Translation Industry News | 01.02.2010

The art of localisation: What’s occurrin’ with Gavin and Stacey stateside?

The popular series Gavin and Stacey has been making waves over the pond in more ways than one. Talks are already underway for it to receive the ultimate localisation treatment – a rewrite aimed at American audiences which is set in New Jersey and South Carolina. Having been equally well received in both the UK and the US, it follows in the footsteps of other BBC greats such as Life on Mars and The Office.

Gavin and Stacey is interesting linguistically on numerous levels. There are the different English dialects spoken in Wales and England (for the English spoken in some parts of Wales, one example heard throughout the show is the use of third person singular instead of first person singular: i.e. ‘I knows it’ instead of ‘I know it’); the ‘heavy’ Welsh and English accents; and further afield, the fact that it is reportedly broadcast with English subtitles on BBC America. This use of subtitles has received a mixed response. Some viewers have complained of a ‘dumbing down’, but others are grateful for the clarification of slang.

It could be said that the series can only be fully enjoyed when a certain level of cultural familiarity is reached with the characters, the world in which they live and the language which they speak. Yet despite these language and cultural differences, American audiences have taken Gavin and Stacey to their hearts. The article by A. Mohr entitled Gavin and Stacey Translator for Americans, lists some words and phrases unfamiliar to the American ear, including lush, tidy, chuffed and fair play. Far from being offended, readers relished the ‘translations’, one even jokingly citing the need for a dictionary when watching British TV – such are the differences between American and British English.

However, it is not only in the media where these differences come to light. Professional linguists often state their language variation and companies and international organizations have in-house style guides to standardize terminology to reduce misunderstandings. With the phrase ‘to table a motion’ for example, delegates speaking American English would take this to mean that the motion has been postponed, whereas for their British colleagues, it is up for discussion. This one phrase highlights the importance of language variant specifications for effective communication – even when people are speaking a ‘common’ language. For a series like Gavin and Stacey which is steeped in popular culture, regional accents, dialects and slang, there is even more scope for misunderstanding or incomprehension on the part of foreign audiences.

In November 2009, Newsweek reported on James Corden and Ruth Jones’s (the series’s writers and creators) reaction to the proposed American version of their hit show. Jones referred to it as ‘fantastic’ and stated that ‘It seems to capture the essence of the British characters and Americanize them’. And therein lies the importance of localisation – not only to communication, but also to the translation of humour.

The quality of the script writing has meant that the show crosses cultures both within the UK and abroad. With an American remake on the cards, things are definitely occurrin’ for Gavin and Stacey on both sides of the Atlantic.


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