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Comparing insults across languages in films: Dubbing as cross-cultural mediation

Maria Pavesi and Maicol Formentelli EMAIL logo
From the journal Multilingua


Insults are prototypical means to express impoliteness in social interactions. In film they are prime ways of staging conflict or jocular abuse, reflecting everyday communicative practices while contributing to the emotionality of dialogue, characterisation and plot advancement. Both original and dubbed films offer a privileged perspective to investigate the codification of impoliteness within and across linguacultures. In this contribution, we hypothesise that cross-cultural mediation in dubbing arises from hybridisation, a product of the contact between source and target language. Drawing on a parallel and comparable corpus of original and dubbed films, the study focuses on two major categories of insults and explores contrastively their overall frequency, the distinction between genuine and mock impoliteness and the structural complexity of forms. A degree of comparability is observed across Anglophone, Italian and dubbed Italian films, although distinctive trends also emerge from the corpus analysis. If Italian films globally make more frequent use of insults, Anglophone films stand out for their greater reliance on mock impoliteness and greater elaboration of forms. Dubbed films tend to position midway, reproducing source language patterns, while also partaking distinguishing lexico-grammatical traits of the target language. The results substantiate the function dubbing serves in cross-cultural mediation by activating an array of frames of reference that allow the new receiving audiences to experience foreign communication practices from their native language perspective.


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Published Online: 2019-08-21
Published in Print: 2019-09-25

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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