| EN

Investigating Translation from the Dimension of “Fansub Groups”

Many people tend to think of China when it comes to “fansub groups.” Nevertheless, localized subtitling by spontaneous aficionados of foreign films and TV dramas has become a common practice in myriads of cultural communities. That is, fansub groups are ubiquitous around the globe. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Post-colonialPiracy and Fansub Groups

“Fansub groups” in China may be the major source of Taiwanese viewers’ idea about this sort of groups; that is, Taiwanese viewers have ever either personally watched the foreign films or TV dramas with the Chinese subtitles provided by these groups, or simply heard that their peers did so. Fansub groups in China comprise unpaid volunteers, usually professional or amateur translators, who not only help translate the subtitles of foreign audiovisual works, but also embed them in the audiovisual files and make the files freely downloadable online. Many Taiwanese viewers tend to think of China when it comes to “fansub groups.” Nevertheless, localized subtitling by spontaneous aficionados of foreign films and TV dramas has become a common practice in numerous cultural communities (DIÁZ-CINTAS and Munoz SÁNCHEZ, 2006; Pérez GONZÁLEZ, 2007). By way of comparison, “fansub group” seems to be a more appropriate description of this phenomenon. Literally speaking, these groups are composed of fans whose main activity is subbing / subtitling. The scale, modus operandi, style, and public perception of these groups tend to vary with local circumstances.

Take the fansub groups in Taiwan for example. Being thin on the ground with a relatively flimsy structure, they primarily engage in the translation of anime texts. On top of that, they are rather lukewarm about recruiting translators, often operating in the form of collaboration among a couple of close friends. They may even not consider themselves to be a “group” (LO, 2016). Hye-Kyung LEE (2010) pointed out that several fansub groups in the U.S. processing anime texts have strict discipline concerning, for example, the number of episodes of each anime they are allowed to translate and make downloadable. However, their counterparts in China vary tremendously from one another in terms of modus operandi, management, and training, allowing aficionados interested in translating the texts of foreign audiovisual works to join the groups according to their personal preference (HSIAO, 2014).

Translation is the core activity of fansub groups. From the perspectives of linguistics and anthropology, translation is a “manner of becoming” that represents texts in new social and cultural contexts (LIU, 1995). Scholars treat translation not only as a cross-cultural and multi-lingual activity, but also as the politics in which different viewpoints wrestle with one another. For instance, anthropologist Bambi SCHIEFFELIN (2007) investigated the change in the Bosavi’s (an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea) conceptual understanding of “mind” and “self.” She demonstrated that the Bosavi lack definite vocabulary for describing their inner thoughts. As a consequence, they have been skeptical about the interpretation of the Holy Scripture. SCHIEFFELIN has carried out extensive fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, studying local activities of Biblical translation and priests’ explanation of the Holy Scripture, thereby vividly portraying the Bosavi’s skepticism towards the act of translation and its product—the translated texts.

Indeed, as Walter BENJAMIN argued (2004[1923], 76-78), translation is not simply about expressing ideas by configuring words and sentences, because it’s a job on the part of authors. In contrast, “[t]he task of the translator consists in finding the particular intention toward the target language which produces in that language the echo of the original” (Benjamin, 2004[1923], 79). The translated texts have to be as intelligible and significant as the original. German critic Rudolf PANNWITZ held a similar view. In his article published in 1917, Pannwitz wrote: “Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise. They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead of turning German into Hindi, Greek, English. […] The basic error of the translator is that he preserves the state in which his own language happens to be instead of allowing his language to be powerfully affected by the foreign tongue. Particularly when translating from a language very remote from his own he must go back to the primal elements of language itself and penetrate to the point where work, image, and tone converge. He must expand and deepen his language by means of the foreign language” (cited in Benjamin, 2004[1923], 79).

The fansub groups of anime comprise unpaid volunteers of all stripes, usually professional or amateur translators, who not only help translate the subtitles of anime, but also embed them in the audiovisual files and make the files freely downloadable online. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

What BENJAMIN and PANNWITZ argued is an unattainable ideal. Friedrich SCHLEIERMACHER (2004[1813]) identified two strategies for translation: either bring the reader to the writer or the writer to the reader. Evidently, SCHLEIERMACHER prefers the first strategy to the second as a means of approximating the writer and the reader; that is, the translator should show a source-oriented respect for otherness, insofar as to make the translation as close to the original as possible in his mother tongue (SCHLEIERMACHER, 2004[1813], 54). The first strategy may lead to abstruse translation, but it is still more appropriate than the second one. Notwithstanding the fact that the second strategy can minimize the strangeness of the foreign text for target readers, it may also erase the uniqueness of the source language and culture. Translation theorist Lawrence VENUTI (1995) further termed the two strategies as “foreignization” and “domestication” respectively.

The abovementioned idea of translation as a field of power was proposed by and shared among scholars of postcolonialism who contend that, by means of translation, occidental countries reshaped the cultures of their colonies and confirmed the western one as the cultural mainstream. Tejaswini NIRANJANA (1992) and many other scholars claimed that Western translators normally adopt domestication as their strategy to minimize the stylistic and cultural elements of non-Western languages in their translation. In addition, BASSNETT and TRIVEDI (1999, 5) wrote: “The close relationship between colonization and translation has come under scrutiny; we can now perceive the extent to which translation was for centuries a one-way process, with texts being translated into European languages for European consumption, rather than as part of a reciprocal process of exchange.” The imbalance of power between the Occident and the rest of the world can ergo be said to find expression in translation activities.

The imbalance of power between the original and its translation has arisen as a crucial issue in the postcolonial literary studies. Gayatri Chakravorty SPIVAK (1993) theorized this issue, treating translation as the cultural-political practice that brings about social change. She criticized Western translators for often alienating the Third World literature from its original linguistic and social contexts. SPIVAK further argued that a translator has to maintain the heterogeneity of literature and show the importance of literature as a mirror image of the society. Following this point of view, Kwame A. APPIAH, a researcher devoted to African oral literature, coined the term “thick translation” that “seeks with its annotations and its accompanying glosses to locate the text in a rich cultural and linguistic context” (APPIAH, 2004[1993]). Thick translation helps readers grasp the cultural difference between the societies that the original and its translation respectively belong to. APPIAH pointed out that the difference between the original and its translation faithfully reflects the cultural and economic inequality between the Occident and Africa. Translation in the U.S. is worlds apart from that in African countries in terms of political implications, and such a difference has been continually reinforced.

In this sense, we may grow curious about the strategies adopted by fansub groups. How do translators overcome language barriers and cultural differences? Do they choose to show a source-oriented respect for otherness, or stay close to the culture that the target audience are familiar with? According to my observation, the strategies employed by the fansub groups in Taiwan or China for the punchlines of American TV dramas typically include (but not limited to) literal translation, direct translation with annotations, and domestication.

Literal translation refers to metaphrase; that is, the translator stays true to the original by translating it word for word. Direct translation with annotations means that the translator adds extra explanation to the punchline of the original in addition to literal translation, which resembles thick translation. Domestication means that the translator replaces the punchline in the original with a Chinese one, in which the trace of the original is almost removed. According to my statistics on the fansub groups’ strategies for a total of 150 English conversations that contain punchlines, 106 of them were processed through literal translation, 16 through direct translation with annotations, and 28 through domestication.

The choice of translation strategies is subject to many factors, such as the translator’s personal style, the consideration of the language form, the intelligibility of the punchlines, and the self-imposed requirements within the fansub groups. As the literature review revealed, translation not only involves language, but also depends on social and cultural factors. Sometimes these factors may help the punchlines cross the boundary and “travel” to elsewhere, while sometimes they may not. The consequence has become apparent in the varying subjective evaluations of the different translations provided by fansub groups. Some prefer the source-generated otherness—be it language form (e.g. puns and phrases) or cultural background, whilst others lean towards the Chinese expression familiar to them.

The Chinese subtitles provided by fansub groups have embodied the sheer diversity of translation. To sum up, translation is not just the translator’s personal linguistic practice. The choice of translation strategies bears the signature of the social and cultural milieus that surround the translator, including the readers’ expectations of the translation, their views on fansub groups, their understanding of otherness, and their ways to embrace or resist the otherness that enters their horizons via the Internet and readily available video works.

Post-colonialPiracy and Fansub Groups
LO, Yu-Chun. 2016. “Regional Variations of Fansubbing Practices: The Differences between Dadas Translation Community and Chinese Fansub Groups.” MA Thesis, Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation, National Taiwan Normal University.
APPIAH, Kwame Anthony. 2004(1993). Thick Translation. In The Translation Studies Reader. Lawrence Venuti, ed. Pp. 389-401. London and New York: Routledge.
BASSNETT, Susan, and Harish Trivedi. 1999. Introduction: Of Colonies, Cannibals, and Vernaculars. In Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice. Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, eds. Pp. 1-18. New York: Routledge.
BENJAMIN, Walter. 2004(1923). The Task of the Translator. In The Translation Studies Reader. Lawrence Venuti, ed. Pp. 75-85. London and New York: Routledge.
Diáz Cintas, Jorge, and Pablo Munoz Sánchez. 2006. Fansubs: Audiovisual Translation in an Amateur Environment. The Journal of Specialized Translation 6: 37-52.
HSIAO, Chi-Hua. 2014. The Cultural Translation of U.S. Television Programs and Movies. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.
LEE, Hye-Kyung. 2010. Cultural Consumers and Copyright: A Case Study of Anime Fansubbing. Creative Industries Journal 3(3): 235-250.
LIU, Lydia. 1995. Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity—China, 1900-1937. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
NIRANJANA, Tejeswini. 1992. Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism and the Colonial Context. Berkeley: University of California Press.
PÉREZ GONZÁLEZ, Luis. 2007. Fansubbing Anime: Insights into The ‘Butterfly Effect’ of Globalization on Audiovisual Translation. Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 14 (4): 260-277.
Schieffelin, Bambi. 2007. Found in Translating: Reflexive Language Across Time and Texts. In Consequences of Contact: Language Ideologies and Sociocultural Transformations in Pacific Societies. M. Makihara and Bambi Schieffelin, eds. Pp. 140-165. New York: Oxford University Press.
SCHLEIERMACHER, Friedrich. 2004(1813). On the Different Methods of Translating. Susan Bernofsky, trans. In The Translation Studies Reader. Lawrence Venuti, ed. Pp. 43-63. London and New York: Routledge.
SPIVAK, Chakravorty. 1993. Outside in the Teaching Machine. London and New York: Routledge.
VENUTI, Lawrence. 1995. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge.
HSIAO Chi-HuaHSIAO is an associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, Tunghai University. Interested in face-to-face conversation and live communication, HSIAO focuses her linguistic studies on the dynamic process of people’s use of languages within different contexts.
The Circulation, Politics and Variants of Unofficial Subtitles
Fansub groups are often equated with copyright infringement from a legal point of view. However, their operations are based not so much on stereotypical piracy as on non-profit altruism.
altruismPiracy and Fansub Groupsunofficial communication
Monsters and Postcolonial Taiwan Reinvention of Folklore Tradition in the Works of Fevervine Dance Theatre
Folk legends and rumors such as “Sister Lin Tou” and “Mô-sîn-á” eventually became part of the representation in the official context of Taiwanese history. Whereas trends and crazes for monsters prevail in the literary world, few theatrical pieces thematizing monsters and the mythical in folklores are seen in Taiwanese contemporary theater.
Post-colonialdocumentary theatreReconstructing the Paranormal
What Is Seen From The Art Awards In Asia
As the economic and political balance of the world has lessened the odds between the West + North America and Asia, new cultural and artistic discourses are set for this post-colonized and post-war continent.
Asian artPost-colonialSoutheast Asia