A rejoinder to
Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim’s
Hausa Films Subtitling: Expanding or Exposing the Kannywood?
Hausa Films Subtitling: Expanding or Exposing the Kannywood?
"Naturally, in the struggle with falsehood, we must write the truth and this truth must not be lofty and ambiguous generality. When it is said someone, “he spoke the truth,” this implies that people or at least one person said something unlike the truth- a lie or a generality- but “he spoke the truth,” he said something practical, factual, undeniable, something straight to the point."
Berlot Brech (1943)
First of all, let me commend my friend, Muhsin Ibrahim for writing something which has been worrisome in my mind for quite a long time. Prior to Muhsin's article on Hausa Film subtitles, I never thought anybody could be interested in critiquing Hausa film subtitles publicly. When I say publicly, I mean on any media- electronic or print. Until now, I concluded that as long as there are writers and critics, and as long as Hausa film producing continues, there would be an era of critiquing, challenges and reforms. However, I was among those who were stroke by a pang of nostalgia and felt a surge of anger when watching a Hausa film subtitled with grammatical crises. This is because, as a student of English, and as a person who has passion for writing, supports and promotes the learning of English; I am always filled with horror when I find grammatical errors in either spoken or written English. In fact, I become disappointed and desperate whenever I watched a Hausa film with bad subtitles. For this reason or another, I had stopped watching Hausa films completely. Until recently, when I decided to join the queue of the sub-editors with a view to bringing reform and/or help reduce the errors in the system. My mind told me I'd give my little contribution in the field; I joined not to get out of it, but actually for it to get out of me. Moreover, I often heard many people castigating and jeering at Hausa film producers for allowing bad subtitles which they would say might ruin or bring a lacuna in their profession. More often than not, enraged people would curse the sub-editors and call them many names such as 'illiterates', 'idiots', 'donkeys', and so forth and so on. Unfortunately, for me, sub-editors would come the second or the third when it comes to the issue of condemnation by the viewers. This is because, to the best of my knowledge, they are not to blame in the first cry foul. Rather, stakeholders- producers and copy right owners etc. are to blame for a number of reasons:
1. Unqualified Sub-editors: Stakeholders, Producers/Copyright owners (Some producers sell out the copyright of some of the films to satellite agents for subtitles) do not, most of the time, search for the qualified persons to subtitle their films. Perhaps, they are sometimes, desperate to see the film subtitled so quickly; and this makes them blindfolded and forget to find the appropriate persons to do the work because they need it badly- by hook or by crook. This goes along to end up at having no alternative as which person should do the project. At the end of the day, the job falls into the hands of naïve or a person whose a command of English language is very poor- undeserved to do the project and the end result becomes of poor quality.
2. Verbatim Translation: Some of the sub-editors insist to translate Hausa language into English language using what’s known as ‘direct translation’ or what some linguists call ‘Domestication of English Language into Hausa Language.’ This is highly unbecoming. Quite frankly, Hausa film scriptwriters are not laconic, in their attempt to make the actors understand their messages; they end up writing more than necessary. Unfortunately, too much talking makes the viewer get bored and feel nostalgic. Meanwhile, the actors themselves, in their attempt to impress the audience and get popularity, act lugubriously loquacious. Here and then they’d be saying what is not there in the script. In this case, repetitions, uncontrollable jargons and blends of some languages fall in. Here is the point of contention for the sub-editor. He becomes lost and confused and subsequently writes/types words or expressions out of necessity. He too doesn’t know what he’s typing/writing as the actors don’t know what they’re saying. Once, Professor Munzali Jibril says: ‘A person who doesn’t know where he’s coming from wouldn’t know where he’s going to.’ Here, the sub-editor and the actors, I can say, are carried in the same boat. But one can make an impartial judgment on who is to blame. Some words and expressions are disapproving- impolite, foul mouthed, and non-collocated. See Comic Hausa films. Sometimes, they’d use proverbs that are not relevant to the dialogues. However, some phrases are misleading and some idioms, phrasal verbs and other expressions are not found in English language. But, some would forcedly and deliberate translate them whimsically just to pass the hard stage of the scene they are subediting.
Some of the aspects required in Hausa subtitles include providing contextual meaning of the dialogues. One must not translate everything. One should translate things that will make any viewer understand the film- no matter what level of education he/she is. But direct translation is improper and wouldn’t help. Examples of the direct translations are: ‘Allah ya baka lafiya’, it was translated on a Hausa Film as: ‘May Allah give you well.’ Even in the so-called direct translation, the aforementioned sentence is grammatically faulty to mean granting health or recovery from sickness. The word ‘well’ here isn’t adverb, rather, it is noun. Therefore, it should be better typed as ‘get well soon’. Meanwhile, if it’s to be translated as used by the sub-editor, it is directly hoping for the third person something- which here, is a noun, ‘well’. Well is a deep hole in the ground which people obtain water. So, may Allah give you well can easily be translated into Hausa as ‘Allah ya baka rijiya.’Also, ‘ Zan sa kafar wando daya da kai.’directly translated as: ‘I will wear the same leg of trousers with you.’Or, ‘Bari na ari bakin ka na ci maka albasa.’Direct translation will have it as: ‘Let me borrow your mouth and eat onion.’etc.
3. Uneducated Stakeholders: Some producers/copyright owners are uneducated. So, they want to what is impossible to be possible in the sense that, for them; any person who can speak English can also be qualified to subtitle films no matter how poor his English is- because they don’t know what English is all about and the pre-requisite required before a person is said to be a qualified sub-editor. They don’t also know that subediting is a sub-field of writing on its own right. They fail to understand that many people are only good at colloquial or spoken English, but might not be good in written English. Meanwhile, some might not be good in both, but can speak some English. But to them, since they don’t know the rules, they just think speaking the language suffices. However, subtitles need not only informal use of the language but also syntactical, hermeneutic, stylistic; morphological as well as contextual analysis of the language. Furthermore, use of punctuation marks is essential in subtitles. But very few subeditors consider using punctuation marks in Hausa film subtitles. That’s why many times meanings are not arrived at because of the mixing of words and phrases without marks that separate them and give them true meaning. That’s why ambiguous dialogues and sometimes, meaningless sentences are found. Please, watch American Film Subtitles and see wonders as galaxy of punctuation marks makes it comprehensive and charmingly adorable.
Moreover, for the uneducated producers/copyright owners, any person who can speak English is equal to the task; to them all ‘Englishes’ are the same. This is because they can't differentiate the bad from the good- the pidgin and the rotten English from the good, better and the best. So, they go ahead and hire anyone who comes their way or who is close to them, in short, their cohorts! This makes the project become (the subtitles) full of avoidable spelling and grammatical mistakes.
4. Failure to train the sub-editors: The stakeholders fail or are reluctant to or are too busy to find some professional sub-editors to train the potential and fresh sub-editors on the use of the software used for subtitles. Even if the sub-editors are good at English, however, they need special training on the software application. They need to be trained on how to use the software efficiently and satisfactorily. Unfortunately, the producers/copyright owners are so reluctant or stingy to sponsor or organize special programmes such as seminars or workshops by hiring professional editors and sub-editors to give the training; either through a fixed period, which will be once and for all; quarterly or after every other six months in order to coach them on how to place the titles (dialogues) properly; (there is also the need to be re-orienting the ardent sub-editors) the use of the font size accordingly, adjusting brightness, knowing the waves-dialogue placement, using the frames and double-dialogue etc. For example, the software, (Adobe Premier) contains a square box for typing the dialogues, and in the middle of the square, there are two frames, the primary and the secondary frames. The primary frame is the most important frame and is vividly seen within the secondary frame. A professional sub-editor is expected to type the dialogues within the border of the primary frame. For if the dialogues appear outside the primary frame, it is going to be outside the space and the subtitles will be regarded then as semi-professional because it exceeds the limit of the words required for the conversation at a moment. Meanwhile, the viewer will find incompatibility in it when watching the film and could hardly read the lines and comprehend wholly because the dialogues will quickly go off before reading.
Secondly, the dialogues would overleap and pass out the screen so that they cut from the edges. But this will undoubtedly show incomplete sentences and be incomprehensible by the viewer. Dangling modifiers and fragmented sentences become rampant which will make the language unreadable, (Many of the sub-editors use dangling modifiers and fragmentations which is uncalled for) tiny to view and boring. This is another failure. However, screen choices vary from one another; some projects of subtitles are used with either wide screen or half screen. Wide screen video is wider both horizontally and vertically than the half screen video. Though, the half screen video is usually narrower. Here, a sub-editor is supposed to use the minimum font size 30 using the default character for either the wide screen or the half screen videos. Unfortunately, some sub-editors having a wide screen as their tool for the project use other stylish characters that are thinner than the default one with the font size below 30 or 28, making it difficult for the viewers to read the dialogues from a little distance because of the smaller characters and size used by the sub-editors. Sometimes, they type much longer sentences but too small to be read and comprehend. Just another failure.
Additionally, there is a tool on the Adobe Premier namely “outer shadow" which is added to the text to type and embolden it so that the text becomes bold and black, vivid and readable. Instead, some sub-editors ignore it and use the white character which is vague and unclear. This and the stylish characters make it difficult for the viewers to read the dialogues even if they are close to the screen.
5. Writing the project on papers: Some producers and copyright owners pay sub-editors to write the subtitles on papers rather than placing them directly on the timelines using Adobe Premier Software. Instead, they submit it to them in which they later give it to the editors, (who cannot even write in English nor comprehend it) to put them on the timelines. In this case, a lot of displacement occurs; incongruity could be detected in the dialogues. This is because the editor does not follow the actual dialogues and might not be able to place the dialogues correctly due to some reasons which could be lack of language understanding as I mentioned earlier or haste or too much weight the project might be to him. Meanwhile, some editors would say it is not necessary for the sub-editors to translate everything so they deliberately skip other dialogues and claim that it might still be understood by the viewer with or without the translation. Unfortunately, viewers blame the sub-editors in this instant. That’s too bad!
6. Value Detachment to the profession: The stakeholders do not attach value to the subtitles at all. They would say subtitles are not meant for Hausa, one can subtitle the way he likes. They would say Hausa people do not read subtitles, and only those who bother to read the subtitles are other people who speak different languages more especially those outside the country. Since they think they would not be criticized by Hausa natives (Who they think are closer to them), they are safe. They forget that deaf and dumb people always need subtitles. They’d never comprehend films without subtitles. Also, in public places like banks and hotels as well as restaurants where silence is needed, the television sets are muted and while waiting, viewers do benefit from subtitles. Let me make it clear that many people stopped watching Hausa films totally because of the unfortunate subtitles.
Additionally, some would only give subtitles not for the quality of it, but for the sake of gaining from the satellite stations. In the rise of Hausa film Industry, stakeholders used to pay handsomely for subtitles; they find good English speakers for the job. So much so that, they hired lecturers in English departments in tertiary institutions. The subtitles would then be given to the editors to place them on the timelines with caution and afterwards, render them to be ready for watch. Double payment occurred here. Because both the editors and the subeditors (The latter who wrote the manuscripts to the editors were both paid hugely). Nowadays, the sub-editor saves the editor such double task and the producer the double payment as the sub-editor uses the software tool to place them himself while making the project. Nevertheless, despite this effort making, the sub-editor is still paid little- very much little. Though he works as the sub-editor and the editor as well. In the past, such jobs were well done and substantial; until recently, with the rise of the satellite stations, when money lovers decided to sell their subtitled films to the nascent TV stations that want to get popularity through Hausa viewers and other African nations who love Hausa language and culture and those who take it as their second language. They would find cheap people who are higgledy-piggledy desperate and give them meager amount of money to do the job regardless of how the project would look like. It will be obnoxious if one watches such films because they are subtitled effortlessly and to everyone, it could be viewed as abracadabra or hocus-focus.
7. Depreciating the Sub-editors’ efforts: Lack of commendation and recommendation from the satellite managers and the generality of the viewers tremendously demoralize many of the sub-editors. Motivation is one of the factors that encourage man to exert much more effort in his/her career. Even though one is motivated, lack of inceptives dissuades them from moving forward. Moreover, criticism could easily destroy such persons and in the end make them give up. But the point is that little encouragement is received from the stakeholders and the viewers as well. While the sub-editor is trying his best possible means on subtitles, the agents do not commend the efforts he is making. They would not also advise them where necessary by calling the attention of the sub-editors and give them some recommendations. They would not cheer up the sub-editor; but rather, they jeer at them. This goes along to condemn their works totally where he/she commits some unavoidable mistakes. They don’t employ motivational wisdoms to encourage them and hamper them towards providing the solutions to the errors made. This, however, is one of the psychological problems rampant among the stakeholders and the viewers as well! Few people call and appreciate the sub-editors and offer some useful pieces of advice and suggestions. I value such people and rate them as people who know how to...
And anonymous poet once wrote:
‘Once I did bad and that I heard ever/
Twice I did good, but that I heard never.”
Also, they ought to remember everybody likes compliment and encouragement and the only way you can get what you want from people is by giving them what they want. So, the agents should pay hugely to the qualified sub-editors in order to get good subtitles. But as in a proverb, too many cooks spoil the broth. Too many cheap sub-editors spoil the projects! There can’t be qualitative projects through cheap labour.
In the process of making it clear, one should know that everybody wants be great, it’s the desire of greatness and earning a fortune that makes the stakeholders run their business day and night. The great Psychologist, and the father of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy theories, Sigmund Freud, in Man’s Search for Meaning, says: “Everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great.” John Dewey, the great American Philosopher also says: “The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.” Unfortunately, the stakeholders and viewers do not try this- that is to make the sub-editors feel important. They instead make the sub-editors feel inferior and abandoned. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Everybody likes a compliment.” And to cut the long story short, William James said: “The deepest principle in human nature is the “craving” to be appreciated.” So, the desire to be great or important or to be appreciated or to be cheered up made the sub-editors ( or what is informally known as subtitlers )became sub-editors too. Surely, instinct craving to be appreciated and regarded as important people as well. However, in their efforts to appreciate or praise them, they don’t need flattery; they need sincere appraisal and appreciation. Flattery doesn’t last long, but sincere appreciation does.
Meanwhile, the satellite managers would hardly give recommendation on good sub-editors. But there are many ways of encouraging people that include presenting awards, giving out gifts; writing commendation letters, giving mementos, acknowledging their efforts publicly; giving reference in relation to their works, and a host of other ways. This is seriously lacking among other things. However, tell me, how could a sub-editor continue being good after all, he/she is not appreciated? That is hard. Consider reward and punishment theory in Psychology.
8. Government disinterest in the development of the profession: The Government must be a Jack of all trades. For me, government should not be silent on the use of subtitles. Rather, it will get involved by committing itself for the development of the subtitles through Censorship Board. This will strengthen its diplomatic relations to other countries directly or indirectly. Though, Hausa films rarely concern real national or international politics, foreign affairs and themes of international interest. Its major themes are sentimental love and comedy. However, the chance to bring more audience and draw much attention is still there. Though, lacking many themes of great value, culture and tradition are the cornerstones of the Hausa films. Moreover, historical vindication, religious exhibition and political economy are some major important factors that can strengthen diplomatic relations between Hausa and other tribes, and between Nigeria and African countries as well as other continents. Hausa films with subtitles here play important role in expanding the Hausa norms and values to other continents in the world. But the sub-editor comes into being here especially when it concerns international viewers as the subtitles usually make the non-Hausas understand while watching the films. It’s like the confession of the literary critic and theorist Ronald Barthes’ ‘The death of the Author,’ Stakeholders- producers, directors and even the actors become dead when a viewer watches the film. (Though Barthes didn’t give the example of his concept on popular culture as I am doing right here). To him, the only being living inside the work remains the critic, that’s for me, the sub-editor who gives the meanings of the actions to non- Hausa-speaking societies. The directors and actors encoded the meaning through dialogues and rendition and the only person who has the authority to open up the meaning to the audience here is the sub-editor by translating it into the preferred language, which is English. Since English is the Language for all, it becomes the medium for understanding the message. This could also transcend African borders if supported and encouraged greatly. But in the case of Hausa film Industry, I reiterate, this could easily be achieved through ‘beautiful subediting.’ Meanwhile, government should support it to boost the cultures and traditions of its people by encouraging good subtitles with view to understanding more about Hausa culture and people. To the stakeholders, the ball is in your court. You should remember that English language is the global language, and it is for global prestige.
9. Payment for the sub-editors: This is the most aching and disturbing issue to any Hausa film sub-editor. Everybody wants to reach to the land of milk and honey; but not to the land of sweat and bitterness. All work without play makes Jack a dull boy. One should love for his brother what he loves for himself. That’s life and that’s the way to attain happiness and greatness in life. However, some people have a tendency to easily forget those who push them up the ladder. Actually the payment for the project is meager. It’s iota. Besides, the agents expect good quality job, yet sometimes, the payment is suspended between life and death. Many things that are liable to discourage the sub-editors become the order of the day in the profession. Dissuasion as well as exploitation become nagging in it. So much so that the sub-editors, more often than not, feel frustrated and become insincere in the project, doing what is not proper in the sense that, deliberate omission of other important dialogues and being reluctant in correcting other grammatical mistakes- hastiness and showing indifference to correct typographical errors. But who is to blame in this situation? Could it be the agent or the sub-editor? Frankly speaking, it is very pertinent for the stakeholders to consider the high payment for sub-editors. That will undoubtedly change the system and bring a new era for wonderful job and error reduction. It will also encourage the subeditors to focus much more attention to the profession and do better than before.
Now, with the emergence of new TV stations, there is need for absorption of more qualified sub-editors. The job is extremely taxing, time-consuming and stressful. In fact, the job is a sweated labour! The stakeholders need to stop being egocentric and embrace the reality that the sub-editors are not meant to be permanently labourers, and since they’ve things valuable to offer, they’d be pitied and considered as parts of the source of the earnings, the builders, the promoters, the special and skilled personnel, without whom the stakeholders wouldn’t reach their desired destinations.
The Hausa Film Subtitlers Association (HAFSA)
Conclusively, let me seal my essay with HAFSA. HAFSA is guild for sub-editors established by Sef Jamil Sufyan Kabo, one of the Hausa film sub-editors. Though, I’ve little knowledge about it, the major aims of the guild are to bring change and make sure it registers professional sub-editors. So, the president- founder of the guild wants to make an unprecedented progress in the profession by restricting subediting to only members of the group. And that no Hausa film subtitles would be recognized fully if it’s not coming from the group. However, the guild determines to work together as a team to make sure that no subtitles will leave its circle without being thoroughly edited and graded as an excellent project. It will also provide any necessary administrative guidelines for its members and equip them with necessary equipment to execute the projects.
I was introduced to the guild by Sufyan Kabo who encouraged me and commended my efforts in the task. He felt I’d be part of his guild to make a little contribution from my side. I accepted it warmly and began to discuss about the possibility of inviting a meeting to deliberate about enhancing its activity and making it a unified, sincere, and independent body. (I heard the guild had a meeting prior to my invitation) Alas! The dream was short-lived. Though, I didn’t know why, I was invited to attend the meeting and I went, but met none of the prospective members then except the president. However, I know the president is a very committed person with NGO’s activities, but I am sure he’s industrious and capable of promoting the guild. However, one person can’t do it alone; all hands must be on deck. Despite the fact that, the prospective members are from different backgrounds and places, we need to all determine and look at the importance of forming a team to solve the problems of bad subtitles. At least, we need to re-orient others about the subtitles and the problems as well as the solutions. This will minimize the insults we, Hausa people receive from all angles. Remember, when one of us makes a mistake, we carry equal sin. The insults go directly to all of us, they don’t single out an individual, but they blame us collectively. However, if one of us makes a commendable action, the credit wouldn’t go to that person alone, but to all of us.
Let me use this opportunity to call up on the president and the prospective members, to revive the guild for goodness sake, and to reinvigorate the activity and reissue the guild aims and objectives to the stakeholders as to move the Hausa Film Subtitles forward. Let me list the good sub-editors I know who were proposed to be part of the guild. They are interested, I am sure, but perhaps, their engagements couldn’t allow them to make it at the moment. They’re below:
Sufyan Kabo (Sef Jamil) (The President)
Carmen Mc Cain (Talatu)
Saminu Ali Sadiq (Simon)
Ibrahim Tijjani Kurawa
Ummul Khair Usman
Auwal Kabir Indabawa
Mujaheed Usman Aliyu
Huzaifa Sani Ilyas
The above enumerated persons are good sub-editors I know. They have been into sub-editing for long and did great number of subtitles in their own right. Few errors are found in their projects that are unavoidable- just in my own case, though we try our best to find the errors in order to get rid of them, but they occur within the limit of our capacity as humans. Such mistakes are forgivable. But let me reiterate one fact, handsome payment to the qualified sub-editors means a lot in promoting good subtitles, and it’s even the best recipe that will bring positive result and solutions to the nagging problems of bad subtitles!