MovieChat Forums > A Very Long Engagement (2004) Discussion > Why the translation inconsistencies?

Why the translation inconsistencies?


Of anyone who watched the movie with English subtitles, did you notice that the translation was inconsistent at times. For example, why did they feel the need to translate MMM "Manech M (short for aime which means love) Mathilde" as "Manech marrying Mathilde". I understand a good bit of french though I'm not fluent and I try my best to listen to as much as I can without using the subtitles. I think they take something away from the movie when they do things like this. Am I alone in this feeling?

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I agree with you.
Trying to make the acronym "MMM" make sense in english (or any language for that matter) is just plain stupid by the subtitlers IMHO.
Especially since the original french of "MMM" is deliberately wrong in the first place.....

WYSYHYG

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The original French isn't "deliberately wrong", not exactly. Aime has the same vocal sound as the letter "M", so it's just a funny play on words, like using 4 to mean "for". Sure it doesn't work as well in English, but if you would have said "Manech loves Mathilde", the MMM is kind of lost.

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I do understand- I noticed this when I saw it today. I noticed in other places as well the subtitles shortened or omitted part of what the French actually was. Looking at translated books compared to the original I've encountered this problem as well- although it tends to be more of an issue with film than written media. It's frustrating, but it also occurs in our own language- if you have English subtitles on to a film/program in English then the people writing them do occasionally condense things. I think it's one of the pitfalls of transcribing/translating. It's good that you're noticing this, showing your proficiency in the language. Not to do the people writing the subtitles injustice: for me, even though I'm learning the language and am getting to the stage where I can understand about 75% of what's being said without a dictionary, I found the subtitles here invaluable: there were a lot of 'locutions françaises' and obscure vocab due to the topic of war.

(This is kinda off the topic, but on the other hand, do you think it's bizarre in French when an English word pops up? In the film I noticed one of the characters said 'No Man's Land' in a french accent. I find that really strange, even though English language has plenty of borrowed words too.)

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I noticed in other places as well the subtitles shortened or omitted part of what the French actually was.
This is not exactly what we were talking about here. Omitting things is natural when subtitling. Mainly because the viewer needs x seconds to read what's being said....If there is a lot of dialogue in a short timeframe, you need to omitt things and only keep what's most vital for the story.....
The MMM-thing, however, is stupid. It's not about omitting things. The subtitler is just trying to make MMM make sense in english (this is sometimes seen/used in comedy-movies). That's not what subtitling is about....It's about translating, not distorting....

In the film I noticed one of the characters said 'No Man's Land' in a french accent.
Yes, that is weird, but I guess the french don't have their own word for it....

WYSYHYG

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In the novel "la terre de personne" is used as well as "No man's land" but there are so many anglicisms in modern French which is normal because of the modern influence of English. So I wouldn't say it's wierd at all.

As for the MMM thing it should've been translated as Manech loves Mathilde which is what it stands for in French, (Manech aime Mathilde). Also why is the original French of it wrong? Doesn't seem wrong to me. Aime, which is the correct form for the third person singular, and the letter M are pronounced the same.

Il tue. Il tue trop sa mère. Vinz "La Haine"

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Also why is the original French of it wrong? Doesn't seem wrong to me. Aime, which is the correct form for the third person singular, and the letter M are pronounced the same.
Yes that's just it, pronounced, not written. The correct acronym would be MAM....

WYSYHYG

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Yeah I see what you mean. The letter m's like a heart drawn between initials in English.

Il tue. Il tue trop sa mère. Vinz "La Haine"

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It's not like everyone in France uses the same acronym. I'm sure people usually write M<3M or whatever. In their case they decided to use the letter M instead of a heart because it's their little thing MMM, it just works. In English-speaking countries people are not going to write MLM (L for Loves), just like in France people probably, just assuming, don't write MAM (for Aime).

I do agree though that it is stupid to translate it to Manech marrying Mathilde. It should stay true to the translation even if the acronym doesn't fit. Someone mentioned that this happens in comedies a lot, very true. It also happens when words are mistaken or there is a play on words due to the similarities between the spelling. For example in this movie (it may be correct though, I don't speak French) the words Native and Naive were used, although Naive really didn't fit what was being told. It seemed like it was only used because it slightly made sense and its spelling is similar to Native. I don't have as much of a problem with it because otherwise it's hard to tell that the character is playing with words for the sake of a joke, but in other cases this can go horribly wrong. Another problem with translating is rhyming. Translators will purposely destroy a line for the sake of its rhyme. For example (and again, this could have been translated correctly, but I don't speak French) when Bénédicte hears the dog fart, she says a little rhyme, and I believe that the translator warped the actual translation to make a rhyme of his own "Doggie fart warms the heart." I loved the idea and I feel just the was Bénédicte does, but the translated text just sounded really weird and unnatural. Just some thoughts, I watch a lot of foreign movies with English subtitles. I mostly notice mistakes with Spanish films since I speak the language (and some Latin based language since they are all so similar), but the mistakes are pretty much universal.

*Everyone takes something different out of art, don't let anyone else define what you perceive*

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Translators will purposely destroy a line for the sake of its rhyme. For example (and again, this could have been translated correctly, but I don't speak French) when Bénédicte hears the dog fart, she says a little rhyme, and I believe that the translator warped the actual translation to make a rhyme of his own "Doggie fart warms the heart."


It rhymes in French, too. The line is:
Chien qui pete
joie sur ma tête


Literally it means "Dog who farts, joy on my head."
The translator's slight change is not unreasonable.

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About the "MMM" thing standing for Manech loves mathilde; I have absolutely no idea how "MMM" stands for "Manech aime Mathilde". Wouldn't it be MAM? It would work if it was Machech M'aime Mathilde, but...I'm pretty sure that means Manech loves me Mathilde, so...

I probably dont get it because I know like zero french, but still. MAM or MMM?!

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The French "aime" (loves) is pronounced like the letter "M".
Therefore the "MMM"-acronym works...


RIP Ian....

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If the French acronym for Les Etates Unis (Or however that may be spelled) came up on screen, would they try to find words that started with each letter or just translate it U.S.A. I tend to think they would do the latter, so what makes them think they needed to keep the middle M being a word starting with M in English. It's a different language...I think people are smart enough to figure that not all words start with the same letter in all languages, whether they know the language or not. I feel like the translators are "dumbing" it down or something.

I didn't notice the No Man's Land, but that's funny.

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In the directors audio commentary of the movie- he explains .... It's so the translation consists with the three m's , putting in the marrying instead of the love.
Nobody notices the sober Indians. On tv the drunk Indians emote In books drunk Indians philosophize

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i understand this. my point is that it sounds stupid and they should have ditched the whole keeping with the three m's idea.

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I try to avoid subtitles when watching a non-English movie, even though English is my only language. I'd rather miss some of the plot and see the movie, than read, read, read, and miss the movie. But I also have a hard time reading.

I can't believe that subtitles are made the same way close captioning is, but I watch a lot of American movies on videotape with close captioning turned on, and notice LOTS of inconsistencies. I attribute it to pure slop. Sometimes I think the captioners simply take a written script and type it in and then try somewhat to synch it to the action in another process. When the movie is actually filmed, occasionally actors will deviate from the verbatum script. Yet that does not go anywhere near explaining all the mistakes in close captioning.

I'm led to believe that subtitles and close captioning are treated like unimportant afterthoughts with little quality control.

And it also makes me appreciate the quality of the dubbing of American productions into Spanish for Mexican audiences.

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"I'm led to believe that subtitles and close captioning are treated like unimportant afterthoughts with little quality control."
In the US, yes, because the traditional way to watch a movie there is without subtitles.
Therefore they can get away with making a poor piece of work. Not many people will notice...

WYSYHYG

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That's a strange way of putting it. 99% of the movies shown in the US are made in the US, for US audiences who speak English. It isn't tradition so much as simple economics.

The only other language of economic significance in the US is Spanish, but I haven't seen a Mexican movie come around to theatres since I was a kid, a long, long time ago. They weren't subtitled. There are Mexican television channels, and they don't use subtitles, either. So I guess you're right...

The thing is, most Americans just never see a movie that's not in English. But when they do see a movie with subtitles, they NEED the subtitles, because most Americans only speak English. So I disagree...

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So you agree and disagree?

...of course they need the subtitles, but if only a small part of the americans see a foreign movie with subtitles (most seem to see them with ass-bad dubbing instead), do you really think the filmstudios care?

I've seen some horrible subtitles, where it was blatantly obvious that the so called "english subtitles" was a transcript of the english-audio-dub!

WYSYHYG

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Most Americans don't see any foriegn movies; dubbed, subtitled, or otherwise.

What would be the point in having -both- dubs and subtitles in a movie? Unless you dubbed in one language and subtitled in another... globalization to an absurd degree?

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I have noticed that subtitles don't always match in English, either. That is, I often watch movies with the English subs on because the pronunciation isn't clear or the sound is bad. They don't match what's being said, either, but they convey pretty much the same idea.

I wonder. Is it possible that

1) the subtitlers are using a "working" script but then, on the set while filming, dialog gets re-written?

2) at times, they're making it easier on the viewer? After all, reading distracts the viewer, so if they can condense the message, that's for the best.

3) as razzbar indicated, there just isn't as much market for it? I.e. if more Americans bought foreign films, they'd spend more money on subtitling. OTOH, the English certainly watch foreign films.

4) subtitlers are just trying to frustrate anyone trying to learn the language.


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My vote goes to 2) and 3)

WYSYHYG

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I don't speak French and I never gave a thought to what the middle M stood for. I actually think it's rather stupid to turn the word "loves" into "marrying" because they do not mean the same thing. I thought when Manech first carved MMM into the rocks, that he was proposing to Mathilde. Learning that he was only proclaiming his love for her completely changes the scene. I thought we witnessed the proposal. They are referred to as each other's fiancee throughout the whole film. I'm actually surprised there was no proposal scene.

Wow, so I am surprised by this. I think it was a terrible choice to switch the words in the subtitles. Anyone with a brain would be able to figure out that "love" in English perhaps starts with an M in French (even though that represents the pronounciation, not the spelling, it's not a big deal). I totally disagree with that choice. It would have made sense either way, whether you had to take a second and think about it or not. I'm totally surprised by this and wonder what other foreign films I've misunderstood because of lazy or poorly-thought out subtitle choices.

Tomorrow's just your future yesterday!

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Wow, good point KAnnD86...

Since I understood what it was saying, I never even thought of the point that someone who didn't understand it would just take it at face value and misunderstand the scene. That would make a difference to me if I thought it was a proposal vs. a simple declaration of love. That changes so much because it would put the emphasis of MMM throughout the whole movie as a representation of their plans to marry rather than just a representation of their love for one another.

I'm glad you posted that, because I am even more disturbed by the translation now.

As far as why translations are messed up, I suppose it could be any of the 4 reasons above or in this particular case, none of the reasons above. This is seperate from most others.

The other important thing though is that deaf people do use a different grammatical structure than hearing people do. My in-laws are both deaf and they write differently than hearing people do because they don't use certain filler words or similar grammatical structure. Perhaps subtitles are done with deaf people in mind???

Regardless, in this movie that wasn't the case. They just tried to hard when it's all said and done.

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The translation in the subtitles of this film is excellent by comparison to most films subtitled in English. The English subtitles of most non-english films are terrible - way below standards of english films subtitled in French. This is not surprising. As others have implied, the US market dominates and foreign language films get very little attention in English speaking markets. Consequently the translations are often slapdash. By contrast the calibre of French subtitling of english language films can be astonishingly subtle and complex. It is a big industry. I have seen enough english language films with french subtitles and my french is just good enough to know that they must get real writers to translate because idioms are captured deftly. You notice this particularly when one or the other of the voice track or subtitles gets ahead of the other. This film had one of the more elegant translations I have seen recently.

And come on, the MMM was a significant visual device. The subtitles are an aid to understanding. Big deal that they changed a word for purposes of display to match the onscreen images.

One thing is for certain. I despise watching dubbed films and cannot understand anyone without visual impairment preferring them over subtitles. Dubbing can easily destroy the original actors' performances. The only dubbed film that I can recall not being terribly distracting was Das Boot. Probably a combination of a very careful casting and direction of the english voice actors, and the fact that English is a Germanic language. But the subtitled version was better.

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I think that "Mathilde marrying Manech" is far better translation than the swedish one. The swedish subtitler translated M/aime with "medelpunkt" and that means sort of "middle point" which was just plain horrible.
I was so happy when I read the book and the translator hadn't done that mistake atleast, cause when someone asks what MMM stands for Mathilde says it means that Mathilde aime Manech and that Manech aime Mathilde. Which is much better.

"I have a jar of dirt"

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The use of MMM was rather a pun. The French pronounciation of the letter "M" rather sounds like the word "aime" so perhaps it is something like the English writing "U" for "you".

However, I agree that the subtitles should have left it at "Mannech loves Mathilde" rather than "Mannech marrying Mathilde". Besides, that made him seem as if he was speaking in Caveman language. (Where are your helping verbs??) That seemed to edit the movie rather than translate.

Insanity runs in my family...it practically gallops!

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I loathe dubbing :)

I thought it was pretty pathetic that they changed it. I was watching it with subtitles (I'm not fluent yet) and was confused when it said that he was yelling "Mathilde's Marrying Manech". My sister didn't notice, and she too thought we had seen the proposal.

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sorry I don't agree
I'm brazilian and I love watching movies in their own languages. I think it adds anything 'special' to the movie, I mean, it's a part of the movie and shouldn't be taken away... traduced movies usually lose this feature.

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Agreed. I absolutely hate watching dubbed movies. You are cutting every single actor's performance in half and it's so hard to take seriously. These actors are not just people that walk around opening and closing their mouths so that someone else can fill in the words. The only time I see dubbing acceptable is when it is an animated film, since the mouth movements are (most of the time) very vague and it is easy to fit a very well put translation back into the movie without making it seem unnatural or out of place.

*Everyone takes something different out of art, don't let anyone else define what you perceive*

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Dubbed films are atrocious! Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon dubbed was terrible. But with the voices of Chow Yun Fat and Zhang Ziyi it gives their characters the proper dimension and dynamic. If you subtract this, you undercut the performance. This is true in all but a very few exceptions. Subtitles are in fact part of the appeal of watching a foreign film, it exposes you not only to a visual sense of the culture, but an auditory one as well. Fin.

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I agree. My native tongue is Spanish, and I hate dubbed films. I can read subtitles and watch the movie at the same time and I enjoy listen the actors and their original voices.

Of course, movies for children should be dubbed, because they can´t read or can´t read fast enough but otherwise I prefer subtitles.

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I can assure you that translating is far more difficult than most people think. However, as a translator myself, I notice that most movies, books and even legal documents are poorly translated. When I got into the field, I found out that most films are translated by students (with no experience whatsoever) as part of research and that generally, people prefer hiring someone who charges less as oposed to someone who actually knows what they´re doing....






....Brain is a muscle. Use it or lose it....

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