What is Subtitling?
Ever seen a movie with the spoken text translated and visible to read at the bottom of the screen? Have you seen your own favorite movies on DVD or on TV with some strange text appearing at the bottom of the screen in strange foreign languages? Ever seen DVDs that specify a list of languages in which subtitles are available?
Subtitles, as the word suggests, are titles given at the bottom (sub). These are the transcriptions of the words that are being uttered on the screen by the actors, newsreaders or commentators on the screen, but in a different language. The subtitles are essentially translations of the dialogue or narration in a language other than in which they are being spoken.
Subtitling is the process by which subtitling artistes transcribe and simultaneously translate audio texts from a video clip into a different language. The process comprises 2 simultaneous conversions:
- the conversion from audio (aural) to graphic (visual / textual) mode (transcription) – i.e. the mode of reception is changed from audio to textual. Information that was available to be heard now becomes available to be read. This is akin to transcription but for the fact that the audio information is in a different language whereas the written (transcribed) information is in a different languages.
- the conversion (translation) from one language to another In the process of subtitling, the audio text is converted to a different language while transcribing. Hence for example, a Chinese dialogue which is being spoken on screen and heard by the audience, is converted to text-graphic subtitles in English and made available to be read.
One can say that
subtitling = translation + transcription
Considering the fact that there is oral to written translation, there is also an element of interpretation.
subtitling = interpretation + translation + transcription
However, considering that translation is already a written activity, the need to specify transcription is obviated. Hence we can consider the model:
subtitling = interpretation + translation
Another criticism of the above formula is that interpretation is actually already a translation activity, with only the modes differing, so it’s actually interpretation plus transcription:
A second level analysis of each element will perhaps remove the overlaps and hence the confusions:
Interpretation = listening (understanding) + translating (language conversion) + speaking Translation = reading + translating (language conversion) + writing Transcription = listening + writing
subtitling = listening + understanding + converting the language + writing
Hence subtitling, in its core, is a combination of various elements of interpretation, translation and transcription. It is a closely blended combination of all 3 activities.