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What Is Subtitling?

Subtitling is a rather recent translation technique. Since the beginning of the 1990s, linguists have increasingly got involved in the translation of multimedia texts, including movies and TV series. These textual structures are highly determined by non-verbal components and methods representing a significant test-bed for translation theory. Previously confined to hearing-impaired audiences, subtitles are a particular form of multimedia translation whose appeal keeps attracting an increasing number of international consumers.

The Importance of a Translation Strategy

The subtitling process, however, is subject to factors that pose serious challenges to translators and may affect its effectiveness. Subtitling is inevitably limited by a series of technical constraints that may contribute to lower the quality of the finished product. In particular, the techniques of textual reduction are often the culprits behind such a degenerative process, since meaning condensation is often intuitive and indiscriminate. International audiences often prefer other kinds of multimedia translation, such as dubbing – yet, neither these methods are constraint-free.

Subtitling involves much more than merely condensing images into words, so professionals need a solid translation strategy that may guide them to the correct interpretation of the source text. Linguistic expression in the cinema and theater industry, for instance, is a structure of signs constituted by the signs of discourse, with their strong semantic sense, and by the equally important prosodic accompaniment of the linguistic act, that is, rhythm, timbre, intonation patterns and vocal intensity – all elements that contribute to the description of the context to which the actors belong and that may not be evident even from a careful reading of the written text alone. Moreover, an analysis of the real pragmatic use of the language made by speakers is essential for a functional translation to transfer the original intentions of the screenwriter or playwright. By focusing on such aspects and integrating them with a thorough pragmatic analysis, my translation strategy can influence the translating process, improving the semantic output of the original dialogue by narrowing the semantic fields of the source text.

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