Interlingual subtitling: a matter of accuracy and linguistic correspondence

When it comes to subtitling translation, not only is a text translated, but also there has to be a correspondence with the image and the original audio. In other words, subtitles must have the same duration as the dialogue. In order to facilitate the reading process, the most that can be done is to extend their duration about half a second more, right after the actor’s line.

Moreover, especially when the viewer is familiar with the language of audio and with that of subtitles, we must be faithful to the original text. In fact, if subtitles are used as support to better understand the original dialogue, even more so they have to strictly respect this faithfulness.

For example, let’s take the case of a viewer who chooses to watch a subtitled, not dubbed, movie in order to learn the language in which the movie was shot (in jargon, this new language is called L2, in contrast with L1, that is the native language). This occurs very frequently, which is why subtitles cannot go too far from the original dialogue.

In the light of these considerations, I happened to bump into this clip on YouTube. It’s a short scene from the movie “Now is good” with the English original audio and the Spanish subtitles. Too bad that the latter have errors. Let’s have a look at them together.

The first subtitle (“Tessa.”) comes in beforehand. This may happen when there is a scene change, but that’s not the case here. This subtitle’s flaw clashes very much with what goes on in the video and confuses the viewer. So pay attention to synchronisation: subtitles have to match the speech.

Then the protagonists say:
– What’s the worst thing that can happen?
– It’ll hurt.
– It already hurts.

The relative Spanish subtitles are:
– Â¿Qué es lo peor que podría pasar?
РNo lo s̩.
– Estoy lista.

For the sake of clarity, I’m translating the Spanish subtitles:
– What’s the worst thing that can happen?
– I don’t know.
– I’m ready.

As you can easily see, subtitles don’t respect what’s being said in the original dialogue. Of course, they are coherent with the initial question, but unfortunately they are not faithful to the dialogue and, as I explained above, this could be a problem and lead the viewer to confusion. In fact, when I first saw the clip, I was bewildered too: knowing well both English and Spanish, this failed linguistic correspondence caught me off guard.

To wrap up, when it comes to subtitling, we have to bear in mind that the final audience may also know the audio’s original language. So, in conclusion of this article, I’d like to launch a catchphrase to all subtitlers: utmost faithfulnessstrict accuracy!