Swearword strength in subtitled and dubbed films: A reception study

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In this paper we present the results of the first empirical reception study on the comparative strength of swearwords in two audiovisual translation (AVT) modes. We test the assumption/hypothesis that swearwords are perceived as stronger in writing (i.e. subtitles) than in spoken language (i.e. dubbing), which has led to the long-held translation practice of toning down or deleting swearwords more in subtitles than in dubbing. By means of an online survey, participants were asked to a) rate the psychological distance between the connotative meanings of swearwords embedded in ten film clips on a four-point strength scale, and b) comment on their ratings in open-ended text boxes. The results of various types of quantitative analysis show that our participants do not rate swearwords in subtitles higher than in dubbed clips. The qualitative analysis identified contextual factors (genre/director of film, participating characters and their relationship, setting and linguistic context) as well as viewer characteristics (gender, swearing habits and reactions to swearing) as main determinants of swearword strength. The convention of toning down or deleting swearwords more in subtitles than in dubbed audiovisual products thus seems to be based on an invalid assumption and ought to be abandoned altogether.

© 2019, Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. The attached document (embargoed until 23/08/2020) is an author produced version of a paper published in INTERCULTURAL PRAGMATICS uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389–420
Number of pages31
JournalIntercultural Pragmatics
Issue number4
Early online date23 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2019


  • Keywords: swearing; reception study; translation practices; subtitling; dubbing

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