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Subtitles in the film Elephants Dream (postponed)
Using Subtitles on a TV Show

Subtitles ( UT ) denote lines of text that are placed below or next to images to provide written information about what is shown. Examples are comments under magazine photos or under the images in this Wikipedia article. In a film or a television picture, subtitles are usually faded in at the lower edge in order to translate spoken content from a foreign language or to make it accessible to the hearing impaired . In most countries, foreign-language films are usually subtitled instead of dubbed for cost reasons . Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing describe not only the linguistic content but also ambient noises, e.g. B. with the reference "calm music" and reproduce dialogues in a foreign language in this language instead of translating them.

For the creation of "live subtitles" as a communication aid for the hearing impaired outside of television and films (e.g. at events, conferences, discussions, etc.) see text-to-speech .

Time pressure and restrictions

The displayed subtitle must not exceed a certain duration regardless of the scope of the original dialogue. The viewer must have enough time to read the subtitle without completely losing sight of the image content.

In the past, subtitles were time-consuming to prepare by hand and burned directly onto the film material using a special machine. Today, technical aids such as computers and synchronized video recorders are used.

Standard subtitles have a white font and are located centrally at the bottom of the picture. Both can not always be guaranteed: On the one hand, the image area can also be white or at least too bright, and it would then outshine the white subtitles. This means that the subtitles cannot be read or can only be read to a limited extent. This can be remedied by choosing a different color or a black border for white text, white border for black text or another color combination within the font.

Another method to get around this problem is to briefly display the text at the top of the screen. This procedure is also useful when important image information is covered by the subtitles. Texts faded in at the top are called subtitles, contrary to the meaning of the word.

Technical designs

Optional closed captions are "closed caption" ( closed subtitles , in American English closed caption called) and are often used for DVD movies for use. Subtitles, which can not be shut down are "open subtitle" ( open subtitles ) called. These subtitles are the most common, and are most common in television movies that are broadcast in analog format, or if the director intended it to be. Often this is seen in science fiction films when it is desired that aliens use their own language. Films and videos with open subtitles that are directly and irrevocably integrated into the picture are called hardsubbed . Those with closed captions are called softsubbeds .

Normally, utterances by different speakers are placed in separate lines and these are indicated by dashes. However, since deaf people cannot always concentrate on the actors' mouth movements while reading, they can lose track of the assignment of text and speaker. In such cases, colors are often used in subtitles for the deaf to identify lines of dialogue between different speakers. The color assignment should remain the same throughout the entire film.

movie theater

The so-called diamond process works in such a way that warm copper clichés are pressed onto the film, whereby the image gelatine melts away. In a modification, cold clichés made of zinc are prepared, the copy to be titled is waxed thinly and then, picture by picture, struck on the written clichés. The upright characters displace the wax and expose the picture gelatine. The gelatine is dissolved down to the film carrier in an etching bath, so that after the wax has been removed, bright white characters appear in the image. The clichés are made from phototypesetting using film sheets and prepared in 1: 1 size.

From the 1990s, the footer titles, as they are called, are often burned with a laser onto film material that has already been developed. The copy with the foreign-language sound is signed with O. m. U. (original with subtitles). Subtitles can also be attached to the image line and, when projecting, they can be guided into the image using a prism, which is not possible with every image format and is rarely implemented in practice.

Sometimes new or rare films that have not yet been subtitled are shown with subtitles on a separate display below the screen. The advantage here is that no image component is lost or covered, on the other hand, there is a greater distance between the center of the image and the subtitles, which makes it more difficult for the viewer to see everything at once without having to keep the eyes or head all the time to move up and down.

For the cinema, new methods have recently been developed with digitization so that the hearing impaired can also use untreated films. For example, a teleprompter can project the subtitles onto a semi-transparent, reflective screen positioned at an angle in the field of vision of the hearing impaired, so that the subtitle and image on the screen complement each other optically. All you have to do is invest in this teleprompter and transfer the appropriate subtitle into the database.

Television and video

Signs for television broadcasts with subtitles
Symbols for television broadcasts with subtitles (no longer used in Germany)

On television, subtitles can be transmitted via " Teletext " panels ( Austria , Switzerland ), " Videotext " panels (designated in Germany ) and in NTSC countries directly via a line of the video signal ( closed caption ), provided the programs have been subtitled. The proportion of subtitled programs in the German-speaking area is usually higher in public broadcasters than in private broadcasters; in Austria this is regulated by the ORF law § 5 (2). The total share of subtitled broadcasts in SF DRS was 19.8% of the total broadcast volume in 2008, with DasErste the proportion was 95% in 2016. RTL has been offering subtitling via DVB since December 2010 .

In the USA, on the other hand, English and Spanish subtitling is required for all programs produced after 1998, with exceptions, and proportionally for older programs. In Switzerland, from the end of 2010, subtitling will be required from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. In addition, at least a third of all programs must be subtitled.

The following table summarizes the broadcasting of subtitles by the most important German-speaking television channels (* = broadcast only on HD offshoots):

Channel Type of subtitle UT preview
Teletext DVB HbbTV
Main programs
The first Page 150 X X Page 398
ZDF Page 777 X - Page 749
ORF Page 777 - - Page 771
SRF Page 777 - - Page 776
ÖR community programs
3 sat Page 777 X - Page 776
arte Page 150 X * - Page 388
KiKA Page 150 X - Page 398
ARD-alpha Page 150 X - Page 561
ONE Page 150 X * - Page 398
tagesschau24 Page 150 X * - Page 398
ZDFneo Page 777 X - -
ZDFinfo Page 777 X - -
Third programs
BR Page 150 X X Page 561
Mr Page 150 X * X Page 360
MDR Page 150 X X Page 597
NDR Page 150 X * X Page 562
RB Page 150 X X Page 562
rbb Page 150 X * X Page 386
SR Page 150 X - -
SWR Page 150 X * - Page 681 or 691
WDR Page 150 X X -
ProSiebenSat.1 Group
ProSieben Page 149 - - Page 148
SAT 1 Page 149 - - Page 148
cable one Page 149 - - Page 148
ProSieben MAXX Page 149 - - Page 148
RTL group
RTL - X - -
VOX - X - -
Super RTL - X - -

In 2008 the Polish Socialist initiated Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg the "Written declaration on the subtitling of all public service television programs in the EU" . According to this, "the public television broadcasters [...] should be obliged to subtitle all programs".

In digital television , subtitles are sent separately from the picture information, similar to the additional transmission of Dolby Digital sound.

Since May 2016, most public broadcasters have also been broadcasting customizable subtitles via HbbTV . For the first time, you can change the font size, position and background of the subtitles there.

Films on DVD-Video and Blu-ray Discs can contain subtitles in several languages, one of which can be displayed if desired.

On September 16, 2010, the hearing impaired associations in Germany agreed on a new subtitle symbol. The previous symbol stands primarily for "hearing impairment" and is perceived as deficit-oriented . The new symbol is intended to express that it is not only the hearing impaired who benefit from subtitles, but also children with reading and spelling difficulties and migrants who are learning German as a foreign language.

Live subtitling

The subtitling of live formats, such as news programs, " Aktenzeichen XY ", live shows, sports, etc., is called live subtitling. An editor repeats the speaker's statements ("Respeaking") and dictates them into a speech recognition system that creates a text from them. This text is edited by the editor as required and then fed directly into the television signal so that subtitling is also possible for live broadcasts.

For finished articles and moderation texts known in advance, however, subtitles are usually pre-produced. The quality of the subtitling is increased because, for example, idle times and spelling can be checked in peace. Since this is not possible to the desired extent with live subtitles, there may be spelling errors in the broadcast result. In addition, it can happen that individual text passages are skipped that do not impair understanding in order to catch up on a time lag.

Depending on the provider, the subtitles created in this way are revised again after the end of the live format and, for example, downtimes or spelling errors are corrected. This increases the quality of the subtitles for repetition or provision in a media library.

Outlook: The previous procedures always needed a person who hears the spoken text, dictates it into language software, which in turn produces text. The aim of the LiveCaption project is to develop an automatic generation - with the help of software that automatically converts the TV sound into text and is able to separate the important from the unimportant parts and to shorten the text in a grammatically correct manner.

Collaborative subtitling

Via a collaborative platform, certain programs can be translated into any language by viewers themselves. This form of subtitling by fans is also called fansub .

Subtitles versus dubbing

The alternative method to translate a movie in another language, the synchronization (English: dubbing ), in which the voices of other speakers will be recorded in a different language and replace the original cast. In the case of DVD and Blu-ray Discs , foreign films can be made available to the public in multiple versions. As a rule, different subtitle and audio versions can be combined as required.

Many movie lovers prefer subtitles because it is important to them to hear the voice of the real actor in the original soundscape of the film.

If they are broadcast together with the original sound, subtitles exclude the possible censorship measures and falsifications of content in the area of ​​synchronization, as well as the deliberate change in the basic message of the respective film.

In general, there is an aversion to dubbing in areas where foreign films are dubbed less often because the words cannot be reproduced exactly in lip - sync - even if a trained speaker can keep the difference to a minimum and a copywriter has created the content correctly or analogously. Since this is the beginning in many countries was not worth and still not pay to foreign movies or series synchronize , originals are sent with subtitles there frequently. Usually only films that are aimed primarily at younger children are dubbed there.

Thus tradition and custom play important roles in shaping the public's taste. While viewers in countries like Italy or Spain with decades of use of dubbed films are less likely to accept the use of subtitles, even in modern media such as DVDs with simultaneously available dubbing and subtitles, other countries with similar import rates of TV and film productions prefer subtitles (for example Latin America ). In countries where subtitles are used, this is largely met with great approval. Between 90 and 95 percent of the population in Scandinavia and the Netherlands prefer to watch foreign-language films and programs in the original with subtitles. On the other hand, between 81 and 69 percent of Germans, French, Spaniards and Italians prefer the synchronized versions.

Subtitling can help improve language skills. The average English proficiency in subtitle countries like the Netherlands , Flanders or Sweden is considerably better than in countries where dubbing is widespread. In addition, residents in countries where subtitles are common say they speak several languages ​​more often than those in countries with dubbing.

In India, a controlled experiment showed that subtitling the music of Bollywood films (in the same language) significantly improved the Hindi reading skills of school children.

Stylistic devices

In some cases, subtitles are also used in films, although they are not needed solely for understanding language. This is the case when protagonists do not speak the standard language set by the film or the synchronization, for example the aliens mentioned above. Subtitles are to be distinguished from inserts , which also have a dramaturgical function.

Some examples are:

  • During the opening credits to the film The Knights of the Coconut by Monty Python , a subtitle, which is unimportant for the plot of the film and in a strange, apparently Swedish dialect, is shown, which ends abruptly after a short time.
  • In the film Austin Powers in Gold Stand , the above-mentioned fading of subtitles through a light background is used for the purpose of situation comedy. In one scene, the spoken text of a Japanese man with Eating a piece of excrement is subtitled. Only after a few white props have been pushed aside does the rest come to light: elett from the tuna.
  • The entire dialogues of the film The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson are in Aramaic , Latin and Hebrew spoken. Gibson originally did not intend to include subtitles - arguing that the audience was already familiar with the plot. The distributors, however, pushed through subtitles because they feared that the audience would reject a completely untranslated film.
  • In The Da Vinci Code - The Da Vinci Code , the French characters speak to each other in their mother tongue and the clergy of the Vatican and the monk Silas speak Latin. These passages are subtitled. Director Ron Howard wanted to emphasize the internationality of the film.
  • In The Story of Nana S. , director Jean-Luc Godard takes his main character Nana played by Anna Karina in a scene for a short time and lets them speak only in the subtitle that is now displayed.
  • In the cinema version of the film L'auberge espagnole , each of the flat share residents speaks their own mother tongue, which is subtitled in different colors. In this way, the internationality of the Erasmus students becomes clear.
  • In the films Beyond Silence , God's Forgotten Children and Four Weddings and a Death , the passages spoken in sign language are subtitled.
  • The song Out In The Streets by the band Trio from 1983 can be seen as a special curiosity , as it is acoustically subtitled. Most of the song is sung in German. Before the third verse it is announced: And as the third verse comes up watch out for the American subtitles. In fact, the song continues to be sung in German while English is being translated at the same time ( I'm at the window behind the curtain, I'm waiting for you / I'm at the window behind the curtain waiting for you ).
  • In the film Trainspotting , subtitles are faded in for dialogues between the protagonists as they talk to loud music in a club. The subtitles repeat the spoken dialog.
  • In the movie Bube, Dame, König, grAS , a scene was provided with subtitles that is played entirely in Cockney dialect. The subtitles translate the dialogues into standard English. In the German version of the film, a “pseudo” cockney is translated into standard German.
  • In the movie Wayne's World , the protagonist Wayne Campbell speaks in Cantonese with his lover Cassandra Wong. According to the subtitles, complicated sentences are always used (although Wayne says he has only just learned Cantonese) until the two finally stop talking and only the subtitles are evidence of another conversation.

File formats

Subtitles can be saved in various file formats. The most common formats are:

Subtitles for many films are freely available on the Internet.

  • Fans also create subtitles themselves for films or series, so-called fansubs . These text files then receive the appropriate time code and what is said at this point. This type of self-construction is very time-consuming. The special subtitle file formats can mainly be played on the computer, but now also on some DVD players .

The above file formats are automatically recognized by many media players and displayed when the video file is played. One convention is that the subtitle file should have the same name as the video file.

Some container formats , such as Matroska or Ogg , allow you to embed multiple audio and video tracks as well as subtitles in the file.

In Europe, the formats EBU STL and EBU-TT are usually used as the exchange format in broadcasting . The format EBU-TT-D (Profile: EBU-TT-D-Basic-DE ) is predominantly used for distribution in the ARD and ZDF media libraries .

See also


  • Heike E. Jüngst: Audiovisual translation. A textbook and workbook. Gunter Narr, Tübingen 2010 ISBN 978-3-8233-6502-0

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ORF Act § 5
  2. a b 2008: Benefits for the hearing impaired greatly increased ( Memento from December 16, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Subtitles via HbbTV ., June 6, 2016
  4. ^ Federal Communications Commission - Closed Captioning Consumer Facts
  5. Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg: Written declaration on subtitling all public-service TV programs to be adopted. European Parliament, 4th July 2008.
  6. Peter Mühlbauer : Opportunity to limit a bad habit? Telepolis , April 11, 2008
  7. Subtitles via HbbTV ., June 6, 2016
  8. Hearing impaired associations agree on a new subtitle symbol . ( Memento of the original from September 20, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice., September 16, 2010 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  9. This is how the live subtitling Video: Das Erste is created, January 28, 2016
  10. Automatic live subtitling on TV ., June 22, 2015
  11. Captions , Subtitles and Translations
  12. ^ A b Peter Mühlbauer: Zen synchronization. Telepolis , July 16, 2009.
  13. Peter Mühlbauer: Buggy synchronization. Telepolis .
  14. a b 243 Europeans and their Languages . Eurobarometer , 2006
  15. ^ Brij Kothari, Tathagata Bandyopadhyay: Same Language Subtitling on TV: Impact on Basic Reading Development among Children and Adults . (PDF; 1.1 MB) Indian Institute of Management.
  16. Andreas -horn- Hornig: Tutorial: Subtitles for (HD) films - Part 1: Create external subtitles yourself ., July 11, 2005