Translating Italian into Italian | A Case Study: The Italian dubbing of The Simpsons | January 2017 | Translation Journal

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Translating Italian into Italian | A Case Study: The Italian dubbing of The Simpsons


An audiovisual text is a multisemiotic system in which different codes operate simultaneously in the production of meaning: written code, oral code and visual code have to be recreated in the target language provided that they respect the limitations imposed by the visual constraints (the space limits on the screen in case of subtitling or synchronization). The impossibility of making use of the most common translation aids (footnotes, glossaries etc.), the political, social and economic powers influencing the rewriting process, synchronization issues and the function of a text are relevant factors to be dealt with especially when audiovisual products are humorous.

Through a descriptive approach, the present paper focuses on the strategies that the Italian translators of The Simpsons have adopted for dealing with the so-called third language (Chaume, 2012: 132) in two selected episodes, namely The Last of the Red Hat Mamas (GABF22, episode n° 7, 17th series), and The Italian Bob(HABF02, episode n° 8, 17th series). The contrastive analysis of the two episodes proposed here will offer evidence of the connotations the dubbing has taken into consideration in order to appeal to the new audience and make distinction between the target language and the Italian of the original.

1. The Simpsons: Humour and Stereotypes

The American cartoon, broadcast for the first time in the USA in 1989, with its autoreferential and allusive narrative construction, which blends high and low culture, intertextual and hypertextual travels, quotations, parody, hyperrealism, hyperirony, pastiche and satire, is known in the world as one of the most intelligent and creative examples of postmodern art. (Turner, 2004). Notwithstanding the numerous references to pop culture, American history and politics, the success of the Simpson family lies in its universality, linguistically emphasised by the total lack of diatopic and diastratic variations in the idiolects of its members[1]. The linguistic styles of all the family members are reproduced (under the strict supervision of the producers of the show) almost identically all over the world; they speak without an accent because they represent any American family[2]. In fact, Springfield[3], the omnitopia where the family lives, has a fluctuating and unknown position that is not easily recognisable by a corresponding accent. Therefore, others are the features of speech (mainly suprasegmental traits) expressing our protagonists' personalities. For instance, Homer's pharyngeal dumb voice and slow speech rate perfectly convey his rather limited intelligence. Marge, instead, is often and understandably nervous and frustrated, and her hoarse voice transfers successfully across languages her harassed condition (Armstrong, 2004: 106-107).

In addition to the main family characters, The Simpsons boasts a high number of minor characters who ensure the longevity of the show by providing infinite cues for the development of alternative narratives. Most of these secondary characters are references to real or fictional characters developed from already established stereotypes and represented through their national, racial and ethnic characteristics, which usually trigger recurrent jokes.

The cartoon’s oversimplistic portrayal of “otherness”, far from being offensive, works as a satirical comment on the insular nature of American society[4]. According to Duncan Beard, The Simpsons is “oppositional because of its ironic use of pre-existing mass-media stereotypes precisely in order to destabilize them.”(2004: 273). And satire permeates the streets of Springfield itself, where

Absurdly broad stereotypes coexist with the town's more realistic details. This is a town, after all, whose Irish inhabitants are essentially leprechauns and whose Italian restaurant is run by a fellow named Luigi who is, if anything, a broader stereotype than Chef Boyardee (Turner, 2004: 326)

As Teer-Tomaselli points out, humour depends on identity: character types such as the headmaster, the Indian-born proprietor of the convenient store, the Italian restaurant owner, the clerk with the pimpled face, the nerd and so on, are extremely funny because they are part of our collective imagination, and, consequently, immediately recognisable to the audience (1994: 54). The fact that the conventional characters of the show are immediately recognisable to the American audience as consciously intended stereotypes, constitutes their very possibility to function as a kind of Brechtian TV show, preventing its viewers from identifying with the characters so that they can continue to evaluate the ideological content on the screen (Wallace 2008: 268-269).

The show's hatred for authority, capitalism and politics is evident from the way in which the characters who symbolize these powers are linguistically represented. Mr Burns,the local tycoon and symbol of unscrupulous capitalism, is the typical villain. His wickedness is indexed by an upper-class US New England accent. The authors have resorted to an Anglicised Bostonian hyperlect[5], which purposely recalls the speech of John F. Kennedy or the clan members in general, to voice Womanizer Mayor Quimby, who symbolizes the corrupt and cunning political class (Armstrong, 2004: 104). Villainous Sideshow Bob, Bart's sophisticated nemesis, also speaks with a British accent[6]. The use of a dialect to typify a social class in adaptation is a very economical and dangerous device that immediately conjures up certain connotations associated with a particular social class or ethnicity. It inevitably poses serious translating problems in that the connotations of an accent or dialect vary from countries to countries. For instance, the Italian perception of the aforementioned Anglicized accent representing Sideshow Bob, Burns and Quimby as negative characters, is not as detrimental as to the American audience. On the contrary, the accent bestows such a sense of elegance, refinement and accuracy that the Italian dubbers had to draw on highbrow register and old-fashioned and affected expressions to instill the same feeling in the Italian audience.

1. 2 Italian Dubbing

Every nation, when selecting its own translating approach to the text (dubbing, subtitling or no translation at all), is claiming its own cultural discourse and deciding whether to accept the intrinsic elements of the original discourse, or to build on them a completely new kind of discourse[7]. When adapted, a movie ceases to be “foreign” [8] and becomes part of a nation polysystem where characters are uttering an appropriated, manipulated and recreated new text (1997: 33-40)[9]. Among the external forces influencing the multi-step process of translation, the function and genre of an audiovisual text are probably some of the most relevant factors to be taken into account.

For instance, given the widely recognised difficulty of transposing marked varieties, a very common technique in dubbing consists in bridging the linguistic gap between characters and in flattening these varieties towards a standard. Linguistic cleaning, standardization and neutralization are usually preferred to non-standard varieties. As Taylor (2006: 39) points out, film dubbing often signals a shift from the more specific to the more generic “in that lexis, terminology and expressions specific to regional and social varieties need to be generalised in order to guarantee comprehension over wide geographical and social divides”[10].

However, certain genres, such as comedy and light-hearted films, seem to resist standardization by drawing on linguistic variations with a clear entertaining function (Chiaro: 2010). Very often, comic effects are obtained by locative means (culture-bound references, regional dialects and accents) that make people laugh by establishing certain interpersonal relationships[11].

In that eventuality, the language used does not mirror linguistic varieties effectively spoken, but it is a conventional language that abundantly exploits clichés and stereotypes with respect to cinematic tradition (Pavesi, 2005: 38). Moreover, as Ferrari points out, the adaptation of the locative function in a new national context and perspective, may allow a specific and cultural sense of humour (based on traditional stereotypes and national idiosyncrasies) to be explored, reinforced and easily recognised by the target audience. One strinking example is The Italian dubbing of The Nanny, an American television sitcom whose protagonist, a Jewish Queens native, casually becomes the nanny of three children from the New York/British upper class. La Tata represents a very unique case study “in that the adaptation drastically changes the originally US stereotypes and re-constructs the ethnic and linguistic elements in a new “all-Italian” light, modifying culturally specific situations into a new set of national jokes and ironies” (2006: 131)[12].

The Italian translation of The Simpsonsalso follows the trend by relocating most of the cultural allusions to a new national context, and re-territorializing the characters according to domestic stereotypes while the scene is still set in Springfield. The fact that Italian audience not only has tolerated this incongruity, but also has warmly welcomed the show, is representative of what Italian people think is humorous. While the original US voiceovers tend to play more with the tone of the characters' voices that often sound like famous actors’, Italian humour has been exploiting regional accents and dialects since the Commedia dell' Arte (Baccolini et Al., 1994: 67-68). Its grotesque characters, wearing masks and speaking dialects from different Italian areas, still represent a source for humour that appeals to Italian viewers and readers.[13]For instance, the choice of a Sardinian stereotype for Groundskeeper Willie, a surly character, whose Scottishness is underlined by both his appearance (he often wears a kilt) and his accent, was due to the completely different connotation that the Scottish stereotype has in Italy. Extraordinarily, Scottish and Sardinian share certain surprising prosodic isoglosses and are both perceived as harsh and incomprehensible to the rest of the community in which they are used. (Ferrari, 2010: 114-118).

As a further confirmation of the strong Italian appreciation for dialects, the idiolects of two minor characters speaking American English, Reverend Lovejoy and Police Chief Clancy Wiggum (in Italian Clancy Winchester), have been recreated according to the Italian stereotype of churchmen and policemen as Southerners (Reverend Lovejoy has a Calabrian accent and Wiggum/Winchester a Neapolitan one). However, other times stereotypes are subverted. For example, Otto Disc (in English Otto Mann), the school bus driver, whose original voice is distorted by cannabis assumption, contradicts the connotation associated with a Milanese accent[14] and Carl Carlson, Homer's colleague at the nuclear plant, displays a strong Venetian accent that “clashes” with his African-American appearance.[15]

The Italian dubbed version plays with stereotypes quite often reaffirming them, as in the case of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian proprietor of the 24 hour-convenience store who, in the source audiovisual text, speaks proper English with a marked Indian accent. His Italian complies with the stereotypical perception that Italian people have of immigrants speaking Italian: a scrambled syntax[16], many grammatical errors, a strong accent and a singsong intonation mark him as the typical immigrant who will never really master the national language (Ferrari, 2010: 120-121).  In the table below, a Chinese woman’s perfect English (with a slight Chinese accent in the original) becomes nationally enjoyable (to the Italian audience) for its inability to distinguish between “l” and “r”:

Chinese woman: «Well done blowing our tea, Marge...That's the last refrigerator calendar magnet you get from me! » (The Red Hat Mamas).

Chinese woman: «Bel modo di falci saltale il tè Malge...Quello è l'ultimo calendalio magnetico da fligo che licevelai da me!» (Le allegre comari di Rossor).

Foreigners and Southerners (Sicilians in particular) share the same linguistic representation: the historical inequalities between Northern and Southern Italy have imbued comical and stereotypical representations of Southerners as ignorant, crooks and unable to master their “second language”, Italian. Mastering the national language represents a watershed in cultural and national identity and the only key to integration. It is not by chance that the stereotypical depiction of “others” passes through their incapacity of speaking proper Italian without regional expressions and inflections. This linguistic issue perpetuates the idea of the inferiority of immigrants and Southern Italians as compared respectively to native and Northerner Italians. The episode titled Trilogy of Error (CABF14, 18th episode, 12th series) provides a pertinent example. In the extract, Linguo, the grammar-correcting robot that Lisa has created for the school science fair, falls into Springfield gangsters' hands:

Louie: Hey! They's throwing robots!

Louie: Mmi chisti stannu tirannu robbò!

Linguo: They *are* throwing robots.

Linguo: Costoro stanno tirando robot.

Legs: He's disrespecting us. (to Linguo) Shut up you face!

Lupara: Non ci porta rispetto. A zittiti scarrafò!

Linguo: Shut up *your* face.

Linguo: Sta' zitto scarafaggio.

Legs: Whassamatta, you?

Lupara: Chi ti credi d'esse?

Louie: You ain't so big.

Louie: Sei solo un pidocchio

Legs: Me and him are going to whack you in the labonzza!

Lupara: Io e Louie ti scocozziamo il capozzone!

Linguo: Bad ... bad grammar overload -- error, error!

Linguo: A-um a-aum a-um sovraccarico pessima grammatica errore errore errore erroreee

The scene of the explosion (the robot explodes because of the gangsters’ bad grammar) celebrates Italian-Americans’ and Sicilians’ linguistic incompetence and “foreignness”. The association between Italian-American accent and Sicilian dialect relies on the fact that both variations divert from the standard conjuring up a very similar negative connotation.

1.3 Translating Italian into Italian

Specific regional and local expressions often represent a hard obstacle to deal with in terms of translation. The issue becomes even more complicated when an audiovisual text contains dialogues in the so-called third language, the first language being the main language of the original, and the second language the dubbing language (Chaume, 2012: 132). The contrastive analysis of the two episodes proposed here will offer evidence of the connotations the adaptation takes into consideration and applies in order to appeal to the new audience and make distinction between the target language and the Italian of the original.

The first episode analysed is The Red Hat Mamas[17]. It offers several examples of how deeply rooted the stereotypes depicting Italian-Americans as mobsters are, and contains a pseudo-realistic Italian as the third language:

Audio tape to learn Italian: «Voglio affittare una barca piccola. I want to rent a small boat».

Cassetta: «Chista è na cassetta ppe primi storie de fatti vecchi. Arripieti ccu mmia.»

Lisa: «Voglio affittare una barca piccola.»

Lisa: «Questa è la tua cassetta per la prima lezione di storia antica, ripeti.»

Audio tape: «Prosgetto di scaricare chesto corpo nell'osceàno».

«I plan to dump this body in the ocean». (she  finds out that the cover of the audio tape reads Italian for Italian-American)

«Chesto è chello che prendi per fare domande! This is what you get for asking questions! » (gunshots) (The Red Hat Mamas).

Cassetta: «Cu fu ca ammazzau du gran figghiu di Giulio Cesari?»

«Fu nu cunnutazzu» (she finds out that the cover of the audio tape reads Storia per Italo-Americani)

«Accussì ti 'nsigni a essiri gnuranti, gran pezzu di sceccu!» (gunshots) (Le allegre comari di Rossor)

Translating Italian-American accent and Italian into Sicilian dialect has been common practice since the first dubbing of American gangster movies like The Godfather (1972) and Scorsese's Goodfellas. It is still considered a valid solution for dealing with marked varieties, as the more recent The Sopranos(Paolinelli, Di Fortunato, 2005: 19) shows. This association is so deeply-rooted that Stephen Sartarelli, the American translator of Camilleri’s detective novels, has recreated Catarella’s idiolect by drawing on Italian-American accent, specifically on Brooklynese (Monello, 2016).

The second extract from the same episode features Italian as the third language. The plot is quite simple: Lisa wants to learn Italian and resorts to Milhouse’s (Bart’s best friend) unexpected fluency in Italian. Riding on a Vespa like Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday and dressed like Don Fanucci[18], Milhouse starts his first Italian class with Lisa in a hyperrealistic[19] Little Italy where stereotypical Italian characters, who belong to cinematic imaginary (the fat dishevelled man at the window, the dark-haired, gypsy-like woman and Luigi, the Italian cook from Lady and the Tramp), live.

Lisa: «Buongiorno, Milhouse».

Lisa: «Baciamo le mani Milhouse»

Milhouse: «Perfetto! […] Come we ride to Little Italy».

Milhouse: «Perfetto! […] Vieni, facciamo un giro a Little Italy».

Man at the window: «Milhouse, che cosa di nuova? »

Man at the window: «Ou compare Milhouse che mi racconti di bello?»

Woman: «Ciao Milhouse come stai? »

Woman: «Vi Milhouse, comi ta passi?»

Milhouse: «Un gelato per la bella ragazza»

Milhouse: «Nu beddu gelato ppa bedda picciotta»

Luigi: «Ah Mr Milhouse, thank goodness! Could you translate and help me buy cheese for my lasagna? »

Luigi: «Uh Signor Milhouse menu mali va! Potete tradurmi e aiutarmi a comprarmi i formaggi per le mie lasagne?»

Lisa: «But Luigi surely you speak italian! »

Lisa: «Ma Luigi, non parli italiano tu?»

Luigi: «(sigh) No I don't, I only you say... fractured English...that's what my parents spoke atta da home» (The Red Hat Mamas)

Luigi: «Ah no, mi dispiace assai…non lo parlo…io parlo solo come si dialetto stretto, quello che parlavano i miei a casa mia a Pozzuoli» (Le allegre comari di Rossor)

The cinematic Italianness of the Italian-American characters, indexed by well-known Italian words like “ciao” (hi), “come stai” (how are you?), “gelato” (ice cream), “bella ragazza” (beautiful girl), is regionalised in the old Sicilian expression “Baciamo le mani” (hand-kissing) and in the Neapolitan dialect spoken by Luigi, the pizza chef par excellence. The locative specification about Luigi’s place of origin, Pozzuoli, is probably a displaced compensation for the Italian-American “atta da home”. The incorrect Italian spoken in the original, where “nuova” in “che cosa di nuova” (what’s new) erroneously agrees with “cosa” (what), is followed by other examples contained in the extract below:

Lisa: «Sono così matto a lei! Ho pensato abbiamo avuto qualche cosa andando e poi la prendo con questa sgualdrina! Lei mi fa malata!»

Lisa: «Ah e così fai il cascamorto con lei! Neanche fosse Cleopatra quella maga Circe che ti ha irretito! Cosa facisti con quella Messalina ah?»

Milhouse: «Lisa, you speak in perfect Italian!»

Milhouse: «Lisa!! Ormai sai tutta la Storia antica!»

Lisa: «Grazi... idioto! idioto idioto idioto!» (The Red Hat Mamas)

Lisa: «Grazie...Scimunitu! Scimunitu! Scimunitu! Scimunitu!». (Le allegre comari di Rossor)

Lisa's jealous bluster at Milhouse in Italian sounds like a back-translation from English and the pronunciation of “idiota” (idiot) as “idioto”, and “grazie” (thank you) as “grazi”, seems to prove that Italian was just forged to give a taste of exotic and not for realistic purposes. Both the original and the dubbed version play upon the stereotypical representation of Italian (in the original) and Sicilian women (in the Italian dubbing) as extremely jealous and aggressive. Moreover, the Italian episode underlines this well-rooted stereotype through Lisa’s list of some of the most vindictive and dangerous women in ancient history (Cleopatra, Circe and Messalina).

As previously seen, Le allegre comari di Rossor has “nationalised” the gap between two languages (in the original, between American English and Italian) into a clash between Italian and Sicilian dialect. In order to convince the target receiver, the translators have opted for some narrative modifications to the overall plot. In the original plot, Lisa has to be fluent in Italian to go to a summer school in Rome. In the dubbed version, the pre-requisite for attending the course is a good knowledge of the ancient history of Rome. Moreover, in order to justify the fact that he will teach ancient history mainly in Sicilian dialect, and the visual constraints showing a typical Tuscan landscapes, Milhouse explains that his grandmother, Nana Sophie, lives in Tuscany even if she is Sicilian. These adjustments have permitted the translators to recreate that linguistic clash which constitutes most of the humour of the episode. The underlined sentences show how the plot has been changed:

Lisa: «Oh that's my Italian tutor! Oh (disappointed) Milhouse, I think Bart's upstair».

Lisa: «Questo è il mio insegnante di storia italiana[20]. Oh (delusa) ciao Milhouse credo che Bart sia di sopra».

Milhouse: «I'm not here for Bart. I'm here to teach you Italian».

Milhouse: «Ma io non qui per Bart sono qui per insegnarti tutto sull'Italia[21]».

Lisa: «Oh sure I get it... [...]

Lisa: «Ah come no! [...]

Milhouse: «Prego si fermi e riascoltare. That means please stop and listen. [...] I' m here to teach you la lingua di arte e la musica».

Milhouse: «Nihil est dictu facilius! Volevo dire ora fermati e ascolta. […] sono qui per insegnarti la storia dell'arte e della musica[22]

Lisa: «You really speak Italian?  »

Lisa: «Davvero conosci la storia italiana[23]

Mil: «Sì. My grandmother Nana Sophie lives in Tuscany... […] Nana hated English because in WWII a G. I. left her with child, my uncle bastardo. Nana only spoke Italian to me».

Milhouse: «Sì. Mia nonna Nanna Sofia è siciliana ma vive in Toscana.  […] Nana sapeva l'inglese[24] perchè durante la seconda guerra mondiale un soldato l'aveva messa incinta di mio zio bastardo. Nanna Sofia mi raccontava sempre tante cose in italiano.»

The Latin-sounding sentence of the translation was probably meant to give a taste of Ancient Rome and was not selected for its relevance to the text. The translation of “she hated English because a G. I. left her with a child” into “sapeva l'inglese perchè un soldato l'aveva messa incinta di mio zio bastardo” (she could speak English because a soldier got her pregnant with my bastard uncle) adds more details to the story still confirming the refusal and hatred towards the languages of the foreigner invader: English and Italian. In the dubbed cartoon, Italian is prohibited by Milhouse's granmother because it is perceived as a foreign language, while Sicilian dialect is perceived as the real first language.

In a flashback on his summer holidays in Tuscany, Milhouse recalls how he learnt Italian (and  Sicilian dialect):

Nana: «Questi il mio cherubino sono delle oliva».

Nanna: «Chisti cca i viri gioia mia bedda, so alivi, u capisti?»

Milhouse: «I love you nana».

Milhouse: «Ti voglio bene Nanna Sofia!»

Nana: «Idiota!»

Nanna: «Scimunitu!»

Milhouse: «Every time I spoke English she hit me...Oh that hurts!»

Milhouse: «Tutte le volte che non le parlavo in dialetto[25] mi dava uno schiaffo...Ahi che male!»

Nana: «Idiota!»

Nanna: «Babbasunazzu»

Milhouse: «I'm sorry I'm so stupid!»

Milhouse: «Scusa se sono così stupido!»

Nana: «Milhouse Mussolini van Houten parla l'italiano, idiota! […]»

Nanna: «Milhouse Mussolini van Houten devi parlare in dialetto[26] pezzu i lignu! […]»

Milhouse: «What do you say… can I be your insegnante? »

Milhouse: «Comunque che ne dici, posso essere il tuo mentore? »

Lisa: «Ok, if that means teacher...» (The Red Hat Mamas)

Lisa: «Ok, se vuol dire insegnante...» (Le allegre comari di Rossor)

It is easy to note how the Italian spoken in the original has nothing to do with real Italian: mistakes in both pronunciation and morphology, such as “oliva” (in English olive) instead of “olive” (olives), and lack of agreement (Questi sono delle oliva) characterise the dialogue. Successful, in my opinion, the translation of “insegnante” into “mentore”, a high register and formal word for “teacher” which perfectly suits a class on the history of Rome.

 In the second episode analysed, The Italian Bob, the story, set in the imaginary Tuscan village of Salsiccia (Sausage), exploits some of the most common stereotypes related to Italy: food, opera and mafia are constantly evoked and the imprecise and incorrect Italian spoken in the American episode voices this stereotypical “Italianness”. As in the previous episode analysed, here again the Italian characters on the scene are representations of representations: the old woman of the Tuscan village is black-clad[27], men are dressed like figures from a Salvator Rosa painting and Francesca, Sideshow Bob's Italian wife, looks like Esmeralda, the gypsy beauty from the Walt Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the scene below Homer speaks to an old Tuscan woman:

Homer: «Hey do you know anything about fixing sport cars? »

Homer: «Lei sa qualcosa di come si aggiustano le macchine sportive?»

Old woman: «Escusi?»

Old woman: «Te tu cc' hai detto? »

Homer: «It's a Lamborgotti Fasterossa XT550 with abs sport tech package»

Homer: «É una Lamborgotti Sportivosa XT550 con pacchetto abs sport tech»

Old woman: «Ehm Americano?»

Old woman: «Te tu sei miha amerihano?»

Homer: «Americano? What the hell could that mean? Why can't you people learn my language? I learned to eat your food!»

Homer: «Amerihano? Ma che mi vuole dire? Perchè non imparate a parlare bene? Io ho imparato a mangiare i vostri cibi scusate!»

Old: Il Mayore capisce la inglese […]»

Old: «Il sindaho ci capisce di hodeste hose»

Lisa: «Hey she says the mayor speaks English […]» (The Italian Bob)

Lisa: «Dice che il sindaco ci capisce di macchine […]» (Il Bob italiano)

The dubbed version provides the old woman with an “authentic” and realistic Tuscan accent by means of “gorgia toscana” (miha, Amerihano). Modifications (car knowledge in the place of the competence in English) were necessary for signalling the difference between Italian as the dubbing language, and Italian as the third language. Expressions in pseudo-Italian like “Escusi” instead of “Scusi” (Excuse me), a middle way between Italian and Spanish, “il mayore” instead of “il sindaco” (the mayor) and “la inglese” as the feminine adjective of the left out “la lingua” (the language), were not aimed at recreating real Italian utterances but only the connotations associated with their sound and rhythm.

Unfortunately, the Italian dubbing fails to transfer the humour of the first dialogue between Homer and the old woman. Homer's Italian answer to the old woman’s question (Ehm Americano?) weakens the humorous and satirical energy of the original. Homer’s linguistic imperialism (English is the only language worth knowing in the world) is toned down into a matter of correct and standard Italian pronunciation.

1.4 Conclusions

As Chaume points out, cartoons lie at one end of the foreignization-domestication continuum and “extremely domesticating translation solutions are found and even preferred in an attempt to bring the product closer to the young audience” (2012: 146). The Simpsons, as a cartoon, has a clear entertaining function but like many American TV shows, displays a strong satirical aim that makes it widely appreciated by adults. In my opinion, the presence of these two functions deserves two translating strategies. The numerous references to pop culture, American history and politics aimed at satirizing American society in all its aspects, require a foreignising translation. The varied community of Springfield, made up of minor characters to whom stereotypical ethnic and linguistic features are associated, calls for domesticating strategies in the target languages and culture.

Nothwithstanding the long-established tendency of the Italian media to resort to regional dialects to fulfil the comic function, this specific case study wants to prove that, relocating American stereotypes on Italy in the Italian context, by drawing on representations of Southernes as crooks, ignorant and second-language speakers, was not meant to reinforce such stereotypes. On the contrary, this choice signals the Italian translators’ compliance with the cartoon’s satirical purposes. The Simpsons and, consequently, I Simpson, by boosting overly simplistic stereotypes, make fun of the insular nature of American and Italian societies, even at the risk of creating grotesque and flat characters who, in truth, perfectly match the hyperrealism of the cartoon.


Works cited


-The Last of the Red Hat Mamas episode n° 7, 17th series, (GABF22)

-Le allegre comari di Rossor (Italian episode)

-The Italian Bob episode n° 8, 17th series, (HABF02)

-L'Italiano Bob (Italian episode)

-Trilogy of Error, episode n° 18, 12th series (CABF14)

-Trilogia di una giornata, (Italian episode)

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-Morini, M, The Pragmatic Translator: An Integral Theory of Translation, Bloombury Publishing, 2012.

-Pavesi, M. La traduzione filmica, Roma: Carocci Editore: 2005.

-Plourde, E. "The Dubbing of The Simpsons. Cultural Appropriation, Discursive Manipulation and Divergences" in Texas Linguistic Forum, Vol. 44, No 1: 114-131, Proceedings from the Eighth Annual Symposium About Language and Society. Austin, TX April 7-9, 2000.

Schiffman, H. "Language and Authenticity" in (26/10/16)

-Smecca, P. D. Representational Tactics in Travel Writing and Translation: A Focus on Sicily, Roma: Carocci Editore 2005.

Taylor, C. “The Translation of Regional Variety in the Films of Ken Loach”. Armstrong N., Federici F (eds) Translating Voices, Translating Regions, Roma Aracne: 2006, pp.

Teer-Tomaselli, R. "The Simpsons" in Agenda Vol. 10, No. 22, 1994: 52-56.

-Turner, C. Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation, Da Capo Press: 2004.

-Wallace, J. M. "Un marxista (Karl, non Groucho) a Springfield." I Simpson e la filosofia, (eds) Irwin William H. , Conard Mark T. , Skoble Aeon J. Milano: Isbn Edizioni 2008: 263-280.

[1]Everyone but Maggie (Homer and Marge’s youngest daughter), whose permanent silence symbolizes the silence of underdeveloped countries (Bronson, 2008).

[2]The Simpson family is a typical American family made up of a blue-collar working dad (Homer), a nurturing stay-at-home mum (Marge), three kids (Bart, Lisa and Maggie), a dog and a cat. Homer's stupidity, laziness, his almost total subservience to his basest desires and his absolute lack of impulse control are hallmarks of his character and make him a powerful symbol of consumer-age America and, according to Halwani, an Aristotelian anti-hero par excellence (2008).

[3] Springfield stands for America. It is not by chance that Springfiled is the most common name among American towns, and its landscape in the cartoon is made of all the typical traits of American places (San Francisco's hills, New York' little Italy and so on).

[4]The show’ s adoption of overly simplistic stereotypes bear a much closer resemblance to the imagination of middle Americans than (of course) to the actual places they are pretending to be. These fictitious places represent what the show's Ivy League-educated writers believe to be the commonly held stereotypes of unsophisticated middle-class Americans (Turner, 2004: 324).

[5]The American equivalent of the poshest form of British RP and is characterised, unlike other prestige US accents, by rhoticity and by the lack of post-vocalic /r/ (Armstrong, 2004: 105).

[6]The use of British accents for evil characters is a very common practice that reveals a still widespread stereotype in the US. In Language and Authenticity,Schiffman argues that the foreign language used in the media is not authentic but a stereotypical representation of the language we think a certain country or ethnicity speak. Its function is not to communicate information but to give a taste of something different and exotic (1998). According to Lippi-Green, the use of minority accents in films like The Lion King, where a hyena character speaks with a fake Hispanic accent, and villainous characters with a British accent, may help teach children to ethnocentrically discriminate (1997).

[7] The importance given to the domestic marked is both economical and cultural. Plourde's analysis of the different approaches adopted by linguistically close countries like France and Québec in the translations of The Simpsons is exemplary of the issue. The two approaches show two different strategies of cultural appropriation, especially concerning elements considered intrusive by the target culture. In Québec, the cartoon is addressed to children and, consequently, its subversive discourse has been toned down and censured accordingly (Plourde, 2000: 114). In France, instead, the show displays a quite imperialistic and aggressive attitude. For instance, the villainous character Sideshow Bob, who has a posh Anglicised accent in the original, does not speak standard French and his name has been changed into Tahiti Bob. According to Plourde, the French translator's choice was meant to reaffirm France's sovereignty over a dependent territory in the Pacific (2000: 119).

[8]This process of “indigenization”, in a new national context for new national audiences, starts with the commercialization of “new” product. Companies may commission the literal or no translation of the original movie, but, quite often, movie titles are designed ex novo to select a certain target audience and exclude another, or they are slight re-elaborations of titles of previously successful movies that immediately collocate the new movie in a specific genre grid. The first example is Michel Gondry's The Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, whose poetic title perfectly summarizes the plot. The underambitious Italian title Se mi lasci ti cancello, instead, erroneously but purposely echoes one of Julia Roberts' movies in the Italian audience, thus disappointing many viewers and preventing others from going to watch it. More recently, Sam Mendes' 2009 Away we go has been renamed English American Life in order to remind Italian viewers of Mendes' great success American Beauty. These are clear examples of how extralinguistic factors (producers, assumed tastes of the target audience) may influence the process of translation favouring a particular reading of a product.  

[9] The interference that the target culture's values may have with the original discourse is well illustrated by the decision of executives at the Arab network MBC to launch Al Shamshoon, an Arabized version of The Simpsons which, according to them, was more respectful of the feelings and beliefs of Islam. To this end, they have turned Homer Simpson into Omar Shamshoon, hot dogs into Egyptian beef sausages and Duff beer into simple soda. This is a particular revealing example of how television executives aim at making a foreign product more familiar and appropriate to the domestic audience in order to maximize profit. The importance given to the translation of The Simpsons further confirms the attention that FOX and Gracie Films have paid to every phase of the show's international distribution (Ferrari, 2010: 101-102).

[10]An example of this process can be seen in Loach’s Ae Fond Kiss, where the Glasgow middle-class Pakistani community and the local population, who speak with Scots accents and the Irish school teacher are all reduced to standard Italian (Taylor, 2006: 45).

[11]According to Morini (2012), three main functions of texts need to be re-expressed: performative, interpersonal and locative functions. The performative function consists of the illocutionary force and perlocutionary effects of texts and describes what they are supposed to do in the world and what they actually do. The interpersonal function, instead, establishes relationships with readers and non-readers. Finally, the geographical, chronological and intertextual dimensions in which texts are created or placed define the locative function. Usually the need to preserve the performative aim of the source audiovisual material leads translators and dialogists to modify audiovisual texts radically, above all on the locative plane, often neglecting their interpersonal functions.

[12]The love between two members of different social classes is a worn-out topos in movies. In order to maintain the clash between a posh British-origin and Upper East Side family, and a loud working class Queens woman, the Italian translators have replaced Jewish culture and the stereotypes associated with it (and almost unknown to Italian audience) with culture habits more familiar to the Italian viewers. The Jewish Fran Fine has been renamed Francesca Cacace, an Italian descendant living in New York City with her aunt Assunta who, in the original version, is her mother Sylvia. However, despite all these accurate changes, Italian viewers are sometimes at loss when Jewish ceremonies are celebrated in this apparently “Italian-American” context.

[13]A recent literary example of the Italian appreciation of characters speaking dialects is Agatino Catarella. Together with the protagonist, Inspector Salvo Montalbano, Catarella is one of the funniest and enjoyable characters in Andrea Camilleri’s detective stories. A flat and stock character according to some critics, his unrealistic and pre-fabricated idiolect, mostly made of incorrect Italian, incorrect Sicilian and a great number of malapropisms, is nonetheless widely appreciated by the Italian audience.

[14]The Italian translators have chosen a Milanese accent for Otto Mann's voiceover because his irresponsible life challenges the stereotype of efficiency associated to the Northern city. (Ferrari, 2010: 113)

[15] According to Sabina Fusari, voicing an “immigrant” through a Northern accent was a kind of “punishment” to the Lega Nord, which was founded in the very same year (1991) the cartoon was premiered in Italy.Fusari, S. "Idioletti e dialetti nel doppiaggio italiano dei Simpson", Ceslic (27/10/16)

[16] In Lisa the Vegetarian (3F03) Apu reveals: «Of course I am a vegetarian». In Italian, this same sentence becomes «Io essere di vegetariano».

[17]The English title is an overt reference to Sophie Tucker's nickname “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas” and to “The Red Hat Society”. The process of adaptation starts from the title. As the original reference is unknown to an average Italian viewer, the Italian translators have opted for substituting the SL reference with a better-known SL reference. This is one of the strategies that Ritva Leppihalme proposes for the translation of proper nouns allusions (1997: 79). In fact, the adapted title Le allegre comari di Rossor recalls the Italian translation of Shakespeare's Le allegre comari di Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor) and reproduces the original wordplay based on the relation of paronymy between “hot” and “hat” in the substitution of “Windsor” with “Rossor”.

[18] Don Fanucci is a character appering in the film The Godfather II.

[19] One of the main postmodern characteristics of the cartoon is hyperreality. Baudrillard (1993) calls it “postmodern simulacrum, that is a network of simulations of reality, of copies of copies without reference to an original, so that what is represented is representation itself.

[20]This is my Italian History teacher.

[21]I’m here to teach you everything about Italy

[22]I’ll teach you the History of

[23]Do you really know Italian History?

[24]Nana could speak Italian.

[25]I didn’t speak in dialect with her.

[26]You must speak in dialect.

[27]In a section devoted to Sicilian stereotypes, a special edition of Lonely Planet Guide dedicated to Sicily listed the black-clad widow, bent double with hard work and age, and the menacing Mafioso, in a dark pinstriped suit and sunglasses, as the most representative images of the island. (Smecca, 2005: 128)

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