Subtitling refers to lines of text in films and other visual media that provide written information about what is depicted. Subtitles are used in films to translate spoken content from a foreign language or to make it comprehensible for the hearing impaired. However, subtitling can also be used as a stylistic device.
Subtitles, also called captions, make films accessible to all. Subtitling is about synchronising the text sections with the image in such a way that the viewer can read along without much effort and follow the image and audio at the same time. A distinction is made between intralingual and interlingual subtitles: Intralingual means that the subtitles correspond to the original language of the film, interlingual means that they are shown in another language.
How to create interlingual subtitles
There are various ways to create subtitles – for example, by hiring an agency. Usually, the original sound is first transcribed by a native speaker before a translator transfers it into the desired language. Once the passages of the film where the subtitles are to fade in and out have been identified, the translation is adapted to the display duration of the subtitle. This is because it is not so much a matter of translating what is said faithfully as of adapting it to the meaning, taking various parameters into account. The subtitling is then examined for errors in a simulation.
Timing is particularly important when creating subtitles: the viewer must have enough time to read the subtitles without losing sight of the image. As a rule, the maximum duration for showing subtitles is six seconds. The space is usually limited to two lines that appear at the bottom of the screen.
Different forms of subtitling
Depending on the occasion, different types of subtitles are used, which are presented in the following sections.
The subtitling of live formats such as news programmes takes place in real time. Speech recognition systems are used to automatically create the subtitles. If required, these can be edited and fed into the programme.
While live subtitling is more about delivering content quickly, offline subtitling is more careful. Offline subtitles are the preferred presentation style for entertainment programmes that are not recorded live.
Collaborative subtitling, also called fansubbing, refers to the voluntary creation of subtitles by Internet users. Via a platform, programmes can be translated into any language by viewers themselves and accessed by other users.
Subtitling for the hearing impaired
Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing take into account not only dialogue but also other sounds in the film. Clues of this kind can be, for example, “sad music”, “telephone ringing” or “dishes clattering”. To make it clear which protagonist is speaking, lines of dialogue are often displayed in different colours.
Subtitling as a stylistic device
Subtitles do not always contribute to language comprehension. In some films, they are deliberately used as a stylistic device, for example when protagonists do not speak the standard language set by the film. One example of this is films that feature aliens.
Difference: open and closed captions
Subtitles that cannot be switched off and are an integral part of the film are called open subtitles or open captions. Closed subtitles or closed captions are provided separately and can be switched on and off or changed to another language if desired.
FAQ: More questions about subtitling
What is a subtitle?
A subtitle is a section of text that makes films understandable in written form. It is usually displayed at the bottom of the screen.
What are subtitles for the hearing impaired?
Subtitles make films accessible for the hearing impaired. In addition to the written dialogue, sounds are also presented in the subtitles.
How long does it take to subtitle?
The time it takes to create subtitles can vary greatly. Human-generated subtitles are usually created within two to five days. Subtitling software enables captions to be generated within a few minutes. However, qualitative fluctuations are to be expected.
How much does subtitling cost?
Prices for subtitling vary depending on the provider and the service options booked. Agencies charge according to lines and language. Here’s an example: For a four-minute video that is to be provided with English subtitles, about 80 lines of work are to be expected. Here, the translation costs are on average £70.
This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site.