by Mara Campbell
You probably heard of or watched the Norwegian show Norsemen (Vikingane) or the Welsh show Hinterland (Y Gwyll). One a comedy and the other a noir police procedural, they do not seem to have much in common, except for the cold, humid weather they depict.
Apart from the English versions available on streaming platforms, both shows have alternative versions in a different language, Norsemen in Norwegian and Hinterland in Welsh. But not dubbed versions, just actual alternative versions.
Both shows were shot first in one language, then in the other, with the same actors, all bilingual. The Norsemen production involved acting out a scene in Norwegian, then moving back all the cameras and setups to the starting point, and then shooting it again in English. Hinterland shot first in English and then in Welsh.
The shows are produced by different companies, NRK does Norsemen and BBC Cymru Wales does Hinterland, so this is not an in-company policy or much less an experiment. Some countries that put a lot of effort and budget into local, quality productions also see the potential of crossing borders and exporting their products to the world, without neglecting their linguistic policies and promoting their national languages internally. In the case of Welsh, the Welsh Language Service “promotes and facilitates the use of the Welsh language” to enforce the Welsh Language Act 1993, “an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which put the Welsh language on an equal footing with the English language in Wales“.
The producer of Nosemen, Anders Tangen, says, “The purpose is to make the job of selling the series abroad easier. We avoid the cumbersome process of making the series again, and Norwegian actors get to show themselves off.”
As far as audiovisual translation is concerned, it has both good and bad implications. For starters, there is a need for a specialized translator to work on the script, probably side-by-side with the writers of the show. Also, the pivot language template is made from an English spoken version, so it is much more accurate, which definitively has a positive impact in the translations into other languages. The downside would be that it does not promote the employment of subtitlers and subtitle translators that work from the original languages, Norwegian-English and Welsh-English. Particularly for the Welsh language, it might have something to do with limited availability of those resources.
An interesting article in The Guardian about Hinterland, sheds some light on the curious linguistic challenges this modality brings. “Welsh is a sparer language, which presented the odd problem. ‘Scenes can end a lot quicker in Welsh,’ says [Richard] Harrington [the actor playing the main character], ‘and because it’s more poetic and colorful, you can say some things with a word or even a look. You can’t try to do exactly in Welsh what you did in English.’ ‘They are different films,’ says [Ed] Thomas [creator of the show]. ‘Even though they are literal translations, they have different strengths and nuances.'”
All in all, it is a novel idea, and the fact that producers are opening their minds to the importance of audiovisual localization and globalization is very encouraging for our line of work.
Mara Campbell is an Argentine ATA-certified translator who has been subtitling, closed captioning, and translating subtitles and scripts for dubbing for the past 20 years. She worked in several of the most important companies of Argentina and the USA. She is currently COO of True Subtitles, the company she founded in 2005. Her work has been seen on the screens of Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Hulu, HBO, BBC, and many more. She teaches courses, speaks at international conferences, and is a founding member of the AVD.