Subtitling culture
: the reception of subtitles of fifth generation Chinese films by British viewers

  • Lin Chen

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This research intends to study the effect of English subtitles of Chinese films
    on British viewers. For this purpose, this thesis gives a theoretical background on the key notion of effect and its use in Translation Studies. It provides a textual analysis of the subtitles of a selected film corpus and presents a reception study based on this corpus. Three of Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s films, Red Sorghum (1987), Ju Dou (1990) and Raise the Red Lantern (1992), are used as case studies, both for the textual analysis and for the study of end-users’ reactions.
    Contrastive textual analysis of the original Chinese dialogues and the English
    subtitles in the selected films shows how culture-specific references in the Chinese source text have been translated in English through subtitles. Through this analysis, this research seeks to ascertain whether the translation approaches and strategies followed in these subtitled Chinese films allow for the transmission of all the intended culture-specific references, and if so, to what extent. More specifically, it considers (a) potential differences between the representation of Chinese culture in the source films and that which emerges from the subtitles; (b) recurring patterns of subtitling in Chinese films regarding cultural representation; (c) the potential effect that translation may have on audiences.
    The originality of this research lies in the emphasis on “effect”, which
    generates the need for reception studies, and in combining the research method of textual analysis with empirical testing on the reception of the subtitled Chinese films by actual audiences. A questionnaire is conducted with both native Chinese (resident in the UK and with Chinese as their first language) and British viewers (resident in the UK and with English as their first language), in an attempt to provide an insight into the effect of the subtitled Chinese films. Analysis of the data from the questionnaire presents how British and Chinese viewers interpret the chosen films and Chinese culture conveyed in them, especially with regard to their understanding of certain concepts and themes that arise from the films’ narratives, namely, power and solidarity, Chinese features of politeness, sexual metaphors and family traditions.
    Through a comparison of the interpretations of British viewers, who rely on subtitles, and Chinese viewers, who are solely based on visual images and the original soundtrack, this research investigates how subtitles portray and mediate films and Chinese culture.
    This research complements other research in Audiovisual Translation Studies
    in this area (Pedersen, 2007; Guillot, 2010; Desilla, 2009, 2012, 2014; Suojanen et al., 2015), as it attempts to examine the effect of translated audiovisual texts, by combining an analysis based on the content of films and subtitles with empirical research on audiences. Furthermore, it primarily focuses on the case of Chinese films, which have been relatively neglected in Translation Studies.
    Date of Award27 Jun 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorLucile Desblache (Supervisor) & Dionysios Kapsaskis (Supervisor)

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