Other studies of movie titles have shown that translators can go a thousand miles in order to culturally adapt their translations to fit their audience; sometimes to the very extreme (cf. Brew 2008, 50FMTT 2011 and Mahan 2012). Ultimately the producers’ choice, this article nonetheless investigates translations of Disney© movie titles from English into the target languages German, French, Spanish, Russian and Swedish. The selection of target languages was made based on the number of speakers of the languages, but the access to native speakers to evaluate the titles was also taken into consideration. Both a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of the subject will be provided.
My hypothesis is that there are three different strategies that translators can choose to follow:
- The original is kept, that is, there is no actual translation but the original title is taken as it is. However, the spelling can perhaps be a bit adapted towards the target language (for example use of the Cyrillic alphabet, and spelling modification in order to aid pronunciation)
- A literal translation from the source language into the target language
- A new version of the title is provided
- Cultural adaptation
- Picked up on something else in the movie
- Any other type of adaptation
Since the primary audience of Disney© movies is children, one would assume that there is a lot of cultural adaptation.
To see the complete list of movie titles and their translations, please refer to Appendix 1 at the end of the article.
48 Original Movie Titles, 240 Possible Translations
As the basis of the analysis, a list of movie titles (Rhen 2003) was found online and adapted to fit the research needs. For example, Russian titles were added by comparing the English Wikipedia article for the different movies with their Russian equivalents. For the other languages, existing gaps in the table were filled using the same method. To ease the analysis process, regarding the French and Spanish titles, only the European language versions were chosen in cases where two alternatives existed. All titles were first doubled-checked and subsequently rated by native speakers of the different languages. This rating was then double-checked once more and slightly modified in order to add more cohesiveness to the analysis as a whole by for example avoiding that the same type of translation tactic was rated in different ways. For the quantitative part of this study, the total numbers and percentages for the different ratings were calculated. Additionally, the numbers for the individual languages were also extracted. For the qualitative part, the translations were sorted according to rating category instead of language-wise as during the rating round. The different rating categories were then sorted according to the number of languages using the same strategy for the same title.
Figure 1. Distribution of translation strategies used, all languages included
Figure 1 above contains the distribution across ratings for all languages. Here one can note that across all languages, literal translation is the most common rating. Another feature worth noting is that there are two major trends; one for French and German titles and one for the Spanish, Swedish and Russian ones.
In the circle diagrams below, the above mentioned trend for the French and German strategies is easily spotted with the numbers going hand in hand in the following way (first the French, then the German percentages): 23 and 29% are original titles, 46 and 38% are literal translations, and 31 and 33% are new titles. As one can tell from the numbers, this trend is characterised by a fairly even distribution between the different strategies, but there is still a majority of literal translations.
Figure 2. Overview of French translation strategies
Figure 3. Overview of German translation strategies
In the second set of circle diagrams, the trend for Spanish, Swedish and Russian can be identified (see diagrams below). The characteristic of this trend is that across all languages, more than 50% of the titles are rated as 2 and for 31% of the titles the original ones are kept (rating 1). This leaves less than 20% (17% for Spanish and Swedish, and 10% for Russian) rating as 3 (new title). This means that another way to look at this trend is that it is one displaying the least amount of creativity since the number of adapted titles is the lowest. Within this trend, it is the Russian ratings that are the most deviant showing the highest number of literal translation at 58%, and due to this reason the lowest number for adapted translations.
Figure 4. Overview of Spanish translation strategies
Figure 5. Overview of Swedish translation strategies
Figure 6. Overview of Russian translation strategies
Strategy 1 is, as described in the beginning of this article, the use of the exact same title as the original movie with only slight spelling changes, or the use of another type of alphabet (for example the Cyrillic alphabet in the Russian case). In the analysis, it turned out that it was mostly the Spanish titles that presented spelling alternations in order to cater for a Spanish pronunciation of the film. This happened to both Mulán and Hércules. Another adaptation was made for Swedish with the removal of the article in The Aristocats, and thus only retaining the title as Aristocats. A logic explanation behind this removal appears not to be found, but it may also have something to do with making it less foreign sounding. Moreover, to further exemplify this strategy, below are the 10 out of 20 titles rated as original ones for all 5 languages:
|Lilo & Stitch|
Table 1. List of original titles that were kept for all 5 languages
Regarding the table above, it is worth noting that 90% of these titles are names of characters. Based on this evidence, it is relatively safe to formulate the conclusion that titles containing character names have the highest probability of not being translated into the target language.
Strategy 2, or the second rating, was used when the title was translated, but the same sense was rendered, that is, providing a literal translation. The types of titles that end up in this category are of varying kinds that are difficult to sum up into types. However, a trend is that they are longer titles containing more words, but that are yet straightforward in their meaning, that is, no wordplays. An interesting example from this category is the literal translation of Monsters Inc. for all languages but Swedish, since it also provides for great cultural adaptation. The translations look as follows:
|French||Monstres et Cie||compagnie|
|German||Die Monster AG||Aktiengesellschaft|
|Spanish||Monstruos S.A.||Sociedad Anónima|
Table 2. Translations of Monsters Inc. into French, German, Spanish and Russian
One can observe that in half of the cases, the English abbreviation Inc. for incorporated has been replaced with a similar one for the other languages; German “stock company” and Spanish “type of corporation”. The Russian and French words simply mean “company”.
A final feature worth noting about this category is the existing spelling adaptations. In the Russian case, apart from the consistent and natural use the Cyrillic alphabet, in cases of articles they are consistently removed because there are no articles in the Russian language, and therefore it would probably appear odd to keep the English ones. An example is Великий мышиный сыщик, which is the literal translation of The Great Mouse Detective.
Strategy 3 of new titles is linguistically the most interesting strategy, even if it is the statistically least frequent category. Therefore, only a short summary of the two main trends in this category will be provided. The most common trend is the adding of characters names to the titles. In 51% of the 55 new titles, a name has been added. The titles for which character names were added the most (in 4/5 cases available) were The Fox and the Hound and The Great Mouse Detective (see appendix 1 for whole titles). For other examples of this approach within the strategy, see the appendix 1. The second biggest approach to the adaptations is for the translator to focus on a certain feature in the movie. A very good example of this tactic can be seen in the domestication of the title A Bug’s Life. French, German and Spanish all take advantage of this approach when coming up with their new title, yet they do this in slightly different ways. In the French case, the title picks up on the insect feature of having many legs, and thus coming up with the title 1001 pattes, literally 1001 legs. The German title seems to have been created along the same lines, but it is also extended further to focus on what the insects do with their legs, namely scrabble. Therefore, the title reads The great scrabbling, or in German Das große Krabbeln. Finally, in the Spanish case, another insect feature is used, namely their size. This fact created the title Bichos, una aventura en miniatura or Bugs, a tiny adventure.
Discussion and Conclusion
We now come to the discussion of why these titles are kept so similar in most cases as well as for most languages. First of all, it is important to note that children are the primary target audience of all of these Disney© movies. Yet, this does not exclude the fact that adults too enjoy watching these movies. However, this premise of main target audience would still suggest a high level of domestication (Venuti 1995), that is a great degree of cultural adaptation. As has been noted above in this study, this is not the case. However, one exception to this rule seems to concern the English word empire in the title Atlantis – The Lost Empire. For German, Swedish and Russian, it appears that the translators deemed this word as too difficult for children to understand, since it has been translated as city (German Stadt) and world (Swedish värld and Russian мир). An additional explanation for the difference here may have something to do with the different countries’ imperial pasts.
A reason for the retention of titles may be that the Disney© brand is famous all over the world, and therefore, easily recognisable. This may be the reason behind why original and literally translated titles are chosen over new, domesticated ones. If the titles still work and are recognised in the target country, why change them? Another reason behind the great number of original and literally translated titles, especially with regard to original titles containing characters’ names, may be that the existing title or title name is already foreign sounding, that is, not English. Examples to illustrate this point would be Pinocchio, which is Italian, and Pocahontas, which is Native American. An additional and final two-fold reason for the choice of strategies may be that the translator may not really have a real choice available to him/her since there is already an existing story in the native language, and therefore another translator has already put down the strategy to be followed. This may have been achieved through a book translation, a fairy tale or some other item of folklore. Famous examples here are the Grimm stories (Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella) of which there are alternate stories available in all languages.
As a final and concluding point, it is worth noting the two different translation strategies for the recent Disney© movies Tangled and Frozen: the use of original story names or literal translations. Both movies are built up around the original Grimm stories named Rapunzel and The Snow Queen respectively, but these names are not used in English. Especially regarding the translations of Frozen, the original name, or at least references to it, are used in the German, French, Spanish and Russian (see title of this article) versions. It is also noteworthy that the Spanish case is a bit paradoxical. This is due to the fact that they mix the strategies; for Frozen, the original English title as well as an additional title with reference to the original story name are used (Frozen: el reino del hielo), but for Tangled, a literal translation only is used (Enredados). In the case of Swedish, literal translations are consequently used in both cases. Further investigations are out the scope of this article, but more research would be needed with regard to speculating about the reasons behind these choices; both regarding the original choice by Disney© and the different translation strategies.
By Sofi Lindholm
Rhen, Johan. 2003. Titles of Disney’s animated movies in different languages. http://www.d-zine.se/en/movies/multilang_titles.html [15 May 2014]
Venuti, Lawrence. 1995. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. New York: Routledge.
50FMTT. 2011. ‘50 Funniest Movie Title Translations’. Shortlist.com. http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/films/50-funniest-movie-title-translations [15 May 2014]
Mahan, Molly. 2012. ‘The 50 Most Absurd Translations of Film Titles’. Ranker. http://www.ranker.com/list/the-50-most-absurd-translations-of-film-titles/molly-mahan?var=2&utm_expid=16418821-27.IWS5qTkdT1y0VVg72wOjSw.1&page=10 [15 May 2014]
Brew, Simon. 2008. ‘50 Movie Titles that Got Lost in Translation’. Den of Geek. www.denofgeek.com/movies/13782/50-movie-titles-that-got-lost-in-translation [15 May 2014]
All the following movie titles are copyright of Disney©
Pictures: Wikimedia Commons