Opinions please.... in subtitling, where you are obviously limited with regards to space
Thread poster: Sonja A

Sonja A
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:00
English to Croatian
Mar 4, 2009

....in subtitling, where you are obviously limited with regards to space, do you think it's acceptable to choose a term slightly more colloquial in order to have sufficient space or would you rather loose some of the description so you don't have to use the above mentioned colloguial expression?

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2009-03-04 12:39 GMT]


Parrot  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:00
Spanish to English
+ ...
Paraphrasing doesn't necessarily mean a change in register Mar 4, 2009

I've tried watching dubbed and subtitled DVDs where I listened to the dubbing and read the subtitles. Some were versions evidently made for the deaf. They're never completely the same. A study of these should help you.


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Closed-caption vs. subtitling Mar 4, 2009

Parrot wrote:
Some were versions evidently made for the deaf.

Now and then I get video "translations" - obviously by amateurs - to spot and burn. It's usually a nighmare since, on top of all mistakes, they translate everything on the script (sometimes without watching the video), even if it's a repetition, or something irrelevant or in any other way unnecessary for the spectator to understand what is being said there.

Closed-captioning is different. Everything audible must be there, including sounds, e.g. [phone rings], [dog barks], [car starts]. However an amateur wouldn't know what subtitling is all about, nor closed captioning.


Paul Cohen  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
German to English
+ ...
Time + amount of text = rhythm Mar 4, 2009

It's essential that your subtitles respect a number of parameters, the key ones being time and space. You need to establish a rhythm that the reader can settle into and depend on. Rough guidelines for video/DVD/TV subtitling are as follows:

One or two short words = 1.5 seconds
Half a line = 2 seconds
one line = 3 seconds
one and a half lines = 4 to 4.5 seconds
two full lines = 5 to 6 seconds

It's important that you establish guidelines for time and the amount of text and stick to them religiously.

Remember, it takes the eye a certain amount of time for a viewer to realize that new text has appeared on the screen and to start reading. That's why you might need 1.5 seconds for one word and "only" 3 seconds for an entire line.

If a subtitle has insufficient time, the viewer will miss something and become frustrated.

You should also keep in mind that a subtitle that is on the screen for too long will appear to "hang" there and viewers will start reading it a second time. Then they'll get "lazy" and miss subtitles when the pace picks up again.

If there is a lot of fast dialogue or rapid narration, something usually gets lost in translation. That's the name of the game. The art of subtitling is to minimize that loss, to capture the essence of what is being said by filtering out what is non-essential.

You'll want to lose as little as possible while maintaining the right register and respecting the basic parameters of time and space (not to mention the limits presented by cuts, but that's another story).

It's up to you to decide whether your "colloquial expression" fits the register and context. But whatever you do, it's not acceptable to suddenly have, for example, a two-line subtitle that flashes on the screen for 2 seconds followed by another two-liner that hangs on the screen for 7 seconds, which will only irritate viewers. That is one of the hallmarks of amateur subtitles.

Another thing to remember: Longer and more literary words take proportionally longer to read than shorter ones. This speaks in favor of many colloquial expressions because they tend to use shorter words.

In other words:
"Eschew obfuscation" would take longer to read than "Just give it to them straight."

But does it fit the context?

You decide.


José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:00
English to Portuguese
+ ...
On decision-maling + some trade secrets Mar 4, 2009

Paul Cohen wrote:
You decide.

Really great tips, Paul.

But Sslik, if you feel squeamish about deciding as a translator, roleplay yourself as a spectator. If you were watching that video relying on subtitles to understand, would you consider whatever decision you made (as a translator) satisfactory?

In the 18 years I translated video for dubbing, I often put myself in the producer's role. As the whole audio track would be re-created, would the producer be satisfied with his masterpiece coming out like this in the target language?

Some 5 years ago I went into translation for subtitling too. One major change was to shift my roleplaying stance to the spectator's. If it's about subtitling, I analyze my work from the spectator's pont of view, as the producer's masterpiece will remain untouched.

Forget the client who hired you until payday. Imagine other clients. If it were for dubbing, the producer would hire you to develop a translated script, so that artists (dubbers) and technicians (audio mixer, Foley etc.) could re-create his film with a soundtrack in a different language. As your case is subtitling, envision that the spectator hired you and your magic screen typewriter to make him understand the film in a strange language.

Either way, the client who actually hired you will be very happy with the quality you'll deliver.


Sonja A
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:00
English to Croatian
explanation Mar 4, 2009

wow, some really brilliant tips there, thank you both.
Well in this particular case I did decide and I decided based on the context, story, character etc. Given that the character was an extremely literate author with great love for adjectives, I decided that trying to stay as faithful to the original style, descriptiveness and detail as possible was more important than avoiding the use of a slightly colloguial term.

However, I was told it was a mistake and that is why I decided to ask your opinions, since, after obviously making sure the story is understandable and easy to follow, that the translation is accurate, I also try to make sure I follow the style, language, rhytm.... of the original and find it extremely important.


Local time: 03:00
English to Spanish
Not really Mar 6, 2009

Most subtitles tend to keep the register, but they do not use the same words (literal translation) because of space. You may use a different word, but you should try to avoid descriptions as they are longer and there is no correspondence with the speech. It is very easy to notice "mistakes" in subtitling, but it is virtually impossible to focus on the actual translation. You have to consider many many other things.


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Opinions please.... in subtitling, where you are obviously limited with regards to space

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