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Translation Strategies Dissertation


Considering translation has a strong effect on various audiences, several researchers have come out to explore the appropriate manner of translating audio-visual contents into subtitles.

This study sums up the findings of such researchers, through a keen focus on the movie Bad boys two and comprehensively, it articulates that, for producers to write the best subtitles, they ought to ensure that the translation made has the same effect in the target culture as it does in the original source culture.

The best translators factor cultural variations when translating audio contents of a movie into another language. The study further establishes that, the best translators are those who can easily expose the relevance of the initial message (through a second language) without creating any sort of misunderstanding.

The concept of domestication therefore easily surfaces in this context because it is the best way translators can portray the same audio content into a second language without stirring any controversy. However, to successfully translate given audio pieces, it is important for translators to remain as natural as possible. This fact therefore means that there is a small line between what is right and appropriate.


Subtitles are normally used to make television audiences who have a language comprehension or hearing problem to understand what is being said on televisions. Normally, a target audience in this context is children, adults, deaf people or people who cannot understand the language being spoken (Nida, 1982).

With the upsurge of DVD productions, the use of subtitles in televisions programming and movies have significantly increased (Venuti, 1995).

However, the development of subtitles for any movie or television series serves the purpose of a given cultural, religious or educational context and it may therefore be tricky for most television producers to serve the needs of these target audiences, considering the dynamism of such groups (in terms of religious and cultural identification) (Nida and De Waard, 1986).

For instance, the translation of offensive language remains a tricky issue for most television producers because such language is sometimes considered profanity or inappropriate for certain cultures.

Normally, such (offensive) language is used to express specific human emotions such as anger, amusement, surprise (and the likes) but its appropriateness relies on the culture of the target audience. Diaz-Cintas & Remael (2007) reiterate that “taboo words are tied in with local traditions which are used differently by different linguistic communities, depending on the religious background of those communities” (p. 196).

To a great extent, swear words are unique to the cultural context of a given community because these words have various meanings when analyzed in various cultural contexts (Baker, 1998). Interestingly, such words can even sound more offensive for certain cultural groups than it was initially meant to be.

The confusion in language translation can be explained from the translation of the English words “Fuck you” because if it is translated to Arabic, it would mean “Damn you” (Venuti, 1995).

Normally, this is observed in most Arabic translations that include sexual terms because Islam greatly prohibits the use of sexual terms (Brockopp, 2003, p. 69). Regardless of the dynamics of translation, observers note that, the use of translation in movies play a crucial role in the understanding of such works because of concerns regarding the quality of audio-visual contents of some movie productions (De and Kay, 1999).

Swear words also have a significant impact on the character that uses it and in the same manner; characters also have a significant impact on the message of the film. This relationship shows that, the accuracy of translation to subtitles cannot be overemphasized (Fang, 2010, p. 35). It is therefore essential to use swear words for character representation.

Due to this fact, some translators normally decide to render the swear words, but knowingly or unknowingly to them, rendering swear words may consequently distort the message of the film (Gambier, 1998). However, translators normally experience a challenge rendering spoken words into subtitles because it is almost impossible to render everything that is said into the subtitles (Díaz-Cintas and Remael, 2009).

These facts abound, this study seeks to analyze how the subtitles to the movie Bad boys two can be translated into Arabic. Comprehensively, this study seeks to establish the translation style used to translate the subtitles of the movies to Arabic and the possible challenges that maybe experienced from the process.


The research methodology will be focused on gathering relevant data from the Bad Boys two script, to gain a thorough understanding of the difficulties experienced when translating English swear words into Arabic.

In this context, this study aims at shedding some light regarding if the foreignization or domestication strategy is used to translate English curse words to Arabic. In ascertaining this fact, questions such as, what impact would the foreignzation strategy have on an Arabic audience? And what impact would the domestication strategy have on Arabic audience? will be answered.

The data chosen for this analytical piece is the script for an American popular drama film, Bad Boys two, released in 2003. The script will be comprehensively used to evaluate how it could be translated into Arabic so that appropriate translation strategies can be established.

The complexities in the translation of the swear words will therefore be easily established through a thorough analysis of the script. In this manner, swear words used in the script will be used to portray the difficulty or complexity of translating the words into Arabic.

However, only the first part of the script will be of use. The analysis will be done in qualitative and quantitative means so that the challenges experienced when translating English swear words into Arabic can be exposed. To gain a comprehensive picture of the translation process, a thorough discussion will be done to establish alternative ways of translating the English swear words into Arabic.


Translating swear words can be a very difficult task. More so, the challenge is normally experienced when one is to translate words which do not exist in the context of another culture. For example, in the second page of the Bad Boys two script, the word “motherfuckers” is used to refer to a group of people.

In the context of the Arabic culture, such a word does not exist. In the same page, one of the characters uses the word “fuck” to refer to a poor status of radio transmission. Such a word does not also exist in the Arabic context.

In fact, it can be very challenging to translate English words into Arabic, using appropriate reference materials such as dictionaries (because they only include words which are well established in the Arabic dialect) (Omar, 2009). Often, translating words into Arabic is more challenging than translating the same words into other languages, say, Spanish.

This fact is true because the Arabic culture has a strong Islamic influence which prohibits the use of offensive language (Auroux, 2000, p. 333). In other words, Islam greatly limits the dynamism of Arabic culture because it does not include words and language dialects which are against its teachings.

Interestingly, swear words fall into the category of highly inhibited words and therefore translators may find themselves in difficult situations where they have to translate specific cultural words which do not exist in the Arabic dialect in the first place.

Sometimes, when such challenges are experienced, it is important for the translators to maintain the meaning of the English words and provides an alternative meaning behind it. This strategy is especially recommended when certain English words do not have their Arabic equivalent (Omar, 2009).

For example in the second page of the Bad Boys two script, one character asks “The fuck I want to do that for?” Providing a meaning for this sentence in the Arabic context is difficult and therefore, a translator may be forced to find an alternative way to express it.

In the same page, a character says “stop all the goddamned movement”. It would also be very difficult to translate the same statement in the Arabic context and therefore it is important to find an alternative meaning.

The difficulty in translating swears words into Arabic are especially noted when focusing on the context of translation. In other words, it can be easy to translate the swear words into Arabic but doing so requires a keen focus on the context used to translate the words.

For example in the second page of the bad boy’s two script, one character says “but this shit will get worked out in court”. In the following page, the same character says “He goes to bed early for this shit”.

In the same page, another character says “I did not do shit!” In the three examples, the context in which the word “shit” is used changes to refer to an object and event and therefore translating the same curse word in different sentences to give different meanings may prove difficult.

In the first page of the Bad Boys two script, the word “Fucking bitches” is used to represent a non-derogative context but the word “fucking bitch” would often be used to refer to a sexual context. The same is not the case when analyzed in the context it was used in the first segment of the study. For instance, the word was used in an apologetic context because it was preceded by “sorry Johnny” in reference to the shooting of a gun.

Comprehensively it was a response to the apologetic tone adopted by the previous speaker. This fact can be supported by the fact that, there was no sexual context being referred to by the speaker. Instead, the speaker was only referring to the character of the respondent.

However in translating the contextual meaning of the word “fucking bitches” into Arabic may prove a difficult task for a translator because in conventional English speaking contexts the words would also be used to refer to a sexual context. In Arabic, the same would also be assumed but this is not the case.

Also, in the first page of the script, one of the characters says “ I cannot see shit” When the assertion is analyzed at face-value, many people would assume the character referred to “seeing shit” as an object, but in real sense, he was referring to the fact that, he could not see anything.

In the same context, the character says, “take that shit”. In this context, the character refers to “shit” as an object (contrary to the previous examples). In the next sentence, the author says “I am out of here- shit”.

From the use of the word “shit” in previous contexts, we can see that the word has been used to refer to different situations, but in the last example, the word has been used to refer to a situation. This means that, in three consecutive sentences, the word shit has been used as an object and a situation. Translating the same word to suit these contexts is therefore a difficult task.

In such contexts, translators find themselves in a difficult position of maintaining the context of the swear words and still maintain a correct character representation. One of the strategies suggested to go about the situation is modifying the contextual meaning to correct a wrong contextual meaning (Omar, 2009).

This translation is suggested because it is normally assumed that the translator has an ethical role in translation which must be upheld always. However, it is also established that, it is a wrong thing for translators to modify the context of source texts.

In other words, translators should remain as faithful to the contextual meaning of the text. In such a case, it is important to understand the dilemma and look for other alternative areas of translation determination such as the availability of an alternative Arabic word which best conveys the meaning and context of the English swear words.

If such words exist, it is best to include them in the translation but if they do not, it is also best to omit such words instead of changing their contextual meaning.

For example, it would be difficult to translate the word “motherfucker”, which is used in the sentence, “just to wake up to pop one in a motherfucker” (found in the third page of the script). In such a scenario, it is best to omit such a word. The same omission can be applied in the sentence “Motherfucker shot me in the ass” (found in the third page of the script).

According to the Western theory of translation, translators should often maintain the context of the source material as much as possible (Chan, 2004, p. 34). The theory also notes that the greater the context or metaphase that exists between English and language, the greater the ratio of metaphases to paraphrase that can be used in the entire context of translation.

However, in as much as the theory notes that, translators should maintain the contextual meaning of the source material, the theory also notes that the role of the translators should not only be limited to a mechanical and passive role because the theory notes that, translators are like artists who also have a right to be as creative as they can be (Chan, 2004, p. 34).

Nonetheless, it is also important to note that, translation is an unique art because it is not as simple as conventional art.

Wiecha (2010) notes that in the art of translation, the translators should emphasize a lot on the frequency of swear words used because he notes that when too many swear words are used, it may be offensive to Arabic audiences and in such a case, he proposes that the translator should reduce the frequency of swear words used or even in some cases, polish these words, or formalize them in a way that captures the source meaning as much as possible.

In the third page of the Bad Boys two script, one character says, “That shit is fucking annoying” and in the next sentence he says,

“Like a fucking gnat at a barbecue….just bugging the fuck out of me”. These sentences represent a series of swear words which can be highly offensive and difficult to translate in the Arabic culture. It is in this context that translators are advised to reduce the frequency of such swear words.

Moreover translators are advised that, when they come across many curse words, they should use their own discretion to reduce these words or alternatively mention that, there are several curse words used by the actors to represent a state of anger (Wiecha, 2010).

Nonetheless, the problem noted with such a strategy is diffusing the intrigue of the film because to some people, the swear words used, represent the punch-line of the conversation. However, in the Arabic context, or even in the spirit of professionalism, it is important for the translator to consider the ethical and cultural implications of translation before intrigue.

In the second page of the bad boy script, the use of the words “shit” is used more than two times (in sequence). A sentence later, the word “motherfucker” is used. This sequence in the use of swears words can sometimes be perceived as too much for Arabic audiences, especially those of the older generation.

And when analyzed in the words of Nida (2003), it is important for the translator at this point to omit such words, or not represent their equivalents because of the frequency used. The main motivation for undertaking this approach is to show respect for the target audience’s language and culture.

Translating the English swear words into Arabic is also not easy for translators at this point of analysis because Arabic is not consistent in dialect form. This means that, there are many Arabian dialects, accents, registers and styles which can often be confusing for the translator.

Due to this reason, it is often recommended that, translators willing to translate words from English into Arabic need to adopt the domestication strategy to ensure they remain relevant to their Arabic audiences (because of their dynamism).

Part of the reason the domestication strategy is recommended is because it is often common for translators to change the meaning of the swear words if they use the foreignization strategy (Fang, 2010, p. 35). Also in the domestication strategy, the translator is often invisible to the audience but in the foreignization strategy, the translator is visible to the audience.

This is true because translators who adopt the foreignization strategy try to bring the audience to their side while translators who adopt the domestication strategy shift their points of view to the audience. In other words, proponents of the domestication strategy note that, it is important for translators to change the source material into the context of the target language.

In the third page of Bad boys two script we see the importance of adopting the domestication strategy because in some instances, the use of curse words are used in the religious context which can be very offending to Arabic audiences.

For instance, the words “spiritual bullshit” is used to refer to a spiritual sense of well being of one character but the speaker is not religious in any manner and therefore he refers to the spiritual reference as “bull shit”.

This reference may be assumed to be derogative to religion but the situation may be worse when analyzed in the Arabic context because such swear words may be assumed to disregard Islam. Also, the assertion “son of a bitch” (found in the eighth page of the script) would be difficult to translate in Arabic and therefore, a domestication strategy would be appropriate.

The same can be said of the statement “shit! I need backup” (found in the eight page of the script). The adoption of a domestication strategy therefore seems appropriate in such a context because it has been affirmed that in the Arabic context, domestication improves the understandability of the audience (Fang, 2010, p. 35).

This fact was affirmed after several studies were done to gauge the use of the foreignization and domestication strategies when English texts were translated into Arabic. It was affirmed that when foreignization strategy was adopted, the readers experienced a lot of difficulty trying to understand the meaning of the words used, but when the domestication strategy was used, the readers found the texts more understandable.

Moreover, instances of misunderstandings were greatly reduced in the domestication strategy as opposed to the foreignization strategy (Fang, 2010, p. 35).

However, it should also be noted that translating swear words into English is not only subject to contextual and comprehension problems because lexical and grammatical rule problems also surface as a result (Wahba, 2006, p. 366). In other words, it is often evidenced that, there are several grammatical constructs that are poorly understood when English swear words are translated into Arabic.

In other words, when translating English swear words into Arabic, it is often not clear which grammatical rules to use, or which words should be used to describe them.

For instance translating the sentence “some fucking punk thinks he can die in my club” into Arabic poses some grammatical and lexical challenges in the same manner the sentence “I wonder whose shit they are about to rip now?” (found in the seventh page of the bad boys two script) poses. This fact is evidenced from the fact that, English and Arabic do not share any origins or rule for that matter.

In other words, very little technical or scientific learning is normally evidenced in most literature excerpts have a rooting in Arabic. This is also the major reason why there is usually a shortage of equivalent words in Arabic from English translations. In such situations, it is recommended that, translators be extra creative to develop or custom English curse words into Arabic terms (Fang, 2010, p. 35).

This is the same strategy noted when translating English technical words into Arabic because transliteration is often used by researchers to explain Arabic equivalents of English words. However, this is part of the reason why it is very difficult to establish standards used in explaining English swear words into Arabic.

The emphasis on translation cannot be overemphasized enough because it is observed that in the Arabic dialect, there are many ways to express a message. This is true because Arabic dialects are highly expressive and therefore determining the locale of the target audience goes a long way in determining the best way to translate words from English to Arabic.

Also, it is established that machine translations do not often work in the Arabic context because their meanings may be misunderstood in the various Arabic dialects. For instance if the sentence “ do not understand what the fuck you mean (found in the fourth page of the script) were to be translated in a machine-like way, the meaning would be lost because “fuck” would imply something sexual but this is not the case.

In the same page of the script, the sentence “…that is some cult shit” is also found and translating the same sentence in a machine-like manner would imply the inclusion of human waste into the analysis which is not the case. This situation is further compounded by the fact that, there are very few experts in Arabic language who can give a proper insight into the best way to translate English swear words into Arabic.

These dynamics are very important in determining the best way to translate English curse words into Arabic because it is affirmed that having the correct knowledge about a target language goes a long way in enabling translators know the best way to translate English curse words into Arabic.


Translating English curse words into Arabic is marred by a lot of linguistic grammatical and cultural barriers. The grammatical barriers are evidenced because of the exclusion of Arabic in the formulation of technical, scientific or curse words. This fact creates a big problem for translators because many fail to find the best equivalent of the English swear words in Arabic.

The cultural barriers are especially evidenced because of the strictness and influence of religion in the Arabic dialect. This is the basis why translators have to be very keen on translating curse words into Arabic so that they do not offend the target audience. Comprehensively, this study establishes that, the problems encountered when translating English curse words into Arabic can fall into four broad categories as explained below:

Problems Action
Contextual Omit and find alternative words
Grammatical and lexical Reconstruct sentence
Lack of alternative meaning Find closest meaning
Comprehension Find closest meaning or omit

The linguistic hurdles come from the probability of wrongly understanding the context of the curse words in their Arabic form. Due to these facts, a domestication strategy seems the most appropriate way of going about translating English curse words into Arabic.


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"Translation Strategies." IvyPanda, 15 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/translation-strategies-dissertation/.

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