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Audiovisual Translation in the Arab World (v 0.4): Mapping the Field

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Audiovisual Translation in the Arab World (v 0.4): Mapping the Field

Issue 19, Fall 2014
By Muhammad Y Gamal


Subtitles, Photo by Timo Arnall
Abstract

Translation remains one of the most complex issues in modern Arab culture, thought and development. Despite the collective efforts of individuals, organizations and government policies the results continue to be modest and stop short of the desired target. In addition to the well-known issues that contribute to the translation crisis in the Arab world, digital technology has changed the rules of the game almost entirely. Translation, in the traditional sense is no longer accessed through paper and books but via screens and online. This is the world of audiovisual translation. This paper continues a study that began in 2007 that examines the status quo of audiovisual translation in the Arab world. Specifically, this work analyzes the challenges of localizing audiovisual translation, and unpacks some of the limitations in both policy and pedagogy that the field is currently facing.

Introduction

Digital technology has changed the way information is created and accessed. Traditional print translation is no longer viable in a world that is increasingly reliant upon smart technology. Today, translation is created and consumed via screen. Traditionally, the academic area of translation studies has been concerned with the social phenomenon of cross-cultural communication with its epistemological issues, contexts, process, product and pedagogy. Digital technology, which relies on screens as the interface point, has pushed audiovisual translation to the fore. Audiovisual translation (AVT) in the Arab world remains outside the scope of translation departments at a time when there is an obvious need to espouse the concept, localize the discipline and invest in the training of specialists in Arabic audiovisual translation studies. Recent events, both political and cultural, underscore the numerous missed cultural and historical opportunities (Al-Sultani 2014) and the resulting cost due to the lack of audiovisual translators and adequate Arabic content online. As the Arab world today is divided between those experiencing the changes brought about by the Arab Spring and those who are relatively unaffected, the concept of audiovisual translation, though not entirely foreign, remains distant. In this paper, I intend to reflect on some developments that build on my previous research on Audiovisual translation in the Arab world (Gamal 2007, 2008a, 2013a) pointing to the importance of localizing the discipline of audiovisual translation studies and the immediate issues involved.

Perhaps one of the first priorities is to highlight the significance of the concept of AVT within the Arabic context, which will help uncover its intricacies and map out its complex and changing landscape. The significance lies in ensuring that the concept is seen through Arab eyes, in a way that examines the real questions and proposes relevant solutions that address the immediate problems and challenges. Failure to do so would further label audiovisual translation studies as a foreign discipline, which would in turn frustrate efforts to localize the concept and prevent it from taking root in the Arab world and in Arabic. There are valuable lessons to be learned from other disciplines such as Egyptology and medicine. The former took many years until it became Egyptianized (Saeed 1999) and taught in Arabic, whereas the latter remains foreign and taught entirely in English or French.

The landscape of audiovisual translation in Arabic

In order to appreciate the seriousness of audiovisual translation it is perhaps important to bear in mind the significant role translation plays in contemporary Arab culture. There is, however, a need for a clear, concise and comprehensive definition of audiovisual translation in Arabic. This is required in order to successfully promote the concept that will, eventually, help in its localization. The need for the definition is evident in light of the reluctance of academic and professional institutions to espouse the new branch of translation two decades after the launch of the first program in teaching screen translation in the Arab world (The American University in Cairo in 1995). Since then international academic research, conferences and publications have been pointing to the rising significance of the discipline. Yet, in Arabic the lack of interest continues despite events and developments that show the relevance of the issue.

Also, a definition of AVT for the Arab world is required as the situation is different from Western Europe, where the concept of specialization in audiovisual translation was born, and remains in the lead today. The field of audiovisual translation looks at how translation is created for consumption via screen. In 2003 a special issue of the journal The Translator was dedicated to Screen Translation marking the rise of the academic pursuit (Gambier 2003). In this respect it differs from print translation and its applications are much more numerous. As a specialization it covers subtitling, dubbing, audio description, subtitling for the hard of hearing and visually impaired, and live subtitling. Unlike traditional translation, which is consumed via paper and closely associated with the printing industry, AVT is closely related to digital technology and presupposes a professional technical knowledge of software and smart technology applications. While this definition could be said to apply to all languages the point here is that the definition must be closely linked to the Arabic cultural context, which is complex and must be taken as a whole. In other words, the definition must not be separated from its context otherwise it will remain a theory at best or at worst, a foreign concept.

Both the linguistic and cultural contexts show that audiovisual translation is catering to a region of 300 million Arabic speakers. The population is youthful with almost 60% under the age of 25 (World population review) of whom 29%, or 97 million persons, are illiterate (ALECSO 2014). At the same time, the common language is under pressure, if not attack (Al-Jabry 2013). Arabic is diglossic and local vernacular is on the rise, particularly in the written form as a response to the way the young speak and write online. Furthermore, English is infiltrating Arabic at such a fast rate that the incidence of lexical borrowing has reached a record level in both the spoken and written forms of Arabic (Asfour 2007 p. 207). This is a psycholinguistic issue that is outside the scope of this paper. The Arabic language context is also characterized by an education system that is burdened with neglect, lack of resources and investments particularly in Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world (Abdelrahman 2014) and the result is graduates who lack basic scientific knowledge. This particular deficiency is partly responsible for several problems varying from the spread of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity to road fatalities, and even extremism. Each one of these issues can be attributed to an education system that has failed the Arab nation at large, notwithstanding some exceptions such as private international universities and the tertiary education system in some wealthier Arab countries.

In this context, audiovisual translation is meant to perform in a way that is different from the old system of translation and its outmoded policies. Despite the rhetoric of how important translation is to modernization, moderation and progress, translation movements have contributed little to society. Most translation policies are elitist (Wazen 2010) and lack long term vision (Al-Batly 2010). Mathews quotes the founding director of the Higher Translation Institute in Algeria, Inam Bioud, who sees “a dire need to make up for the huge deficit in scientific books in Arabic if a serious attempt is made to replace English and French as the language of instruction in Arab universities” (Mathews 2014). Likewise, Egypt’s former chief translation policymaker and the current minister for culture Gaber Asfour expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of the current translation policies in the Arab world in a private meeting in early 2007 in Cairo. Later in the year, he published an article in the Emirates in which he candidly stated his position:

I am still unoptimistic about the future of the translation movement in the Arab world despite all the relevant optimistic factors. These include the increasing number of translation organizations all over the Arab world, including universities that have now begun publishing translations and lastly, the recent translation prizes offered by these organizations. Such could be seen as optimistic signs but only at the surface. However, should we look deeper; we would find insurmountable problems that will make the road too long and without optimism. (Gaber Asfour: 2007. Author’s translation)

What makes the road too long for the traditional translation policies is the fact that the mode of print translation i.e. books and paper is being challenged by a different format. Screens, be it the computer, tablet or smart phone, are fast replacing the book as the preferred format for accessing information. What audiovisual translation promises is to address the needs and to provide solutions that are manageable, affordable and accessible. AVT means that information can be translated and presented in a way that is attractive to the youth. The new concept of merging information and entertainment together i.e., Infotainment can educate and entertain at the same time. Yet the concept is being resisted by parents, and seen by officials, as not educational enough. The result; the term Infotainment has not been understood or internalized in the region, and consequently has no direct equivalent in Arabic (Gamal: 2013b).

Local and regional examples

In order to appreciate the significance of audiovisual translation to the cultural, economic and educational development in the Arab context one has to examine, and indeed reflect on, some recent events. Arab submissions to the Oscars in 2014 were noticeably higher than any previous year. Yet none of the nominations (from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Palestine) got an award despite the artistic merit of the work presented (Fahim 2014).  This however begs the question: in the absence of any formal academic examination of and professional training in subtitling did the directors consider subtitling as a serious factor that may have a direct influence on how their work would be received by ‘foreign’ viewers and judges? Similarly, many Arab and Islamic cities of culture launch websites that remain ‘under construction’ or static for a considerable period of time, lacking updates and interactivity. Isn’t this reducing the web site to a form of one-off print-like advertising? The websites, whether for a cultural event, government service, or even a site dedicated to translation (for example the National Translation Centre in Egypt) seem to have translation errors that detract from their attractiveness and authority. Rasha Ismail, the former director of the National Translation Centre in Egypt, recognizes that the lack of interest in audiovisual translation is due to a lack of vision, as well as funds. Ismail concedes that the centre can only translate a limited number of books per year and faces a greater problem selling them (personal communication: April 2014).  Another issue is the language options available, as most websites tend to be limited to English and French only. Asian languages particularly Japanese, Korean, and Chinese are seen on a very small number of sites. It is interesting, however, to note that the website of the tourism organization in Jordan has 12 languages (http://visitjordan.com/MajorAttractions/tabid/54/Default.aspx) and the website of the Sultan of Oman is available in 19 languages (http://www.oman-qaboos.net/omanqaboos/default.aspx).

Digital technology through audiovisual translation offers a new opportunity for Arab culture to be available and accessible to the outside world. This is an area in which traditional print translation has had limited success. In the Arabic context, subtitled films almost exclusively mean foreign (mostly American) films subtitled into Arabic. The complex issue of subtitling Arabic language films into foreign languages remains unexamined in the scarce number of MA theses written on audiovisual translation at Arab universities (Alwan 2011, Bhais 2011) and PhD theses at western universities (Al-Kadi 2010, Gamal 2013b). The entire Arabic (mostly Egyptian) DVD industry that is subtitled into English (and French) remains unexamined. The question is: why only subtitle into English and French when the DVD can have up to 40 languages? (Carroll: 2004) Digital technology has made subtitling more accessible and more affordable to produce. A generation ago forty language versions of the same film would have been unthinkable. Over the past two decades Mexican, Korean and Turkish dramas invaded the Arab world (Bilbassy-Charter 2010) through dubbing into classical Arabic, Syrian dialect and Egyptian vernacular. To date, dubbing and its impact on children, youth, and the uneducated remains unexamined (El-Nabawi 2014). The Treaty of Marrakesh (www.wipo.int) that was adopted on 28 June 2013 calls for facilitating access to published work for the blind and the visually impaired has had little response from the audio-visual industry in most Arab countries. This is not surprising since only six Arab countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) participated in the Marrakesh meeting despite the relevance to the blind community in Arab countries that traditionally receives little or no government attention.  There is little interest or investment in audio description or audio recordings for this important community despite the availability of voice talent from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Similarly, Arab states with huge tourism sectors (ironically most of them were part of the Arab Spring) remain unaware of the significance of audiovisual translation. The largest tourist media conference held in Luxor early in 2014 examined, inter alia, new media and the negative coverage abroad, but didn’t refer to the role of translation, foreign languages or audiovisual translation in promoting tourism. Despite the economic importance of tourism in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Oman there are no courses dedicated to this genre of tourist translation.  Nor are there programs that link the production of documentaries to the audiovisual process of translation, subtitling and dubbing. Such a link remains an outlandish idea in translation (and media) departments.

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Fallout from the JPMorgan Chase breach - Computerworld

Fallout from the JPMorgan Chase breach - Computerworld | Technological Sparks | Scoop.it
What's the fallout from the Chase bank breach? Phishing of course, but phone calls and snail mail can also be abused. I was targeted by a snail mail billing scam.
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Microsoft to dump ARM-based Surface media tablets – report

Microsoft to dump ARM-based Surface media tablets – report | Technological Sparks | Scoop.it
While Microsoft Corp. will continue to offer its Surface Pro line of tablets designed for creative professionals and corporate users, the company is currently reconsidering the future of its Surface media tablets, at least, in their current form.
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