March 18, 2006
Lost in Translation
When the people of the world speak as many languages as we do, things are bound to get a little garbled as they make their way around the globe. A number of notable examples of modern popular mythos have been altered significantly during their integrations into foreign cultures, and here are a few examples for your enlightenment:
- Due to popular demand for the film but governmental concern over its message, George Lucas's Star Wars was redubbed and recut by the Soviet Ministry of Information in 1981. In this altered version, Luke is reluctant to resist the Empire because he knows that their goals are virtuous, but is strongarmed into it by a conniving and cowardly Obi-Wan Kenobi, who commits suicide at the hands of Darth Vader rather than lead the rebellion against the Empire himself. Luke finally becomes indoctrinated, and leads an attack run against the Death Star, from which he does not return. The final shot of the film is of four additional Death Stars, and the implication of many more, underscoring the futility of Luke's fight against a government whose only goal is to protect its citizens. Interestingly, the name of this loving empire's weapon remains more or less unchanged, translating roughly to "Star of Murder".
- Similarly, Austrian Neo-Nazis screened in 1979 an altered version of "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?", edited to underscore their belief in the genetic inferiority of blacks. This was mostly illustrated through editing of Sidney Poitier's scenes to make him appear to have awkward table manners.
- Being one of the most popular films in history, "Gone With The Wind" has been dubbed in 23 different languages, and subtitled in over 80. As such, one of its most famous lines has been somewhat convoluted throughout the years:
- Javanese: With honesty, Scarlett, I do not care at all. (Indonesia)
- English (Singaporean): Frankly, my dear, I am indifferent. (Though Singapore's official language is English, Singaporean law prohibits verbal profanity of any kind in film. Therefore, an additional dub was required to secure a national release.)
- Flemish: Truthfully, my beloved, I don't give two damns. (Belgium)
- Hazara: Honestly, I cannot care. (Afghanistan)
- Somali: Very frankly, dearest, I do not give a damn. (Somalia)
- Russian: Truthfully, I cannot give you beans. (Russia. To "give beans" is a russian idiom meaning "to care deeply".)
- The Bill Murray film "Groundhog Day" is believed to be a holy resource in Nepal, and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile considers it a "divinely inspirational reflection on the cyclical nature of existence". The film is subsequently banned in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
- Although his works have been successfully translated into a number of European and Asian languages, only three editions exist of Stephen King novels translated into African dialects. This is due to the unusually large number of noun classes possessed by many African languages. "The Shining" is an example, wherein the titular object (an ability of extrasensory perception) does not conform to the noun classes found in Bagu, in which all things are either vapors, liquids, plants, four-legged animals, and other animals.
- Despite its popularity in much of Central and South America, the television show "Cheers" is not shown in Chile or Peru, as the most of the main characters' names (Cliff, Norm, and Carla, among others) are all profanities in the indigenous Incaic languages.