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Doppiare, Sdoppiare: It's All About Dubbing

A recent segment about Italian Fascism and language focuses on dubbing.


What's doppiaggio (dubbing)? After receiving a translation of a script, an actor, in a special recording booth with a monitor, has to watch a movie, adapting what he or she reads to what the actor on the screen is saying. The meaning and intention have to be there, and at the same time, there must be the same number of syllables, more or less, so that it can look convincing. It’s a huge, creative, and painstaking job. Historically, Italians have been champions at this. Dubbing provides a way for people to enjoy foreign movies. When dubbing started out in Italy, lots of people all over the country had never learned to read. They were analfabeti (illiterate). 


Nel millenovecentotrentatré viene inventato il doppiaggio,

In nineteen thirty-three dubbing is invented,

che permette ai film di circolare in vari paesi.

which allows for films to be distributed in various countries.

Uno dei più complessi e magici trucchi cinematografici.

One of the most complex and magical cinematographic tricks.

Captions 11-13, Me Ne Frego - Il Fascismo e la lingua italiana

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Even today, although many Italians read a lot, there are still those who aren't comfortable or just don’t enjoy reading. When given the choice of a dubbed movie or one with subtitles, dubbing wins most of the time. This is certainly a generalization, but the fact that you need to go to a special art movie theater to find a movie in its original language with subtitles bears witness to this.


There are arguments for both dubbing and using subtitles, each having vantaggi (advantages) and svantaggi (disadvantages). Luckily, in this digital age, you can often choose your language when watching at home on DVD, streaming, or even on commercial TV. It comes down to personal preference as well as familiarity with the original language of the movie. Culture, tradition, and economics determine what happens in the movie theater.


There was a time when it was popular to dub Italian films in post-production, rather than record the sound live. At the outset, it may have been for technical reasons, as recording live sound is complicated, but for some directors, like Fellini, it was part of their art. And of course, in many filmmaking situations, there comes a time when dubbing is needed to fix mistakes made by actors or for technical reasons. So the dubbing booth is part of making movies.
Italians, having had a lot of practice over the years, happen to be extremely good at dubbing.


Here at Yabla, of course, we promote watching a video in the original language. It’s hard to learn a foreign language if you never hear it spoken. And being able to turn the subtitles on and off with a click is pretty handy.


Speaking of Yabla, two people on our talent force have worked in the field of dubbing.


Eh, all'inizio sì,

Yeah, at the beginning, yes;

lo facevo come [sic], doppiavo grandi artisti e attori.

I did that like I dubbed famous artists and actors.

Poi, eh, mi sono concentrata molto sui documentari.

Then, ah, I started concentrating a lot on documentaries.

Captions 14-15, Marika e Daniela - Daniela Bruni, voice over

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Inoltre, questo... in questo corso si impara a interpretare:

In addition, this... in this course one learns to act:

interpretare un personaggio, interpretare un testo.

to play a role, to interpret a script.

Questo è fondamentale quando ci si trova appunto

This is fundamental when you find yourself, in fact,

nello studio di doppiaggio

in the dubbing studio

a dover affrontare un, un testo oppure un personaggio.

and need to deal with a script or a character.

Captions 14-17, Arianna e Marika - Il lavoro di doppiatrice

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The verb doppiare comes from the noun doppio. Its cognate is “double” in English. And sometimes it means just that, as in the following example, where it functions as an adjective. Note how the ending of the adjective changes according to the gender of the noun it modifies.


Ecco qua, doppia senape e doppio ketchup.

Here you are, double mustard and double ketchup.

-Bella schifezza.

-Nice bit of junk food.

Caption 7, Il Commissario Manara - S1EP11 - Beato tra le donne

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But more often than not, it means “twice,” as in the following example.


E per metterci magari anche il doppio del tempo?

And maybe takes even twice as much time?

Caption 7, Marika spiega - Proverbi italiani

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Italians use sdoppiare to mean “to duplicate, to copy” when referring to CDs or cassettes. It is the negation of doppiare, and means “to split” but it also means “to make something into two.”

Mi potresti sdoppiare questo CD?
Could you copy this CD for me?


Interestingly enough, the verb “to dub” comes from “double” and came into use in the nineteen twenties. We use the verb “to dub” to refer to replacing speech in a movie, but also to copy from one tape to another (sdoppiare).


As Arianna tells us, you can go to school to get professional training in dubbing. Apart from dubbing actual movies, producers need dubbers for corporate videos, voice-overs for documentaries, and voices for cartoon characters. It’s a career choice that doesn’t immediately come to mind, but one that will never become obsolete.


See this fascinating article in English about the practice of dubbing in Italian cinema.