Subtitling The Wire: the impact of hearing-impaired subtitles on characterisation

Arts and Law
Tuesday 21st May 2013 (16:15-17:30)
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  • Dan McIntyre (University of Huddersfield)
  • Lecture Room 3, Arts Building

Spatio-temporal constraints when subtitling for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHOH) viewers mean that DHOH subtitles frequently omit elements of the original character dialogue. Since this practice is often unavoidable, it is necessary for subtitlers to make value judgements about which elements of the original dialogue to cut or condense in the corresponding DHOH subtitle. This involves determining which elements of the dialogue can be lost without impacting on the viewing experience for DHOH viewers.

Current advice to subtitlers is vague on the issue of what should motivate such decisions, beyond an intuitive sense that some dialogic elements are more important than others. Luyken et al. (1991) suggest that insights from linguistics are needed in order to properly assess the impact of cuts and condensations. In this talk I report on a project at the University of Huddersfield to apply analytical insights from linguistics in an effort to understand the effects of subtitling techniques on characterisation. We analysed the opening scenes of the television drama The Wire (HBO, 2002-08), comparing the DHOH subtitles with a transcript of the original dialogue.

We isolated and categorised all the instances where omissions, condensations and other changes are made in the subtitles and, using a model of characterisation developed in stylistics (Culpeper 2001), determined whether the altered elements constituted characterisation triggers. As a result of this, we have attempted to estimate the extent to which this might lead to an impoverished viewing experience for DHOH viewers.