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Translation Services, Translation Agency

Subtitling: A Real Art…

Posted by STPL on March 23, 2010

When we talk about what Subtitling is, we can say in simple words that it is a printed translation. Which surely is true, but what if we take it as an art. You’ll not agree with me on the first place. When given some deep thoughts to it, nobody can deny the importance and skills required to be a subtitler.

On a simple note subtitling is one of the several processes commonly used in the translation of audio-visual products. It can be in the form of captions or simple subtitles shown at the bottom on the screen.

Subtitling is much cheaper than dubbing, and it takes less time, so it is common in smaller countries for which the audience is too small to justify dubbing on a large scale.

Now lets discuss it further.

From a linguistic point of view, subtitling can be divided into two types: a) Intralingual subtitling, also known as captioning, which is primarily aimed at the deaf and hard of hearing, but also extremely useful for people learning a foreign language; b) Interlingual subtitling, the spoken/written message of the original product which is translated into the language of the target audience. From technical point of view it can again be of two type: a) Open Subtitling, which refers to subtitles that appear permanently on screen and cannot be ‘switched off’ by the viewer; b) Closed subtitles, which the viewer can choose to see or not.

Translation of subtitling is sometimes very different from the translation of written text. Usually, when a film or a TV program is subtitled, the subtitler watches the picture and listens to the audio sentence by sentence. As subtitling doesn’t just mean to translate the dialogue, thus other meaningful language in films such as signs, letters, captions and other written words are also an important area needed to be considered upon. When a film has lots of written language and dialogue happening together, this can result in some very difficult choices for the subtitler.The subtitler may or may not have access to a written transcript of the dialog. Especially in commercial subtitles, the subtitler often interprets what is meant, rather than translating how it is said, i.e. meaning being more important than form. The subtitler does this when the dialog must be condensed in order to achieve an acceptable reading speed.

The subtitler’s task is already difficult because subtitles are so limited in space (about 37 characters per line, and a maximum of two lines) and time (subtitles should not stay on the screen longer than six seconds). The result is that the content of the dialogue has to be cut down to fit in the subtitles. Not only that, but the content has to be translated, and the subtitles also have to be ‘spotted’ or timed carefully to match the dialogue.

The basic aim of any translation is to reformulate a source language message in a given target language, avoiding at all costs any misunderstandings in the process. In other translation practices mistakes can easily pass unnoticed, but this is rarely the case in a mode of translation as uniquely vulnerable as subtitling. Hence it will no be incorrect to project subtitling as another real art form of contemporary time.

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