Friday, 7 May 2010

My Europe Week: Dumbing down films by dubbing

In the previous Grahnlaw blog post My Europe Week: Why language rights and multilingualism?, we found good reasons for both linguistic rights for EU citizens and for learning foreign languages (multilingualism).

The EU’s language policy has commendable aims: It promotes multilingualism and aims for a situation in which every EU citizen can speak at least two foreign languages in addition to their mother tongue.

The policy documents and resolutions on language learning are heavily weighted towards curricula and mobility programmes for students and teachers.

Excellent, but life is larger than school. Informal language learning is mentioned almost in passing.

The spectre of dubbing is haunting Europe

“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away”. Should we bless our temporal lords?

It is all very well to adopt resolutions on language learning. But to miss out on the zillions of hours spent in front of television sets or watching films?

Within the European Union, in the French, German, Spanish and Italian speaking markets films and television soundtracks are generally dubbed. Instead of the original soundtrack watchers hear local actors.

Dubbing makes for effortless viewing, but for an unaccustomed outsider the experience is often hilarious, even surreal. More seriously, dumbing down film and TV soundtracks is a wasted opportunity of enormous proportions.

See the Wikipedia article Dubbing (filmmaking) for a sad map of (Continental) Europe.

What is the use of European quotas, if the viewers are left in their comfort zone, instead of being offered pleasurable challenges and wider views?

How can we build European public spheres, if a majority of EU citizens escape daily contact with other European languages?

In general, the Dutch and the Nordics are perceived to have better language skills than other Europeans. How much is this explained by original soundtracks and subtitles, even for those who lack higher formal education?

In principle, the United Kingdom seems to offer original soundtracks. However, the Brits are not generally famed for speaking foreign languages. We have seen reports about the further decline of formal language learning. How much does the absence of dubbing depend on programmes being almost exclusively in English, anyway (UK & US)?

Is Europe a continent of missed opportunities for mutual understanding?

My Europe Week

The emerging European public sphere offers us contemporary opportunities for cross-border communication about our common future and our shared concerns. and My Europe Week are but two small examples of a growing trend towards common understanding.

Europe Day 9 May 2010 is worth a Mass for a better future.

Ralf Grahn