-This introduction to subtitling has been written by the Mondo Agit agency-
Subtitling is a type of audiovisual translation that has its own specifications, rules and criteria. The first thing to do before exploring the world of subtitling is to understand that this type of translation belongs to “subordinate translation”. Thus, it is a translation that has restrictions of time and space which directly affect the final result. Our translation depends on these parameters and it does not only consist of translating the textual context, but also supporting us in the image and the audio, with determined time and space.
The space which we have in our translation is limited to 2 lines of subtitles which are usually placed and generally centred at the bottom of the screen. Each line cannot contain more than 35 characters (i.e. any letter, symbol or space). The subtitle (formed by 2 lines) can have up to 70 characters.
In terms of the limits of time, a subtitle has a minimum duration of a second and a maximum duration of 6 seconds on screen.
But, there is a direct relation between the duration of a subtitle and the number of characters that it can contain so that it can be read. These parameters are based on an average reading speed. We cannot read the same amount of text if we have 6 seconds or less. It is estimated that the current average reading speed is 3 words a second. So to read a complete subtitle of 2 lines and 70 characters, we will need at least 4 seconds, which house some 12 words. If we have less time, we must calculate less characters.
The subtitling carries a technical part which is the spotting of the subtitles. So, the translator should aim to calculate the moment in which the subtitles appear and disappear on the screen, so that the subtitles are synchronised with the audio. Also, the duration of the subtitles and the changes of the camera shot must be taken into account. When a change of shot is produced, the viewer tends to return to lowering their view and re-reading the subtitle, so one must consider, where possible, the shot and scene changes.
Therefore, the process of subtitling consists of the following phases:
– Spotting: Identifying the entrance and exit times of the subtitles synchronised with the audio, calculating the minimum and maximum duration times and considering the changes in camera shot and scene.
– Translation (adaptation): Translation from the original, adapting it and adjusting it to characters permitted according to the duration of the subtitle.
– Simulation: Representation of the translated subtitles with the image and the audio to check that they meet all of the criteria and that they can be read in a natural way.
– Correction of errors and readjustment of the text.
The most complete free program would probably be “Subtitle Workshop”. It is a tool that can easily be downloaded from the internet and isn´t difficult to use. The program allows you to work with an audiovisual file whilst simultaneously translating the subtitles. The exact time of entrance and exit of a subtitle (criteria) can be introduced, the translation added (adjustment) the result can be seen in the moment (simulation).
In terms of the adjustment, that is – the textual content of the subtitle, there is a series of basic criteria which follow in subtitling. The text which contains subtitles must be a natural text, with the same punctuation, spelling rules and natural language conventions. The language must not become unnatural when trying to adjust the number of characters, but it must reach an adjustment which is natural and correct. Some of the basic principle criteria are:
- The cutting of the subtitle, the separation of the two lines, must not interrupt any phrase. A noun or adjective must not be separated in two different lines, nor a noun and a verb, as it must be a natural separation.
- A short hyphen is used (-) in conversations to indicate that two people are speaking, with a hyphen on each line of the subtitle when someone else is speaking.
- Italics are used for voices in off, and for songs and audio away from the scene of electronic devices.
- Quotation marks (“”), recognised abbreviations and figures are used, and where possible capital letters are avoided (used for titles, and signs or written content in the image).
The ideal final result is that the subtitles are synchronised with the audiovisual document, in such a way that it sounds natural and fluent, so much so that the spectator is almost unaware that they are reading and is absorbed in the image, the audio and the text.