Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Arabic Language Translation, Challenges in the Media

Ever since the dawn of Languages, translation has been a nexus of transmittable cultural ideas. Where interest in learning existed, translation was the driving force that – arguably – played the most important role in blending knowledge and science in between various geographical cultures.
As human history teaches us, the correlation between a people's language and its political status is tight. This is glaring in the modern day perspective. English, French and Spanish, not only reflect the colonialism success these “kingdoms” had in the past few hundred years, but also the struggle for dominion of ultramodern telecommunication.

From this obvious hypothesis, we will try to analyze the status of the Arabic Language and the technical difficulties it faces with regard to audio-visual translation, and its narrower subfield: Localization.

Spoken by almost 420 million people (6th worldwide), official or co-official language of 25 countries, divided into 7 major regional groups that include at least 30 recognized dialects, the Arabic Language apparently “must” be one of the top 3 tongues used in technology.

From an economical viewpoint, the Arab countries have a combined GDP of 6% of the world's wealth, and yet the Language presence in Television, Cinema, Internet and other technology media, is mediocre to say the least.

Some might attribute this regress to political factors, as most of these countries are yet to establish modern viable societies that contribute to the advancement of technology. That is true. However, what interests us in this article are the technical intricacies that make the job of audio-visual translators embarrassing.

Films and TV content diversify via two forms of AVT (audio visual translation): SUBTITLING and DUBBING. Let us start first with dubbing in major Television Networks.

There was a muscular showdown between different Arabic dialects to see who can  instill his dialect as “The Standard” in dubbing and subtitling. Although this has shifted in favor of Levantine dialects (Lebanese and Syrian instead of Egyptian or Gulf) the struggle rendered the market confused and indecisive. It has to do with national pride and how each people considers its variation of the Language worthy of being dominant. Thousands of translators, nowadays, find themselves lost between different dictionaries and lexical adaptation, obviously weakening the advancement of Arabic Localization as a whole.

Delving more into details, we find that other technical issues are also problematic:
· Censorship
· Profanities
· Interjections
· Religious correctiveness
· Cultural constraints
and other factors.

While one might think this only affects the entertainment side of the media, it is proper journalism and scientific documentation that suffer the most. It is a tricky business to deal with the translation itself, and still remember the dozens of “not-to-be-broken” rules while formulating the sentences; words are craftily replaced, tones are toned down, ideas are respectfully altered, and ultimately a hideous deformation of reality is the outcome.

But what can “we” do...

“WE”, the localization companies, need to realize the potential for change we have through conglomeration of efforts and co-management. It takes - in my very humble opinion - about 10 years of serious work to observe some progress in the literary sense, and probably 3 to 4 years to in the scientific and technological domain. Here is a short list of projects that Arabic Localization companies can adopt that although behind in time might be considered futuristic in effects:

- Unification of Computer terms glossary
- Building a list of acceptable profanities to be used in AVT
- Dubbing of Information Technology training material into Standard Modern Arabic
- Mentally separate the decay in Music caused by the adoption of the “White Tongue” from what is actually accepted in AVT.
- Produce a modern specialized dictionary for AVT professionals.
- Broaden the adoption of new Westernized terms, without the fear of declining the integrity of the Arabic Language.
- Realistic polls among all peoples of Arab countries, that show data needed for the planification of such projects.

Trying to change the world is daunting of an idea, but let's remember what Mariano Antolin Rato said: “Translation is one of the few human activities in which the impossible occurs by principle.”

Nabil Charbel is head of Middle Eastern Languages at Screens International, a position he holds since 1998.Screens International is a world-leading localization company with headquarters in Beirut - Lebanon and representative offices in London, Dubai, Athens, and Buenos Aires. Screens had been providing subtitling, dubbing, voice-over, and media processing services http://www.screensint.com/services.html for several major TV networks worldwide since 1991.

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