Fansubbing: a treat or a threat?
Over the last few years, the fansubbing phenomenon has been thoroughly discussed among audiovisual translators. The main concerns are: can fansubbing replace the work of many professional and qualified translators? Is this wide-spread practice influencing the industry in terms of rates and quality standards?
A few facts about fansubbing
• “A fansub (short for fan-subtitled) is a version of a foreign film or foreign television program which has been translated by fans”;
• The first fansubbers translated Japanese anime and shared them with other fans who couldn’t otherwise have access to them;
• The first distribution media of fansubbed material was VHS and Betamax tapes, which were very difficult to find and were therefore very expensive;
• Modern fansubbing is called digital fansubbing (digisubbing) and, thanks to major technological advancements such as high-speed internet services, digisubs can now guarantee higher quality in a shorter time. [Source: Wikipedia]
Let me say something first. I watch fansubbed programs on a daily basis. I’m a TV-series addict and – if I don’t have to work, of course – watch at least three TV-show episodes a day. My partner, who is also on the dubbed-shows-are-not-the-same-thing team, prefers watching his favourite programmes in English, but still needs subtitles for a deeper understanding.
How fansubbers work
Fansubbers typically work in group. The workload is divided up. The final translation is then reviewed and one or two other people perform quality checks (mostly concerning synchronisation.)
Here is a small list of what I think are the pros and cons of fansubbing.
• Delivery time: a 40-minute episode is usually available 24 hours (sometimes even less) after it is broadcast abroad;
• Easier access: more people can enjoy their favourite shows without having to wait days or even months for the official dubbed/subtitled versions;
• Recent graduates/students: joining a fansubbing community might be a good way to put into practice what you have learnt during your studies. I strongly believe though that, in a résumé, this should be not listed as professional experience. I think volunteer activities or hobbies might be the right category. This is, of course, my opinion.
There is a general lack of quality as far as translation is concerned.
• Word-for-word translations are often the main course of action, also because fansubbers generally do not watch the video, thus losing many important references (gestures, inflections, context, etc.) given by the action developing on screen. This is particularly obvious in cases like this:
Dominion, season 1, episode 5 – David gives Claire a pendant, which once belonged to his wife. At a party, he tells her, “My goodness, it truly shines.” Here’s what the Italian viewers read and saw:
Back translation: “Gosh, you are radiant.”
If the translator had actually watched the video, he/she would have noticed that Claire touches the pendant right after David’s line, which also explained the use of the third-person pronoun. Let’s suppose the translator just made a mistake, then why hasn’t the reviewer done anything about it?
• Many fansubbers have quite a good grasp of the English language, others… not so much! Let’s have a look at this translation:
Under the Dome, season 2, episode 12 – Rebecca is a doctor and she really can’t understand why Melanie is sick. She is not ready to admit that there might be no scientific explanation. “I’m gonna find out why you’re sick”, says Rebecca, and Melanie replies: “”Not knowing makes you mad, huh?”
Back translation: “I didn’t realise you were so worried, huh?”
I suppose that in this case the translator just guessed the possible translation; maybe he/she didn’t have the original script and/or audio track. Maybe he/she just ignored the context and did his/her best to find a solution. I think it is inevitable to miss the general picture when the final translation is the result of the work of four or five people!
There are also other technical issues regarding subtitling standards that I have intentionally overlooked in the examples above, such as maximum characters per line, truncation, reading speed, interjections, repetitions, etc., which I do not expect them to follow for the only reason that they are NOT professional subtitlers.
Should fansubbing be seen as a threat to professionals or a treat for a wider range of viewers?
Unfortunately, the main consequence of fansubbing is that many people now think that subtitling is something anyone can do, that it is easy, so what would be the point of hiring a professional? Of course we know this is absolute nonsense. What happens though when a lot of international film festivals (this is very common in Italy) accepts only volunteer subtitlers? Or when a TV channel proudly announces that its programmes are now subtitled by one of the major fansubbing community in Italy? How does this affect quality standards?
In my opinion, fansubs are a real threat only when dealing with people who do not really understand what subtitling is. In terms of quality, there’s no contest. The importance of quality just cannot be underestimated and, in the long run, even those people who now think that subtitling – and translation in general – is just a piece of cake will change their mind.
What do you think about fansubbing? Do you agree with my view?
Leave a comment in the box below. I would love to know your opinion.