This paper contributes to what appears to be an increasing interest in interpersonal meanings in translation studies scholarship (e.g., Munday 2012; 2015). Specifically it attends to the observed tendency in audiovisual translation (e.g., Díaz Cintas 2013) for the interpersonal elements commonly termed “interjections” (and “minor clauses” in the systemic functional linguistic literature) to be omitted or translated at reduced rates in interlingual subtitling. We adopted systemic functional linguistic perspectives to investigate the translation of “interjections” in seven different subtitlings of the English-language movie, The Croods, into Chinese. Focusing on the frequently occurring “interjections” hey and oh, we found both tended to be omitted but that this omission rate was significantly higher for oh. We referenced the SFL differentiation of “interjections” (minor clauses) which variously function as “calls” (e.g., hey), as “exclamations” (e.g., some uses of oh), and as “continuatives” (e.g., some uses of oh). By this we were able to show that difference in meaning/function does seem to exert a consistent, systemic influence on omission/inclusion. Thus, while the study did confirm a tendency for subtitlers to underplay non-experiential meanings, it also provides evidence that this is not an entirely automatic or “indiscriminate” process; that subtitlers are sensitive to the possibility that “leaving out” one type of interpersonal meaning may be more harmful to the communicative functionality of the target text than leaving out another type.
The findings of the paper are significant in providing a clearer picture than is available in the literature as to what is at stake interpersonally when interjections are omitted in the process of subtitling, and consequently a clearer picture of how such omission can result in translations which are more muted than the source text, or less explicit interpersonally. They also provide useful new insights into a key feature of audiovisual translation that of “condensation”. This is the frequent need for some elements of the original dialogue to be omitted from the subtitles, due to the limited display time and screen space available for written text. This effect has frequently been commented on in the subtitling literature but there have so far been few attempts to track in a systemic way just which meanings tend to be lost.