I cannot figure out why some translators change the meaning of characters' lines via the subtitles and the audio dubbing. Sometimes humor is removed. Sometimes they change the meaning of what the person said, and although these changes end up being inconsequential, the changes were still completely unnecessary.

I honestly can't figure out the rhyme or the reason as to why they do this. To the best of my knowledge, the translator could have created an accurate translation in the destination language that would fit on the screen (for subtitles) or could be said in the amount of time allotted (for dubbing), but yet they don't. Why are they taking these liberties?

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    Because jokes are untranslatable, and/or because there's technical limitations e.g. character limit in subtitles or time limit WRT dubbing. And it's not just character count WRT subtitles, there's also the problem that some words are harder to read + comprehend, etc. And sometimes it's just incompetence, like when a subtitler doesn't grasp the difference of "mob" when it comes to crowds vs the maffia. Or lacks certain cultural knowledge e.g. "dead mouse" vs "Deadmau5".
    – BCdotWEB
    Aug 26, 2015 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


Dubbing is easy. Dubs are supposed to use mouth movements as keys, so as to make it easier to follow. As such, delivery, meanings, and words change. TV Tropes calls it Lip Lock. Badly done dubs don't follow the lip movement, resulting in "Cat Talk" (Phrased used to describe older badly dubbed Kung Fu movies, where the characters move their lips longer than the dubbed words). TV Tropes call it Hong Kong Dub.

Straight subtitles or captions have less to contend with. They aren't constrained by lip movement like dubs, so the translations can be closer to the original meaning. The key word is meaning though. Purely mechanical translations, like you would get from google translate, would be pretty bad. Meaning is more important than the words used, as you are conveying a thought. Jokes are especially hard as sometimes they are regional or cultural in nature. Would a joke about how awful a brooklyn accent is be as funny to someone that has no idea what a brooklyn accent sounds like?

Recently some American movies have gotten bad subtitle translations in their foreign release.

Those of you who have seen Guardians of the Galaxy know that people like to put down Rocket by calling him a "weasel" or a "rodent." Unfortunately, the fact that these are insults was completely lost on those responsible for the translation, and therefore each time were replaced by "small raccoon" - a phase that's much more factual than mean.

Which comes to one of the biggest issues in translations. It's often Non-Native speakers (of one of the languages) that are translating it. Even bilingual people have a hard time translating from one language to the other, because meanings change.

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    Is this quote block about Guardians of the Galaxy taken from some external source? If yes, then you might want to add a link thereto if possible, or at least mention where it's from.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Aug 30, 2015 at 13:21
  • @napoleoneilson cinemablend.com/new/… seems to be the source Jun 26, 2021 at 2:34

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