by Vanesa Álvarez Ortiz
In these globalized and competitive times, some big players in the AVT industry rely heavily upon pivot language templates to make English the source language of all translation, eliminating less common combinations. The use of these timed master subtitles has as many advantages as disadvantages both for subtitle vendors and translators.
As far as advantages go, subtitle vendors see their recruiting needs lessened as fewer language combinations are required, and their existing pool of professionals may be able to undertake subtitle translation tasks after just a brief training, even if they are not experienced in the technical dimension of subtitling. Also, the production of subtitles becomes significantly cheaper and faster, and it’s easier for project managers to track and check multiple files in various languages.
Supposedly, translators also benefit from the use of templates since, as there is no need for spotting or cueing, they can work more efficiently, provided that the template is correct, and thus take on more work. On the other hand, rates for translation from a master template are not the same as those for spotting and translation, in a field where rates are already a constant struggle for language professionals.
Among the disadvantages, we may criticize the matricial criteria used in the creation of the template, since the creator must pay special attention to the segmentation of the linguistic material to make sure that every other language could be rendered in those segments without heavy alterations on the spotting and cueing of the file. This goes hand in hand with other country-specific issues, like use of italics, and direction of writing (left to right, right to left, and even vertical) that will also have to be considered by the template maker.
If the template is made by a native of the source language, then their translation into English may be inadequate, introducing errors that will later be reproduced in every other language, and influencing the condensation and editing of the original text. My extensive experience working with English pivot templates for both Western and Eastern languages, in all kinds of genres, allows me to conclude that this isn’t much of a problem with Western languages, but wreaks havoc when the source is an Eastern language.
Translating without being able to rely on the audio for clarification becomes a Herculean task, and final products are subpar, at least to a translator, who is aware of the multiple intermediary steps that clouded the author’s original intention.
In conclusion, quality problems arise from using pivot language templates because many companies and translators aren’t aware that the creation of templates is a much more complicated endeavor than the creation of any other subtitle file. So, if we are to strive for the highest quality, these pivot language templates, in my opinion, should be considered a last resort rather than standard workflow.
We should advocate for a decentralization, or a disentanglement of current workflow that results in the creation of source language templates, and in the use of specific translators for specific language combinations, instead of ‘leveling the field’ with a pivot language in detriment of both the original content and final product.
Working with pivot language templates has been our reality for quite some time, but this does not mean there is no room for improvement. Actually, it is high time we reviewed their role and function in the contemporary subtitling industry. There will come a time in which translation will stop being taken for granted and will be given the importance it deserves for what it is: a postproduction process that can make or break an audiovisual product.
We know that films with substandard subtitles are not well received by audiences, and we have seen glimpses of this new attitude toward translation with the various scandals that arose from the subtitling of the movie Roma, and its director’s critical attitude.
So, we should push for a better way of working, and believe that once the streaming services race winds down, the focus will shift away from quantity and we will live a ‘revival’ of the translation profession in which quality will be the driving factor of the industry.
Baños Piñero, Rocío, and Jorge Díaz Cintas, eds. Audiovisual Translation in a Global Context. England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Cintas, Jorge Díaz, and Gunilla M. Anderman. Audiovisual Translation: Language Transfer on Screen. Houndmills: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.