Movie Translation and Arabic Subtitling: A Case Study on Harry Potter Series

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"Movie Translation and Arabic Subtitling: A Case Study on Harry Potter Series"

Continuing our subtitling series, (part 1, part 2), we will be discussing Arabic Subtitling, what we master the most, as Arabic natives. Arabic subtitling is a bit tricky, since Arabic is a bidirectional language (which is written from Right to Left and/or Left to Right).
With the large number of Arabic-speaking populations, subtitling into Arabic is a means for encouraging the masses to consume non-Arabic multimedia. Turkish, Indian and Korean TV series have been recently dubbed into Arabic and succeeded to attract a great audience in Egypt. On the other hand, as Arab people’s second language is English and they understand it well, they prefer to watch American/British movies in the English language with Arabic subtitles rather than watching it dubbed.
Additionally, there are some restrictions in the Arabic World for dubbing the Hollywood American competitive movies, as this may take the Arabic audience's attention away from the Arabic movies.
Tips for Quality Subtitles

1.Context not Text

Before starting translation, try to watch the whole movie first to comprehend the overall idea and context presented. Also, focus on the personality and style of the characters. This will help you deliver the idea of the movie in an appropriate way. You don't need to translate the text word by word, but preferably reflect the movie context to the audience.


2.Quotes vs. Jokes

Take care when translating quotes and jokes and make sure to differentiate them. Quotes are translated as is, while jokes may need some adaptation to fit with the target audience's culture and considerations.


3.Audio and Sound Effects

Not all subtitles have non-verbal items included. Some companies, especially who target deaf and hard-of-hearing audience, request adding labels or sound captions to add meaning to the scenes. The non-verbal items could be: letters, inserts, graffiti, inscriptions, signs, etc. Songs, noises, and movements could also be included in subtitles for more engagement.

4.Timing and Display

Subtitles should be displayed at the same time the dialogues start. When reading speed is not an issue, subtitles should disappear immediately as the speech finishes. Also, make sure the subtitle is wrapped well aligning the screen width.


5.Bidi Challenges

If you are working on subtitling a project into a bidirectional language, you should pay attention to the bidirectional issues that you may encounter.
The three main issues are:
  1. Reading order.
  2. Text alignment.
  3. Neutral characters.
Case Study: (Harry Potter)'s Subtitling into Arabic
When the first movie of the series was released, many companies and studios focused on subtitling it. Afterward, it was screened in cinemas in many Arab counties. A huge number of audiences were interested in watching the subtitled version. Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries have screened the subtitled version of the movie.
In July 2011, the last movie of the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", was screened in a special show in Egypt, the same time it was released in the US and different European countries. However, some of the Arabic Harry Potter's admirers declared that there are many poor or fake subtitles.
Issues in Subtitling Harry Potter into Arabic
Subtitling foreign movies into Arabic is known to have linguistic and cultural problems especially in foreign names, customs, social events, and other cultural and ideological aspects. Subtitling movies from English into Arabic concerns bridging the gap between these two different languages.
Having a closer look at the Harry Potter movie series, you can find many adaptations in the subtitling. The challenges were both technical and linguistic. Yet, the cultural aspects were the most challenging, which caused communication and context issues.
Such movies include religious, social, educational, and historical factors that should be taken into account. Additionally, subtitling for children, teenagers and adults are different and even more challenging. Moreover, Harry Potter movies' dialogue has British culture references that would have caused incomprehension and cultural sensitivity if translated literally into Arabic.
The movie series involves strange invented words, jokes, riddles, spells, magical objects and creatures, food items, songs, different cultural occasions, and other unfamiliar words that sometimes could be translated and sometimes not.
Examples of challenging words that were adapted:

The Deathly Hallows was translated as "مقدسات الموت" which is not the literal translation but was approved by the producer to give almost the same meaning.

Some names were hard for Arabic audience when written in Arabic like: Draco Malfoy.

A "Patronus" is a type of advanced magic that even the most experienced wizards can struggle with. The word does not have the translation, but it was transliterated into the Arabic word "الباتروناس" instead.
The Arab translators need to consider some factors when subtitling children’s shows into Arabic. And here comes the role of adaptation of source text in line with religious, cultural, social and educational considerations. In the Arab world, the children should deliver a totally different experience other than the original Western one. This is because of the cultural differences and traditions of British schools where the Harry Potter series is filmed. Paying no attention to this could cause misunderstanding to the audience and result in less effective responses.

While subtitling into Arabic, you may face some issues. Be sure to understand the nature of the language and the Arab culture before you translate.
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