Achieving Cross-Cultural Communication in Audiovisual Translation
Whether the translator is regarded as a negotiator, a mediator, a communicator or a manipulator, it is important to recognise that translation is first and foremost a communication, and more importantly an intercultural communication. In this communication there are two key elements: audience and intended message.
The concept of audience design was first introduced by the sociolinguist Allan Bell in 1984 in his seminal article “Language Style as Audience Design”. Bell, through his research, finds that speakers shift their language style based on their knowledge of their audience and concludes that “speakers design their style for their audience”. Bell divides the audience into four categories of hearers who impose different levels of impact on the speaker’s language style, depending on their direct or indirect relationship with the speaker. When applying audience design in translation, it means that the translator needs to identify who his audience is and respond to his audience accordingly.
Simply translating a source language text into target language text does not necessarily lead to communication, and communication is not a given. How does communication happen? According to Sperber and Wilson (1995), human communication involves “expression” and “cognition of intentions”. Cognition of intentions relies on the context to interpret the intended message, and context here refers to a cognitive environment to enable the interpretation process. In translation, the source language audience’s cognitive and cultural contexts do not match those of the target language audience. Therefore, the onus is on the translator to identify the mismatch or the missing context and provide a cognitive environment for his target language audience to enable them to interpret the message understood by the source language audience.
Subtitling is a heightened form of translation. It renders speech into a reading format, so it involves both an audio-visual medium and a literary medium at the same time. Subtitling is governed by three principal constraints: reading speed (duration), spatial constraint, and deprivation of explanatory tools used in print media. As far as subtitling is concerned, Chinese is far too concise. Being ideograph-based, Chinese takes up less space than English in its written form and is of shorter duration in its spoken form. The speaker will unpack the intriguing process of negotiation and manipulation in reining in the cultural and linguistic differences to achieve cross-cultural communication.