Research Article

A Relevance-Theoretic Approach to the Subtitle Translation of Farewell My Concubine


  • Qidi Li School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China


This paper investigates the subtitle translation of the film Farewell My Concubine  from a relevance-theoretic perspective. The Chinese film Farewell My Concubine has been well-received in China as well as in other parts of the world and marked a milestone in Chinese film history. Its subtitle is rich in Chinese culture-loaded words, which may pose difficulties for both the translator to translate and for the oversea audience to understand. To explore the reasons for the warm reception of the subtitle translation of Farewell My Concubine among international audiences, this paper takes a relevance-theoretic approach to analyze the translation of culture-loaded expressions in the film, including mainly three types: Beijing Opera jargon, the Beijing dialect, and Chinese idioms. Through a detailed case study, this paper finds that the translator flexibly uses different translation strategies, such as domestication and foreignization, for different texts and contexts to cater to the audience’s cognitive environment. Meanwhile, the translator also takes into account the features of subtitles, which are often limited by time and space, and accordingly makes reasonable omissions of the translated texts. From the perspective of relevance theory, the translator realizes optimal relevance and delivers the subtitle information accurately to the target audience. This paper also proves that relevance theory, as a cognitive pragmatic approach to communication, is a useful tool for translation studies.

Article information


International Journal of English Language Studies

Volume (Issue)

5 (3)





How to Cite

Li, Q. (2023). A Relevance-Theoretic Approach to the Subtitle Translation of Farewell My Concubine. International Journal of English Language Studies, 5(3), 22–34.



Relevance Theory, Translation, Film Subtitle, Contextual Effect