Multimedia synonyms explored

We regularly feature one free article for every printed issue we do, and this time, we chose Jeff Edward’s article on Cherokee and technology. The publicly-available link is now live.

This issue, we have an additional free article because one of our regular columns — Terminology Glosses — is here online rather than in the print magazine. For all the rest, our issue on multimedia has shipped from the printer and is on its way to our subscribers — or you can access it via the web here.

Terminology Glosses

surtitle and supertitle

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Opera house in Nice, France for the first time. I saw L’elixir d’amour (L’elisir d’amore), an operetta in Italian by Gaetano Donizetti. The efficient little theater had a screen in place above the stage, with French subtitles running for the entire length of the performance. I could hear the opera singers sing in Italian and, at the same time, I could read the French version on screen. Because the memories of that evening in Nice are so vivid in my mind, the term I am adding to our ideal termbase today is surtitle.

A lot has happened in translation in the last few years, including significant advances in multimedia translation. A quick search resulted in a whole list of neologisms corresponding to new techniques and approaches in translation. The term surtitle in particular is a neo-formation (from Latin prefix super via the French sur and titulum, also from Latin) coined following the same pattern as its cognate word subtitle. The concept of surtitle is defined as a translation in “one continuous line displayed with no interruption” (from Wikipedia). This new term is now codified in the language with others like free commentary, partial dubbing, narration, live subtitling, audio description, double version and more solidly established words in the multimedia language, such as voiceover or dubbing.

Following the same prefixation path, the English language also coined the word supertitle, always from Latin roots super and titulum. From a terminology management perspective, surtitle and supertitle are synonyms and both are actively used in the language. Time will tell us if both survive and how each of them further specializes or retires. For the time being, though, both have their place in our ideal termbase.

Synonymy is dealt with quite successfully in terminology management thanks to concept orientation, which is defined in ISO standards 16642, 30042 and 26162. Any terminological entry represents one concept. All the terms that express a concept are included in the same entry. Synonyms, abbreviations, other variants and translation equivalents, which are all representations of the same concept, are all included in the same entry. At the level of termbase design, the concept level nests the language level which, in turn, regroups the terms. Each of these sections is repeatable and searchable. In this way, no doublettes are created in the termbase and each language can be used as the source language. Here is how our synonyms might look in a terminological entry:

Definition: A translation in one continuous line displayed with no interruption on a screen that is often positioned above a stage.

English: surtitle

Part of speech: noun

Term type: full form

Usage status: preferred

Process status: approved

English: supertitle

Part of speech: noun

Term type: full form

Usage status: deprecated

Process status: approved

Besides providing a solid and manageable framework to our termbase, concept orientation is also necessary for controlled authoring, where terms are flagged as approved, admitted, deprecated and so on in dedicated software. The violation of the concept orientation principle creates confusion and redundancy in the termbase and does not work in favor of consistent and seamless integration with other tools.

In Nice, as I was watching the singers moving on stage, I was also following the surtitles. I sometimes got the feeling that some verses — at times long verses — were left out. However, the ambience and the rendering on stage completely balanced any potential shortcoming of the translation. In an article called “How Opera Challenges Translators” by Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times points out that in surtitles “translations can be as literal or free as the translator wants. But of necessity the lines are cut to the essentials, so as not to distract the audience’s attention from what is happening onstage. Titles are distracting, of course, but most operagoers find the tradeoff worth it.”

Translators are constantly making choices and strive to find the right balance in the rendering of a text. The multimedia factor adds an extra layer of complexity. Click To Tweet

Translators are constantly making choices and strive to find the right balance in the rendering of a text. The multimedia factor adds an extra layer of complexity. By going beyond the written and spoken word, multimedia create meanings that involve the senses and a complex interrelation of communicative elements. At their extreme, figurative expressions superimpose on figurative language; think for instance of visual puns, visual metaphors, visual transitions, and other dynamics used in the figurative arts that are as important as the actual textual narration.

A question also came to mind: who translates librettos? What are the best practices in the field? Who prepares translators for the task? The ATA Chronicle recently published a very insightful interview with Ronnie Apter and Mark Herman, “Translators and Librettists” on the art of translating librettos and the skills that are required to perform the task successfully. Competence in the source language is not necessarily ranked first!

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