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Subtitling Arabic profanities into English and that aggro: the case of West Beirut

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submitted on 2023-11-06, 09:42 and posted on 2023-11-06, 10:31 authored by Mohammad Ahmad Thawabteh, Amer Al-Adwan, Amna Shqair

The present article explores one of the most unexpected and unpredictable changes of taboo language by language users and its translation into English as can be illustrated in the analysis of a Lebanese movie entitled West Beirut. The article first argues that taboo language is surely far more difficult than any other types of language to deal with in subtitling. Such a language is inelegant, but so confusing insofar as subtitlers are concerned, apparently due to the degree of social acceptability of the profanities by various cultures on the one hand, and to the technical restrictions related to the subtitling process on the other. The article shows that in an attempt to ensure mastery of the intricacies resulted from the use of obscene-loaded language and technical constraints associated to them, subtitlers use a considerable number of translation strategies. The article adopts a two-integrated approach: Toury's (1995) product-oriented Descriptive Translation Studies (DTS) and ‘coupled pairsʼ to analyze the original dialogue and its English equivalent. The findings reveal that the subtitlers have resorted to six translation strategies while dealing with excessive taboo language density, namely cultural substitution (adaptation), literal translation, euphemism, omission, reformulation and change in the semantic field. It might then be concluded that utilizing some of these strategies have resulted in distortions of the original dialogue, while others have managed to reach its intended audience. Finally, the article highlights that cultural considerations play a major role in determining the translation strategies and their frequency in communicating taboo language into other cultures.

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Published in: Heliyon
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Open Access funding provided by the Qatar National Library



  • English


Cell Press

Publication Year

  • 2022

License statement

This Item is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Institution affiliated with

  • Hamad Bin Khalifa University
  • College of Humanities and Social Sciences - HBKU