How to solve a problem like Peter?

Following on from my first blog in which I boldly suggested that there is so much more to translation than meets the eye, I’d now like to try and demonstrate a little of what I meant in a practical manner so that you can all see that I’m not (totally) insane.

I’ve picked a clip to discuss from the Italian version of the ever-popular Family Guy, or I Griffin (The Griffins) as it is known in Italy – presumably thus named in an attempt to entice the vast audience of I Simpson (guess who) when it was first aired – and a clip which raises a few interesting issues for the translator (or dubber here).

The clip is from season 6, episode 8 of the show and the first thing that strikes you is the different names of the episodes in the two languages: ‘McStroke’ in English and ‘Il fascino dei baffi’ (the fascination of moustaches) in Italian (the Italian episode can be found here if interested: How strange you might think, but if you consider that McDonald’s culture isn’t anywhere near as big in Italy, in a country famed for its own national cuisine, then McIctus (the Italian word for stroke), aside from sounding awful, would just make very little sense to an Italian audience.

Anyway, onto the clip. What makes it such an interesting translation is the dilemma introduced by taking the racial stereotyping and borderline racism present in Family Guy and transplanting it into the country that is being subjected to this racism. Here, Peter believes that he can speak Italian just because of his new moustache, stereotypically linked to Italian men for people in the USA. Add to this his butchery of the Italian language, speaking with noises perceived to sound Italian, and there is quite a lot for the translator to deal with in this small section alone.

While most Italian viewers familiar with the program would not be shocked by this kind of stereotyping (from which much of the programme’s humour is derived) there are issues other than causing offence at stake. Of course, Italians do not have these same stereotypes for themselves, the implications of the moustache will not mean the same thing, and the sounds as they are will not be perceived as a mockery of the Italian language. So how can you get across why a man who normally speaks fluent Italian in the programme is suddenly speaking a strange tongue supposedly derived from his own language purely because he has a moustache?!

The answer in this case is that the translators attempt to shift the focus of the humour; where Brian says ‘Peter, you can’t speak Italian just because you have a moustache’ in the English, the Italian dubbing says: ‘Peter, non puoi parlare cosi solo perche adesso hai i baffi’ (Peter, you can’t speak like that, just because you have a moustache now) and where Brian asks what Peter is doing, he replies that he is speaking a dialect. This attempt to change the ridiculing of the entire nation into something more familiar to an Italian audience, in pointing to the many varied dialects in the country, and simultaneously shifting the idea of having a moustache from a national stereotype into a more provincial one is an extremely creative interpretation of the clip. There is clearly a huge amount of loss here and many liberties taken with the original material, but unfortunately that is the reality of translation! Ultimately, the resulting clip is completely transformed but,  in this guise, avoids potential offence and confusion while shedding most of the English version’s humour in an attempt to transform it for the Italian audience.

Humour is a particularly difficult area to translate and a massive amount of creative adaptation is required for all cultural references to even be understood in the new setting. This offers at least a partial explanation for the way in which a programme such as Mr. Bean has effortlessly found its way onto Italian screens!

Anyway, I hope that this short insight into just a couple of issues arising from one translation of one short clip have been of interest and have started to demonstrate the amount of cultural – as well as linguistic – knowledge involved and that there is a lot more to the process of translation than is often considered to be the case.



4 responses to “How to solve a problem like Peter?”

  1. […] comedies seem to have no problem making the leap onto TV screens all over the world – Family Guy or South Park being great examples of how Western ideas can be transferred successfully to other […]

  2. […] mine and a topic that fits in well with the other hugely general areas I’ve covered so far. (TV, film, books…) Yet, as I’ve chosen to look at music in popular culture in this post, […]

  3. […] to changes in register within one language. This is an area I touched upon in a previous post (How to solve a problem like Peter) and an interesting subject that I want to further elaborate with a few […]

  4. […] I started out with my blog, I had little idea of the direction I wanted to head in and it was primarily a place to write about […]

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