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February 1995, Week 4


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David Smith <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 27 Feb 1995 13:15:23 CST
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I am commencing a survey of viewer preferences for subtitling
and/or dubbing of foreign-language films and videos. I am also
interested in hearing from multilingual subscribers, on how the
exigencies of subtitling/dubbing distort the semantic meanings
of original soundtrack dialogues (and narrations in the case of
dubbed voice-overs). Specific examples would be appreciated.
I'm looking for the best and the worst. Respondents may post
directly to me <[log in to unmask]>, or to Screen-List if they
feel their comments to be of general interest to the group.
To start things off: My worst experience of subtitling was with
an ancient and apparently very popular VHS copy of Fellini's _And
the Ship Sails On_. The subtitles were cut off at the bottom by the
video underscan, and my partner and I found ourselves trying to peer
'over' the bottom edge of the TV screen. Naturally, the white letters
were washed-out against light scenary (Fellini loved light!). We
wound up watching the video on our 13-inch TV from a distance of
three feet (we normally view from about ten). The subtitles
contributed less than 30% to our grasp of the story, though we had to
completely depend upon it for what snatches of dialogue we were
able to discern. We had the suspicion that a significant amount of
the dialogue wasn't subtitled. Nevertheless we loved the film and
enjoyed hearing the original soundtrack.
The scope and purpose of my study is as follows:
Films and videos distributed in foreign countries are, by nature,
bilingual. Some kind of translation to the host language must be
provided. This may be done by dubbing, subtitling, or both. I propose
to analyze the relative effectiveness of the various strategies of
bilingualism in films and videos, focusing on the problems of
subtitling as an issue of visual communications.
Good quality dubbing requires coordination of the translation with
lip-synching, i.e. a translation must be found in which the spoken
words match the lip movements in a reasonably convincing manner.
To satisfy this condition, the semantic meaning of the dialogue may
have to be distorted. Good dubbing is much more expensive than
subtitling, and technically risky because even slight imperfections
are extremely noticeable and destructive of narrative credibility
(this risk does not, of course, apply to voice-overs).
Subtitling, on the other hand, allows the original spoken dialogue to
carry considerable emotional weight and retain the cultural flavor
of a film. In verbose dialogue, editing of the translation may be
required in order to control the sheer volume and pacing of subtitles
which the audience is being asked to read. The main typographic
issues of subtitling are legibility and obtrusivenenss. Both of these
issues are affected by such things as aspect ratio, size and
resolution of the movie or TV screen. I will consider film and video
subtitling separately.
David Smith
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David Smith
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