Doing swearing across languages – The curious case of subtitling

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How is swearing done in subtitling across languages? This study of subtitles in different languages for Lonergan's 2016 film Manchester by the sea addresses the question with a particular goal in mind: not so much to identify and typologise translation strategies for swearing in the dataset, or not just, but to inspect/document the range of resources involved, at the interface of linguistics and pragmatics, in generating meaning-making options for interlingual sense-making, and publics with very different linguistic and (socio-)cultural profiles.

Most frequently occurring swearwords from dialogues in US English are considered in subtitling representation across the languages in the dataset – English, French, German, Italian, Spanish. Frequency and concordance data are the platform for qualitative analyses of a subset of units from different taboo domains in full textual context (‘fuck’, ‘shit’, ‘God’ and variants), from a broadly cross-cultural pragmatics perspective.

The study is underpinned by two main lines of enquiry: how linguistic and/or pragmatic specificities of the languages considered may impact on representation; and critically, how the medium itself may shape representation above and beyond difference into a distinctive and richly expressive instantiation of cinematic discourse, as what is revealingly for translation, and pragmatics, the curious case of subtitling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-54
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date21 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023


  • Interlingual sense-making
  • Meaning-making
  • Pragmatic indexing
  • Subtitling
  • Swearing

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