Stockholm university

Jan PedersenAssociate professor

About me

Associate Professor in Translation Studies, and former Director of the Board of The Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies at the Department of Swedish Language and Multilingualism at Stockholm University.


These days, I mainly teach in audiovisual translation and subtitling, but I have over the years taught in diverse fields; mainly translation, but also linguistics and English, at all levels. I also supervise theses and dissertations on all levels.

For three years, I was the head Director of Studies at the Institute, with particular responsibility for translation. Having updated the undergraduate courses, I then focussed on the advanced level, and I was responsible for developing our new masters programme in translation, starting in the autumn term of 2015. I was also involved in developing a masters programme in interpreting, which launched in the autumn of 2016.



Research interests

My main field of research is audiovisual translation, and I specialize in subtitling studies. I mainly focus on product-based norms studies about e.g. cultural transfer and strategies for translation problems in subtitled media. I am, however, also interested in other fields of audiovisual translation, such as fansubbing and media accessibility, such as audio description. Translation studies in general is also within my sphere of interest, as is contrastive linguistics, intercultural communication and pragmatics. I work within the descriptive paradigm.

Research projects

My first large-scale project was Scandinavian Subtitles, which was a study of the norms that govern Swedish, Danish and Norwegian subtitles from a technical and cultural perspective. I then ran a project called Visualized Metaphors in Subtitling, which investigates how figures of speech are rendered in subtitled media. I am also carrying out research on Swedish subtitles produced by amateurs in the project Swedish Fansubs. I am also part of the project Increased Accessibility for Students with Disabilities through Respeaking, with colleagues from the Royal Institute of Technology and other units at Stockholm University.

Research projects


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Subtitles in the 2020s: The Influence of Machine Translation

    2022. Hanna Hagström, Jan Pedersen. Journal of Audiovisual Translation 5 (1)


    Machine translation is now making serious inroads into the field of interlingual subtitling. This has been made possible by the use of template files and higher reading speeds. As we move into this new phase in the development of the subtitling process, the phase of machine-translated and postedited subtitles, it is highly pertinent to look at marks that this new process leaves on the subtitled product, i.e., the subtitles themselves. We conducted a diachronic study of subtitles before and after machine translation was part of the process. We did this by comparing a corpus of Swedish subtitles of Anglophone TV programmes produced after machine translation was introduced to a corpus of subtitles from before that period. We also took data from studies of earlier processes into account. When assessed using existing guidelines and the FAR model, the post-edited subtitles produced in the 2020s were found to be faster, more oral, less cohesive, less complete and with less meticulous punctation and line-breaks than those produced in the 2010s. They were also of significantly lower quality in all areas investigated. Based on these results, we suggest that more research and development is needed to raise quality levels, and to make professional subtitlers augmented translators.

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  • Kalle Anka-översättning: En översikt av översättningsformerna i svensk teve

    2022. Jan Pedersen. Tango för tre, 175-189


    Even though our media screens have become smaller, they contain vastly more audiovisual content, and translations thereof, than was the case only a few decades ago. This chapter gives a historical overview of the development of film and TV, and shows how audiovisual translation has developed alongside with this content. The second part of the chapter presents the various forms of audiovisual translation that are available these days, both of the preproduction kind (like remakes and TV formats) and postproduction kinds (like dubbing, subtitling and voice-over), as well as various forms of media accessibility (like audio description and subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing) for people with disabilities. For each presented mode of audiovisual translation and media accessibility, areas of research are also presented. All this is illustrated with examples from the popular Disney Christmas programme “From All of Us to All of You”.

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  • Translation and creativity in the 21st century

    2022. Susan Bassnett (et al.). Forum for World Literature Studies 14 (1), 3-17


    The discussion addresses a host of issues pertaining to various intersections between creativity and translation. Embracing the inevitable vagueness of the concepts, the speakers outline several clusters of topics, including the unpredictability of translation success (Susan Bassnett), critique of instrumentalism in translation (Lawrence Venuti) and the definition of the notion of creative subtitles (Jan Pedersen). The speakers also take positions on such complex and sometimes inherently contradictory issues as functional approaches to translation, source and target text, translation process, the pros and cons of new technologies in current translation practice and the lack of a true transdisciplinary dialogue felt in today’ s translation studies. The last point hints at a problem the discipline has been facing for a while: although the field has (for the most part) been incorporating inspiration from other research areas, disciplines for which translation is crucial (as a means of acquiring research corpora, disseminating results, etc.) still tend to overlook the translational character of their work. “Translation and creativity in the 21st century” springs from a roundtable that took place at Translation, Interpreting and Culture 2: Rehumanising Translation Studies (TIC 2) conference held on 22–24 September 2021 in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. TIC 2 was the second in the series of translation and interpreting studies conferences organized by scholars and professionals affiliated with several Slovak and European institutions. The 2021 organizational team was managed by Associate Professor Martin Djovčoš (Matej Bel University).

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  • Audiovisual Translation Norms and Guidelines

    2020. Jan Pedersen. The Palgrave Handbook of Audiovisual Translation and Media Accessibility, 417-436


    Norms for audiovisual translation (AVT) regulate the ways in which AVT is carried out. These norms develop over time in response to developments in society and technology, and vary in strength from idiosyncrasies to rules. Norms can be either explicit and codified, as those found in guidelines and textbooks, or implicit and based on translation practice. Descriptive research is carried out in order to uncover the latter kind of norms. Guidelines are used to introduce newcomers to AVT, as reference works, and as standards for quality assessment. Currently, a new global prescriptive set of norms are challenging old local norms, while at the same time, traditional norms are challenged by experimental and cognitive research into what viewers really prefer.

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  • Fansubbing in subtitling land

    2019. Jan Pedersen. Target 31 (1), 50-76


    Fansubs (subtitles made by fans for fans) have become a global practice, and it is by now a fairly well-described phenomenon, particularly for fansubs of Japanese anime. However, for Sweden, which has a long and strong tradition of prosubs (commissioned professional subtitles), there have hardly been any studies of this increasingly prolific phenomenon. This paper seeks to remedy this situation by investigating 16 subtitled versions of ten english-language films. The analysis uses the FAR model of quality assessment and also investigates other aspects, such as creativity. The results show that there is great variety between the various fansubbed versions. On average, Swedish fansubs are found to be of lower quality, less adhering to norms and also more abusively faithful than prosubs. Moreover, the fansubs in this study are hardly creative at all. This could be due to fansubbing being a rather marginal phenomenon in Sweden, the land of subtitling.

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  • What is this thing called Journal of Adiovisual Translation?

    2018. Anna Jankowska (et al.).


    We are proud to present the first issue of the Journal of Audiovisual Translation. Launching this new journal would not have been possible without the hard work of the Editorial Board members, much appreciated contributions from the Authors and support from ESIST and Scientific Board members. Audiovisual translation has come of age as a discipline in its own right and we strongly believe that it deserves a journal that is dedicated to this very specific field. Journal of Audiovisual Translation wishes to serve as an international forum and reference point for high-quality, innovative and in-depth research in all avenues of audiovisual translation studies.

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  • From old tricks to Netflix

    2018. Jan Pedersen.


    Like other translation norms, interlingual subtitling norms for television evolve over time, influenced by technology, mediascape development and other trends. Originating in cinema subtitling norms, TV subtitling norms began to develop at national public service broadcasters. Later, norms became international with the rise of the DVD and the proliferation of commercial TV in Europe. These days, the most influential force driving subtitling norms is arguably the global video on demand (VOD) providers. This paper investigates the subtitling guidelines of VOD giant Netflix, in search of the question: How local are interlingual subtitling norms for streamed television? The results show that there is little variation in the initial guidelines, but that they are continually becoming more varied, as they are localized using input from users.

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  • Transcultural images

    2018. Jan Pedersen. Linguistic and Cultural Representation in Audiovisual Translation , 31-45


    Language users employ figures of speech for a multitude of reasons, such as elucidation, facilitation of meaning, or illustration. Regardless of the reasons for using a figure of speech, the images employed in the figurative language use is central. Metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech rely for their success on a shared knowledge of the images involved. However, many of these images, or at least the conventional uses of these, are culture-specific, and this can be problematic if the figure of speech is not transparent. An American may have difficulties in understanding what an Englishman means when he is ‘grasping a nettle’, and an Englishman may not know what ‘a cheap drunk’ is. These difficulties become serious problems when translation is involved, particularly when it is a question of audiovisual translation with its many diverse constraints. Subtitlers need to be aware of whether the image involved in a particular metaphor is used in the same way in the source and target cultures. If not, s/he may have to step in and assist the viewer in understanding the intended message of the source text, and do so within the constraints of the subtitling situation. There is ample evidence that subtitlers are very adept at carrying out this transculturality appraisal. Yet there are times when they go astray and create new, and sometimes perplexing, target-language metaphors.

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  • Conducting experimental research in audiovisual translation (AVT)

    2018. Pilar Orero (et al.). Journal of Specialised Translation (30), 105-126


    Experimental studies on AVT have grown incrementally over the past decade. This growing body of research has explored several aspects of AVT reception and production using behavioural measures such as eye tracking, as well as venturing into physiological measures such as electroencephalography (EEG), galvanic skin response, and heart rate. As a novel approach to the field of AVT, the experimental approach has borrowed heavily from other fields with established experimental traditions, such as psycholinguistics, psychology, and cognitive science. However, these methodologies are often not implemented with the same rigour as in the disciplines from which they were taken, making for highly eclectic and, at times, inconsistent practices. The absence of a common framework and best practice for experimental research in AVT poses significant risk in addition to the potential reputational damage. Some of the most important risks are: the duplication of efforts, studies that cannot be replicated due to a lack of methodological standardisation and rigour, and findings that are, at best, impossible to generalise from and, at worst, invalid. Given the growing body of work in AVT taking a quasi-experimental approach, it is time to consolidate our position and establish a common framework in order to ensure the integrity of our endeavours. This chapter analyses problems and discusses solutions specifically related to the multidisciplinary nature of experimental AVT research. In so doing, it aims to set the course for future experimental research in AVT, in order to gain credibility in the wider scientific community and contributes new insights to the fields from which AVT has been borrowing. Its conclusion lays out the foundation for a common core of measures and norms to regulate research in the growing field of AVT.

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  • How Metaphors are Rendered in Subtitles

    2017. Jan Pedersen. Target 29 (3), 416-439


    Metaphors have been thoroughly studied as translation problems in recent decades. However, they are still under-researched in the subfield of audiovisual translation. This is strange since this mode of translation, particularly subtitling, has very special conditions which complicate the translating of metaphors, such as the interplay between dialogue, image and subtitles, as well as severe time and space constraints. This paper investigates how metaphors in the British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister were subtitled into Swedish. The results show that subtitlers treat metaphors as an important language feature, less prone to omission than other features. Furthermore, monocultural metaphors, which are not shared between cultures, are subtitled using more strategies than transcultural ones. Metaphors are also subtitled differently depending on the degree of entrenchment. Typically for metaphor translation, there is a loss of metaphor force, but more research is needed to ascertain whether this is media-specific or a general translation effect of growing standardization.

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  • In Sweden, we do it like this

    2016. Jan Pedersen. inTRAlinea


    What would the VA say if Al Roker was a Keystone Kop at Panmunjon? Subtitling is not just a matter of linguistic transfer; building bridges between cultures is every bit as important. This article is based on a subtitled translation of the episode of The West Wing which is the basis for this issue of inTRAlinea. The episode has been subtitled using established Swedish subtitling norms for television. These norms are of two kinds, partly technical, dealing with expected reading speed, subtitle density and condensation, and also translation-related. In this article the translation norms under discussion are those that govern the translation of extralinguistic cultural references (ECRs), i.e. references that are expressed verbally, but which refer to cultural items outside of language, such as names of people and places (like Al Roker or Panmunjon). A model for rendering such references in subtitled translations is presented; it consists of two parts: a taxonomy of translation strategies, and a series of parameters that influence the choice of translation strategy. This model is applied to the ECRs in the episode, using Swedish subtitling norms. The results are presented and complex cases are discussed further, as we find out how we can make a target audience understand the connotations of those bungling Keystone Kops.

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  • On the subtitling of visualized metaphors

    2015. Jan Pedersen. The Journal of Specialised Translation 23 (January)


    There has been a great interest in metaphors in translation in recent years, but few scholars have taken into consideration the extra complexities that are involved when translation takes place in audiovisual media. This paper seeks to remedy that, by qualitatively investigating how visualised metaphors in the TV series Yes, Prime Minister, and other audiovisual sources, have been translated into Swedish subtitles. When a metaphor is visualised, the vehicle of the metaphor is visible on screen, and this means that there is ambiguity between the literal and the figurative sense of the metaphor, with one sense coming through one discourse channel and the other coming via another of the discourse channels that makes up the polysemiotic text. This may cause serious translation crisis points and put severe constraints on the options available to the subtitler if unintended intersemiotic tension is to be avoided. This paper puts forward the theories necessary for handling these complexities and also offers some advice as to what strategies can be useful for solving these translation problems. The results indicate that it is a fairly rare translation problem, and one which can often be solved using conventional strategies. However, occasionally, it creates nearly unsolvable obstacles that cannot be solved without intersemiotic tension.

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  • How Bert got into Ned's head

    2013. Thea Palm Åsman, Jan Pedersen. Perspectives 21 (2), 143-155


    The purpose of this paper was to discover to what extent the American translation of the Swedish children's novel Berts dagbok had been adapted to its audience as a result of the translator's initial norm. Previous research has found that while translators of children's literature traditionally mainly employ domesticating strategies, recent research has shown that current translations of canonized children's literature, and literature aimed at a slightly older demographic segment, have been more source-oriented. We therefore decided to investigate whether the translator's initial norm had been to domesticate the text, i.e. adapting any unfamiliar cultural context with regard to the new audience, American children and young teenagers. Through the analysis of coupled pairs it was concluded that the translator's initial norm was still to domesticate the text, and, as a result, a majority of the extracted examples had been replaced by something more familiar to the new audience, which consequently moved the story from Sweden to USA.

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  • Audiovisual translation - in general and in Scandinavia

    2010. Jan Pedersen. Perspectives 18 (1), 1-22


    This article gives an overview of different modes of audiovisual translation (AVT). It surveys both intralingual and interlingual forms of AVT. Intralingual forms of AVT are forms of transfer of linguistic material within the same language, mainly for the use of people with hearing or sight disabilities. In these forms the language is not altered, but the semiotic code is, e.g. from spoken to written in subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, or from visual to spoken as in audio description. In interlingual forms of AVT, translation proper takes place, as one natural language is substituted for (as in dubbing) or accompanied by (as in subtitling) a translation into another natural language. Furthermore, the article explores how the various forms of AVT are used in Scandinavia, which is 'a bastion of subtitling', and comes to the conclusion that even though subtitling is clearly predominant, the picture is complex and other forms of AVT co-exist with the prolific subtitles.

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  • The different Swedish tack

    2010. Jan Pedersen. Journal of Pragmatics 42 (5), 1258-1265


    In Sweden, people thank each other a lot. The reasons for this are partly linguistic, as the Swedish tack is different from e.g. English thanks. It encompasses both the meaning of 'thanks', and that of 'please'. More interestingly, there are cultural reasons for this. For ethnic Swedes, there are some higher-order cultural scripts, such as equality, self-sufficiency, consensus seeking and conflict avoidance, which make people say tack a lot in order to show that they agree, and in order not to be indebted to other people. For ethnic Swedes, it is culturally important to pay your way, to return favours (tjanster och gentjanster to retain the equilibrium between individuals. If this practise is not observed, the equilibrium is disturbed, and you end up in a debt of gratitude (tacksamhetsskuld), which can be very unpleasant for an ethnic Swede. This means that s/he thinks that s/he loses her independence and the equilibrium between him/her and the other person. This may result in ethnic Swedes seeming inhospitable, as they are reluctant to make other people feel tacksamhetsskuld. This study of the cultural key word tack and its related notions shows that there are peculiarities in the Swedish language that can be accessible to outsiders through the natural semantic metalanguage.

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  • When do you go for benevolent intervention?

    2010. Jan Pedersen. New insights into audiovisual translation and media accessibility, 67-80


    This paper deals with the problems involved in transferring a cultural reference from in subtitling. The importance of appraising the transculturality level (i.e. how well known a reference is in the target culture) of these references is stressed, and also how such an appraisal is carried out. This is done in order to answer the crucial question of when a subtitler should go for benevolent intervention and help the viewers understand a cultural reference, and thus make sense of the text. There are indications that this is not always done anymore, and viewers are thus sometimes left in the dark.

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  • How is culture rendered in subtitles?

    2007. Jan Pedersen. Challenges of Multidimensional Translation, 1-18


    This article investigates the translation problem, or crisis point, which may be caused by an Extralinguistic Culture-bound Reference (ECR), with particular focus on subtitling. A model is proposed, wherein all strategies available to the subtitler are listed. These are Retention, Specification, Direct Translation, Generalization, Substitution, Omission or the use of an Official Equivalent. The model also investigates the subtitling process, in that the parameters that influence the subtitler’s choice of strategy are explored. Theses parameters are Transculturality, Extratextuality, Centrality of Reference, Intersemiotic Redundancy, Co-text, Media-specific Constraints and Paratextual Considerations. Finally, it is proposed that it is unlikely that a truly unsolvable culture-bound translation problem would exist.

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  • Subtitles for television

    2007. Jan Pedersen.


    Subtitles for television: the current Scandinavian situation This paper presents the major findings of a project called Scandinavian Subtitles, which is a comparative study of the subtitling norms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The project has a descriptive approach (DTS, cf. Toury 1995) and is based on a corpus of 100 Anglophone films and TV programmes and their Swedish, Danish and (to a certain extent) Norwegian subtitles. The material was recorded on Scandinavian TV channels over one year and represents multiple genres and programme types, from documentaries to reality shows, with an emphasis on fiction.

    The objective of the project has been to uncover the Scandinavian subtitling norms (following Hermans, cf. e.g. 1991). The study has a two-fold focus: the first explores quantitatively what could be called technical norms of subtitling (condensation rate, exposure times, etc.), and also how subtitling relates to other forms of Audiovisual Translation (AVT) in Scandinavia.

    The other focus of the project has been to uncover qualitative norms of subtitling, by exploring translation strategies. Specifically, it explores the strategies involved in the rendering of Extralinguistic Cultural References (ECRs, linguistic expressions pertaining to realia, fiction etc. cf. Pedersen: forthcoming) The project assumes that there are three ways in which a viewer/reader can access ECRs: Encyclopaedically and/or intertextually, i.e. through knowledge about the world and other texts; deictically, i.e. through the polysemiotic context (cf. Gottlieb 1997) or the co-text; or “translatorically”, i.e. through the use of interventional strategies employed by the subtitler. The project uses a taxonomy with seven base-line categories for rendering ECRs: Official Equivalent, Retention, Literal Translation, Specification, Generalization, Substitution and Omission. The first three are minimum change strategies (cf. Leppihalme 1994), so they do not help the viewer to access the ECR, whereas the last four are interventional, and thus offer guidance to the viewers.

    The following major findings has been made in the project: the technical norms have converged to the point where it now makes sense to talk about a pan-Scandinavian norm, rather than national norms; and the overall choice of strategy for rendering ECRs is on the whole fairly similar in both Sweden and Denmark, which used not to be the case. One of the most important results of the investigation is that Retention (leaving the ECR as it is) is nowadays by far the most common strategy, even for inaccessible ECRs. This is partly due to the Anglicization of the Scandinavian countries, which means that many Anglophone cultural items can be retained unchanged. However, much of the explanation can be found in the new AVT companies which work on a pan-Scandinavian or even global level, and which tend to use generic subtitling norms, rather than submitting to national norms. These companies also use techniques such as central cueing (using the same time-code for multiple language versions), which has a further converging effect on the old national norms. This convergence also affects the norms of the public service companies, through the use of subcontracting and free-lancing subtitlers.

    So, due to the powerful influence of English on the Scandinavian scene and the practices of the multinational AVT companies, the national norms of subtitling are now heavily under siege by the emergent Scandinavian subtitling norm. We already find almost complete homogeneity for technical norms, and the trend is similar for qualitative norms, such as the rendering of ECRs. In a few years time, will it still make sense to speak about a Swedish, Danish or Norwegian norm, or will the old national norms have been completely superseded by the new pan-Scandinavian norm?


    Gottlieb, Henrik. 1997. Subtitles, Translation & Idioms. Copenhagen: Center for Translation Studies, University of Copenhagen.

    Hermans, Theo 1991. “Translational Norms and Correct Translations” in Van Leuven-Zwart, Kitty M. & Ton Naaijkens (eds.) 1991. Translation Studies: The State of the Art. Proceedings of the First James S Holmes Symposium on Translation Studies. Amsterdam & Atlanta, GA: Rodopi. Pp. 155 – 169.

    Leppihalme, Ritva. 1994. Culture Bumps: On the Translation of Allusions. Helsinki: University of Helsinki: English Department Studies 2.

    Pedersen, Jan. (forthcoming) "How is culture rendered in subtitles?" in Multidimensional Translation: Challenges. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing

    Toury, Gideon. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies – And Beyond. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

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  • On the Interchangeability of Culture in Subtitles

    2006. Jan Pedersen.


    On the interchangeability of culture

    This paper deals with the interchangeability of culture in subtitles. This concept does not necessarily mean that a visit to the kabuki could be exchanged for tickets to a Meatloaf concert, but it does mean that a translator substitutes one cultural reference for another in the subtitles of a film or a TV programme. This presupposes that at some level – say at the connotational level – some elements of culture are interchangeable. This is a fairly limited phenomenon , but it is of great importance as it may be the most domesticating (in Venuti’s sense (1995: 19-20)) strategy of language transfer. When using the strategy of Cultural Substitution a Source Culture (SC) reference is removed and more often than not, it is replaced by one from the Target Culture (TC). When this strategy is used frequently, it means that your average couch potato is not exposed to unknown references from the SC, which makes the Target Text (i.e. the subtitles) easy to digest, but they are also more or less void of any new cultural experiences. Or, to put it in the old words of Schleiermacher, it is a technique designed “to leave the reader alone as much as possible and bring the writer to him” (1813/1998: 118, my translation).

    The object of investigation in this study is what I call Extralinguistic Cultural References (ECRs). These are references pertaining to realia. ECRs are expressions that refer to entities outside language, such as names of people, places, institutions, food, customs etc, which a person may not know, even if s/he knows the language in question . When a subtitler encounters an ECR in a Source Text, s/he has several strategies at his or her disposal for rendering it in the Target Text subtitles. By far the most common strategy is to retain it as it is, with just minor alterations to accommodate the rules of the Target Language (TL). However, these strategies are not very felicitous when an ECR is well known to the Source Text’s (ST’s) original audience, but virtually unknown to the Target Text (TT) audience. I call these ECRs Monocultural ECRs, as opposed to Transcultural ECRs, which are more or less equally accessible to both the ST and the TT audiences (cf. Pedersen forthcoming and Welsch 1999). When dealing with Monocultural ECRs, it may be necessary for the subtitler to intervene in order to help the audience to access the ECR. This could be done by Specification, Generalisation or Direct Translation when possible (cf. Pedersen: in press). Another way of dealing with these troublesome ECRs is to replace an unknown reference with a known one, either from the SC or from the TC, and this is where the subtitler has to presume a degree of cultural interchangeability. To use a real example, it is presumed that when an American spy is talking about having “a Ph.D. from NYU” , they might as well be talking about having “an M.A. from KUA” (Spy Hard: 39.17).

    In the comparative project Scandinavian Subtitles, some 2,500 Anglophone ECRs and their Swedish and Danish subtitled counterparts have been investigated. The strategy of Cultural Substitution has been used in only roughly five per cent of the cases, so the phenomenon is not very common. This may have something to do with the fact that it is rather heavy on the MAX side of Levý’s ” MINIMAX strategy” (1967/2000: 156) In other words, it means that the subtitler has to work fairly hard in order to find a cultural substitute that would work, and it is often easier to use other strategies, such as Retention or Generalization.

    In most cases, Cultural Substitution has been used on ECRs which refer to official institutions, food and titles, and they can in many cases be considered to be Official (or semi-official) Equivalents. An Official Equivalent proper is constructed either through heavy entrenchment (cf. Leppihalme 1994: 94) or an administrative decision (cf. Hermans 2003: 40), and even though many Official Equivalents are based on Cultural Substitution, not all Cultural Substitutes are Official Equivalents. There is clearly a demarcation problem here, but through rigid operationalization based on parameters like dictionary entries, official documents (such as official web sites) and the number of TL options available allows the analyst to decide whether in fact an Official Equivalent or a Cultural Substitute has been used. One way of illustrating this is that the title of ‘Captain’ in American police forces has been rendered into Danish by five different Cultural Substitutes in the corpus.

    In the domains of food, titles, and public institutes etc. mentioned above, the use of Cultural Substitution strategy is fairly equally widespread in Sweden and Denmark, and most viewers are used to it. This is probably because many Cultural Substitutes in these areas are taken to be Official Equivalents by the TT audience (and perhaps also by the subtitlers?), and thus considered “appropriate translations”, whatever one puts into that concept. However, there seems to be a difference between the practices in the two countries when it comes to usage outside these domains. In Sweden, it is very uncommon to use this strategy on anything other than official institutions, titles, food and the like, and it is also actively discouraged in many guidelines for Swedish subtitlers (e.g. SVT 2003, SDI 2000, Languageland/SpråkCentrum 2001). In Denmark, on the other hand, the strategy is used in a wider variety of domains, and this is also where one finds substitution by another, better known (i.e. Transcultural) SC ECR, something that is all but non-existent in Swedish practice. The question of genre also comes into play here. Outside the domains already mentioned, the strategy is only used in genres where information is less important than other e.g. humour or stylistics, with nonsensical comedy being the prototypical genre for its usage. It should be pointed out that even though Substitution by SC ECR is very rare in Sweden (no clear cases were found in the corpus), Substitution by TC ECR does occur, but not as frequently as in Denmark, and only in comedies. Compared to subtitling into English, however, Scandinavia uses Cultural Substitution fairly sparingly, as can be seen in an investigation by Gottlieb (forthcoming). In fact, the domestication of foreign texts as they are translated into English is one of the causes of the moral outrage in Venuti’s “call to action (1995: 307-313).

    When using Cultural Substitution, the subtitler creates a breach of reference: the ST ECR has one reference, the TT ECR has another, so in a way, you could say that the subtitler lies to the TT audience. On the other hand, what the subtitler is trying to create when using this strategy is not formal equivalence, but dynamic equivalence (cf. Nida1964), i.e. an equivalence of effect. The subtitler hopes that the replacing ECR will have more or less the same connotations for the TT audience as the replaced ECR had for the ST audience. Used in this way, Cultural Substitution is a very effective shortcut for conveying connotations.

    The overall effect on the TT (the subtitles) of replacing a Monocultural ECR with a Transcultural ECR from the SC is that the TT gets less localized and more generalized than the ST. This is also the case if certain other strategies are used, and a fairly general trend in translation; it is what Gottlieb calls “the centripetal effect in translation” (2000:22) and the basis of Toury’s first law of translation (1995: 267 ff.). The main drawback of this solution is that the subtitler runs the risk of the resulting breach of reference being picked up by the TT audience through what Gottlieb calls “the feedback-effect from the original (1994: 268). If members of the TT audience can hear a speaker referring to “the Three Stooges”, they may find it weird to read about the Danish Official Equivalents of “Laurel & Hardy” in the subtitles (M*A*S*H 5_6: 12.38). If the substituting ECR is from the Target Culture, the problems are of a different kind. The use of a TC ECR as substitute may result in a credibility gap, as it may seem improbable that characters in the SC would be familiar with and converse about TC items. To use the example already cited: it would seem improbable that an American spy would get his university education at the Humanities Faculty at the University of Copenhagen. In some contexts and genres, however, the viewers may be willing to suspend their disbelief, for the sake of understanding the text better. In this case, the genre is a nonsense parody of spy films in the comedy genre, and the characters are quite unbelievable anyway. So, generally speaking, it could be claimed that the strategy is mainly used when connotations, rather than reference is to be conveyed.

    The findings raise a number of interesting questions. Are Danes less sensitive to credibility gaps than Swedes? Are Swedes less aware of genre differences? One thing seems to be clear, however, and that is that in certain contexts and genres, there is a cultural difference when it comes to cultural interchangeability.

    Jan Pedersen

    Department of English

    Stockholm University

    S-106 91 STOCKHOLM


    Phone: +46-8-674 74 22 Fax: +46-8-15 96 67



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    English Minds.”

    Gottlieb, Henrik. 2000. Screen Translation: Six studies in subtitling, dubbing and

    voice-over. Copenhagen: Center for Translation Studies, University of Copenhagen

    Gottlieb, Henrik. 1994. Tekstning – Synkron billedmedieoversættelse. DAO 5 Danske

    Afhandlinger om Oversættelse. Copenhagen: Center for Oversættelse,

    Københavns universitet.

    Hermans, Theo. 2003. “Translation, Equivalence and Intertextuality” in Wasafari:

    The Transnational Journal of International Writing 40 (2003 Winter), pp. 39-41.

    Languageland/SpråkCentrum. 2001. “Subtitling for subtitlers, Languageland: Swdish

    Instruction” Unpublished in-house guidelines for the subtitler’s of


    Leppihalme, Ritva. 1994. Culture Bumps: On the Translation of Allusions. Helsinki:

    University of Helsinki: English Department Studies 2.

    Levý, Jirí. 1967/2000. “Translation as a decision process”. In: Venuti, Lawrence. The

    translation studies Reader, London & New York: Routledge pp. 148 – 159

    Nida,E. A. 1964. Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

    Pedersen, Jan. (in press)"Is culture translatable? A subtitler’s guide to translating

    culture". In Translating Today 5.

    Pedersen, Jan. (forthcoming) "How is culture rendered in subtitles?" in

    Multidimensional Translation: Challenges. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing

    Schleiermacher, Friedrich. 1813/1998. ”Om de olika metoderna att översätta”.

    Translated by Lars Bjurman. In: Kleberg, Lars (ed.) 1998. Med andra ord. Texter om litterär översättning. Stockholm: Natur och Kultur. pp 115 - 130

    SDI. 2000. “SDI Media Scandinavia Översättarmanual [Translating Manual]”

    Unpublished in-house guidelines for the subtitlers of SDI media.

    SVT. 2003. “Internt arbetsmaterial för SVT Översättning och Programtextning.”

    Unpublished in-house guidelines for the subtitlers of Sweden’s public-service broadcaster.

    Toury, Gideon. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies – And Beyond. Amsterdam &

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    in Featherstone, Mike and Lash, Scott (eds.) Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World. London: Sage. 194 – 213.

    Read more about On the Interchangeability of Culture in Subtitles
  • High Felicity

    2005. Jan Pedersen.



    more often than not make this form of translation true to the spirit, rather than the letter of the original. The big question in quality assessment of subtitling could then be how to achieve fidelity to the original, when much linguistic material has to be discarded. One answer could be that basic fidelity should be towards the speech acts rather than the surface structures of the Source Texts.

    S/he has to make an active decision on how to render the reference in the target language, in order to bridge the gap between the source and the target culture and For this, s/he has a set of different strategies to his/her disposal all of which could be felicitous (to borrow a term from Speech Act Theory) in fulfilling the task. The quality of the translation, or how felicitous it is, depends upon many factors, In order to evaluate whether a certain strategy is felicitous, it could be advantageous to draw on Skopos Theory to ascertain what the overriding goals etc. are for the translation at hand.

    By combining the strengths of Speech Act Theory and Skopos Theory within a Descriptive Translation Studies framework, this model explores ways of maintaining high fidelity towards both the Source Text and the Target Text audience by using high felicity.

    When translating Extralinguistic Culture-specific References in subtitles, the translator is faced with a translation crisis point. S/he has to make an active decision on how to bridge the gap between two cultures, which may not have much in common. Like all translators faced with this sort of problem, s/he has to help the Target Text audience make sense of the utterance of which the reference is a part. This task often clashes with the by now “famous and infamous time-and-space constraints of subtitling” (Gottlieb 2004: 219). This means that certain devices that are at other translators’ disposal, such as footnotes, are virtually non-existent in subtitling and that the possibility of using other devices, such as explicitation, is limited. However, there remain several strategies to solve these crisis points (ranging from complete retention to complete omission over such strategies as generalization and adaptation), and this study contains a comprehensive taxonomy of the available strategies.

    Which strategy to use in each individual case depends on many factors, or parameters, such as the co-text and the interplay with the other semiotic channels of the polysemiotic text of the film or tv-programme, transculturality, centrality of reference, as well as expectations of the encyclopedic knowledge of the target audience. This study has uncovered some of the norms that determine subtitlers’ decision-making in this area,

    but it appears that awareness of these factors varies considerably. Therefore, a tool to assess the quality of the results of their decisions could be useful for research in this area. The present study explores the use of a model which combines aspects of Skopos Theory and Speech Act Theory to evaluate how successful, or felicitous (to use a term from Speech Act Theory), the subtitlers have been in rendering of Extralinguistic Culture-specific References into a Target Text (subtitles). The Target Text should achieve target audience comprehension at the same time as it retains fidelity towards the Source Text (a film or tv-programme). An impossible task? Not if the underlying speech act of an utterance is regarded as the basic unit of translation, because then high felicity equals high fidelity.

    Read more about High Felicity

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