As AJMG reported in a review of the DVD of The Singing Ringing Tree, some of us remember a muted voice mumbling away in the original UK broadcast of that creepy fairy tale series, separate from the English narration and the original German dialogue. Well, we didn’t necessarily recognise the dialogue as German at the time, but the intonation of that mumbler was something that could never be forgotten, and with hindsight (hindhearing?), it sounded like some Slavic language. We recently came to suspect that the episodes show in the UK were prints prepared for the Polish market, since reading in The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Poles about a peculiar practice of Polish television broadcasters: rather than prepare subtitles, or dub foreign dialogue, they employ an actor to read translated lines on top of the dialogue, in, as the Guide says, “an excited semi-whisper”. The effect was in this case really quite sinister.
Now the Polish Blog reports on a move to replace this peculiar practice with subtitling for foreign programmes, and laments the popular opposition to this innovation. There is of course the point that people are used to the Mumblers and may resist change on the basis that they like what they grew up with. However, the Blog goes on to note the prevalence of Poles who “are functionally illiterate” and suggests that subtitling may play a role in encouraging literacy. If that is the case, perhaps we should encourage subtitling of programmes in English, for the training of our own illiterates. Dubbing all programmes into Polish – or better still, a language that is not widely spoken in the UK – could only help.