Simpsons, In Theory

By Alastair Sutherland

© Montreal Mirror, September 29, 1999.

Soon to be published at a university near you: the world's third ever Master's thesis (in the field of translation) on--aye carumba!--The Simpsons.

Entitled "The Dubbing of The Simpsons in Quebec and France: Cultural Appropriation and Discursive Manipulations," the weighty sounding tome is the product of years of work by Montreal-based translator and University of Montreal student Eric Plourde. Among Plourde's findings:

  • In the Quebec version of the show, the "elite" characters--Reverend Lovejoy, Principal Skinner, Dr. Hibbert--speak upper class international French, whereas everyone else speaks basic Québécois. "The local dialect is reserved for the lower classes," says Plourde. "Which reveals something about how our society thinks about itself."
  • In France, Sideshow Bob becomes Tahiti Bob, reflecting the old country's imperialistic sense of humour. Newscaster Kent Brockman, meanwhile, becomes the German-accented Kurt Brockman.
  • In the Quebec version of the famous episode where Bart goes to France, Bart speaks Quebec French and initially finds the Provençal dialect of the locals incomprehensible. When he finally picks it up, his conversion is signified by his being able to tell the difference between champagne and mousseux--another class-based distinction.
  • In Quebec, Homer's beloved donuts become "les beignes Americains"; in France, they are not donuts at all, but rather hoity-toity "patisseries."
  • Jokes that would not fly in America are commonplace in French translations. For example, when Reverend Lovejoy leads a boycott against Jewish clown Krusty, and leads a mob burning Krusty paraphernalia, he cries "Let's have a holocaust!"

Plourde, 29, admits that his choice of material has made him "something of a jester" at the U de M, but maintains that analyzing The Simpsons is more linguistically revealing than studying, for example, "the vocabulary of the asbestos industry." For his thesis, Plourde travelled to Finland, where the only existing copy of the first Simpsons-related translation thesis ("The Intertextuality of the Simpsons," by Kari Honkanen) is kept under lock and key.

Plourde was also hired to translate seven of the 14 new movies that will appear this season on Quatre Saisons' Saturday night Bleu Nuit program. He says that experience was less than enjoyable. "The distributor hired me because they wanted to save money--I was paid $350 a film, as opposed to the usual rate of $2,000-$5000 per film. And they made me tone down the dialogue--they didn't want any Québécois French or Parisian argot."

Quebec French, Plourde sighs, has more vowel sounds than any other language in the world, with a possible exception being the obscure Turkish dialect Oubykh. Plourde says that this, coupled with what he calls the "less than professional attitude" of many of Montreal's dubbing actors, makes his life a Quebec-based TV show/movie translator difficult indeed.

Anyway, in Plourde's professional opinion, Bleu Nuit was a better program when it showed original French soft-core movies, as opposed to the dubbed American films. "The only one I enjoyed working on was the Playboy movie I Like To Play Games, with Lisa Boyle. And maybe the one that starred the actor who is now in the New Adventures of Robin Hood. The rest are just boring."

Important Xena news: The season debut of Xena: Warrior Princess will be aired on Global this Saturday, Sept, 30, at 3 p.m. Fans won't want to miss this, as it reportedly has triple or possibly quadruple the number of special effects. Also, Global will finally air last season's controversial "The Way" episode, which contained numerous Hindu/lesbian references, not to mention mucho ultra-violence. Global will be showing a "reworked version" (censored, alas) on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at midnight. And look to Xena to give birth--and reveal the name of the baby's father--later in October.

Advert hype Want to see some TV commercials that are better than most American shows? Check out the TQS show Planète Pub, this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., for a bunch of cool commercials from England, including excellent Virgin ads and a brilliant babe-filled spot for Lynx deodorant. A must see.

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Last updated on October 8, 1999 by Jouni Paakkinen (