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Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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5.9 Subtitling

Subtitling is a specialised branch of translation, and comes with its own challenges. In order to ensure that subtitles can be read easily and quickly, they have to adhere to strict rules, such as respecting the maximum number of characters per line, no splitting of words, etc. It also needs to be borne in mind that people process written language more slowly than spoken, so the subtitler often has to cut out non-essential meanings while trying to remain faithful to the original. Working within these parameters, translators writing subtitles still have to give as faithful a rendering of the original as they can.

Activity 48

Watch the following Hairy Bikers video, where the producers deliberately use inaccurate subtitles to make fun of Dave and Si, and later explain how the joke came about. Then answer the questions below.

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Using the language gap
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  1. When is it OK to do something like this?
  2. Where would you draw the line?
  3. Have you experienced anything similar in your own life?
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Your answers here will depend on your own views and experiences, but here are some thoughts.

The producer shows that he is fully aware of the ethical considerations of using wrong/joke subtitles, and confirms that he sought permission from the Italian chef. It would not be OK to leave the victim of the joke entirely in the dark, for example, by widely distributing an unfaithfully subtitled film while leaving the contributors to believe that their speech has been rendered accurately. Nor would it be OK to introduce invented content that is offensive.