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Every Day is a [Language] School Day

Every-day-is-a-(language)-school-day-ukLanguage is one of the truest demonstrations of every day being a school day, and that learning is never really ever done. Don't believe us? Well hold on to your fez, because using some of our favourite pop culture we are going to demonstrate just that, by not only introducing some new vocabulary to you, but also by dipping a little into the world of translation.

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Not lost in translation...

Any Doctor Who fans out there? Yes? Good. We'll start with you then, since Doctor Who fans are generally good people. If you are lucky enough to live in the UK or have access to BBC America, you might have heard of the behind-the-scenes show, Doctor Who Confidential. We'll let those less fortunate amongst us who haven't seen it have a moment to sob.

For viewers of this TV delight, cast your mind back to Doctor number nine – David Tennant, if you're a heathen and didn't already know – to the episode New Earth, the first episode of season two. In this episode there is a mournful line spoken by Lady Cassandra inhabiting the body of Rose Tyler where she calls out, “I'm a chav!,”

Now. We are certain you already know what the word chav means so won’t insult your intelligence by explaining it. Doctor Who Confidential revealed that during a screening of the above episode to fans in China, the entire audience were tittering with laughter at the word the moment they heard it – and no translation was needed! How glorious is that?


It's okay. We can do better, we promise. Because of course if we're talking Doctor Who, and we're talking David Tennant, we are talking about one of the greatest ships of all time.

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No, not that ship. Although Spork is a glorious ship in itself.

If you are not versed in the land of Fandom then perhaps you are looking at your screen a little perplexed. See, when we promised new vocabulary for you, here is where it really starts, and even better, it’s technically slang. Fandom is the group of people – fans – that support a particular show, film, game, and so on. To ship, as in relationship, is to long for, desire, need (…) to see the two characters of your favourite show/film/book to be in a relationship together. Now that can be canon – official and on screen, headcanon – in the imaginations of the fans themselves, and it can also be realised in fanfiction, as in fan interpretations of, additions to, or out and out alternative realities of what we actually see in our shows.

David Tennant’s Doctor and Rose Tyler is one of the most talked- and written-about ships out there, an OTP (One True Pairing) for much of the Doctor Who fandom. If you like your stats you can look at Tumblr's fandometrics for other pairings and see where your favourites appear in the rankings. As examples Clexa (The 100) is number one for 2016, Malec (Shadowhunters) is a new entry, and Stucky (Captain America: Civil War) is criminally only eighth on the list. Shocking.

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Broadening our horizons

As is the way of the world, American TV has infiltrated (saturated) the global viewing market, and for every popular show available overseas there is a wealth of translations both official and unofficial to enable fans to follow what is happening. Where you are viewing these shows determines what form of translation is used, with dubbing in the local language popular in some countries and subtitles being the preferred option of most. And in countries where certain shows are banned, the internet and streaming has broadened access to what was once forbidden, giving a wide range in the quality of subtitle translation.

Let’s give you two examples from opposing ends of the translation scale. Season Two of The Walking Dead saw machine translation being accused of phrasing the Russian used in an episode in a way no actual Russian would ever use ("If you know what's good for you lower your weapon now!" was apparently translated as "[...] lower your weapon immediately", which is, obviously, terrible...) - this however is more a faux pas of The Walking Dead writers, not a translation error.

Over to Turkey, then, and Game Of Thrones. Proving that politics influences even the occupants of Winterfell, the watered-down translation treatment by Turkish television authorities left those not speaking English feeling that they were missing out - or encouraging them to learn English in order to understand, which, come to think of it, is no bad thing. Enter Cem Özdemir, known online as esekherif, who has lead subtitle translations for website Divxplanet since 2011 after successfully volunteering his translations since 2008 and earning himself a mass of followers in the process.

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There is a lot more we have to say about pop culture and its translation over the coming weeks, but for now we hope to have convinced you that every day really is a school day - at least when it comes to languages!