If you are not from the translation industry, subtitling and translation are probably the same thing for you. Not many people know that subtitling is a niche in its own right with its own sets of guidelines and limitations.
Let us look a little deeper into what subtitling is how character restriction works.
Subtitling is a method to create and display a timed transcript of the on-screen dialogue on the screen as you watch it. The process has been around for almost a century dating back to the 1930s when silent movies entered the audio/visual era.
In terms of localization, subtitling involves swapping the original dialogue language and displaying the text in the desired language (mostly foreign). Of course, the purpose is to address the foreign audience.
You must have seen the subtitles at the bottom of your screen when watching a movie, or even cable services do subtitles for their transmissions and programming. You have the discretion whether you like the subtitles displayed on your screen or turn them on and off at will.
However, do not confuse subtitling with captioning. Subtitle translation services only include spoken dialogue, whereas captioning includes spoken dialogue and other non-dialogue audio such as claps, laughing, and door slamming. If you are a FRIENDS fan, you must have noticed captioning all the time.
Basic Principles of Character Use in Subtitling
There are some basic rules to follow in terms of character restriction and adjusting subtitle’s text content. First, the text used as a subtitle must be natural with spelling rules, natural language, and punctuations.
Other basic criteria include:
- Distribution of Subtitles – you must ensure that separation of the lines must not interrupt the continuity of the phrase. You cannot separate an adjective or noun in two different lines. The same rule applies for a verb and a noun – the separation must maintain the natural flow.
- Short Hyphen – You use a hyphen in a conversation to indicate a dialogue between two people.
- Italics – use italics for songs, audio away, and voice in off playing in the background.
- Quotation Marks – recognized figures and abbreviations used to avoid capital letters; you mainly use them for signs, titles, and display written content in an image.
Significant Character Restrictions in Subtitling
If you are new to subtitling, character restriction is of utmost importance. The general rule is each line consisting of 40 characters or less; however, the restrictions may vary with each client’s specific needs. Most of the time, you have to rephrase the sentences to fit them into the character limits.
It is important to mention here that punctuations such as commas, scripts etc. count the same as consonants and vowels. Therefore, people who know the subtitle language already notice that the subtitles do not precisely match the original dialogue.
You can use several techniques to condense your text if you wish to overcome the nuisance of character restriction.
You can replace proper nouns with pronouns, such as you can reduce “Jeremiah is flying to Los Angeles” to “He is flying to L.A.” You can eliminate connectors in all cases such as “by the way,” “by chance,” “nevertheless,” etc.
In simpler terms, you have to chop the sentences and convey the gist of the dialogue. It can be very entertaining to find new lines to create the same meaning in the desired language. But you must make sure to maintain the exact meaning of the dialogue, no matter how much you chop the sentence.
When considering subtitling for a movie, documentary or other audio/visual material, always follow the client’s requirements. However, as a professional translator, you must follow the subtitling guidelines for character restriction.
Circle Translations is the subtitling expert in the industry with an extensive track record. Feel free to speak to them about your subtitling needs.