Translation of American Film Titles into Chinese in Taiwan

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Hollywood movies have dominated film markets worldwide. Such domination is in clear evidence in Hong Kong and Taiwan1. In marketing these foreign-films for the consumption of the two Chinese communities, film distributors choose to translate the imported foreign film-titles into Chinese.

The translated film-titles are different in the two communities, with the Hong Kong ones being more descriptive, more colloquial and mostly rewritten or adapted, whereas the Taiwan ones are usually literally translated Although in both Chinese communities film-title translation is regarded as commercial translation, and although the act of translation is simply considered a marketing strategy adopted by local film distributors, the translators/distributors’ choice can, to some extent, reflect the taste of the local audience. If we take note of Venuti’s concept, the practice of film-title translation in Hong Kong is a good illustration of “domestication” in translation, where film-titles are translated into Chinese for the local audience by embedding local cultural elements or colloquial expressions in the translation. The Taiwan case is found closer to what Venuti calls “foreignization” in translation – that is to say, film-titles tend to be literally translated, preserving the tone and the diction of the original.

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Regarding film-title translation as a commercial activity, the thesis seeks to examine the tendency toward foreignizing translation or domesticating translation through a comparative study of film-title translations in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The thesis also attempts to argue that, though Venuti praises foreignizing translation as an act to introduce foreign cultures and bring difference (i.e., to highlight linguistic and cultural difference carried in the foreign text) to the target culture, i.e., Anglo-American cultures, domesticating translation is perhaps the appropriate strategy to be adopted in the context of Hong Kong and Taiwan cultures to bring similar results, i.e., to introduce foreign cultures and to guarantee difference. This thesis makes no pretension to be comprehensive in its coverage. The material presented is restricted to the study of English-to-Chinese (E to C) translation, i.e., how foreign film-titles (mainly English titles) are translated into Chinese. Chinese-to-English (C to E) translation (i.e., the translation of the titles of the domestic Chinese films produced by Hong Kong and Taiwan filmmakers) is not included in my scope of research. If materials were available, a discussion of film-title translation in the PRC would be most interesting. My focus of examination in this thesis is on popular Hollywood feature films.

Examples of translated film-titles from Hong Kong and Taiwan from 1990 to 2002 will be offered as an illustration. It can be argued that the 1990s splits off as a decade of transition from literal translation to adaptation laced with colloquialism and even vulgarization. For this reason, foreign film-titles translated in this decade appear to best suit our purpose. The film-titles are culled from two publications on films, namely, Cinema in the Republic of China Year Book (Issue 1990 – 2000) and Hong Kong Films (1989-1990, 1992, 1994-5, 1998).

References will also be made to the two websites (Hong Kong) and (Taiwan), which are maintained by local film critics. 9.3 A Glimpse into the Future Since HK film distributors are convinced that domesticated film-titles dosed with colloquialisms or vulgarisms would help draw audience, such a practice will certainly prevail for as long as it is proven effective. Taiwan, on the other hand, has taken steps to become a code-mixing society starting from mid-1990s. With the government’s encouragement and the parents’ demand for English lessons for their children, Taiwan will soon become a bona fide bilingual society (English and Chinese) like Hong Kong.

Whether film-title translation will follow the precedent of Hong Kong remains to be seen. It is worth noting that, in view of the growing importation of foreign-films from places other than the US and United Kingdom (through International Film Festivals, VCDs and DVDs put out on the market, for example), the domesticating translation of foreign film-titles will continue to invite more audience to watch the films73, thus increasing the chance for the local audience to be exposed to foreign cultures other than the Anglo-American one. Also, with the use of the Internet, satellite TV74, the signing of the Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), the launch of individual travel scheme and more, the increase of commercial and cultural exchange among the three Chinese communities will be on the increase. It is also possible that the use of some form of Hong Kong Cantonese expressions will become fashionable in other Chinese communities. As a matter of fact, terms such as “老婆” (laopo), “老公” (laogong), “買單” (maidan), “好正” (haozheng), “正點” (zhengdian) are already gaining currency in parts of mainland China and Taiwan. Perhaps a time will come when the translation of foreign film-titles could be synchronized and accepted by the Chinese communities in mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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