Subtitling and its Acceptability in the Film Farewell, My Concubine: A Multimodal Approach

Nan Wang


Subtitling is intersemiotic translation that can bridge differences between two languages and should consider semiotic modes as subtitling is not merely determined by the source text but also by the constraints of time and space. The rapid development of audiovisual translation from the perspective of multimodality facilitates the development of translation. However, few studies focus on the rationality of subtitling methods. Farewell, My Concubine is a famous Chinese film with its subtitles translated by Linda Jaivin, an Australian audiovisual translator. Her subtitles contribute to the award of the Golden Palm Award at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. Under spatial-temporal constraints, multimodal transcription provides a basis for meaning choices to discuss how to choose proper translation methods guided by semiotic modes. The translation methods adopted in Farewell, My Concubine can be explicated such as adaptation, amplification, non-translation, and deduction including condensation, reductive paraphrasing and deletion. The acceptability of Jaivin’s translation methods can be explored from ideational intersemiotic complementarity that centers on multimodal consonance between verbal and visual modes to see how semiotic modes complement each other especially when Jaivin has altered the source text. The applicability of intersemiotic complementarity creatively finds a new way to discuss the relations between frames and subtitles. Meanwhile, the multimodal approach indicates now the interdisciplinary study on subtitling is a must and a trend to explore both the translation methods and their acceptability. It is also found that there are still complementary relations between non-verbal modes and translated subtitles. These findings prove the subtitling methods acceptable and the role of multimodality in subtitling essential. Translation cannot entirely replicate the original text, and different translators may adopt the same translation methods while they will produce varied translated text. In this respect, the analysis of translation methods and their rationality is of universality. Furthermore, the study on subtitles will promote the film itself and the culture of the country.


Subtitling, Farewell, My Concubine, Multimodality, Multimodal Transcription, Intersemiotic Complementarity

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