Domestication in Translation: A Technique to translate TV Series

By Veronica Menis
In Translation Techniques
May 8th, 2014

What does it take to localize a TV series? Domestication in Translation


TV series such as The Nanny, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Simpson, and Beverly Hills have been and continue to be very popular worldwide. But there are some secrets for their success in countries other than their homeland, the USA. I was shocked the first time I happened to think about it, but also amazed by the realization of the smart choices taken to deliver products that are successful in the US and make them hits in other countries.
This phenomenon is called domestication and it is all about translation!
Did you know that in Italy the Nanny, Fran Fine, is known as Francesca Cacace? She is not Jewish, but instead has Italian origins (she comes from Frosinone). And think about all the dialects that the Simpson’s characters use in the original show. Have you ever thought about their conversion into a foreign language such as Italian? Of course they had to be adapted for the Italian release, so now we have Willy, who speaks Sardinian, Winchester (originally Chief Wiggum, as you can see also the names can be different in other countries), who speaks Neapolitan, and Carl, who speaks in a dialect from Venice. Funny, right?


Translation technique: Domestication

Domestication is the strategy of making a text closely conform to the culture of the language being translated to, which may involve the loss of information from the source text so as to focus on the target audience. This happens primarily when a certain situation does not exist in the target culture.

This process can also be called adaptation or localization, to a certain extent. Translating culture-specific concepts, in general, and allusions, in particular, are a potential problem of the translation process. This is due to the fact that allusions have particular connotations and implications in the source language, but do not necessarily have the same connotations in the domestic culture.


Dubbing process in Italy

In Italy, the dubbing process of films and TV-series involves a great transformation of cultural specific items, such as the characters’ backgrounds, languages, and origins, to take into consideration the target audience.  The Nanny and the Simpsons are TV series based on humor, and humor is based on cultural patterns, which differ from country to country (and even from region to region sometimes). The only way to convey humor is by domesticating the product, which, in this case are the scripts. Is it easy? Of course not. It is very complicated, many factors are involved, and it is definitely risky. The translation decisions are the basis of a product’s success in a new market.
In Italy, only a few people are acquainted with Jewish culture. Therefore, a TV-series based on this background, such as The Nanny, would not have been as successful as in the US, as many of the references would have been awkward for an Italian audience. And of course the rendering of the American dialects in The Simpsons should have been a major issue for the Italian adaptation.

I am very curious to know which criteria were followed to choose dialects among the many Italian ones. However, all those choices are the secret to making these two series very popular, and I am glad their success is due to a creative process carried on by translators and localizators. Domestication is just one side of the coin, however. Other strategies could have been used, but the outcome would have been different.


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