Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The small matter of sub-titles

came up in the Clan Cat house last night.
The Senior Cat watches very little television - even less than I do. I watch the first part (non-sport) of the international news service and that is about it. We both watch a small documentary programme when it is not supplanted by more sport. The Senior Cat refuses to watch the news anymore. I don't blame him. Most of it is miserable sort of stuff.
But there was a short science item that he happened to stop and watch on his way through the room. I had to turn the sound up and then, as usual, "interpret" what someone with poor speech had said. Yes, the person was mumbling.
The Senior Cat is rather deaf these days. He refuses to wear hearing aids. He can hear me. He can hear most individual people. He can manage in some group situations. He tried hearing aids and they irritated him more than they helped. I can understand that. I had children at school who would sometimes pull them out. They were not being naughty. They just wanted the relief of not wearing them for a bit.
I could have turned the sub-titling on but that irritates the Senior Cat too. He knows it can't be so but he wants the text in full. Sub-titles for that are not the same as the sub-titles when something is interpreted from another language but neither is "complete". Most people speak far more quickly than other people can type in text - or read it!
We get quite a few sub-titles on our Special Broadcasting Service. It is supposed to be our multi-cultural broadcaster. It actually runs programmes in dozens of different languages. They also use sub-titles for some news items - often when interviewing someone who is speaking another language. I imagine it is faster and easier than finding someone to speak a translation.
It doesn't bother me. I am often just listening and looking at some knitting. If I know the context I can often understand enough of a European language to make sense of the item. It is not that I have the ability to speak multiple languages. I don't. It is because English sounding words appear in almost everything. Listen carefully and you will hear them.
Reading the subtitles irritates me for another reason - the translation will often be inaccurate. Yes, it is intended to give the general meaning of what someone is saying but it will give the general story rather than the words. What the speaker is saying may have a different meaning altogether.
And all this makes me wonder, over and over again, about words and meanings and what we lose in translation - and how easily we misunderstand each other.


Anonymous said...

Translations can be interesting! Yesterday I got a new appliance ... a hand held steam cleaner. The instructions refer several times to a hair brush. I have worked out how the thing works, except for the hair brush bit! Not game to try it on my hair anyway!

Anonymous said...

I also have doubts that the reporting is accurate. Twice, when I was at the occasion being reported, considerable errors of fact and interpretation were made. These were simple (trivial, in the greater scheme of things) mistakes but if a reporter cannot report accurately the simple things, will s/he do so with the complicated ones? Did the sub/editor alter things, including the meaning?

This is important, as newspapers (and, now, other forms of reportage) are treated as primary (and "gospel") sources.

Of course, everyone has her/is biases whether acknowledged or not... but some try to be aware of them and report neutrally.