The answer to the question largely depends on who you are. One may need the services of a professional translator for an official document – which otherwise would be invalid – but could probably, more often than not, do without the translation of a film title (and, thankfully, even without subtitles!).
It has been more than fifty years since people began to be taught English in most schools around the world – even in the former communist European countries where Russian and French used to be the only two choices of foreign languages in secondary and high school. As a result, people have become quite ‘receptive’ to lexical imports from the English speaking world. Nowadays, every Tom, Dick and Harry knows what a McDonald’s ‘burger’ is or that we can eat chicken at KFC and, believe it or not, has nothing against the huge billboards scattered around cities and everywhere along motorways advertising a hundred and one delicacies or gadgets in plain English. Neither does the average consumer need a word-for-word translation of a menu in ethnic restaurants (as long as the waiters can explain what those dishes contain). As for the people using the computer on a daily basis in their line of work, how many of them have you heard complaining about not having been provided with an OS in their mother tongue?
We have been witnessing a dramatic change in the general attitude towards English and its ‘invasion’ in most fields of activity. Grandparents take advantage of the presence and knowledge of their grandsons and -daughters in order to clarify the meaning of many English words which have now become part of most languages in the world. By the middle of our century, English will have gained even more control of the global vocabulary and, ideally, people will have learned how to use the ‘English language survival kit’ at least at ‘intermediate’ level. If that happens, the work of translators will become less strenuous and a lot of ‘gaffes’ mainly resulted from the incompatibility between English and other languages will be gracefully avoided.
Many speakers of English complain about the inadequacy of some film subtitles even though they are not the work of some dumb machines but the final version of a professional translator who gets paid for that. Some of them are right to grumble, as there are instances in which, with a bit more focus and inspiration, a far better translation could be done. Others may not know enough English to get the point (or punch line) and had better refrain from making comments. I remember I used to be in the latter category many years ago when I had just started learning French at school and was in the habit of testing my knowledge by competing with the English subtitles of French series available on national TV. At the time I was rather unaware of many set phrases or expressions and interpreted the sequence of words I could hear rather ’empirically’, which is why I am not going to delve into that kind of translation mistakes. Beginners and even intermediate students of foreign languages will do that! What has actually caught my attention and made me wonder about the need of translation is the choice of some professionals to adapt (and spoil!) movie titles.
The way that the image/design on the cover of a book or its title may prompt us to read the blurb and buy the book, the title of a film is a very good reason for us to buy a DVD or head for the cinema and watch the film on the spot if it is a new release. Once you have noticed the title, there are many other reasons why you may decide to watch a film: the cast, the director, the type. In short, the title is of paramount importance. It is supposed to be the ‘essence’ of the film, a highly concentrated ‘spoonful’ of what you will be ‘trying’ later. Whoever has decided upon a certain title for a film truly believes it is the best title for that film. You can bet your life that a bad translation of a title will have an influence upon the viewers’ choice, who might not be interested in watching the film, or will bring about comments from those who liked the film but felt that the titled did not connect with the plot. Either way, something will be missing.
A friend of mine, a big fan of the American series ‘The Mentalist’, told me that the translation of the title was ‘Inside the Murderer’s Mind’. Well, what can one say to that? The translator wanted to make sure that everybody should be aware of the theme. Those who are into detective/crime stories would certainly find that title ‘catchy’, wouldn’t they? The good part is that the producers were smart enough to provide an English dictionary explanation for the word ‘mentalist‘, right there on the screen, just below the title, including its phonetic transcription, which leaves no doubts about the meaning of the title. As a result, the translator’s ‘playfulness’ remained unnoticed and unarguable even to the eyes of a word sleuth like me.
So, keeping the original title and coming up with a definition, explanation or whatever it takes to make things clear to the viewers might be the answer to the opening question I chose as the title for my ‘ranting’ here. No, sometimes we do not…Really!