Malay-dubbed TV shows, or any language for the matter.

In the internet video world of YouTube, and several other video streaming websites we have seen TV shows and cartoons which originated in a different ethnical language being dubbed into English. This means that every characters in the series (antagonist/protagonist/extras/narrations) are speaking English rather than the original language. This could be done by taking the original video to a recording studio (or if you have a recording gear at home that could synchronize with digital video), strip off the original dialogue audio and replacing them with the English version. A very good quality dubbed video is known by looking at the lip synchronization (otherwise known in dubbing terms as “lip-sync”).

– sample of an English dubbed version of DragonBall Z, which is originally animated according to its original Japanese scripts.

I did grow up watching Japanese cartoons being dubbed into English, and I don’t see it as a problem as there is an international market for English dubbed cartoons. The only problem I had is with dubbing any type of TV show or cartoon into a language which is used only by certain countries, or a certain ethnic minority in the world, especially in the Malay language, a language specific to South-East Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

I worked part-time in a dubbing studio here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It seems that recently these studios are working like production factories – completing hundreds of titles in a short deadline. Now I will elaborate on what’s wrong in dubbing cartoons into a language which is specific only to certain countries or minorities.

– example of a Malay-dubbed Japanese cartoon “Detective Conan”.

First of all we’ll look into the history of the Malay language. Before the Malay ethnic started spreading out from their ancestral homes in Sumatra, one of the provinces in present-day Indonesia there wasn’t an ethnic realization of a indigenous group called the Malays. During the spread of Vedic religions in the archipelago, travelling monks created a language which mixes Sanskrit with local indigenous languages around the archipelago up to the lands of Indo-China, and as historians and linguists know that Sanskrit is a poetic language (evidences are seen when translating Vedic religious texts such as Bhagavad Gita or Sutras of the Buddha into common English), evidently the Malay language has been developed in such a way that the Malay culture has acquired thousands of poems in the Malay language since the existence of the Sultanate of Malacca, and since then had used many loan words from Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese and English to suit the words for their encounters with objects and situations during daily activities.

Do note that although Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language) and Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) shared the same roots and is mutually intelligible, these two languages are still different and that some words used to refer the same objects or situations do not sound even closely related.

The Malay language is fairly easy to be learned by a foreigner. A month is enough to master the basics of the Malay language. But however, the bad side of using the language for dubbing (or even for referring scientific terms) is that most words in the Malay language can be too long to match syllables of other languages, aside its unfriendly grammatical rules for using the same words three times or more in a sentence.

Due to this limitations in the Malay language, Malay-dubbed cartoons often had a difficult time staying on topic or even explaining to viewers certain situations that was clearly explained in the original language. Somehow in the Malaysian dubbing industry, they often liked dubbing materials of English, Japanese and Korean origin (Chinese language shows are dubbed in a rare occasion). People in the dubbing industry often faced transliteration problems from English materials because of the short-sentenced conversations that would make it longer when translated to Malay, and Japanese materials often make sentences longer than English ones due to their nationalized usage of the “Kun-yomi” (Japanese origin words) opposed to the “On-yomi” (Chinese loan words), the latter which is shorter, and that leaves the translated Malay language with insufficient amount of syllables to match the character’s “lip-sync”.

That’s mostly what I’m against on dubbing a material into the Malay language. But as I grow older and matured, it seems that I’m actually against all kinds of dubbing, mainly because it is fun watching a TV show in it’s original language, plus repetition of a foreign language you don’t know with subtitles below makes you pick up a new language. Recently I have been watching One Piece, and I’d prefer it in the original Japanese language (although my ancestors were partly ethnic Japanese, most of my family members don’t practice Japanese traditions anymore because they inter-mingled with the Chinese so that’s why while having Japanese ancestry I don’t know any Japanese words until a few years ago).


2 thoughts on “Malay-dubbed TV shows, or any language for the matter.

  1. I summarize that you’re talking about technical limitations of dubbing in a particular regional language. Your write-up does not reflect the fact that dubbing is done everywhere in the world in almost every language you can imagine. Companies don’t sell their shows worldwide on a single go; they have to take into account the cultural needs of every country/region, one by one. Among my hobbies on YouTube is listening to Disney or anime songs dubbed in dozens of languages. And it makes me a bit ashamed to be Malaysian since Malaysia doesn’t have a long-established tradition of dubbing Disney films, thus a glaring absence of Malay in those song collections until recently. You know what crossed my mind? “Malaysia is such a coward for not dubbing Disney films.” They even dub for languages with fewer speakers than BM like Hebrew, Swedish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic etc or even minority languages in their own countries like Catalan or Faroese!

    Your “dubbing into a language which is used only by certain countries, or a certain ethnic minority” is part of a great world of dubbing. Don’t you read the Wikipedia article about dubbing? Everyone’s dealing with the same issue of “with insufficient amount of syllables to match the character’s lip-sync”. From your writing I guess dubbing is just ‘not you’. I can understand that. A lot of ‘English Malaysians’ (the segment of the population who use English a lot) think that way. But in the end of the day it rings as a lame excuse for someone knowledgeable in the world of dubbing like me. English Malaysians think they’re globalised in an ‘English-centric world’. I can guess that there’s a gazillion more in the world which would be best researched by not overrelying on English. BTW I’m listening to a compilation of anime themes in Italian while writing this comment. And I’m not even Italian. My two cents.

  2. @CLTan

    I was previously working for companies that does Malay language dubbing, and I know very well of the Malaysian dubbing industry. I have worked for FKN Dubbing Sdn Bhd and SDI Media Sdn Bhd, these two are just a few of the big guns in dubbing and subtitling industries in Malaysia.

    I respect your hobby but without knowing the industry from inside out makes your two cents worth nothing. The only reason why companies don’t sell their shows worldwide in one go is mainly because they don’t own distribution rights to every country, though it is actually the dream and agenda of many big companies to practice globalisation.

    Right now I’ve migrated to Sydney, the busiest city in Australia and I can tell you this: although Australia is an Anglophone (English-speaking) country like America, Canada, England and New Zealand but Malaysia still enjoys showtimes of major English-language films from America on dates that are very close by. What is showing today in Malaysian cinemas might only show 2 months after in Australia. So to put cultural needs as a factor for late distributions worldwide is utter nonsense.

    As for Disney cartoons, theirs is a major pain in the ass. They will give you the rights to translate and dub as long as you follow 100% of their directions. This is because they want to preserve the innocence of their products so that families regardless of language background don’t view Disney as bad influence like cartoons showed in Cartoon Network’s channels. Everytime we had to dub Disney cartoons we had to wait for approval from Disney HQ in America for the translated scripts before we’re given the green light just in case translators fuck the script up and introduce vulgar words. Not only that, the technical specs required to dub Disney materials are only expensive recording suites that costs thousands of dollars so not all Malaysian studios could be given the project to record because of their lacking technical specs.

    In some countries people learn to speak English in order to broaden their knowledge. The phenomena where some fellow countrymen decides to Anglicize themselves only happens in “kiasu” countries such as ours and Singapore. If you go to African countries like South-Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and so on you’ll find that more and more younger generations are learning to speak English while retaining their mother tongue in their own homes because that’s the only way for them to communicate with fellow countrymen who has the same skin colour yet speaks in different African dialects.

    Come out of Malaysia (or even Singapore) and you’ll see the world in a different perspective. Not every country has the chance to establish an official native language like in Malaysia or Indonesia, and heaps of countries nowadays are opting to make English as their official language while retaining their native language in their own homes to be spoken with the older generations.

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