Comments on comments on comments on…

As any of my colleagues at the Daily Cardinal could tell you, it’s a rare and lovely event when someone comments on a piece you’ve written on the DC’s website; it’s even rarer and lovelier when that comment genuinely engages with some of the issues broached in your piece. Thus, I was pleased to read this comment, courtesy of “Subtitler”:

The main problem with English subtitles on foreign film, is the misconception in countries where subtitling isn’t common that the subtitles should cover everything that is said, i.e. that the subtitles should be a very exact translation. Consequently, the subtitles often run at such a high speed that viewers are forced to have their eyes glued to the bottom of the screen.

In Scandinavia and the Netherlands (where everybody reads subtitles every day, as all imported films and TV shows are subtitled), the basic rule for subtitling is that a subtitle should stay on the screen so long that the average reader has time to read it twice. This gives you time to both read the subtitle and watch the action. In order to achieve this, Scandinavian and Dutch translation subtitlers (it’s a profession) condense the dialogue quite a lot, following the rule that the important thing is WHAT is being said (i.e. to convey the message), not HOW it is said (i.e. including unimportant phrases such as “I would like to say that…” and “…if you know what I mean”).

This means that Scandinavian and Dutch subtitles aren’t proper translations in the traditional term, but a form of adapted screenplay. To some, this may be regarded as taking too much liberty with the original, but please consider that in dubbed movies the dialogue is even further away from the original, as the dubbing translators partly base their script on the mouth movements.

To be sure, there’s no such thing as a perfect translation. On a related note, one can easily tell that, say, Michel Piccoli is a formidable actor, even if one doesn’t speak a lick of French—but why is that? How good a sense does one really have that an actress is conveying her lines in a particularly inspired way if you rely upon subtitles to understand the content of her performance? In my column I suggested that we might have to watch some films twice just to say we’ve seen ’em; perhaps I low-balled it.

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2 Responses to “Comments on comments on comments on…”

  1. Slane Says:

    We actually just enabled anonymous comments the other day, so expect the trickle of comments to slowly increase. Unfortunately there will also be a trickle of more comments like the first one on your story too.

    • Dan Sullivan Says:

      I’m always down for some glasnost’—unless, of course, it takes the form it took over at that other student newspaper’s website.

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