakes are made. That’s because humour often depends on word ambiguity, alliterations/rhymes or things every native speaker would know. It is remarkable how successfull dubbing is in this respect nonetheless. But when it fails, you notice.
Still, there are some movies where IMHO the localized version improved upon the original: Pirates of the Carribean does seem to be a lot funnier to me in German. Mainly because of added emphasis here or there – the characters are more over-the-top without it seeming silly. On the other hand, maybe on average there isn’t as much emphasis in English and I just didn’t notice yet…
Tags: Dubbing, Movies, Television