Surtitling the Minorities in Three Documentary Plays in Hong Kong

Dora Wong

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


Surtitling is regarded as a hybrid form (Griesel, 2005) of translation between interpretation and translation. It includes the display of text translated or transcribed before or during the performance and sometimes adding of simultaneous interpretation and recordings. This paper compares interlingual and intralingual patterns of surtitles sourced from three documentary plays staged in Hong Kong, namely Not the Maids (2017), Regarding O (2017) and Testimony (2019). In addition to elements of creativity and drama common to a play, the documentary theatre or the verbatim theatre conducts comprehensive research through history, news, interviews, government reports, social studies, correspondences etc. Giving voices to domestic helpers, ethnic minorities and transgenders, the three plays involved a crew of both professional and amateur actors. The vernacular of the plays embodies a rich mix of Cantonese, English, Indonesian, Nepali and Tagalog.

Samples from the multilingual surtitles reflect concepts of hybridity and heterogeneity in the translation of cultures. While tensions between the individual and norm could be rendered in utterances for a multilingual audience of different ethnicity, constraints were also noted in technical display of Cantonese sounds, Romanization of the Nepali language and surtitling of a language which exists in the vernacular form only. Such constraints of surtitling however may lead to negotiation for a common ground that can accommodate different perspectives and expressions.


ConferenceTranslation Studies in East Asia: Tradition, Transition, Transcendence, 2021EAST
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User-Defined Keywords

  • cultural translation
  • documentary theatre
  • surtitling
  • heterogeneity
  • minority voices


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