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Review of  El Subtitulado Cinematográfico

Reviewer: Elizabeth Specker
Book Title: El Subtitulado Cinematográfico
Book Author: María José González Rodríguez
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 17.2792

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AUTHOR: María José González Rodríguez
TITLE: El subtitulado cinematográfico
SUBTITLE: Fusión de palabra, gesto y movimiento escénico
SERIES: Linguistics Edition 51
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.

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.