Are there any international subtitling guidelines?
Thread poster: Diego Achío

Diego Achío  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:42
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Apr 8, 2016

This is something I've been wondering for a while now. Since movies are shown internationally and there are both movie theater and TV versions of movies, documentaries, series, etc... I have always thought or at least hoped that there is any document out there with official guidelines on making subtitles, at least an ISO.

But after googling in both English and Spanish until I ran out of ideas for keywords, looking in libraries, and even trying to reach out the Mexican Institute of Cinematography (whom actually ignored all my e-mails) I'm finally getting ready to give up.

There are some guidelines on subtitling rules out there but they're all unofficial and usually they're made by fellow experienced translators or subtitling companies. Worst is, they usually specify "official rules" that are different from author to author...

On top of it... Who came up with all these rules? I highly doubt they were unwrittenly defined over time by trial and error...

I also find it hard to believe Hollywood and TV networks have no predefined preferences on the way their subtitles are shown wordwide... You'd think movies and TV shows would be a mess then (like fansubs' which differ from group to group.)

Worst is, I don't really see many translators wondering about this... Maybe I'm the only one living in ignorance all this time and there actually is some pretty obvious institution I don't know about?


I would be really grateful if anyone can finally give me closure on this question...


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 18:42
English to Croatian
+ ...
Some inputs... Apr 8, 2016

What does "unwrittenly" mean?

What kind of guidelines are you looking for, on what level - technical, artistic, linguistic/language?


 

Diego Achío  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:42
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
About your questions... Apr 8, 2016

Lingua 5B wrote:
What does "unwrittenly" mean?


I meant to say that they were defined over time but there is nothing official backing them up. I may have used the wrong expression. I apologize if so.

Lingua 5B wrote:
What kind of guidelines are you looking for, on what level - technical, artistic, linguistic/language?


Well I know subtitles have character, color, line break, and even time length rules. I'm trying to find out if there is anything official or close to official backing this up.

In videogame localization we have the International Game Developers Association which publishes and keeps updated a Best Practices for Game Localization document. Yet, in subtitling it seems there's nothing like this.

[Editado a las 2016-04-08 17:36 GMT]


 

Max Deryagin  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 21:42
Member (2013)
English to Russian
- Apr 8, 2016

Q. Who came up with all these rules?
A. Audiovisual translation academics. People like Jan Pedersen, Jorge Diaz-Cintas etc.

Q. Are there any official subtitling guidelines?
A. Plenty of them. Most AV associations (ATAA, ESIST, SUBTLE, NAVIO) have one, in addition to institutions (Ofcom, DCMP, CAB) and broadcasters (BBC, YLE, Netflix).

Q. Are there any international subtitling guidelines?
A. No, there are no international subtitling guidelines, and there cannot be any, simply because different languages require different guidelines.


 

Diego Achío  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:42
Member (2010)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks a lot! Apr 8, 2016

Max Deryagin wrote:

Q. Who came up with all these rules?
A. Audiovisual translation academics. People like Jan Pedersen, Jorge Diaz-Cintas etc.

Q. Are there any official subtitling guidelines?
A. Plenty of them. Most AV associations (ATAA, ESIST, SUBTLE, NAVIO) have one, in addition to institutions (Ofcom, DCMP, CAB) and broadcasters (BBC, YLE, Netflix).

Q. Are there any international subtitling guidelines?
A. No, there are no international subtitling guidelines, and there cannot be any, simply because different languages require different guidelines.


Thanks a lot Max, thanks to you now I can look more deeply into the matter. It is surprising that none of these associations came up while looking for them in Google.


 

jbjb  Identity Verified
Estonia
Local time: 19:42
Member (2005)
Estonian to English
+ ...
guidelines Apr 8, 2016

Guidelines for each language separately are a mess.
1. Each international subtitling company would have its own guidelines.
2. Sometimes they bend to client guidelines (like BBC, Netflix etc) - but the biggest in the sector would enforce their own guidelines over client guidelines.
3. Each local subtitling company would have its own guidelines, different from major companies.

Bigger languages would have dozens of different guidelines and a subtitle translator working for numerous companies would have to adapt to different requirements, depending on who is ordering the work.


 

Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:42
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
At least one parameter Apr 9, 2016

is determined by software, apart from policy: the number of characters you can fit in a line and how many lines you can use without obstructing the view.

This is the reason that, for instance, you don't get the exact script when viewing subtitles in the same language for the hearing-impaired.

[Edited at 2016-04-09 10:23 GMT]


 

jbjb  Identity Verified
Estonia
Local time: 19:42
Member (2005)
Estonian to English
+ ...
characters Apr 9, 2016

The number of characters in a row can vary from 32 to 45, the maximum number of rows is 2 or 3 (regular British guideline). 37 characters is generally used by major companies, as it is an average number and generally fits all guidelines.
The number can also be fixed (monospaced Courier-type font) or depend on the font (non-proportional fonts).
So in reality there is absolutely no consistency regarding the number of characters per row (just that 37 is the most popular rather randomly selected number in use).

Character number is just one of the parameters determined by the software, alongside with the reading speed and minimum-maximum screen time of subtitles (again, no consistency there, different for all guidelines).


 


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