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False Subtitle Translation on the BBC

The BBC have aired a series ‘Mark & Olly: Living with the Machigenga’ on their international channels, but have received criticism from anthropologists regarding the translations for the subtitles. The series shows the presenters adjusting to life with an Amazonian tribe, but it appears the series did not give a true account and that subtitles were falsely translated and scenes staged.

Examples of subtitle issues are as follows:

Subtitle – ‘We use arrows to kill outsiders who threaten us.’

Corrected Translation – ‘You come from far away where lots of gringos live.’

Subtitle – ‘they’re playing instead of rowing’

Corrected Translation – ‘They’re going to die.’

Subtitle – ‘if you were Colonistas he would have tied you up’

Corrected Translation – ‘I thought you were a herd of wild boar’

The above subtitles clearly mislead the audience in their impression of the tribe and the reality of the situation.

In addition, an authority on the Machigenga tribe said that, despite having spent 35 years living in their villages, he had never seen the ‘wild pig dance’ featured in the programme. This has lead experts to believe that many scenes had been ‘staged’.

It is now reported that subsequently Ron Snell, who grew up with the Matsigenka and is fluent in their language, has met with the translator and the village chief and that it was confirmed that some parts had been staged. The translator said they had become disillusioned with the project but needed the money. They are now ‘ashamed and embarrassed’ about their involvement.

However, this issue also undermines the efforts of the presenters. Any experienced translator will appreciate the difficulties a person faces when they live in a new country, but living with a tribe in the Amazon is in another league! For this reason we should hope that a correct translation of the subtitles can be made and that the staged scenes can be edited out. Surely the reality of the situation will be interesting enough…….and better than watching a boring reality TV show with some people stuck in a house facing made up challenges?

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2011 at 12:47 pm and is filed under Language Translation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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