How Do Film Titles Travel from English into Hungarian? - A Relevance Theoretic Approach

The topic of my thesis was suggested by my interest in motion pictures and in the connection between their titles in two languages: English and Hungarian. Being a movie fan I like not only watching films but also discovering what films want to communicate with me. I chose this topic after I had read the study of Vermes (2005) who dealt with Hungarian and English film titles. I am interested in several questions: (1) How do translators carry out the translation of film titles? (2) What kinds of methods do they use in the translation? (3) What are the main purposes of these methods?

Author: (Mr.) Roland CSANÁLOSI (email: csanalosiroli[at]
Hungarian abstract:

The influence of mass media has become quite common in human civilisation and several colleges and universities offer courses which concentrate on cinema or animated picture. However, like in many other cases, people disregard what exists behind the celluloid. It would also be interesting to discover how movies are structured: more specifically, how they are given their titles and why. On the other hand, directors, main characters and the extras are as important as the plot of the movie. Sometimes content has already been implied by the title of the film. However, sometimes these titles can be very misleading.

This essay is written to give an analysis of film titles, focusing on some differences between English and Hungarian ones. I am going to concentrate on the different contextual problems occurring in English and Hungarian film titles. In the 21st century this field of research is rather interesting and problematic at the same time. My research is quite up-to-date and not a conventional one: nowadays, hundreds of foreign movies are released in a year making the translators face with several translation projects. My analysis will be based on personal experience as well because sometimes I am shocked when I discover what the original title of a particular movie is. In many cases, the translated title apparently has nothing to do with the original one and in this paper I will try to present why it is so. I aim at dealing with films which were released after 2005 with some exceptions. I will be discovering several factors and applications concerning the translation of film titles.

I would like to approach this topic from three points of view: First of all, I would like to start with some basic questions and facts clarifying what motion pictures are and how they are structured. I also aim at pointing out the role of the titles in the case of motion pictures. In the second section of my thesis, I would like to present a theoretical background making a distinction between communication and translation. I am interested in the basic communicative function of film titles and how they create a particular context. In this section, I will rely on the ideas of Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson’s relevance theory. I will also include a cultural approach with some methods (compensation, domestication and foreignisation) based on the book of Albert Vermes. With the help of the characteristic features belonging to different cultures I will try to explain the different methods and solutions employed in the translation of film titles. Finally, in the last section of my paper, I would like to analyse the titles according to four translation operations. These operations are in line with relevance theory and this section will be the core of my thesis. At the end of this section I also analyse the titles according to their genres. I will concentrate on the frequency of titles in different genres. Beside other genres, I have chosen comedies, action films and dramas since these are the most frequent ones. One of my main sources is the website. The particular aim of this study is to answer the questions mentioned in the first paragraph and to give a detailed picture about the fact that how Hungarian translators carry their translation project of film titles. I also plan to continue this research during my further studies.

2. Introduction into the topic: Distinctive features of motion pictures and film titles

The first thing that has to be emphasised is the fact that motion pictures have become the most important field of arts. Today it is more than just mere one piece of abstraction. Not only in the western civilisation but even in the entire world they are one of the most attractive devices of mass media. Actually, films are said to have cohesive effect between different cultures and today it is already a huge business. Just like in commerce, in the case of films we can speak about producer and consumer. According to Ying (2007:77) “a film is a product which needs to be consumed by the masses, the audience.” Motion pictures are imported and exported and this kind of transfer works globally in the world. When a film is exported from the mother country into the target country it carries not just the celluloid but many other things as well. Besides the material itself, another culture, attitude and viewpoint also arrive. Films take much more than just a mere entertaining facility: they contain customs, attitudes, message reflecting the distinction of a particular culture. As Yin (2009:171) claims: “film looks like a piece of mirror, which reflects all the respects of human society, including the material world and the spiritual world as well.”

Concerning motion pictures we have to claim that title is as important as the story of a particular movie. It is one of the most significant factors when distributors make their own product. Having arrived into the target country foreign films have to be translated and translators start their difficult job. In a general sense, the translation project can be divided into two elements: “the translation of play script and film title” (Ying 2007:77). In my paper I aim at concentrating on the latter issue, however, translating the play script is also an essential and influencing job in the case of movies. When a new film is released, titles are always the first elements that the audience can recognise. In many cases, they can imply the genre of the movie and sometimes they give some hidden facts about the happening itself. “They give the audience various clues about the story” (Ying 2007:77). In most cases titles are concise and short. Sometimes they suggest the genre that the movie belongs to, but conciseness has more to do with other factors. For instance, there are titles representing the main character (or in rare cases the antagonist), the setting where the story takes place and even they can give a one-sentence-summary about the sum of the story.

Certainly it is not possible to convey all the information in a film with only a few words. But an impressive and expressive film title could be a highly artistic condensation of the content and theme of a film (Ying 2007:77).

Film titles also have psychological roles, too. The first impression is particularly important in the case of the audience. From a technical point of view, the most important purpose of film titles is to catch the audience’s attention. When we read a newspaper or walk next to a billboard, an effective title receives more appreciation.

Because for the audience who know nothing about a film or who are not familiar with the film, the title is the only thing that can draw the audience’s attention to the film and the foremost thing that would attract them to the cinema (Ying 2007:78).

In other words, we can say that titles have communicative function as well.

As Hungarian filmmaking is still in its infancy, influence of foreign films is bigger than most other countries. Hundreds of motion pictures are flowing into our country, most of them made in English. Before they are released in the cinema they have to be given a Hungarian equivalent of the original title. That’s the point where the translator’s task begins. However, methods they apply can produce shocking results sometimes. As I experienced, a new trend has emerged recently: employing such titles that can be extremely brilliant or extremely silly as well. Since young people are the foremost target in the case of movies, titles may concentrate on up-to-date, fashionable and striking issues. Occasionally, it has advantages and disadvantages but the latter one appears more commonly. In most cases translators apply such versions which have nothing to do with the original title but it sounds good in Hungarian language. In other cases titles are fully incorrect as far as grammar is concerned. In the main section of my paper I am purposed to show how these methods appear in a particular context and also concentrating on the different reasons which may explain why translators do these solutions.

In contrast, there are Hungarian equivalents which serve more effectively and usefully in the given context. In the main section of my thesis I will also deal with such cases when the translator made the movie more attractive with the help of the translation. I also present some particular cases when the original title is just simply untranslatable. It has some reasons why it is so. These “puns” may appear in English making the translator’s job more difficult. I am going to take some concepts into consideration such as “untranslatability”, language-specificity and culture-specificity.

In the case of Hungary, titles are excellently interpreting the story and the message of given motion picture. However, this is the rarer case. In most cases, Hungarian equivalents are distorted and they have nothing to do with the story or the characters themselves. These versions are mostly done for the purpose of attraction. Conversely, they can also be very ingenious and imaginative. I am focusing on both versions analysing them one by one from a translational point of view. It is obvious that I will not be able to answer all questions arising from film titles, however, this thesis can be a useful application for further research.

3. Theoretical background

For the sake of discovering and explaining processes translators apply, some theoretical explanations need to be revealed. If I want to find out the possible ways of rendition applied in film titles I have to take some principles and theories into consideration. These concepts are pivotal in the case of a translation process. I am going to examine how communication is peculiar in the case of translation, presenting the most important methods and approaches. I aim at clarifying how translation works and how it is manifested in a particular communication situation. What is communicated? More importantly, how it is communicated at all? With the purposes of this representation I would like to rely on the study of Vermes (2005, 2009) and Sperber and Wilson’s relevance theory (1986, 1995) not to speak about the ideas of Gutt (1991).

3.1. Translation in general

First of all, it is very important to mention that translation is not just a single action. Having been mentioned above, it is a process operating languages. According to Catford (1965:1),

translation is an operation performed on languages: a process of substituting a text in one language for a text into another. Clearly, then, any theory of translation must draw upon a theory of language.

Translation is rather a complex concept carrying several theories and ideas conveyed by different linguists. Defining translation varies widely among experts but what is clear is that “translation is the replacement of a representation of a text in one language by a representation of an equivalent text in a second language” (Bell 1991: 6). However, this story carries much more than just representation between two languages.

3.2. Translation as communication

When we encounter original texts and translated texts translation process can surely be considered as a process conveying information from one language into another. It is not just a factual approach. With the source text or/and the target text, something must be communicated between the two languages vice versa. As Gutt (1991:211) puts it: “Translation – in the primary sense- is an act of communication, more precisely, an act of interpretive use across language boundaries”.

3.2.1. Communication

As far as translation process is concerned we can make a distinction between the translator and the audience. Both the translator and the audience should be considered as two ways of conveying information through utterances.

Communication is a process informing two information-processing devices. One device modifies the physical environment of the other. As a result, the second device constructs representations similar to representations already stored in the first device (Sperber & Wilson 1995:1).

As Vermes (2009:87) puts it: “translation is more than just mere manipulation of language or linguistic utterances – it is a form of interlingual or, in a wider sense, intercultural communication”. There are a lot of things which can be communicated for instance attitudes, thoughts assumptions etc. but the way they are communicated is much more important. In the case of thoughts, emotional representations are out of the question and communication takes place through “conceptual representations”. As for assumptions, communication is concentrated on the individuals and their “representations of the actual world” (Sperber & Wilson 1995: 2).

Obviously, like all things, communication has a commonly accepted theory with which we can characterise it as a process and the way by which it actually happens. Sperber & Wilson (1995:4) refers to an ancient theory established by Aristotle and a more recent one introduced by Paul Grice and David Lewis. The former one is called the “code model” while the latter one is called the “inferential model”. Code model is based on messages and pairs them with signals

enabling two information – processing devices to communicate. A message is a representation internal to the communicating devices. A signal is a modification of the external environment which can be produced by one device and recognised by the other Sperber & Wilson (1995:4).

With the help of the so-called inferential model, communication is successful when the speaker produces and interprets evidence. Sperber & Wilson argues that these models can be put together and basically successful communication can be achieved by both methods. In order to define how communication process progresses, Shannon and Weaver (1949:1) introduced a diagram in which they differentiate several crucial elements of communication: “source, message, encoder, signal, channel, noise, received signal, decoder, received message and destination”.


As far as communication is concerned, the context is one of the most pivotal concepts and it is actually influential in utterance interpretation. “Context is a psychological construct, a subset of the hearer’s assumptions about the world” (Sperber & Wilson 1995: 15). If the speaker wants the hearer to understand her interpretation, a particular context must be given allowing that the communication situation is going to take place successfully. In other words “a mismatch between the context envisaged by the speaker and the one actually used by the hearer may result in a misunderstanding” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:16). In order to avoid such misunderstandings, speaker and hearer must share “mutual knowledge”. It is common knowledge and assumptions about the world possessed by communicators. If they do, communication may be a success. However, there is a question which cannot be solved: the speaker and the hearer may not be able to decide whether a particular knowledge is shared by both of them or it is “genuinely mutual” of one of the partners (Sperber & Wilson 1995:18). This kind of pragmatic approach is crucial in the case of communication.

If we want to examine what is actually communicated by speakers we should focus on the speaker’s intention. In other words, what is the purpose of communication? What is communicated? People would give simple answer to the first question: to make the hearer know about the information we want to say. It is generally true, but it is not just simple as that. Sperber & Wilson (1995:54) claim that during the process of communication we can speak about “informative intention” and “communicative intention”. Informative intention is when the speaker has the intention to inform the audience of something. Communicative intention is when the speaker has the intention to inform the audience of her “informative intention” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:29). If we want to give a relevant answer to the second question, we should generalise. It is widely accepted that actually the meaning is communicated. But there is no general view which would define this concept. What is known is there is a conjecture saying that “meaning is what is explicitly expressed by a linguistic utterance” (Sperber & Wilson 1995: 55). As Vermes (2005:16) pointed it out:

An assumption communicated by an utterance is explicit if and only if it is a development of a semantic representation encoded by the utterance. In the case of figurative or non-assertive utterances, of course, the propositional form of the utterance is not part of the intended interpretation, which consists of a set of implicitly communicated assumptions. These kinds of assumptions called implicatures.

Explicit communication is typical but it is rather limited in most cases.

3.3. Relevance

As far as communication is concerned, relevance theory is essential, and if we want to determine how the act of communication takes place, relevance has to be taken into consideration. It was Sperber & Wilson (1986) who did pioneer work in the field of relevance theory establishing a relevance-theoretic framework about communication and the act of this notion. It is said that the notion of contextual effect is pivotal to make communication situation comprehensive. It depends on the set of assumptions, those assumptions which have already been processed and many other things. In relevance theory, “an assumption is defined as a structured set of concepts” (Vermes 2005: 16).

If we want to characterise relevance, the notion of contextual effect is the most important one which has to be discovered. “An assumption is relevant in a context if, and only if, it has some contextual effect in that context” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:122). Evidently, sometimes it leads to a failure, and communication is not going to be successful. As Sperber & Wilson claims:

There are thus three types of case in which an assumption may lack contextual effects, and be irrelevant, in a context. In the first, the assumption may contribute new information, but this information does not connect up with any information present in the context. In the second, the assumption is already present in the context and its strength is unaffected by the newly presented information; this newly presented is therefore entirely uninformative and, a fortiori, irrelevant. In the third type of the case, the assumption is inconsistent with the context and is too weak to upset it; processing the assumption thus leaves the context unchanged (Sperber & Wilson 1995: 121).

But how the degree of relevance is achieved? In order to answer this question additional concepts must be introduced. One is processing effort. In the case of assessing the degree of relevance, two conditions can be determined:

The first one is that an assumption is relevant in a context to the extent that its contextual effects in this context are large. The second one is that an assumption is relevant in a context to the extent that the effort required to process it in this context is small (Sperber & Wilson 1995:124-5).

Consequently, we can ask the following question: How the context is determined? Is it determined at all?

Actually, “the context for the comprehension of a given utterance is not a matter of choice; at any given point in a verbal exchange, the context is seen as uniquely determined, as given” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:132). When the act of the utterance starts, the assumption is combined with the context given in the hearer’s mind. In other words, on the one hand, “the context for the comprehension of a given utterance is the set of assumptions explicitly expressed by preceding utterances in the same dialogue or discourse". On the other hand,

the context for comprehension contains not only all the assumptions explicitly expressed by preceding utterances in the discourse, but also all the implicatures of these utterances (Sperber & Wilson 1995:133).

If we aim at making the context comprehensive, “encyclopaedic entry” is also important. It means that during communication the hearer’s encyclopaedic entry is also peculiar in order to be successful during the act of communication. These hypotheses can be continued infinitely and this path might be wrong in the case of comprehensive context.

If the context included the whole of the hearer’s encyclopaedia, virtually any new information that the speaker could express would be relevant, since virtually any new information would have some contextual effects in such an enormous context (Sperber & Wilson 1995:137 italics as in original).

The fact that the context is determined, can lead to irrationality.

3.3.1. Ostension and inference

In the case of film titles the most important purpose is to catch the audience’s attention. In an ostensive-inferential communication situation the aim of the act is quite similar. During a particular communication situation an important question can arise: which assumptions the speaker does construct and process? These kind of unanswerable questions are quite common in communication theory. What is evident is that according to relevance theory the speaker has the intention to make some particular assumptions manifest to the hearer. In other words, “ostension means making manifest to the audience an intention to make something manifest” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:49).

Ostensive – inferential communication means that the communicator produces a stimulus which makes it mutually manifest to communicator and audience that the communicator intends, by means of this stimulus, to make manifest or more manifest to the audience a set of assumptions (Sperber & Wilson 1995:63).

Whereas ostensive-inferential communication can be used on its own, and sometimes is, coded communication is only used as a means of strengthening ostensive-inferential communication. [...] In any case, most human communication is intentional and it is intentional for two good reasons. The first is the one suggested by Grice: by producing direct evidence of one’s informative intention, one can convey a much wider range of information that can be conveyed by producing direct evidence for the basic information itself. The second reason humans have for communicating is to modify and extend the mutual cognitive environment they share with one another (Cutting 2005: 155).

3.3.2. The principle of relevance

If we want to explain how ostension works, we have to clarify what the principle of relevance is. If the ostensive communicator wants the communication to be successful, she has to attract the audience’s attention. According to Sperber & Wilson, an act of ostension is a request towards the audience:

It is manifest that an act of ostensive communication cannot achieve its effect unless the audience pays attention to the ostensive stimulus. It is manifest that people will pay attention to a phenomenon only if it seems relevant to them. It is manifest, then, that a communicator who produces an ostensive stimulus must intend it to seem relevant to her audience: that is, must intend to make it manifest to the audience that the stimulus is relevant. […] It is not merely manifest but mutually manifest that the communicator must intend the stimulus to seem relevant to the audience: that is, must intend it to be manifest to the audience that the stimulus is relevant. […] An ostensive communicator necessarily communicates that the stimulus she uses is relevant to the audience. In other words, an act of ostensive communication automatically communicates a presumption of relevance. (Sperber & Wilson 1995:156)

Sperber & Wilson (1995:157) distinguish two factors which are pivotal in the determination of the relevance of a stimulus. These are “the effort needed to process it optimally, and the cognitive effect this optimal processing achieves”. It is asserted that relevance is different as far as effect and effort are concerned. On the effect side,

the presumption is that the level of effects is achievable is never less than is needed to make the stimulus worth processing; on the effort side, it is that level of effort required is never more than is needed to achieve these effects (Sperber & Wilson 1995:157).

During the act of communication there are several different stimuli which would all make the communicator’s particular informative intention manifest. The communicator has to choose one of these stimuli. The level of relevance that will be presumed to exist takes into account the interest of both communicator and the audience. It is the level of optimal relevance. “Every act of ostensive communication communicates the presumption of its own optimal relevance” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:157-8).

As Vermes (2009:76-7) puts it:

by optimal relevance we shall mean that the processing of a stimulus leads to contextual effects that are worth the audience’s attention and, moreover, that it puts the audience to no unnecessary processing effort in achieving those effects. The most important thing is that an individual will only pay attention to a stimulus when he can expect that it will prove relevant to him. Thus, when a communicator produces a stimulus with the intention to convey a certain set of assumptions, she will have to, in a way, implicitly promise the audience that, on the one hand, the stimulus will lead to the desired effects and, on the other hand, it will not take more effort than is necessary for achieving these effects. This requirement is at the heart of ostensive-inferential communication and is called the principle of relevance.

On the contrary, communication is a risky business and sometimes it is completely unsuccessful. Sperber & Wilson (1995:159) claims that “when no satisfactory level of relevance is achieved, a more plausible assumption is that the communicator has tried to be optimally relevant, but failed”. On the other hand, there are differences between duration of the relevant phenomena. Sometimes they remain relevant for a long time or only for a moment.

It is sometimes more efficient – that is, conducive to greater overall relevance in the long run - to pay attention to a less relevant stimulus whose cognitive effects might be lost forever if it is not immediately processed, and to ignore some more relevant information which can as well be processed later on (Sperber & Wilson 1995:160).

A communicator who produces an ostensive stimulus is trying to fulfil two intentions: first, the informative intention to make manifest to her audience a set of assumptions; and second, the communicative intention, to make her informative intention mutually manifest. With ostensive communication, the intended communicative effect is the recognition of the informative intention. The stimulus has to make manifest, in the mutual cognitive environment of communicator and audience, other assumptions from which the informative intention can be inferred. First, it must be manifest that the stimulus is ostensive (Sperber & Wilson 1995:163).

If the communicator is mistaken in her presumption of reference, it will make the addressee’s task a little more effort consuming, and a little more liable to failure, but not essentially different, and certainly not impossible. To be consistent with the principle, an interpretation does not actually have to be optimally relevant to the addressee; it must merely have seemed so to the communicator (Sperber & Wilson 1995:169, italics as in original).

So what is the task of the addressee? Actually, he or she "construct possible interpretive hypotheses about the contents of" a set of assumptions the communicator intended to make manifest "and to choose the right one. In some cases, it is best carried out by listing all the possible hypotheses, comparing them, and choosing the best one." In other cases we should search for an initial hypothesis, testing it, and if it works, we should accept it (Sperber & Wilson 1995:165, italics as in original).

3.4. Cultural differences

In this section I aim at representing some cultural differences which can occur in the case of motion pictures. I would like to include some theories and views about the connection between culture and translation and then I am going to answer to the following questions: (1) What is the link between culture and translation? and (2) How do cultural differences influence the translation of film titles? More importantly, there is another question I am supposed to answer: In what sense Hungarian film titles differ from English ones and why? If I want to illustrate this point, I have to start with the basic features of the notion of culture.

3.4.1. Culture

In our global world, cultural awareness has a vital role in different peoples’ life. First of all, it has to be clarified what culture is. Definitely, it is a complex term: According to Vermes (2009:126) “culture can be defined as a set of assumptions mutually shared by a group of individuals”. Katan (1999:12-13) points out that the definition of culture is not a single task representing several types of approaches from the past. He also suggests that “defining culture is important; not as an academic exercise, but because the definition delimits how culture is perceived and taught”. As a matter of fact, the notion of culture can be defined with several approaches. It is an umbrella term implying many thoughts and beliefs. Katan (1999:13) tries to introduce two basic levels of culture: “external” and “internal”. On the external level, there are two subtypes: the first one includes different “behaviours” which means “language, gestures, customs/habits”, while the second one refers to “products” of “literature, folklore, art, music and artefacts”. The internal level is rather interesting: it contains “ideas” concerning “beliefs, values and institutions”. Katan also emphasises that it can be an initial consideration among the large number of different definitions relating to culture.

Multiple approaches and manifold definitions clearly show that the term “culture” is more than just a single word: It differs in every corner of the world, suggesting a lot of cultural differences. As Vermes (2009:126) puts it: “cultural differences are differences between the sets of mutually shared assumptions of different communities”. This implies that there are many fields of life where cultural differences can cause serious misunderstandings derived from the lack of cultural awareness. A group of individuals often shares assumptions present in their cognitive environment which are not present in an other group’s. In the next section I am going to deal with the fact that how cultural manifestations can be influential in a translation procedure.

3.4.2. Culture and translation

As I have already said, cultural differences are pivotal in the case of defining and outlining differences in the whole world. It is the same in translation as well. The translation task may become very difficult if such a cultural difference occurs during the translation process. In several cases, there are words or expressions which cannot be translated without a certain amount of loss in the translation. In texts which contain culture-specific expressions, there is a huge chance of translation loss. Translation loss is when a certain part of the given message cannot be transferred because of some factors. These factors can include style, structure or metalinguistic matters in the target language. It is known that translation loss is a necessary evil for translators, but in these cases translators should approach the translation procedure from a different point of view. They should be aware of the final purpose of the given translation project using such techniques with which translation loss(es) will be eliminated.


In several cases, when something cannot be interpreted in the target language, translators can use the technique of “compensation”.

Compensation is a technique which involves making up for the loss of a source text effect by recreating a similar effect in the target text through means that are specific to the target language and/or text (Baker: 1998:37).

The notion of compensation has four different types: “compensation in kind”, “compensation in place”, compensation by merging” and “compensation by splitting”. “Compensation in kind is where different linguistic devices are employed in the target text in order to re-create an effect in the source text”; compensation in place is where the effect in the target text is at a different place from that in the source; compensation by merging is where source text features are condensed in the target text; compensation by splitting is where the meaning of a source text word has to be expanded into a longer stretch of the target text” (Baker: 1998:38, italics as in original). Compensation has to be applied when translation losses occur due to “cultural untranslatability”. As Catford (1965:99) claims: “when a situational feature, functionally relevant for the source language text, is completely absent from the culture of which the target language is a part”. This may lead to cultural untranslatability. If we take English and Hungarian culture, there are huge differences in every field of life. The situation is the same in every culture and if a particular cultural assumption is not in the target audience’s “mutual cognitive environment” (Sperber & Wilson 1995:41), serious misunderstandings can be expected. As far as translation is concerned, we can speak about “secondary communication situation” (Gutt 1991:73) when the communicator and the target audience belong to different cultures. In a secondary communication situation, the translation of certain source language elements is more difficult. The technique of compensation helps to equate cultural differences or even to make the amount of translation loss lesser in a particular context.

As far as motion pictures are concerned, they belong to a particular culture; as a piece of art, it is a product representing attitudes and beliefs relating to assumptions shared by a group of individuals. Messages, customs or worldviews are often conveyed through a film: it signs a particular way of thinking showing the fact that how a certain group of individuals may carry different norms. In translation, translators are often faced with these differences and they actually have to make a pivotal decision. Back to compensation, there are cases when Hungarian translators compensate in the translation of film titles from English into Hungarian. If we take the Hungarian title 9/11 – A nap, amely megrengette a világot (English original: 9/11), the meaning of the original title is explicated by the Hungarian translator. It is a documentary film whose title is rather interesting: the meaning of the source text is expanded in the target text in order to avoid confusion in the target audience. Evidently, if the target audience is not aware of what happened on the eleventh of September 2001, this title is not going to carry any relevant information relating to the terrorist attack. The translator tries to compensate it through explicitation with the help of a separate sentence which implies that something bad happened at that time. There are some other cases when translation loss is clearly visible if we compare the original title with the translated one. If we take the example of Útmutató a világegyetemhez (English original: Pub Guide to the Universe), it is seen that in this case the translator has just simply omitted the word “pub” in the translation. It is a documentary TV show where the host and his friends discuss the possibilities of an intergalactic journey. They do small talk while they are drinking beer in a pub. In the Hungarian title, the translator has ignored the problematic word “pub” by completely missing it. With the help of “pub” it is easy to represent how cultural differences can occur between English and Hungarian. If we take “pub” and the Hungarian word “kocsma”, the two words have common features, however, there are other cases as well, when features show different values of the two words. Therefore, the translator faced with a “cross-linguistic” problem which made him/her make a decision. In this particular case, the translator left out a segment of the source text. As Vermes (2009:107) puts it: this procedure is called “omission”. A translation problem occurs if “the source text builds on a semantic feature that is absent from the meaning of the corresponding target language expression (Vermes: 2009:119). The translator has encountered a dilemma: he/she could not render the source language expression by using the Hungarian word “kocsma” in the target text because “pub” and “kocsma” have different features. In such a case, translators can use, on the one hand, the process of omission or, on the other, they can apply such synonymous expression whose semantic features correspond to the context. In this particular case, the translator has used the former method. If the translator had translated “pub” into “kocsma”, he would have ignored one of the major criteria of translation. Instead of this, he has taken a middle course. We can say that the notion of “pub” is culturally dependent and it cannot be rendered into Hungarian properly. It is a “culture-specific expression” where “culture specificity of an assumption means that the assumption figures in the mutual cognitive environment of one community but is not present in the mutual cognitive environment of another.” (Vermes 2009:103).

3.4.3. Reasons for the applications

If we take all this into consideration, a practical question can arise: What should the translators do when they encounter with such a cultural difference? First of all, the translators can turn to several different methods mentioned above: they can compensate in the translation or they can just use the procedure of omission. However, as I have already mentioned, methods used in translation heavily depend on who the motion picture’s target audience is.

When translators are about to carry a translation project, they have to see what is going on in the background. In the case of film titles this is even true. Evidently, a title of a drama or a biographical film will have been translated differently than a title of a comedy, for instance. While the former one may have a target audience from the middle-aged generation, the latter one may attract younger people. Therefore, during the translation process, translators have to be aware of the attitudes or beliefs of the above-mentioned generations. This kind of generation gap is very important when a film title is being translated. For example, comedies are often translated by using puns, idioms and slang expressions. On the contrary, dramas or biographical films usually contain neutral everyday expressions. For example let me take the Hungarian example A spanom csaja (English original: My Best Friend’s Girl). It is a comedy in which the protagonist wants his dream girl to be in love with him. Since this particular motion picture aims at attracting people from the younger generation, the title contains “buzz” words that are used among youngsters. This way of signing the film is very effective, because it draws the attention of the audience more easily. If we take the film called A nyughatatlan (English original: Walk The Line), the translator has chosen a more neutral expression in the translation. It is a biographical drama about the life of the famous American guitarist, Johnny Cash. Supposedly, the film is to attract middle-aged generation, therefore the Hungarian title does not contain any fashion words.

In the case of Hungarian film titles, “globalisation” or “americanisation” can also be a relevant factor. The second term is not so common yet, but the first is frequently used not only in art but in almost every field of life. As far as motion pictures are concerned, America is the biggest film producer and most of them come from Hollywood. The influence of the American market is enormous affecting Hungarian people’s life as well. American “buzz” words and expressions have become part of the standard language and they are used in film titles too, as I have mentioned. In the last century, it would have been unimaginable. In the case of old films, translators had tried to “Hungarianise” titles. However, today, several modern words and expressions occur in the Hungarian film titles in which translators try to preserve these words in the translation. These words may have nothing to do with the Hungarian language, but if they are preserved in the translation, they may be used in the same way as in the source language. In this way, there is a chance that they will appear colloquially.

If we concentrate on cultural differences, there are cases when translators try to preserve the core of the context, and on the other hand, there are cases when the main point of the context is completely altered. As Vermes (2009:107) puts it: in translation, we can distinguish two basic strategies: “domesticating” and “foreignising”. “A domesticating translation will typically alter, or even cancel out, assumptions which are absent from, or alien to, the target cultural context, thereby minimising the processing effort that the target reader needs to exert in interpreting the target text”. However,

a foreignising translation will aim at preserving such assumptions, thereby making it possible for the target reader to access the originally intended interpretation, even at the cost of a higher level of processing effort. Vermes (2004:92)

It means that although the level of processing effort will be higher, it is going to be compensated by the fact that contextual effects will also be increased. Vermes (2009:107) also claims that “domesticating” and “foreignising” will also be achieved by the use of the translation strategies mentioned in the next chapter. “Foreignising approach will significantly involve the use of total transfer, whereas a domesticating strategy will crucially involve zero transfer of source language expressions into the target language text”.

If we take the Hungarian example Plázapatkány (English original: Mallboy) it is seen that the translation contains an expression (“pláza”) which is relatively new in the Hungarian language. Firstly, “pláza” is a common word recently and the translator was aware of this, making the title more attractive. The translator did not use the proper Hungarian equivalent for “mall” which would be “bevásárlóközpont” in Hungarian. Instead, the translator applied an expression which has become standard in our language under the influence of English. It is rather fashionable among teenagers and this fact can be very important. Secondly, in this particular case, the Hungarian title is much better than the original one, because the translator used a very fashionable expression (“plázapatkány”). This is a relatively rare slang expression for a person who frequently attends malls. The translator was aware of the fact that this movie was probably made to attract young target audience and he/she has applied an expression which may frequently be used among youngsters. As I have already said, target audience is the most pivotal factor when a movie is being released. The original title is quite simple and if the translator had translated it literally (“bevásárlóközpontfiú”) it would not have been attractive to the target audience. On the other hand, there is no such expression as “bevásárlóközpontfiú” in Hungarian, therefore it would have been semantically incorrect as well. Instead of this, the translator has made an effective decision in the translation. In addition, the protagonist of the film is a notorious mall-goer, therefore the Hungarian title implicates the plot of the movie, too.

There is another tendency that I have already mentioned: if the original title is too simple or short, Hungarian translators tend to make it more attractive by using such informal or slang expressions which have nothing to do with the original one. Let me take the Hungarian Szesz, szex és szteksz (English original: Finding Amanda), which is a notable example of slang titles. The original title is not so effective although it gives some clues about the plot and one of the major characters. In the translation, “steksz” is a relatively rare slang expression of “money”. In my opinion, in this particular case, the translator was aware of the fact that it is actually a comedy film. On the other hand, the Hungarian title represents that the movie centers around this three notions (alcohol, sex and money). If the translator had translated the title literally (“megtalálni Amandát”) it would not have matched the genre of the film. In that case the audience would have believed that a kind of romantic story is implied by the title. However, the Hungarian translation is quite effective again indicating the genre of the film and more importantly, the rare slang expression may convince the audience that the film is worth watching. Here, I think the translator has made a good job in spite of the fact that the translation has nothing to do with the original.

All in all, we can say that there are several cases when Hungarian titles can be very effective and imaginative. This case usually happens when the original English title is so simple that it would not be attractive enough for the Hungarian audience. In these cases, the translators concentrate on the audience’s interest by using such methods as: including slang expressions, using idioms, using rhyming titles and using fashionable or “buzz” words. The influence of these “buzz” words is highly recognised especially among youngsters who are the primary target audience of motion pictures.

If we aim at analysing cultural differences between English and Hungarian film titles, we have to go a bit deeper. We cannot present differences without taking a closer look at the titles. As I have already mentioned, Hungarian film titles can be very effective and imaginative but sometimes they are quite distorted and semantically incorrect at the same time. Surely, there are some reasons in the background why it is so. There is a very specific example which happened in Hungary a few years ago. There was an action movie originally entitled The Way of the Gun. Before it was released in Hungary, a competition had been advertised in order to find a proper Hungarian title for the film. The winner was a rather strange idea: the Hungarian title of the film is Hullahegyek, fenegyerek (“stacks of corpses, daredevil”). In English, it does not make any sense, however, in Hungarian, on the one hand, it is rhyming and, on the other hand, the title is quite effective in drawing the audience’s attention. Again, if the translator had translated the English title literally (“a fegyver útja” or “a fegyver módja”), it may not have been attractive neither for the target audience nor for the producer. The main point is that producers are supposed to take several factors into consideration: demands of the audience, tendencies based on previous titles, statistics on the popularity of movies and its titles, the generation of the audience etc. What is important here, is that film industry is a huge business. Producers and translators have to be cautious and they are supposed to take advantage of any possibilities. The same situation happened in the case of an American thriller entitled Lord of War. In this case, the winning title was Fegyvernepper (“gun pusher”) which is quite strange again. The literal translation would have been the following: “a háború ura”. The main point here is that sometimes we cannot see what is going on in the background. In the previous two examples titles are not given by professional translators because the competition was open for everybody. More importantly, if somebody does not possess background information about the circumstances, titles will be shocking but effective at the same time. In Hungary, title-giving has very distinctive features and sometimes Hungarian producers prefer funny titles to simple ones. There are several companies where there is a group of people whose task is to find the most effective title before the releasement. In many cases, clever ideas are carried out, but sometimes there are mistakes as well.

There are several Hungarian distributors where there are so-called forbidden Hungarian words. It means that some distributors do not allow translators to apply certain words in the case of film titles. These words include “final” or “dangerous”. This forbiddance has been introduced because “final” or “dangerous” had been applied many times in Hungarian film titles therefore distributors rather ignore these expressions.

Another major point which is in connection with film titles is that English titles are usually simple and short. On the contrary, their translated counterparts are funny, clever and long. In Hungary, short titles are often lengthened while long titles are often shortened. If we take the example of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the Hungarian translation is entitled Férj és Férj (“husband and husband”). Conversely, if we take the American film entitled Sweet and Lowdown, it has been translated as A világ második legjobb gitárosa (“the world’s second best guitarist”).

There are some cases when the original producer of the film has a say in the matter of naming the movie. What is important here is that the translation of film titles is very distinctive in Hungary. There are several tendencies, methods and suitable ways by which a particular film can get a completely different title.

4. Analysis of the titles

In the final section of my paper I am at presenting the analysis and the results of my findings. As I have already pointed it out, in the case of film titles the translator has a vital role when a new movie is being released. As far as the translator is concerned, he/she cannot translate anything without treating the translation project with caution. Translating a film title from English into Hungarian is even more important issue emphasising that a film title creates a peculiar context in itself. However, this kind of context functions not only as a single word standing alone but it can carry information about the genre, the protagonist and in some cases about the plot of a particular movie. Genre can be an important factor in the case of Hungarian titles and later I aim at covering this topic in a detailed way. As I have already mentioned, it is also of utmost importance that the conditions of the translation process are clearly delineated. We have to take several factors into consideration: source language, target language, source language audience, target language audience and the context itself. Film titles play a communicative role between the source text and the target text where the situation of the communication process is pivotal. According to relevance theory, interpreting an utterance means when the audience infers the communicator’s intention. In other words “the audience must use the context envisaged by the communicator, other wise, the stimulus may be misinterpreted and the communication may fail” (Vermes 2005:17). This situation is called “primary communication situation” (Gutt 1991:76). When the audience uses a different context, it is called “secondary communication situation” (Gutt 1991:76). It is mainly occur in culturally different contexts where the difference is primarily based on culture-specific assumptions.

As far as translation is concerned, the most important requirement is that

the target text must faithfully represent the content of the source text […] and it must conform to the linguistic standards of the target language in terms of grammar, spelling, punctuation and norms of usage (Vermes 2009:14).

In other words, the target text must resemble the source text as closely as possible under the given conditions. In relevance theory, it can be put in the following way: the presumption of optimal resemblance means that

the translation should resemble the original in such a way that it provides adequate contextual effects and it should be formulated in such a manner that the intended interpretation can be recovered by the audience without undue processing effort” (Vermes 2005:17).

The basic requirement of translation theory is rather ignored in the case of film titles translated from English into Hungarian. Sometimes Hungarian target language equivalents have nothing to do with the original one so the first approach is not so useful in this particular situation.

4.1. Translation operations

In order to analyse what kind of methods are applied by translators, I would like to rely on four basic translation operations based on relevance theory. In other words, these “transfers” may represent how translators use different translation strategies in a particular translation project. A translation strategy is actually a plan of how the translation task is going to be fulfilled. The four operations will correspond to the notion of Sperber & Wilson’s relevance theory concentrating on the fact that how encyclopaedic and logical meanings of an expression will be conveyed in the translation.

4.1.1. Total transfer

As Vermes (2009:105) puts it, in the case of total transfer “both the relevant logical content and the encyclopaedic content of the original is preserved”. Therefore, it can be put in the following way: “[+L, +E]” where both alternatives are positive referring to the notion of logical and encyclopaedic preservation. This kind of operation is common in translation projects and actually we do not make changes during the process of translation. Total transfer can be achieved through the process called transference where target language texts have meanings of the source language. As Catford (1965:43) says:

transference is an operation in which the target language text, or, rather parts of the target language text, do have values set up in the source language: in other words, have source language meanings.

It may be easily said that total transfer is just a simple literal translation but it is not completely true. Sometimes it is, but there would be a secondary communication situation in which literal translation can cause encyclopaedic loss.

Total transfer is much used in the case of proper names or expressions which refer to places. If we take the Hungarian film title Michael Clayton (English original: Michael Clayton) it satisfies the requirements of transference. It is a drama whose title represents the protagonist of the movie who is a former district attorney facing the biggest challenge of his entire life. As it is a proper name, the Hungarian translator applied the process of transference without changing anything in the translation. The same case can be observed in the case of Brüno (English original: Brüno) where the Hungarian title is exactly the same as the original. It is a controversial comedy film in which the main character is an Austrian homosexual reporter going to the United States. Again, there is no difference between the original and the Hungarian title. There are some specific cases when a particular operation is combined with another one and I am going to deal with this topic in section 4.1.5. For instance, we can take the American thriller, Sin City – A bűn városa (“the city of crime”) for the English original Sin City. In this title, transference is combined with the process of translation proper that I am going to cover in chapter 4.1.2. In this case, the name of the town is given and it is complemented by an expression which may imply the plot of the movie. If we take all this into consideration, we can say that total transfer is a kind of literal translation, but there are some exceptional cases as well.

Total transfer is a common operation in the case of film titles where the source language expression is not changed in the target language. As Vermes (2009:105) defines: total transfer is when

we decide to incorporate the source language expression unchanged into the target language text because this makes possible the recovery in the target text of some assumptions, even though at the cost of an increased level of processing effort, which would not otherwise be accessible in the target cultural context.

There are several other examples of transference in Hungarian film titles: Avatar (English original: Avatar), Astro Boy (English original: Astro Boy), District 9 (English original: District 9), Star Trek (English original: Star Trek), Gran Torino (English original: Gran Torino), Frost/Nixon (English original: Frost/Nixon), Wall-E (English original: Wall-E), Hancock (English original: Hancock), Cloverfield (English original: Cloverfield), P.S. I Love You (English original: P.S. I Love You), Sicko (English original: Sicko), Mr. Brooks (English original: Mr. Brooks), Disturbia (English original: Disturbia), Candy (English original: Candy), Miss Potter (English original: Miss Potter), Alpha Dog (English original: Alpha Dog), Norbit (English original: Norbit), Rocky Balboa (English original: Rocky Balboa), Hollywoodland (English original: Hollywoodland), Apocalypto (English original: Apocalypto), World Trade Center (English original: World Trade Center), Zombieland (English original: Zombieland).

4.1.2. Logical transfer

If we take a closer look at the different film titles, it can easily be observed that methods vary widely. A useful translation operation can be the so-called “logical transfer” in which we use such target language expression that we find in the dictionary belonging to the source language expression. As Vermes (2009:105) puts it, in the case of logical transfer “only the relevant logical content of the original is preserved”. Therefore it can be put in the following way: “[+L, -E]” where it is clearly shown that only the logical component has positive sign. Logical transfer can be achieved through the process of “literal translation” or “translation proper” which means the rendition “of the logical content of an expression” (Vermes 2009:105, italics as in original). Logical transfer is frequently used when the reader achieves an encyclopaedic assumption, however, this achievement is only made through a larger amount of effort. In other words, “the source expression activates some relevant encyclopaedic assumptions which, however, cannot be preserved in the translation in an effort-effective way” (Vermes 2009:105). A notable example of logical transfer can be the Hungarian title A hercegnő és a béka (English original: The princess and the frog) in which “translation proper” is used for every element of the expression. According to Vermes (2005:21) translation proper is one of the most typical operations in Hungarian film titles:

The typicality of the application of translation proper should be no surprise, considering the following. As the aim of a translation, ideally, is to result in contextual effects which are identical, or at least very similar, to those produced by the source text, in an assumed primary (or near-primary) communication situation, where the originally intended contextual assumptions are recoverable, for this to happen only the logical content needs to be care of. This of course is only true if we presume that the title is meant to communicate something explicitly, through explicatures, in other words, when some of the analytic implications of this content are in fact assumptions intended to be communicated by the source communicator. (Vermes 2005:21)

On the other hand, there are some exceptional cases, when the translation does not activate the encyclopaedic assumption of the original. If we take Charlie Wilson háborúja (English original: Charlie Wilson’s War), the English title is literally translated into Hungarian, however, the target reader is not aware who Charlie Wilson is and why he is relevant in this particular context. In this respect, we can say that

some contextual effects may get lost in the translation. Such losses in translation are acceptable when the preservation of a contextual effect would require too much processing effort from the target reader (Vermes 2009:105).

The primary function of logical transfer is the preservation of logical content even if there can be a certain amount of encyclopaedic loss. In other words, translation proper is

rendering the source language expression by a target language expression which, by preserving the logical content of the original, gives rise to the same relevant analytic implications in the target text as the original did in the source text (Vermes 2009:105).

There are some other cases when logical transfer is applied in the Hungarian translation: Törvénytisztelő polgár (English original: Law Abiding Citizen), Az informátor! (English original: The Informant!), Az időutazó felesége (English original: The Time Traveler’s Wife), A csúf igazság (English original: The Ugly Truth), Két szerető (English original: Two Lovers), Közellenségek (English original: Public Enemies), Angyalok és démonok (English original: Angels and Demons).

4.1.3. Encyclopaedic transfer

During the translation process, there are several cases when the primary requirement of the translation project is just impossible to fulfil. In these instances, the translator has to face some difficulties and he/she must make a decision. As I have already said, logical and encyclopaedic meanings are pivotal in a given communication situation not to speak about the effort the audience should make. In several cases, the translator is required to optimise the processing effort that occurs in the translation.

In order to come up with a viable target text, translation may involve such methods that use the notion of replacement. According to relevance theory, there are some cases when only the encyclopaedic content of the source text is preserved. This situation is called “encyclopaedic transfer”. As Vermes (2009:105) says: “in encyclopaedic transfer only the relevant encyclopaedic content of the original is preserved”. In can be used in the following way: “[-L, +E]” where only the encyclopaedic component has positive sign referring to the encyclopaedic preservation. This transfer can be achieved by the process of “substitution”. During this process, the source text is replaced by a target expression which is in line with the notion of an encyclopaedic assumption, however, at the same time, the logical content is rather ignored in the translation. In other words: “the source language expression is replaced in the translation by a target language correspondent which is different in terms of logical content but carries with it encyclopaedic assumptions which are the same as, or similar to, those of the original” (Vermes 2009:106). According to the study of Vermes, substitution is usually used in the case of sequels in Hungarian film titles, and such cases in which the translator’s main purpose is to preserve an “implicated premise” (Vermes 2005:25). A notable example can be the Hungarian title Halálos iram (“deadly pace” for the original Fast and Furious) where the translator’s intention may have been to refer back to a previous movie called Halálos iramban (“in a deadly pace” for the original The Fast and the Furious). If we take Halálos iramban it would belong to another type of translation operation. In this case, neither the logical, nor the encyclopaedic content in preserved which will be called “zero transfer”. I aim at covering this topic in the following section. We would say that the translator has applied zero transfer in the case of Halálos iram, however, Halálos iram is the sequel of Halálos iramban where the connection is preserved between the two movies through the preservation of the encyclopaedic content. There are some other cases, when idioms or proverbs are used in the Hungarian target text. Again, the translator’s main purpose is to preserve the relevant premise, where the preservation is achieved through the substitution of the original source language expression with an idiomatic target language expression.

As I have already pointed it out, in the case of encyclopaedic transfer, the translator’s main purpose is to optimise processing effort. With the help of substitution a relevant contextual assumption is activated in the target language. As Vermes (2009:106) puts it:

in a relevance-theoretic framework we could say, that an expression that is substituted […] by directly activating relevant contextual assumptions in the target context, is the one that requires the least processing effort from the target audience and any other solution, increasing the amount of processing effort, would need to be justified by a substantial gain in contextual effects.

In Hungarian film titles, the process of substitution is quite common and there are several titles, especially in the case of sequels, which can be analysed with the process of encyclopaedic transfer: Átok 2. (English original: The Grudge 2.), Halálos iramban: Tokiói hajsza (English original: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), Horrorra akadva 4. (English original: Scary Movie 4.), X-Men – Az ellenállás vége (English original: X-Men – The Last Stand), Csúcsformában 3. (English original: Rush Hour 3.), A kaptár 3. – Teljes pusztulás (English original: Resident Evil: Extinction), A végső állomás 3D (English original: The Final Destination). The interesting point here, as I have mentioned, that if we had analysed the first part of these sequels, we would have classified them into other type of translation operations. However, examples mentioned above satisfy the requirements of the encyclopaedic transfer by preserving the encyclopaedic content.

4.1.4. Zero transfer

As I have already mentioned, in the case of Hungarian film titles, there are several instances, where the target text has nothing to do with the source text. Titles can be funny or ungrammatical and there are several cases when Hungarian translators apply untranslatable “puns” in the translation. In relevance-theoretic terms, it can be called “zero transfer”. As Vermes (2009:106) claims: “in zero transfer neither the logical content nor the encyclopaedic content of the original is preserved in the translation”. We can say that this is the most extreme case in translation but in Hungarian film titles it is the most common one. Zero transfer can be put in the following way: “[-L, -E)”, where both components have a negative sign. During this process, the meaning of the source language expression is heavily modified in the target text. It can be achieved through the process of “modification”. It “is the procedure of choosing for the source language expression a target language substitute which is semantically unrelated to the original” (Vermes: 2009:106). In other words, the source language expression is completely replaced by such a target language expression where both the encyclopaedic and the logical content are altered. It is a twofold operation: on the one hand, it “aims at minimising processing effort” (Vermes 2005:18) but, on the other hand, there is a loss of some contextual effects.

As far as modification is concerned, it is not by chance that Hungarian film titles carry several semantically modified meanings in their context. As I have already pointed it out the most important purpose of film titles is to draw the attention of the audience. In a relevance theoretic approach, a film title must resemble the original in such a way that the audience infers that the given movie is worth watching. As Vermes (2005:22) puts it:

in a secondary communication situation, where the target audience’s cognitive environment, being different from that of the source audience, does not make it possible to reconstruct the originally intended context or when this would require too much processing effort, it does make sense to aim to ensure that the translation is relevant in the same way as the original.

In other words, in such cases translators apply such translations that are relevant differently.

In Hungarian film titles, untranslatable “puns” are frequently used. If we take the Hungarian title Erőszakik (untranslatable pun: violence + workfellows) for the English original In Bruges, it is clearly seen that the Hungarian title has nothing to do with the original. However, we can say that the Hungarian title is quite imaginative and gives clues about the fact that something violent to be expected in the film. This movie takes place in the Belgian city, Bruges, therefore the original title is also relevant as far as the setting of the story is concerned. Untranslatable puns can work in the opposite direction as well. There are some cases, when the source language expression is just simply untranslatable into the target language. A notable example can be the Hungarian title Spíler (English original: RocknRolla) where the source language expression is impossible to translate without a certain amount of loss. Another strange example can be the Hungarian title Ki a fasza gyerek? (English original: The Man), where the translator has applied a slang expression in the target text. In the source expression there are not any pejorative expressions, in addition, the English title is a very simple expression. The Hungarian translator must have wanted to apply such a method which surely draws the audience’s attention. In a way, it can be a proper choice, because if the original title had been literally translated (“A férfi”), the target audience would not have been interested in this motion picture. Instead of this, the title may “shock” the reader in the right sense therefore the title’s main requirement is fulfilled.

In Hungarian film titles there is another type of modification: the combination of two or more words. The following examples will illustrate this point: Spancserek (untranslatable pun: “bro+ flounderers”) for the English original: I Love You, Man, Négybalkéz (“four left hands”) for the English original: What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

In several cases, Hungarian translators use distorted idioms, proverbs or sayings for titles. These expressions do not make sense, but they often funny or humorous therefore they draw the attention of the audience. For example: Míg a jackpot el nem választ (“until the jackpot detaches”) for the English original: What happens in Vegas. In Hungarian film titles there are a lot of instances of zero transfer and it is the most common translation operation. Further examples: Szerelmünk lapjai (English original: The Notebook), Szex telefonhívásra (English original: Deception), Szívem csücskei (English original: Fever Pitch), Szüzet szüntess (English original: The Girl Next Door), Taplógáz (English original: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), Túl a barátságon (English original: Brokeback Mountain), Vágta (English original: Seabiscuit), A család kicsi kincse (English original: Little Miss Sunshine), Anyámon a tanárom (English original: Mr. Woodcock), Gyilkos felvonó (English original: Down), Szesz, szex és steksz (English original: Finding Amanda), Gyilkosság online (English original: Untraceable), A fiók (English original: The Jacket), A kabalapasi (English original: Good Luck Chuck).

4.1.5. Combined translation operations

In Hungarian film titles there are several cases when translators combine translation operations for different reasons. One reason can be the fact that sometimes the title itself is too short or too little to interpret it properly. In these cases, translators apply the so-called explicitation. As Vermes (2009:106) puts it: “explicitation is the procedure of making explicit in the target text an assumption which is only implied by the source text”. If we take the Hungarian example Fame – Hírnév (English original: Fame), we can say that the logical content of the source language expression is explicated by the second expression in the Hungarian title. In this particular situation the process of “transference” is combined with the process of “translation proper”.

There are some other cases when combined translation operations are used to imply the setting or the plot of the movie. In the Hungarian example Speed Racer – Totál Turbó (English original: Speed Racer) we may get some indications which show some clues referring to the plot. In this particular case, we can speak about the combination of “transference” and “modification”. Another examples: “translation proper” + “substitution”: Amerikai pite 5. – Pucér maraton (English original: American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile), “translation proper” + “modification”: A maszk 2. – A maszk fia (English original: Son of the Mask).

4.2. Genre

As far as film titles are concerned, genre can also be a relevant factor and in my thesis, it is one of the most important parts. It is interesting to see how translation operations are applied according to genres. Sometimes a particular film title creates a context which may give implications about the genre of the movie. According to Vermes (2009:63) “genre is a loose set of criteria that define a category of literary composition”. In his study, Vermes (2005:23) pointed it out that there are differences between “ways of giving titles in English and Hungarian”. He points out that the most common translation operations were modification and translation proper (2005:20). Vermes analysed 135 films in which modification occurred 42 times while translation proper was applied in 39 cases. As the study shows, “transference” is the most frequent method in Hungarian titles of dramas while in the case of comedies, translators often use “modification” with untranslatable puns and distorted idioms. As far as my analysis is concerned, there are differences and similarities as well. Vermes included movies which were released in 2005, while my analysis concentrates on films released after 2005 with some exceptions.


Table 1. Number of occurrences of translation operations in the different genres (see also Appendix)



Trans-lation Proper



Trans-ference + Trans-lation Proper

Trans-ference + Modifi-cation

Trans-lation Proper + Subti-tution

Trans-lation Proper + Modifi-cation



























































































As my results show, transference and modification are the most frequent methods with 23 and 20 occurrences. Translation proper and substitution are almost on the same level with 9 and 8 occurrences. As far as combined translation operations are concerned, numbers are not as significant as they are in the case of single translation operations. The combination of transference and translation proper occurred in 2 titles while the other combinations (transference + modification; translation proper + substitution; translation proper + modification) are used only in one title one by one. It differs from Vermes’s findings but as far as the most frequent genres are concerned, it is very similar to his study: transference is frequently used in dramas (6 occurences), while modification is applied in the case of comedies (11 occurrences). In my analysis, why does transference occur in the most number of titles? It is difficult to give a relevant answer, but it may be in connection with the notion of globalisation or americanisation. As I have already mentioned, several foreign words are flowing into our country influencing our culture, attitudes and way of thinking. Transference is when the translator does not make changes during the translation process. There are several cases when an English title containing foreign words is rendered without any alteration. With the help of transference, these words are applied in Hungarian context as well encouraging people to use these expressions frequently.

The main purpose of film titles is to draw the attention of the audience and comedies are often labelled with funny or humorous expressions. It is also observed that English titles prefer explicatures where film titles are given to communicate explicitly. On the contrary, Hungarian film titles frequently use implicatures where the communicative function of the title is rather implied in a particular context. Evidently, this difference is primarily based on cultural differences. “Genres are formed by sets of conventions in a culture” (Vermes 2009:63).

5. Conclusions

I have introduced four basic translation operations which are in line with relevance theory. With the help of these operations we can analyse how titles are rendered concentrating on the relevant logical and encyclopaedic content. The process of total transfer is a kind of literal translation where both the logical and the encyclopaedic content are preserved. In this case, the translator does not change anything in the target text. According to my analysis, this method is the most frequent one in the titles examined here. Logical transfer refers to cases where only the logical content is preserved during the translation. It can be achieved if the translator employs the dictionary equivalent of the source language expression in the target text. Encyclopaedic transfer refers to source language expressions which are translated by preserving only the encyclopaedic content in the target language. The last operation is called zero transfer, in which neither the logical nor the encyclopaedic content of the original is preserved. As my results show, zero transfer is very common in the case of film titles, especially in comedies.

When a new movie is being released, the task of the translator begins. Translators face with a particular translation project and they have to make decisions. These multiple decisions concern several factors. When they fulfil a translation project, they have to be cautious and they have to take some points into consideration: semantic features of titles or the demand of the target audience. The latter is one is particularly essential because motion pictures target young generations recently. As I have mentioned several times, translators should see behind the scenes: Which genre does the film belong to? Which generation will watch the film? How the title can be more attractive to this particular generation? These questions will have to be included during the translation project. As the influence of the mass media has become very common in our life, it is interesting to discover the behaviour of film titles. Hundreds of motion pictures are released in our country and translators are expected to fulfil several translation projects. It is very interesting to see what kind of methods translators apply in the case of Hungarian film titles. It is of utmost importance that the translation should faithfully represent the content of the original. However, as we have seen, in the case of film titles, the basic requirement of translation is not necessarily fulfilled. With the help of relevance theory, I have mentioned some methods and operations which are quite common in Hungarian titles. If we approach this topic from a cultural point of view it is clearly seen that there are cultural differences. If a cultural difference occurs during the translation project, the translator’s job will be more difficult. There are some texts where translation loss is unavoidable. The given message of the source text cannot be transferred into the target text because of some factors. In this case, the translator can apply the technique of compensation or omission. Such kind of translation problems can occur in Hungarian titles where the translator often encounters a dilemma. The translator will be supposed to take some points into account and do the translation job according to these factors. There are also some tendencies which are used in Hungarian translations. Due to the influence of globalisation or americanisation, translators often involve fashionable or buzz expressions in the translation. With the process of domestication and foreignisaton translators often cancel out or preserve assumptions which are absent from the target cultural context. Domesticating translation had been quite common in Hungary but nowadays translators are influenced by the flow of foreign expressions. As a result of this they prefer foreignisation to domestication. Instead of hungarianising the titles, foreignising translation is very fashionable nowadays using modern and youngish expressions in the translation. On the other hand, there are some cases when a long title is shortened or a short title is lengthened in the translation.

The main point here is that if we want to analyse the methods of translation applied in the case of film titles, we have to be aware of several pieces of background information. We have to be familiar with the translator’s intention and how he/she is expected to fulfil the translation project. Several factors can be involved: the distributor’s intention, the translator’s intention, the target audience of the film and genre. Genre is an important component and in the future, I plan to continue this research concentrating on the different movie genres and how translation operations are applied with the different genres.



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Bell, R. T. 1991. Translation and Translating. London: Longman.

Catford, J. C. 1965. A Linguistic Theory of Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cutting, J. 2005. Pragmatics and Discourse: A Resource Book for Students. London: Routledge.

Gutt, E-A. 1991. Translation and Relevance. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Katan, D. 1999. Translating Cultures. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Shannon, C. and Weaver, W. 1949. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Sperber, D. and Wilson, D. 1995. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Vermes, A. P. 2004. Culture in Translation. Eger Journal of English Studies IV. 85-99.

Vermes, A. P. 2009. Basics of Translation Theory and Practice. The Conceptual Foundations of Translation as Communication. Eger: Líceum Kiadó.

Vermes, A. P. 2005. How does Shanghai become London in Hungarian? A Case Study of Film Titles in Translation. Eger Journal of English Studies. Vol. 5. 15-40.

Vermes, A. P. 2009. The Process of Translation. A Course in the Practice of Translation from English into Hungarian. Eger: Líceum Kiadó.

Yin, L. 2009. On the Translation of English Movie Titles. Asian Social Science, 5 (3), 171-173.

Ying, P. 2007. Translation of Film Titles with the Application of Peter Newmark’s Translation Theory. Sino-US English Teaching 4(4): 77-81.



Transference (23)

Alpha Dog ⇒ Alpha Dog (Crime)

Astro Boy ⇒ Astro Boy (Animation)

Avatar ⇒ Avatar (Sci-fi)

Brüno ⇒ Brüno (Comedy)

Candy ⇒ Candy (Drama)

Cloverfield ⇒ Cloverfield (Action)

District 9 ⇒ District 9 (Sci-fi)

Disturbia ⇒ Disturbia (Thriller)

Frost/Nixon ⇒ Frost/Nixon (Drama)

Gran Torino ⇒ Gran Torino (Drama)

Hancock ⇒ Hancock (Action)

Hollywoodland ⇒ Hollywoodland (Crime)

Michael Clayton ⇒ Michael Clayton (Drama)

Miss Potter ⇒ Miss Potter (Drama)

Mr. Brooks ⇒ Mr. Brooks (Thriller)

Norbit ⇒ Norbit (Comedy)

P.S. I Love You ⇒ P.S. I Love You (Comedy)

Rocky Balboa ⇒ Rocky Balboa (Action)

Sicko ⇒ Sicko (Documentary)

Star Trek ⇒ Star Trek (Sci-fi)

Wall-E ⇒ Wall-E (Animation)

World Trade Center ⇒ World Trade Center (Drama)

Zombieland ⇒ Zombieland (Horror)


Translation proper (9)

Angels & Demons ⇒ Angyalok és démonok (Thriller)

Charlie Wilson’s War ⇒ Charlie Wilson háborúja (Comedy)

Law Abiding Citizen ⇒ Törvénytisztelő polgár (Drama)

Public Enemies ⇒ Közellenségek (Crime)

The Informant! ⇒ Az informátor! (Comedy)

The Princess and the Frog ⇒ A hercegnő és a béka (Animation)

The Time Traveler’s Wife ⇒ Az időutazó felesége (Drama)

The Ugly Truth ⇒ A csúf igazság (Comedy)

Two Lovers ⇒ Két szerető (Drama)


Substitution (8)

Fast and Furious ⇒ Halálos iram (Action)

Resident Evil: Extinction ⇒ A kaptár 3. – Teljes pusztulás (Action)

Rush Hour 3 ⇒ Csúcsformában 3. (Action)

Scary Movie 4 ⇒ Horrorra akadva 4. (Comedy)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift ⇒ Halálos iramban: Tokiói hajsza (Action)

The Final Destination ⇒ A végső állomás (Horror)

The Grudge 2 ⇒ Átok 2 (Horror)

X-Men – The Last Stand ⇒ X-Men – Az ellenállás vége (Action)


Modification (20)

Brokeback Mountain ⇒ Túl a barátságon (Drama)

Deception ⇒ Szex telefonhívásra (Drama)

Down ⇒ Gyilkos felvonó (Thriller)

Fever Pitch ⇒ Szívem csücskei (Comedy)

Finding Amanda ⇒ Szesz, szex és steksz (Comedy)

Good Luck Chuck ⇒ A kabalapasi (Comedy)

I Love You (Man ⇒ Spancserek (Comedy)

Little Miss Sunshine ⇒ A család kicsi kincse (Comedy)

Mr. Woodcock ⇒ Anyámon a tanárom (Comedy)

RocknRolla ⇒ Spíler (Action)

Seabiscuit ⇒ Vágta (Drama)

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby ⇒ Taplógáz (Comedy)

The Fast and the Furious ⇒ Halálos iramban (Action)

The Girl Next Door ⇒ Szüzet szüntess (Comedy)

The Jacket ⇒ A fiók (Thriller)

The Man ⇒ Ki a faszagyerek? (Comedy)

The Notebook ⇒ Szerelmünk lapjai (Drama)

Untraceable ⇒ Gyilkosság online (Thriller)

What Happens in Vegas ⇒ Míg a jackpot el nem választ (Comedy)

What's the Worst That Could Happen? ⇒ Négybalkéz (Comedy)


Transference + Translation proper (2)

Fame ⇒ Fame – Hírnév (Drama)

Sin City ⇒ Sin City – A bűn városa (Action)


Transference + Modification (1)

Speed Racer ⇒ Speed Racer – Totál Turbó (Action)


Translation proper + Substitution (1)

American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile ⇒ Amerikai pite 5. – Pucér marathon (Comedy)


Translation proper + Modification (1)

Son of the Mask ⇒ A maszk 2. – A maszk fia (Comedy)



Kulcsszavak: Angol filmcímek fordítása, angol filmcímek magyarul, filmcímfordítás, angol filmcímek magyarra fordítása
Schlüsselwörter: Filmtitelübersetzung, Übersetzung von Filmtiteln, Filmtitelübersetzungen, Filmtitel-Übersetzungen
Keywords: translation of movie titles, English movie titles, titles lost in translation, movie title translations, film title translations, translation of film titles


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