Archive for Language and the movies

Why we all need subtitles now

[10:42 video — entertaining and informative]

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Ask Language Log: "G'Tach"

From TIC Redux:

In the 1971 British dark comedy horror film "The Abominable Dr. Phibes", the title character (played by a scenery-chewing Vincent Price) elaborately kills his victims through torturous deaths inspired by the ten (or so?) Plagues of Egypt… More than once in the film, those biblical plagues are referred to (per closed-captioning) as "the G'Tach"… That term intrigues me, but I've never been able to find any uses of, or references to, it except in connection with this film… Is it a real word?…

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A return to "Arrival"

It's been six years since the movie Arrival arrived in theaters and immediately attracted buzz here on Language Log and elsewhere in the linguaverse. The protagonist Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) is a field linguist called upon to communicate with aliens, and the filmmakers took efforts to make that portrayal mirror Dr. Banks' real-life scholarly counterparts. Now comes a new "official retrospective companion book" about the film's creative process called The Art and Science of Arrival by Tanya Lapointe. And it has a section on how linguists reacted to Arrival — including quotes from a couple of Language Log posts.

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Hong Kong "Alien" synopsis

Missed this priceless item back in January:

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Subtitles matter

"American Sci-fi film 'Everything Everywhere All at Once' subtitles come under fire in Taiwan"

By Lyla Liu, Taiwan News, Staff Writer


TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — American science-fiction film “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” starring Michelle Yeoh (楊紫瓊) and Jamie Lee Curtis, received criticism from Taiwanese audiences because of its subtitles after its Taiwan premiere on April 22.

The American drama has won the one-day championship for three consecutive days since Monday (April 25), according to the chart released by Taipei Box Office Observatory. In addition, it was selected as the opening movie for the 2022 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

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Pinyin in subtitles

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Strange tales and labiovelar transcriptions

East Asians have been addicted to strange stories for millennia.  Many of these fall under the rubric of guài 怪 ("strange"), e.g., zhìguài 志怪 ("records of anomalies"), the name of one of the earliest genres of strange stories in China.

One of the strangest aspects about East Asian strange tales is that perhaps the most famous collection of all was written by a Westerner, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904).

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A recent Shanghainese movie

[This is a guest post by Zihan Guo, who was a student in my "Language, Script, and Society in China" class this past semester.]

A movie titled "Àiqíng shénhuà 愛情神話" ("Myth of Love / B for Busy") just came out on the 24th in China, which soon became warmly received by the public. It narrates the story of three distinctive Shanghainese women who come to know each other through one man. Here is a trailer

The most attractive aspect is the usage of the Shanghainese topolect throughout the movie. The main actor, Xu Zheng 徐崢, himself is a Shanghainese director who always appreciates films with regional characteristics. The three actresses are also Shanghainese, so they speak in a perfect tone, which appeals to locals very much. But of course there are subtitles to cater for a broader audience. People with no knowledge of the topolect like it as well, maybe because the accent itself is amusing. Most of them are not bothered by the unfamiliar language, since it has long become habitual for people to read subtitles even if they can understand the language, as we have also discussed in our class.

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Dubbing and subtitles

From an anonymous correspondent:

G and I have always enjoyed foreign films, but only if they're subtitled. We shy away from films that are dubbed into English. The dubbing clearly adds another layer of clumsy artifice that stops me from entering into the film.

The Italians, and I believe most Europeans, prefer dubbing when they're watching foreign films. Their voice actors are a highly-paid group. A few years ago, when the Italian dubbers went on strike, no new foreign (i.e., American, British, French, etc.) films were released for months, maybe years.

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Korean language in Chinese film

Until Chairman Xi started going after the entertainment world, and especially foreign entertainment, the Chinese people were deeply enamored of Korean soap operas, boy bands, K-Pop girl groups, and so forth.  They idolized the Korean stars, watched their performances, and would even go on pilgrimages to important places associated with them.  Moreover, as with J-pop, manga, and anime, which inspired many young Chinese to learn Japanese language, so were Chinese youth inspired by Korean pop culture to learn Korean language.  So it is not altogether surprising to hear a Chinese film star switch into Korean.

First listen, and see if you can distinguish between the Mandarin and the Korean.  Below I'll give a rough account of the background to this scene.

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Botched dubbing of a Taiwanese Mandarin film on the mainland

From Eoin Cullen:

This is a really fascinating story:  a Taiwanese film ("Dāng nánrén liàn'ài shí 当男人恋爱时" ["Man in Love"]) where the main character has been dubbed for the mainland Chinese release. The film is mostly in accented Taiwan Mandarin and the protagonist peppers his speech with Southern Min (Taiwanese / Hoklo), so someone decided there’d be a comprehensibility issue for mainland audiences (despite the fact that there are Chinese language subtitles on all films, Chinese or otherwise). In the dubbed version the protagonist has a notable mainland Mandarin accent, which is hilarious for Taiwanese netizens. This to me would be like if the film Trainspotting had been dubbed into American English for its US release.

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Ancient bronze inscription in a modern film set in China

Philip Taylor writes:

At around 07:08 into the extraordinarily stupid film The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), the witch holds a scroll engraved with pictograms.  Is this a real example of an early Sinitic script, or just a nonce script created for the film?

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Barbarian Language in a Chinese movie

From Alex Baumans:

I'm getting more and more interested in Chinese pop culture, so I keep discovering things.
I recently watched Painted Skin 2, which is your typical fantasy action movie, with star crossed lovers, a princess, a fox spirit and a lone outpost of the area surrounded by barbarians.
When these barbarians (and they are truly depicted as barbarians, straight from Hyboria) came on screen, I pricked up my ears. As I said in an earlier mail, my Chinese is next to non existent, but I have watched a lot of reality shows with The9 these last weeks, and this didn't sound like any Chinese I was used to.
Even more bafflingly, I had the impression I could make out some Indian sounding words like 'rajaputra' [VHM: "prince"] and 'deva' [VHM:  "god; deity"] which would be appropriate in the context. These may be mondegreens, as I don't know any Indian languages. I have only watched a fair bit of Bollywood cinema and have a background in Farsi.
So I thought this little enigma (if it is one) would amuse you.

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