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Features of subtitling

Features of subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Cinécriture works in partnership with associations for deaf and hard-of-hearing adults and children in order to cater to their expectations as closely as possible.

Subtitling for the cinema :

Although the subtitled version of a cinema release is shown at special sessions for the deaf or hard-of-hearing, the audience may well – and in fact ideally – consist of a mix of deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing people. The subtitles therefore need to meet the expectations of a mixed audience. Hearing people may be interested in this type of subtitling for various reasons : they may be foreigners who are not proficient enough in the language to be able to follow a whole film without subtitles ; some sections of the film may be hard to hear ; or some characters may have a speaking style that is difficult to understand. After a screening of Michel Vaillant, for example, a number of hearing viewers said they were relieved to be able to refer to the subtitles to understand a character who spoke with a strong American accent.

The rules we apply are designed to offer maximum viewing comfort for our audiences.

  • We transcribe the original dialogue verbatim wherever possible, particularly in scenes that allow for simultaneous lip reading (close-ups). However, although reading speed is faster than listening speed (which is only as fast as oral delivery), not all deaf and hard-of-hearing people want to or are able to read long subtitles or subtitles that only flash up on the screen briefly. The answers to questionnaires handed out after screenings have shown that a significant share of audiences have difficulty reading quickly. Moreover, a hearing viewer who hears the dialogues is free to watch the images at the same time, whereas a deaf viewer must read the text first before being able to look at the images. This is the same as when a hearing person watches a foreign-language film, which is why the subtitled translation is much more concise than the spoken dialogue. Therefore, the text may be simplified when the dialogue is particularly fast or when the images contain a lot of information that requires the viewer’s attention, i.e. when important information would be missed if the viewer concentrated on the subtitles alone.
  • We respect the register intended by the director. The subtitles must transcribe the dialogues of the film, not adapt them to written prose. The register – formal, colloquial, slang, etc. – must therefore be appropriate to the style of the film. For example, if abbreviated forms are used in the spoken dialogues, they should also be used in the subtitles. The same applies to grammatical mistakes, which should appear in inverted commas to show they are intentional.
  • We make generous use of captions to notate sound effects , that are directly related to the action or that describe a mood or atmosphere. Some captions are intended primarily for the hearing-impaired or people who have become deaf later in life (expressions like “roar of an engine” or “a bell rings” do not mean much to someone who is deaf from birth, but enable people whose hearing has deteriorated to relive once-familiar emotions and sensations). Other captions are essential for understanding the action (information such as “gunshot” or “creaking door” can be key to a particular scene). Additional captions may also be relevant. The person who is speaking may be identified by name to eliminate possible confusion, or a situation may be clarified by information such as “he whispers”, “a voice resounds in his head”, “all talking at the same time”.
  • We synchronise subtitles with speech, as in foreign-language subtitling, by avoiding starting subtitles too early or ending them too late (which is often done in subtitling for DVD or television), so as not to distract hearing or slightly hard-of-hearing viewers. There is nothing more annoying than subtitles out of sync with the characters’ speech.
  • We use colours when the technology allows, mainly in digital cinema. Colours, used on television by all channels, are a significant aid to comprehension. They denote the type of subtitle – dialogue (white or yellow), song lyrics (magenta), foreign words (green), thoughts (dark blue), external information (red) – or indicate who is speaking, i.e. whether the speaker is on-screen (white) or off-screen (yellow). However, some equipment for projecting subtitles onto the screen cannot project colour subtitles. In that case, the colours are replaced by codes or icons, which are shown at the beginning of the film. For example, captions that usually appear in red are shown in brackets, song lyrics or musical items are indicated by a musical note, and off-screen dialogue is underlined.
  • We position each subtitle under the speaker. Cinécriture is the only company to offer precise subtitle positioning for the cinema. The three positions traditionally used (left, centre or right) are often confusing, especially when there are several characters on screen. By contrast, when the subtitle is placed directly under the character who is speaking, the viewer identifies the speaker clearly and instantly. When a single subtitle is a dialogue between two characters, these different positionings are also used. For example, if X is on the left of the screen and Y in the middle, the first line of the subtitle will appear on the left and the second in the centre, not both in the centre as is sometimes seen.
  • We only use dashes when necessary to avoid confusion. The precise positioning used by Cinécriture dispenses with the need for dashes at the beginning of subtitles to indicate a change in speaker. When the characters appear on-screen in close-up and speak in turn, dashes unnecessarily crowd the subtitle. However, dashes may be required when there are several characters on screen or when the characters appear in the background. In those cases, a dash indicates a change in voice, which deaf viewers are unable to perceive otherwise.