“Oh, Jesus,” I said to myself, “this has started out badly.”
It was during an ad break on the supposedly ad-less Spanish national broadcaster, TVE 1, when I learned of a soon-to-be-aired period drama based on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, and called, reasonably enough Reinas (Queens). The series is one of these co-productiony things that you see happening between countries’ national broadcasters, is shot in Scotland and Spain, and has English as its original language. Not that Spanish audiences will get to hear a word of the Bard’s tongue: as with all foreign-language TV and cinema, Reinas will be dubbed — the equivalent of taking a butcher’s knife to the dialogue and any nuances that accompany it. And it probably won’t be dubbed all that well either. Sometimes the results can be hilarious; you might recognise Marge Simpson as the voice of one of the main protagonists. Or off-putting; imagine trying to reconcile the voice of Clint Eastwood coming from the mouth of one of Mary’s lairds.
But, not only will viewers of TVE 1 get to see a watered- and dumbed-down dubbed version of a Reinas that they half paid for (each episode has cost two million quid), they will also have their intelligence insulted by the usual Spanish practice of Hispanicising foreign names. What had me Jesus-ing and oh-my-God-ing the other night as I watched the trailer were the characters’ names: Elizabeth had been translated to Isabel, Mary Stuart to María Estuardo, and place names such as Edinburgh to Edimburgo. What is the point of this? To make a period drama about the conflict between two foreign countries less foreign? To make your drama easier on the ear for you hopelessly monoglot audience? To resist the Anglicisation of your own language by putting the boot in first?
It is standard practice in Spanish prose and speech to translate those foreign names that are amenable to translation. Prince William of the House of Windsor is Guillermo. His father is Carlos. Guillermo’s wife’s name, with no Spanish equivalent, remains Kate, as does former president Obama’s. The custom reflects, in this author’s opinion, equal measures of arrogance and insecurity. Arrogance in the sense of having the temerity to shape people’s God-given names to your own tongue. And the insecurity of a nation that sees itself as hopelessly unable to manage foreign languages. (The dubbing comes from this dark corner of not wishing to be shown up as not having the first clue of [usually] English.)
Unlike neighbouring Portugal (where TV is not dubbed) people’s levels of English here in Spain are abominable. Somehow, barring the chosen few, Spaniards manage to get through circa fifteen years of formal education without picking up much beyond a few heavily accented stock phrases. In spite of squillions being spent per year on private lessons, novel learning systems, immersion camps and the like, I have seen no discernible improvement over the last decade and a half in societal knowledge of what has become the world’s de facto lingua franca. It seems as if Spanish society is resistant to bilingualism — and the dubbing and name-translating are manifestations of this.
So, in spite of a deep interest in Scottish history, I shall not be tuning into Reinas when it airs. My blood pressure would creep slowly upwards with each Estuardo, Ricardo or Eduardo, and I intend to live to hear the new Arcade Fire album that’s promised for the summer!