Translators Associations Europe: AVTranslators

The Arts and Crafts of Subtitling

Translation Association Europe: AVTranslatorsDenmark-based translators association AvTranslators has put together a set of guiding lines concerning subtitling. The profession affects people on a daily basis, particularly those living in non-English speaking countries. Subtitles are one of “the most widely distributed and read literary products and thus vital to the preservation and development of national languages”. They have a deep impact on children’s skill acquisition both in native and in foreign languages.

For AVTranslators, subtitling “is a craft and an art”. Their importance is stressed by the fact that they are “intellectual property of the subtitler, covered by copyright conventions and laws”.

So, what is the purpose of subtitling? According to the translation association, they “must reproduce the intent of an original work that would otherwise be inaccessible or incomprehensible to a given audience”. Subtitles are lines of text which reproduce language content in screen media.

There are three key elements involved in the process of subtitling: time, space and content.

Beginning with timing: as in everyday’s decisions, it is rather important. If a subtitle enters at the wrong time, dialogue becomes incomprehensible. Thus, it is very important that the cueing of subtitles follows the speech rhythm, “taking cuts and sound bridges into consideration”.

Also to be taken into account is the amount of text contained in a subtitle. It “must be consistent with the viewers' reading speed”. To achieve this, you normally need to compress the dialogue. If there is too much text in the subtitle when compared to its exposure time on screen, the audience, me or you won’t have time to read it.

It is also very important that the translation reproduces “the message conveyed in the original work”, since “errors in translation or language will distract the viewer”.

“The subtitle's cueing, brevity, and content are factors that help to convey the intent of the original work”. If anything other than this happening, the most likely to happen is that the viewer will give up watching it.

According to AVTranslators, “idiomatic phrases and expressions should always be used”. Also, the content of the subtitle must not contradict either spoken dialogue or body language. Names are to be maintained or, if necessary, translated.

The style of the target language has to be equivalent to the one of the source language. When converting measurements and numbers, these figures must be rounded to an equivalent degree of precision.

Finally, AVTranslators advises that “national subtitling standards for punctuation, italics, text alignment, continuation and dialogue indicators must always be followed”.

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