Subtitle Chats Recap – Analysing Subtitles

Our first subtitle chat of the new year was on the topic ‘Analysing subtitles’. It was great to see some new faces at the chat, and welcome back other people who have attended a few times before. We had an interesting discussion about analysing subtitles and some of the considerations and challenges that we encounter when doing so, as well as talking more about the kinds of research we would like to see that would involve analysing subtitles.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

It was noted that if you’re going to analyse a film, it’s important to check what guidelines the subtitler was working with, because this could really influence their decisions. For example, maybe the subtitlers’ hands were tied in relation to the translation of swearing – we can’t attribute every decision solely to the subtitler, without understanding the additional factors influencing their work.

From the researcher’s perspective, there are challenges encountered when choosing the subtitles you want to analyse, as there may be NDAs and copyright restrictions in place that could affect the kinds of materials you are able to work with; sometimes you can’t even use your own subtitles! Another challenge noted was that sometimes ‘negative’ evaluations of subtitles can mean that distributors don’t want to share their content for research purposes. This is an important reminder of the impact this kind of research can have, but we’re not only here to critique subtitles; we also want to look at what has been gained through subtitling!

We started to talk about what kind of subtitle analysis research would be interesting for us, and wondered what happens when subtitles areiPhone screen showing TikTok in app store. in a different position on screen, like the kinds of subtitles you can find on Tik Tok etc. We wondered whether, if we knew more about the effects of this, subtitlers could also have a role in educating, for example, PR companies about what they should do in terms of subtitles. Related to this thought, what about customised or ‘creative’ subtitles, the kind that might include emojis etc? Are these any good? What is the impact on the viewing experience? We’d like to see different reception studies examining the placement of subtitles and the impact of the unpredictability of moving subtitles. We are aware that subtitles are an addition to an aesthetically-thought-out visual, and so we have to consider how subtitles impact the whole product. In sum, we need to consider the cognitive load caused by subtitles and ask the client: Do you want the audience to watch the film or just read subtitles? When they want subtitlers to make changes or add things in without an understanding of subtitling, the subtitler may find they need to explain reading speeds and research findings. This means that knowing about research is valuable to subtitlers, it is in fact added value in comparison to what MT can do, and can be grounds for higher rates.

We finally noted that criticising subtitles (and sometimes dubbing as well) is a national pastime in many places (e.g. Brazil, Turkey, Finland), BUT: We’re all human, and people make mistakes. It’s also worth remembering the impact of working conditions and tightening deadlines. How does that affect mistakes? What about the use of MT and the impact of that on creativity? The translator doesn’t do everything, there are other players in the game, and audiences should be reminded of how many factors are at play.

It was a very interesting chat that gave us lots of ideas for future events and reminded us again of how different subtitling processes and workflows can be. We are hoping that the infographics we’ve been working on will help educate people about the various factors that need to be considered in subtitling, and the many different aspects there are to a subtitler’s work. We’ll be launching the infographics in April, so watch this space! In the meantime, our next subtitle chat will take place on Thursday 14th March, and the topic will be ‘Tools that make our lives easier’. Will you be joining us? Keep your eyes peeled for registration information, and remember you can always join our mailing list and be the first to receive updates by dropping us a line at projectsubcomm (at) gmail (dot) com.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

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