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MART^, R.;ZAPATER,M. (1993): Translation of Titles of Film. A Critica1Approach,

Sintagma 5(1993), pp. 81-87






Original titles of films are not always literally translated into Spanish or Catalan.

The aim of this paper is to account for the various criteria that are followed in deaiing with the titles of foreign films. The method we used to analyse the problems involved in translating film titles was mainly a collection and classification of data.

We selected three hundred titles from specialized literature and then we studied their translations from a critica1 perspective.

We noticed that some titles are left untranslated either because they are already famous in the source language or simply because they are believed to sound more commercial than any target language version. Examples of this are "West Side Story". "My Fair Lady", "Dirty Dancing" or "Ghost", which were not translated into Spanish or Catalan. Most titles involving proper nouns appear in Spanish without any change from the original: e.g. "Johny Guitar", "Ben-Hur" or "Metropolis".

Nevertheless, "Frankestein" was translated as "El Doctor Frankestein" and "Dragonwyck as "El Castillo de Dragonwyck". This tendency to maintain the English original nouns on some occasions and to expand them on others is a sign of inconsistency on the part of film distributors, who are not consistant in their criteria whcn translating titles of films.

Litcral translations are not usual, and most titles are partially or entirely changed whcn the film is distributed in Spain. A faithful, literal translation is preferable if it works in the target language, that is, if it is as shocking or conveys the same connotations as the original title. But this is not always possible. Sometimes there are linguistic difficulties, socio-cultural differencesor commercial interests, among oiher factors, that condition the process of translation. Titles such as "Greed" ("Avaricia") or "42nd Street" ("La Calle 42") were literally translated because the result was commercially attractive. However, in the case of "Dance, Fmls, Dance" ("Danzad, Danzad, Malditos") or "The Rose Tattoo" ("La Rosa Tatuada"), the versions are fairly literal, but some changes had to be introduced in order to adapt the titles to the target language. Fust, "fools" was translated as "malditos" instead of "tontos" or "imbéciles" which is more faithful to the pragmatic effect of the expression, while the grammatical difference in "La Rosa Tatuada" is intended to makc the title sound more natural in Spanish.


A cultural equivalent is often used. Two examples of this would be "Witness for the Prosecution" ("Testigo de Cargo") and "Mo'Money" ("Mils Pelas"). In the first case the Spanish version offers the cultural equivalent of "witness for the prosecution" instead of translating it as "testigo de la fiscalia" to make the title sound more appealing and natural. The colloquial expression "Mo'Money", has been translated into Spanish without losing its colloquialism or changing its lexical arrangement.

Apart from translations where most of the words are more or less literally rendered there are titles that are completely changed when they are introduced in Spain, because, as we have already said, they involve certain specific difficulties. "The Ladykillers", for instance, was translated into Spanish as "El Quinteto de la Muerte" probably due to a misinterpretation of the word "ladykiller", which does not refer to a man who kills women but to a man who is believed to charm and conquer all of the women he meets to iater on abandon them. "Fade to Black, which appeared in Spain as "Fundido en Negro" was mistranslated because of the difficulty in finding an equivalent for "fade to". The "sinister mind that Julio Usar Santoyo mentions in El Delito de Traducir (Santoyo, 1989:139) as being responsible for a great deal of doubtful translations was quite happy to render "fade to" as "fundido en", which has nothing to do with the original. These two examples have to do with interlinguistic difficulties due to a lack of ready one-to-one equivalents. In other cases the linguistic problenas that titles of films pose to the people in charge of their translations are due to semantic connotations that are difficult to compensate for in the target language or to the fact that they contain phrasal verbs, idioms or colloquialisms difficult to translate. This is the case of "Prick Up Your Ears". We rcad in the dictionary, "if you prick up your ears you listen eagerly when you suddenly hear an interesting sound or an important piece of information" (Collins Cobuild, 1987:1138). An exact translation of this title is only possible by paraphrqing it, which would not produce an effective title in Spanish. The title in Spain, "Abrete de Orejas", can be commercial to a certain extent but it is not grarnmatically conect or meaningful. Translators succeed in solving linguistic difficulties on some occasions. A good example is the Spanish title for the film "The Rescuers Down Under" ("Los Rescatadores en Cangurolandia"). "Down Under" is a colloquial expression to refer to Australia and New Zealand and as there is no colloquial equivalent for that t e m in Spanish, the translator invented the word "Cangurolandia", which, apart from implying fantasy, also suggests that its use is colloquial. We might consider this translation successful because it creates thc same expectations as rhe English title; other titles, however, lose their informal, colloquial tone when translated. "My Gal Sal", for instance, was translated as "Mi Chica Favorita" because it was difficult to maintain in Spanish the humour and informality of "gal" (=giri) and "Sal" (=Sally). "Barfly" also illustrates the problem of translating colloquialisms, for it refers to a person who is always drinking, chatting or playing cards in bars. A bilingual dictionary translates this word as "culo de cafk", but neither this expression nor the literal "mosca de bar" is a recurrent image in Spanish, therefore it was translated as "El Bonacho". This title does not convey informality or humour as the original title does; however, as there is no image in Spanish to correspond to "barfly", we should say it was a valid comrnercial title validated by the contents of the film.

Idioms and features of the source ianguage or culture, as we have already said, are a source of difficulty because it is not always possible to fmd an equivalent idiomatic 83


expression in the target language for the English original. "Kid Millions", for instance, is a title that is impossible to translate literally while maintaining its connotations, as it is a special name like "Jack Frost", "John Bull" or "Uncle Sarn".

In Spain the film was called "El Chico Millonario", which reflects the meaning of the original title but does not convey its informality and humour.

Our research revealed that very often commercial interests go as far as t entirely o forget the linguistic meaning of the original title for the sake of one that will "sell" the film better. Most of the films we analysed were translated according to commercial premises, trying to satisfy the different tastes of the audience. Film distributing companies use severa1 strategies in order to make titles sound more appealing to the general public and attract a larger audience. These strategies can be

considered as "commercial traps". We observed four luring features in our analysis:

romance or sex, morbidity, adventure and humour. In the first group we could include titles such as "You'll Never Get Rich", which appeared in Spain as "Desde Aquel Beso", or "The Enchanted Cottage", that was translated as "Su Milagro de Amor". Morbidity is used to catch the audience's interest in the translations of titles such as "China Girl" ("Infierno en la Tierra"), "The Bottom of rhe Bottle" ("Barreras de Orgullo"), etc. The audience is sometimes attracted by a title that sounds adventurous, intrepid or ciaring. Some examples of this tendency are: "Sweet Smell of Success" ("Chantaje en Broadway"), "Home from the Hill" ("Con El Lleg6 el Escándalo") and "Backfire" ("Ambici6n Mortal"). Another strategy used to attract the audience is to translate the original title making it sound crafty, humorous or "naughty". This would be the case of translations such as "Amor en Conserva", originally called "Love Happy" and "Loca Academia de Combate", which in the English version appeared as "Combat High".

The fact that some film titles include socio-cultural markers makes socio-cultural differences another reason why literal translations sometimes are avoided. By socio-cultural markers we mean explicit references that may be regarded as assumed knowledge of the audience to which the film is addressed. Some of these markers would not be recognised by a foreign audience if they appeared in a literal translation of the titles and would consequently make them less appealing. We have observed severa1 examples of this but we are going to mention only three. Firstly, the film "His Girl Friday" was translated as "Luna Nueva" due to the lack of an equivalent in Spanish for "gir1 Friday". In English this expression is used to refer to a female secretary or helper in an office, who does all the important jobs that the boss wants done. As there is no colloquial expression in Spanish to account for the term, the film appeared with a more suggestive title that was completely different from the original. Secondly, "North by Nort-West", the American film which was shown in Spain as "Con la Muerte en 10s Talones", makes an explicit reference to motorways in the U.S., which, literally translated would mean nothing to the Spanish audience. The reason for this is that in Spain motorways are named with letters and numbers (A-2, A-7, M-30...) and a title such as "Al Norte por la Noroeste" would not be readily comprehensiblel. Thirdly, another title difficult to translate because of socio-cultural differences is "Father Goose". This title makes an ironic reference to "Mother Goose", an old well-known nursery rhyme. Nobody would recognise the irony in a literal translation of the title, "El Padre Ganso", and i t could not be translated using a Spanish cultural equivalent because there is no This idea was given to us by Pere Gaiiardo, from the University of Lleida


84 nursery rhyme as widely known as "Mother Goose" is in England. That is why the film was called "Operación Whisky", a title that has to do with its plot.

When we obsewe how titles of films are uanslated we sometimes notice a clear moralising intention on the part of the translator. On some occasions it is because of political reasons while on others the justification is based on socio-cultural factors.

In the first case, we include those titles which would not be accepted by Franco's regime (1939- 1975). whereas regarding the present Spanish socio-cultural context we have to take into account the fact that certain words are considered taboo and thus not acceptable i the title of a film. For instance, the translation of "Let's Make n Love" as "El Multimillonario" illustrates a moralising tendency of the political regime in Spain in the 1960s. so a title such as "Hagamos el Amor" would have been considered as immoral, and even politically dangerous. "Kiss and Make-Up" appeared in Spain as "El Templo de las Hermosas", a title which has nothing to do with the original, because "beso" was considered a taboo word in that period. In the same way, "Lust for Life" was translated as "El Loco del Pelo Rojo". The reason was that "lust" has sexual connotations and the Spanish audience would not be allowed to read a title such as "Deseo Sexual por la Vida". Probably nowadays these films would be translated in a more faithful way if we take into account literal translations such as "La Puta" (originally "The Whore" or Spanish films such as "¿Por Qué 10 Llaman Amor Cuando Quiere Decir Sexo?". Another example of this tendency was "El Ultimo Chantaje", that was as moralising as demoralising was the original "The Happy Thieves". "Welcome to Hard Times" appeared as "Una Bala para el Diablo". Firstly, the regime could not accept a translation like "Bienvenidos a 10s Tiempos Difíciles" because the public might find the title fitting to their own context. Secondly, the Spanish version has a clear moralising tone in accordance with the ideology of the regime, which was very strict in religious matters.

It is also interesting to pay attention to the Catalan translations of films. Most films offered by the public channel TV3 have Catalan titles. However, this channel has been rightly accused of translating the titles from the Spanish versions and not directly from the original titles. As a result, the titles of these films are translations

of translations. Two examples of this "technique" are:

"Gone with the Wind" - "Lo que el Viento se Llev6" - "Allb que el Vent s'Endugué" "Stripes" - "El Pelotón Chiflado" - "Una Legió de Guillats" In rhe first example it is easy to see that the Catalan version is literally translated from the Spanish one instead of from the original title. We would suggest that "S'ho va Endur el Vent" would sound much more natural than "Allb que el Vent slEndugué".In "Stripes" there is a socio-cultural gap because "smpes" refers to the American flag and at the same time it is a military term. Since this cannot be conveyed in Spanish, the translators decided to change the title and to call it "El Pelotón Chiflado". In this way the Catalan translators did not attempt to solve socio-cultural differences by themselves, they just translated from the Spanish title, which, unfortunately happens very often. However, TV3 is not unique in this respect. Recently, many film distributing companies offer the same film in two versions, Catalan and Spanish. Again, the Catalan titles are often mere translations of the Spanish ones. This is the case of "Switch". This "switch" refers to the transformation that is undergone by the main character of the film, who switches from male to female. This irony cannot be conveyed in a single word in Spanish.


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