Translation of Allusions in the Animated Cartoon
The Simpsons

By Esko Hellgren (2007)

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Finland, as well as the other Scandinavian countries, has a tradition of subtitling imported television programming for the benefit of the viewers (Gottlieb 2004: 9). Having watched Finnish television all my life, I have grown to consider subtitles a very natural and unobtrusive way of leaping over the communication barriers that foreign programming has presented. However, every now and then I have become aware of communication situations where the subtitler has struggled to help the viewer understand the original content. As my own language skills have improved, I have grown to understand and appreciate the work that subtitlers do for us viewers.

When the animated series The Simpsons appeared on Finnish TV in 1991, it immediately became my favorite show. Whereas some shows cloy the appetite they feed, The Simpsons made me hungry for more. I was amazed to find out that watching a re-run could be just as entertaining as watching an episode for the first time. I attribute much of my enjoyment of the show to the cultural learning curve that it inevitably is for a Finnish viewer, and to the subtitles that have been there to help me climb it.

The main purpose of this study is to analyze how translator Sari Luhtanen has rendered as subtitles the plentiful allusions found in The Simpsons, and to what degree she has chosen to omit the allusions from the subtitles. Specifically, I intend to find out how Luhtanen has taken advantage of the different strategies for dealing with allusions, and how she has dealt with the limitations of the target format. I will use Leppihalme’s (1997) classification of the various translation strategies, and perform a quantitative analysis on the results in my corpus.

I do not intend to look for mistranslations or second guess her choices; if anything, I will attempt to gain an insight into how a translator can successfully deal with the challenge of such allusively dense audiovisual material. Luhtanen’s translations are held in high regard by the Finnish fan base of The Simpsons, including myself.

As the secondary objective of this study, I will attempt to define the specific challenges and opportunities that subtitling presents when translating allusions. While the technical features of subtitling are widely discussed in the literature of the field, I believe there are additional insights to be gained from analyzing the subtitling choices (technical and otherwise) that are found in the corpus.

Chapter two discusses the concept of allusion and the categorization of allusion types and strategies that will be used in this study. Chapter three defines The Simpsons as a text, and provides insights into the series’ production process and the authors’ intentions. The chapter also includes Sari Luhtanen’s comments on the translation of The Simpsons. Chapter four discusses subtitling as the target format for a translator. A quantitative analysis of the data is presented in chapter five, with a discussion of the findings in chapter six. Chapter seven concludes the study.

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