AUTHOR: María José González Rodríguez TITLE: El subtitulado cinematográfico SUBTITLE: Fusión de palabra, gesto y movimiento escénico SERIES: Linguistics Edition 51 PUBLISHER: LINCOM GmbH YEAR: 2006
Elizabeth Specker, University of Arizona
In this short book, the author gives an overview of the subtitling process for movies. Based on work done during her dissertation, González Rodríguez works her way through the history, purpose and complex editorial choices of interlingual subtitling. As she explains the factors that are involved in the editorial choices, she gives examples from the Spanish subtitles of ''Cat on a hot tin roof.''
The book, written in Spanish, is divided into six sections which guide the reader through the history of subtitles, from silent movies with 'intertitles' to the beginning of talkies and through to more recent uses of translation between the different modal qualities in film. A variety of factors are involved in the decision as to whether movies are dubbed or subtitled, which include not only financial reasons but also multilingual factors in the areas in which the movies are shown or sold.
González Rodríguez outlines the limitations of the subtitle process, showing the reader some of the reasons why subtitles are presented in their present format on a screen. Not only are there spatial limitations in effect, namely that subtitles should not aesthetically interfere with the images on the screen, but also the physical limitations of the human eye when reading text. Other considerations include the color of the text in contrast to the background images, and that many viewers don't like the distraction from the images and the extra cognitive load. In addition to the physical and psychological limitations of subtitling, financial limitations are also in play as subtitling is less expensive and quicker than dubbing.
The author then briefly discusses the process of layering the subtitles on the screen. As the space available for subtitles is limited, the written text is frequently an adaptation from the verbal dialogue. The subtitles must remain on the screen long enough to be read, which, according to González Rodríguez, is at the rate of about 120 words per minute, or 3 seconds per line of text. Each line of text has a maximum limit of 32-34 characters. Interestingly, the subtitles have general guidelines that are followed: they should disappear at the end of the verbal speech, there is a minimum use of punctuation, when dialogue is dropped off then ellipsis marks may be used, and the subtitles should try to be even in length if more than two lines. Since turns of speech are frequently longer than the space available for the written text, the lines should be broken at conjunctions, between subordinating and principal clauses, or at relative pronouns. A second possibility for dividing a turn of speech is at a natural pause. Another possibility for subtitles in rapid speech is to 'double text', or put a marker in front of the changing conversational turns as they are shown in rapid succession.
González Rodríguez also includes a short section about subtitling and accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing. Subtitles use capital letters to indicate sounds, allusions to background noises that are relevant to the dialogue or storyline, and even the word SONG added to indicate that the characters on screen are singing.
In the fourth and fifth sections, the author emphasizes the role of editing: subtitling is more of an interpretation than a straight translation. The subtitler must be well versed in both languages, in vernacular as well as more formal registers and idiomatic phrases. Often times, the subtitler must either use red-pencil editing, in which words are taken out yet the semantic meaning is retained, or rewrite editing, in which the editing may slightly change the meaning. Colloquial phrases may be dropped from the subtitles, (e.g. like, you know, what I want to say), as well as terms of endearment, (e.g. sweetie, honey, dear). Other alterations between the original dialogue and the subtitled version include language use that is considered objectionable, such as swear words, which are often reduced in their impact with the reason that the written word appears stronger to viewers than spoken. Often syntactically complex phrases are simplified, and to make reading faster, the low frequency words are replaced with semantically similar high frequency ones. Throughout section four, examples of these editorial decisions are given, and many of them illuminate the idea that subtitling is indeed more of an interpretation used in the process of giving written access to a verbal semiotic medium. González Rodríguez concludes with a few remarks about the purpose of the text: to give a short overview of the process of subtitling, as well as to give recognition for the complicated and often artistic decisions that are made during the process.
González Rodríguez's text is useful as a general guide to the subtitling process. But that is all it was: an overview with examples from one movie. The examples given within were quite illustrative, and the inclusion of a table giving the interlingual and intralingual translation, (namely that of the original version, to the translated version, to the quite altered subtitled version), added to the overall text by clearly illustrating the alterations that the verbal dialogue goes through before it is placed on the bottom of the screen as written subtitles. However, the massive appendices that contain similar long excerpts, although not in a contrastive table, seem superfluous, especially as they are not referred to within the text nor necessary in order to understand the subtitle process. Within the content of the book, the weight of the focus of González Rodríguez's text was on linguistic choices, with only mere mentions about the relationships of gesture and scene and their impact on subtitling. Although this seemed misleading when compared to the book's title, perhaps the point the author was trying to make was that all of the words, gestures, actions in scenes, as well as the individual characters, actors, subtle humor and allusions, the intent of the director, etc, must be considered when making interpretations and editorial choices in rendering the above into short, moving written text that is in a different language for an audience of a different cultural background. As González Rodríquez writes near the end, ''En resumen, todos aquellos aspectos que necesitan ser interpretados, no solo traducidos de una lengua a otra'' (p. 18). Her text gives the reader a quick peek at the subtitling process and its difficulties and constraints.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elizabeth Specker is a doctoral candidate in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, at the University of Arizona. Her major research interests include using media as a learning tool, including a focus on closed captioning/subtitling, discourse analysis, metaphor and multilingualism.