Macquarie University
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A Corpus-Based Study of Culturally Sensitive Terms in Subtitling Hollywood Films into Arabic

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posted on 2023-03-03, 03:18 authored by Yousef Mohammed Sahari

Film subtitling is considered one of the most effective means of achieving cultural exchange and communication between peoples, yet there are some linguistic and cultural challenges that hinder such exchange, including taboo language. Culturally sensitive terms, what will be referred to as taboo language in this thesis, is a common feature of popular films in Hollywood. Those films are produced in an open and liberal context, and when subtitling for a more conservative and closed society such as an Arabic society, taboo words pose a thorny challenge for subtitlers. Using a corpus of 90 Hollywood films released between 2000 and 2018, and applying insights from Descriptive Translation Studies (Toury, 1995, 2012) and the dichotomy of domestication and foreignization, this thesis investigates three main research questions: (1) What are the dominant taboo items, categories and functions in the English subtitles? (2) What are the predominant translation strategies used in the translation of taboo language? (3) What is the impact of taboo function on the use of translation strategies in the translation of the most frequent items and categories? In order to answer the research questions above, a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the corpus is conducted, in which the researcher adopts a self-designed, parallel, aligned corpus of ninety films and their Arabic subtitles. A quantitative analysis is performed to compare the frequencies and distribution of taboo words, their categories, functions, and the translation strategies employed by the subtitlers of ninety films, with the aim of identifying similarities or differences in addition to identifying the impact of taboo functions on the use of subtitling strategies. Based on the quantitative analysis, a qualitative analysis is performed to identify any translational patterns in Arabic translations of taboo words and the possible reasons for subtitlers’ choices. The results show that the majority of taboo words in the source text (ST) have been manipulated, domesticated and toned down to comply with the cultural and linguistic norms of the recipient culture. Also, it is found that Arabic religious words are frequently used for the translation of English taboo words, as the five most common Arabic corresponding words belong to the religion category. In other words, many English taboo words that relate to particular semantic categories like sex, excrement and body parts, but also words from other categories, shift to the semantic category of religion in Arabic subtitles.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Literature Review -- Chapter 3. Data and Methodology -- Chapter 4. Results and discussion -- Chapter 5. Conclusion -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jan-Louis Kruger

Additional Supervisor 1

Nick Wilson

Additional Supervisor 2

Ashraf Abdel Fattah


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




210 pages