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A specific scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is what triggered this question:

Near the end, when the Orcs are in the Lake town and realize the dwarves have split up, one of them says something that was subtitled something like "They have reached the mountain".

However, listening to what they were actually saying, the word "Erebor" was clearly said - which as far as I know, is a proper name and should not have been translated.

So, did that scene have a small translation mistake in the subtitles, am I misunderstanding what is going on between translating the 3 languages involved (Erebor/dwarvish, subtitles/English, Orc/Black Speech), or do the subtitles in general actually differ from what the characters are saying?

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This is often done when translating between languages. I did notice it a few times in the movie, when a proper noun was heard in one language but not translated in the next.

Let me explain it as I understand it:

In the common tongue (English) in which most of the dialogue takes place in this movie (and book), we have usually been referring to Erebor as "The Lonely Mountain" or simply, the Mountain. This is because "Erebor" as the Kingdom of Dwarves technically no longer exists, as it was wiped out by Smaug. The Mountain is still there; "Erebor" is not. It is like calling the city of Rome as "The seat of the Roman Empire". Rome itself is still there, the Roman Empire is not.

It seems that the term "The Lonely Mountain" has at least been around for 200 years or so, because it was on Thorin's map. Regardless, I think it is clear that this term would not make it into Black Speech - it is overly poetic and full of emotion. They would simply call it "Erebor" and would not stop calling it that just because the kingdom had fallen. It would probably not occur to the Orcs that they should start calling the place anything else. Black Speech is terse and to-the-point.

So, when the Orcs refer to the Mountain, they still call it Erebor. However, since we have been calling it "the Mountain" for the most part in the common tongue, the subtitle used that instead of Erebor. This kind of thing is done in translation all the time; if a certain term for something has been established in the target language, we would try to stay in that mode for consistency's sake, even if the language we were translating from used a different, equivalent term.

  • Do you have experience in writing subtitles? – AncientSwordRage Jan 3 '14 at 18:51
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    Actually Erebor is literally "The Lonely Mountain" in Sindarin, therefore they are perfect synonyms. So Erebor, even if the Dwarven kingdom has fallen, is always there. When the orcs say Erebor they are literally referring to the mountain. – Alfredo Hernández Apr 16 '14 at 21:17
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This question is nearly impossible to give a correct answer to because the words of Black Speech in question were specifically created in order to deliver that line of subtitled dialogue - Tolkien never invented more than 50 words (absolute maximum) of the Black Speech.

Furthermore the whole subject (across the entirety of the Hobbit films) is a bit of a mess because Erebor is a Sindarin (thus elvish) name for the Lonely Mountain rather than a dwarven Khuzdul one. None of the dwarves, therefore, or the men of Dale should properly be using Erebor as a referent and based on Tolkien pattern of people translating the meaning of a name into their own language - Gand-alf, for example, is Westron for "wand-elf" (Men often assuming that he was of elvish nature) whereas in Khuzdul the name Tharkûn (with the same meaning) is used instead - the orcs should rightly have rendered "lonely-mountain" directly into Black Speech and used that.

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    it's a valid-seeming theory but "Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug Saruman-glob búbhosh skai!" suggests that proper names in other languages were definitely used untranslated in BS. – user8719 Dec 27 '13 at 15:17

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