Sur- and subtitling


guest post by Denise

2min readtime

Sur- and subtitling

Many people want to watch films or series in the original language, but do not understand them 100%. Subtitles are very useful for this. In addition, one has to admit that at an opera the songs are not always very understandable either. For this, surtitles are the ideal solution. Translators also do this work.


Surtitles are the same as subtitles, except that they are not at the bottom but above the performance. Surtitles are used for operas or plays. It is not uncommon for surtitlers to be musicians themselves, but translators are brought on board to ensure a good translation. Surtitles have different conventions than subtitles. The standing time, for example, is very long in this case because there is not always effective dialogue, but songs are sung that allow a longer standing time. In the case of surtitles and subtitles, translation is often interlingual, i.e. in another language.


Creating subtitles is not as easy as one might think. There are various conventions that must be observed. For example, orality markers must be eliminated completely because it takes up space and time, the written language is easier to read without the orality marker, and they are already clarified by images and sound. Orality markers are grammatical errors, repetitions, delayed sounds, etc.
It is not possible to read as quickly as to listen. Therefore, reading speed is very important. The most common reading speeds are 12 characters per second (cps). Each subtitle must stand for at least one second. The reading speed should also not be too slow and as even as possible.
The synchronicity of the subtitles with the dialogue track is also very important. The subtitles should always fade in when there is speech. Deviations in the start time can be very disturbing, but not in the end time.
Other important aspects include segmentation. This is the division of the subtitles. There are two different ways of doing this: according to syntactic and semantic criteria or according to visual criteria.
Here is an example:


Denise wanted to go for a walk,
but Adriano didn't feel like it.


Denise wanted to go for
a walk but Adriano didn't feel like it.

Only one or two lines may be used, with usually 37-45 characters per line. Subtitles should be centred or left-aligned and should be at the bottom of the picture. Relevant visual-verbal information should also be subtitled if possible.


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