Saturday, 15 November 2008

I'm never going to be able to do this

Translation Worries

Since I’ve been learning British Sign Language, every time I watch TV or catch sight of people having a conversation, I’ve been driving myself mad trying to decode people’s hand gestures. Now we’re studying translation theory at college, I’ve found a new way of driving myself to distraction. As I watch TV or listen to the radio I’m constantly wondering how I would translate particular phrases into BSL.

As a fan of Derren Brown, it has crossed my mind whether there would be any special challenges in translating any of his work. His TV and stage shows are mostly delivered in deceptively simple everyday language. However, consider the following two videos:

In the first he gets a volunteer to successfully name the subject of a caricature painting covered by a cloth:

In the second, Simon Pegg is apparently influenced to change his mind about the birthday present he wants:

As a lay person I would have no idea whether the actual words he uses are key to achieving the effect or if they are a clever “cover story” for a slightly more mundane magic trick. If the former is the case, the phrases used would be rather difficult to translate into a signed or foreign spoken language such that they still achieved the same effect. The translator would surely need some sort of "inside information" about how such effects are achieved. Even if the latter is true, the second video is full of bicycle puns like “handlebar none” and “recycle the same two tyred bottles of wine” which I would struggle to translate into BSL.

It occurred to me that Derren’s shows must have been dubbed into foreign languages, because they have been sold abroad. Does anyone from Derren’s team have to be involved in the translation process? Is it ever necessary to reveal magical techniques in order to effect a proper translation? Or would they always favour keeping magic confidentiality over a more effective trick for the Deaf/foreign audience?

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