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Wednesday, November 02, 2005 

Θα Γυρίσω? I Don't Think So.

How do you translate an Austrian accent in English into Greek?
You don't.

When DVDs first came on the scene, I just loved to play around with the added features they offered...subtitles in a dozen languages, "behind the scenes", interviews and the games. The most fun I had was switching voices into other languages but after hearing Clint Eastwood say "Do you feel lucky, punk?" in Hungarian, the novelty soon wore off. Some actors weren't meant for dubbing. No one but Eddie Murphy can DO Eddie Murphy.

Now that I'm back to watching movies in their original format, I find myself driven to the brink of insanity from reading the poorly translated subtitles. Sometimes, the translation is so bad, that even my husband will turn off the subtitles so he can understand the movie better.

I'm baffled by this phenomenon. In a country where there are more frontistiria (private learning institutes) for English than there are public schools, why is Greek translation from English so bad? I can't remember the last time I actually saw a movie where a number was translated correctly. Learning numbers in another language is usually covered by the second lesson...after the alphabet.

If a scene in a movie isn't translated properly, the entire meaning is lost. Here are some examples.
  • CSI Las Vegas. Catherine asks one of the other CSIs to get her a "double double" because she knew she would be up all night on a complex case. The translation for it read as "hamburger" and not "coffee".
  • In another movie I watched recently, one of the characters asked her cop partner if he had "her back" and it was translated as "do you love me?" Viewers would be waiting for a romance to blossom instead of a partner who would do his job and protect her.
  • Pootie Tang. A completely forgettable movie had it not been for the translations. Most English speakers would have needed to watch this movie with English subtitles but that didn't stop Greek translators from entirely rewriting the movie.
  • Stigmata. Early into the movie, they actually translated Spanish PHONETICALLY into Greek. So, "hola, que pasa" didn't get translated as "hello, what's going on?" but as ολα και πασα.
I think translation for movies should be left to native speakers of both Greek and English. The problems arise when a non-native speaker tries to do it. Considering that the price of an original DVD is quite expensive...often over 30€, you'd think the Greek distributors would at least try to give us value for our money and get decent translation for them.

when my greek got better my sister and I used to do our own translation... (well we had to greek language O level at school- thought it might help) but at the end we did notice they make the translation wrong...

It used to give us hysterics popo.....

hysterics- isteria

PS I buy my DVDs in UK

The most hilarious translation was in a movie where a couple was having sex and she said in English "You're my buck! My strong buck!" and it was translated as "eisai to dolario mou! To dinato dolario mou!" (for english only readers...my dollar, my strong dollar) LOL

I could buy my DVDs from the UK but since we own several thousand of them...why bother? LOL

Oh my god, Thanos and I watched the movie you are talking about...your second point. The watch my back one. Even *I* noticed that. What was that damn movie? Or was it a series? Now it is going to drive me crazy...

Unless we are talking about two different things but translated by the same company who apparently doesn't understand what 'watch my back' means.

Honestly, I guess most dialogue is simple enough that I've been picking up on that a LOT lately. Thanos doesn't even look at the subtitles usually.

The most fun we had with DVD and dubbed languages was with X-Files, the way they say Mulder and Scully with the Japanese voices. We still walk around the house going "Skuleeeee!"

We get our DVDs from the US and UK but we've been trying to get them more from the UK since the in-laws like to borrow them and they dont have a region free DVD player. I honestly wouldn't know where to buy DVDs here in Greece, and aren't they expensive? Although it would be nice to have the Greek subtitles for when Thanos' family wants to watch. Still, they can get by with English subs (better than just hearing the English) or German subs (for my father-in-law).

While I was writing the blog last night, I asked my husband if he remembered which movie that was and we can't, for the life of us, remember either. But it could be just about any movie since that phrase is always translated wrong whenever it appears.

OOoooo..I never did the Japanese dubbing on voice. I'll have to try it. I think it would be hilarious watching a movie like Boyz 'n tha Hood with Japanese voices.

With regards to buying DVDs with Greek subtitles...come to one of our stores. We order several copies of the big titles and then after a month or so, we sell them for 10€. A lot of our customers like this because they can get good original movies without sacrificing sound and picture quality like they get on pirated movies. Buying a brand new DVD with Greek subtitles just isn't worth it. For example, Star Wars III sells for 33.50€. Our customers will wait till the end of the month and buy it for 10€.

hey seawitch pou eivai to magazi sas re....
i dont really mind greek subtittles you know

translations:::: arvi kokinisto

LAMP IN RED SAUCE saw this at plaka the other day

The reason why you have issues with the subtitles is because you know what's being said in English. If the movies original soundtrack was I dunno Afrikaan then you'd not know the mistakes and therefore not be driven crazy by it.

The examples used are funny though, getting a lesson on the currency market while the are having sex.

But personally, I cannot watch a DVD without the subtitles. I don't know why but I'm lost without them. Subtitles can be cool though, I remember watching East is East and they translated the Urdu conversations too into Greek so I understood what was being said. Even though if you watch the English (UK) version, the Urdu remains untranslated.

Usually, the films on at the cinema are well-translated. However, the problems start when the movie comes out on video/dvd in which they get a whole new(often substandard) set of subtitles. The pay for this kind of work is peanuts and hence the low quality.

My favourite "Lost in Translation" moment comes from The World at War series.


The Nazis occupied all the land between Kiev and Moscow."


Οι ναζι κατελαβαν ολη την Ολλανδια αναμεσα το Κιεβο και την Μοσχα.

The Nazis occupied Holland between Kiev and Moscow.

2 out of 10 for English and a big fat, zero for geography.

Could anyone please tell me how I get greek movies with english subtitles, online (I guess it would be very difficult to get them with portuguese subtitles…). And could anyone give me some suggestions, too. Thank you.

LOL Teacher! The translator probably got Holland from "all the land" and because he/she was bad at geography, it made perfect sense that Holland is between Kiev and Moscow. Too funny.

Antonio...I wish I could be able to recommend you some secure, efficient, reputable online greek sites, but I don't know any who meet those requirements so I guess you'll just have to get someone you know in Greece to send them to you. I do know that a lot of the blockbuster DVD titles already come with more than a dozen subtitled languages. You should check out your local dvd shop.

Ellas...I don't have a problem at all with subtitles...otherwise I wouldn't be able to watch a lot of foreign films...it's just the translations that bother me.

I don't think I came across in my post as I meant too. I just mean that it's the minority (i.e. us) who spot these mistakes. The rest of the population are blissfully unaware.

Happy Blog Anniversary, SeaWitch. :)

Well SeaWitch, I would come to your store if I lived in Athens!

It is still driving me crazy, what we were watching. Not that it matters much. I get fixated about things like that, though.

Well, after I translated Camus' L'Etranger from French into English, and realized how wrong the copy I had always read in English was, I started to doubt any and all translations, including foreign movies. I realize it can be hard to translate things accurately, especially when you use special sayings, but geez, you gotta at least get the general idea right!

Try 'Staying Alive' with John Travolta dubbed in Hungarian. That headband and that Central European doubting tone of voice. Every line is like, 'Am I in this movie? Am I really doing this? I must brood, then I shall sulk.'

The numbers issue must be a tradition in whatever translator subculture exists here. Often the figure is spoken clearly and the number is off by a factor of ten. It's not incompetence, it's a thing.

Seawitch - where oh where can I get a region-free DVD player? Are they incredibly expensive?

Scarf, we got our region free DVD player from http://www.codefreedvd.com/

They were very reliable, we've had it for 3 years now with no problems. The prices vary, but shipping from the U.K. was about 100 euros, if I recall correctly.

We haven't yet found a place in Greece that sells them, and we are looking, since we want to get a second dvd player for the bedroom.

Eff...thanks! I didn't even realize that I'd been blogging a year. LOL

Mel...I am really going to think about the title of that movie today. I narrowed it down a bit because I watched it from the projector so it had to be something we ripped to the HTPC.

scarf...we used to sell zone free DVD players on the cheap but we don't have any left. We have to stock up for Christmas so I'll see what I can find out for you (brands/prices) today.

Thanks for the link, M. There was one DVD player going around last year made by Yakumo (who?). It played everything, regions, mp3s, otidipote 60 euros. Haven't seen anything like it since. Please let me know if you find something, SW.

Scarf...you'll probably have a hard time finding a DVD player which is advertised as zone free here because it is basically illegal. The industry has the zones to cut down on piracy. Amoisonic was one brand that did have a zone free DVD player. Other brands do have zone free models, they probably just don't advertise it. JVC, Toshiba, Samsung, Pioneer and even Sony all have zone free models. Just do a search on the Net for "zone free DVD players" and you'll get a lot of returns for it. Just remember the make & models and then go to your electronics store to see if they stock any of them.

Isn't the region thing just a crack? I thought you could take virtually any DVD player to a shop and have them zap its firmware or whatever and it'll play all regions. Or is it more complicated than that. At http://www.regionfreedvd.net/ they list all the major brands. You're right, this sort of thing is never advertised. Looks like grey market.

I think the issue with dubbing and subtitles in Greece is also related to economies of scale.

When I first went to work in Greece 20 years, opps, 25 years ago, I was very happy that unlike Germany, where dubbing was very common, in Greece due to the fact that dubbing costs about 30 times as much as subtitles, almost everyting wa subtitled.

I know the alphabet and could read better than I could understand from Greek school so it was helpful to me, whicle I was sitll able to enjoy the programming.

Nowadays my guess is at leat 100 times the amount of content is available meaning that there is a limit to how much time can be appleid even to subtitling.

But Ialso know if you speak two languages any subtitling is strange.

This is not limited to Greece of course. I rented Crimson River last week and watched it with both the english dubbed aurio track and the english langagu subtitles. they wer both in English and were 100% different tranlations throughout.

Anyway great blog. I sometimes visit Zorkmidden's blog which I enjoy even though I often disagree with the conclusions some of the commentators make vis a vis Greece.

Enjoy Greece, feel the beauty of the past present and future. I miss it very much.


Or my favorite. An old space movie where the English was "Do you remember that old saying about the Dutchman and the dike (dam), and the Greeks translated it "O Ollandos and tee Lesvi (The Dutchman and the Lesbian). A dike is a water dam also by the way.

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