by Catalina Espinoza
Almost every audiovisual translator has been asked their daily productivity. In an effort to win clients, sometimes we rush to respond: “x” minutes a day. But it’s difficult to predict the complexity of a project knowing only how long the file is.
The purpose of this article is to make it clear that the length of a video file is not equivalent to its complexity and, that throughout a 30-minute material, there are hidden challenges of varying complexity that the audiovisual translator has to face. Those challenges are not easy to predict just by mentioning the length of the file.
What makes audiovisual material more or less complex?
1. Intertextuality: There seems to be a consensus in the linguistic community that “Intertextuality” is a concept coined by the Bulgarian writer Julia Kristeva in the late 1960s.
Kristeva’s term refers to the traces, quotations, or allusions to other literary works found in a text. Later, Ana Moreno Peinado listed the following intertextual elements that can be found in an audiovisual work: quotes, allusions, slogans, author songs, parodies, rhymes, popular songs, conventional formulas, prayers, riddles, clichés, common formulas, locutions, and paroemias.
What does this mean for us audiovisual translators? Well, each of the elements listed by Peinado must be detected, isolated, traced to its origin, and then translated in a way that considers target culture and conventions that allow the translator to deliver an idiomatic text in the target language.
For subtitle editors, it means condensing an acceptable intertextual translation to the necessary reading speed while preserving the fluency and correctness of the target language. For dubbing translators, it means adjusting the translation to the speaker’s lip synchronicity.
Biblical references are an example of the complexity of intertextuality we can all recognize. The Bible is undoubtedly one of the most translated books in the world. Every church or congregation has its translated and accepted version. So, we not only have to find an idiomatic translation while considering intertextual elements, but we must also stick to the version accepted by a religious community. In other words, are we talking about one or two quotes from the Bible or is it a 30-minute sermon with biblical references one after the other?
2. The Number of Subtitles in a Template: Nowadays, almost every subtitle professional receives an assignment from the client in the source language with a certain number of subtitles. This task is called “origination with template”. I would like to highlight the difference between a 30-minute assignment with 200 subtitles and that same file with 400 subtitles. More text in the same amount of time forces us to redouble efforts to translate the material.
3. Scripted or Non-Scripted? Does this harmless half-hour file that our client is entrusting to us contain an audiovisual work that follows a script? If not, the audiovisual translator must become an editor to do the job properly as it will require syntactic polishing.
When there is a screenplay, a professional writer has written a plot and dialogues that require minimal linguistic correction while maintaining the orality required for the enjoyment of the audience.
Anyone who has been commissioned to subtitle a Youtuber’s video knows that the rhythm of the speaker and the nature of the speech is different than that of a TV series. In this case, a source language template by an English writer does not save time, because the effort simply passes from one hand to another within the production chain.
So, what do you do when we get a half-hour commission for an improvised reality show or a Christian minister’s sermon with 500 subtitles contained in that same amount of time? Accepting or rejecting the assignment is a business decision. But it is necessary to consider that all the above-stated elements make the job more complex and underestimating how long it will take can generate misunderstandings with the client. Changing the price after the job is done or negotiating an extension of the deadline is not always an option and it tends to cast doubt on the competence of the audiovisual translator.
At the ATA’s Audiovisual Division we would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Are there other elements that could be added to these three factors of complexity?
How do you deal with these types of assignments? Do you have a strategy to increase productivity given these factors?
Share your opinion with us on social media: @ATA_AVDivision on Twitter and Audiovisual Division ATA on Facebook.
 NGAMBA AMOUGOU, Monique Nomo (2009) “Intertextualidad, Influencia, Recepción, Traducción y Análisis Comparativo”, Revista Electrónica de Estudios Filológicos, número 17, julio 2009. ISBN 1577-6921. Available at: https://www.um.es/tonosdigital/znum17/secciones/estudios-14-intertextualidadycomparatismo.htm#_ftn2.
 MORENO PEINADO, Ana (2005) “La traducción de la intertextualidad en textos audiovisuales: a la búsqueda de una metodologías”, at ROMANA GARCÍA, María Luisa [ed.] II AIETI. Actas del II Congreso Internacional de la Asociación Ibérica de Estudios de Traducción e Interpretación. Madrid, 9-11 de febrero de 2005. Madrid: AIETI, pp. 1207-1217. ISBN 84-8468-151-3. Available at: https://www.aieti.eu/pubs/actas/II/AIETI_2_AMP_Traduccion.pdf.