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Subtitles are textual versions of the dialog in films or movies and television programs. They are usually displayed at the bottom of the screen. They are commonly classified into two forms which are the written translation of a dialog in a foreign language and written rendering the dialog in the same language. ("Subtitle", 2010)
Subtitles evolved out of the "intertitles" were used early in the 20th century after the invention of film as a device to convey the dialogue of actors or actress to the audience. "Intertitles" were texts, drawn or printed on cardboard, filmed and located between sequences of the film. In 1903, they were first seen as epic, descriptive titles in Edwin S. Porter's Uncle Tom's Cabin. J. Stuart Blackton who was a cartoonist and filmmaker may have invented the technique. From 1909 onwards, the name of the titles ("intertitles") were changed to subtitles since they were written or used in the exact way as subtitles in a newspaper. Before development of subtitles, for often, they were put in the moving image, for example as in Porter's College Chums (1907) or the French film Judex (1916) or Mireille (1922). It was found that College Chums was quite often shown with live actors speaking the dialogue behind the projection screen.
In the era of intertitles, it was not so difficult in solving the translation problem. The original titles were eliminated, translated, filmed and inserted again. It was discovered that sometimes a speaker was needed to give a simultaneous interpretation of the intertitles, for example, the French bonimenteur and the Japanese benshi.
With the advancement of technology, subtitles undergo developments or improvements in order to make a film better quality. From 1972 onwards, with the creation of sound film, the audience could clearly hear the actors, thus, the titles attached between the scenes missed out and the problem was seen as new dimensions. It is possible for everyone to make several language versions, or have film-post-synchronized (dubbed) in another language. Unfortunately, some film makers, creators and distributors found this technique complex and expensive.
Why not use titles as previous, but inserted in the picture? They hence became what we call subtitles currently, and since this technique costs less than before (subtitling requires cost between a tenth and twentieth of a dubbing), it was considered the preferred method or way in the less popular or smaller language areas, such as the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries. . (Invarsson J., 1992)
Actually, it was believed that the very first subtitles in the modern sense saw the light of the day already during the soundless film era. In 1909, M.N. Topp registered a patent for a "device for the rapid showing titles for moving pictures other than those on the film strip". With this method, a sciopticon (a kind of slide projector) was used by the projectionist to display the subtitles below the intertitles. However, this was never much more than a curiosity, although similar techniques, with the titles on a film strip instead of slides, have been used from time to time to the present day. (Brant, 1984, p.30)
In the early age of film subtitling, the main problems was to place the subtitles on the distribution copies, because the negative was usually in safe keeping in the country of origin. The lead of developing techniques for subtitling films was quickly taken by Norway, Sweden, Hungary and France. However, Denmark was seemed to be the first Nordic country to subtitle in 1929 as Al Jolson's The Singing Fool was shown in Copenhagen with subtitles. (Gottlieb, 1994, p.20-22)
2.0 Literature Review
2.1 The Function of subtitles
2.1.1 Understand movies better
Subtitles enable movie viewers or audiences from all over the world to watch and understand foreign language movies and mother tongue language movies as well. If subtitles were not inserted in movies, audiences might miss out on a large selection of quality movies. For example, if we are going to watch a foreign movie that we like, we may wish to attach subtitles directly onto the movie to make it more convenient so as to bring an enjoyable ambience in watching the movie. Without hardcoded subtitles, we need to open both the movie file and subtitle file every time we want to watch it. We can combine these two files into one by hardcoding the subtitles onto the movies. (Stephen Chuang, How Do I Hardcode English Subs on Movies?, 2010)
Subtitles also function as a language learning tool. The current default for many films' subtitles is the language needed or required by the audiences, rather than the language of the film itself. Language teachers are encouraged to show films with only subtitles in the second language or foreign language. ("Subtitles: A Language Learning Tool?" , 2010)
2.1.2 Help deaf and hard hearing viewers
Since subtitles display the dialogue of the actors, they help audiences who are deaf and have hearing impairment to follow the dialogue and hence enjoy the movies. Subtitles also aid people who are not able to understand the spoken dialogue or who have accent recognition problems. It is found that television teletext subtitles, which are hidden unless received command from the viewer by selecting the relevant teletext page, always contain additional sound representations for the convenience and sake of deaf and hard hearing viewers. Teletext subtitles language follows the exact audio, except in multi-lingual countries such as Malaysia where the broadcast centre may provide subtitles in additional languages on other teletext pages. ("Subtitle", 2010)
2.2 The Positive Effect of Subtitles
A series of studies have manifested the positive effects of captioning or subtitling on productive skills such as verbatim recall and retention, reuse of vocabulary in the proper context, and communicative performance in specific oral and written communication tasks as well. (Martine Danan, 2004, p.67-77)
2.2.1 Improve Comprehension
It is proven that subtitles or captions are made more beneficial and understandable than images, oral or written summaries and video clips for the comprehension of details pertaining to characters and plot or story line of a film. (Chiquito, 1995, p.219; Chung, 1999, p.300-1) They can aid student at different levels of linguistic ability in term of comprehension. Martine Danan claims in his journal that "The results of the multiple-choice comprehension tests based on the vocabulary and syntax of the captions showed that within each level, responses were more accurate when captions had been available." It is seemed that subtitles (captions) aids students in comprehending the context and performing beyond their proficiency level. (p. 67-77)
2.2.2 Enrich vocabulary
Additionally, subtitles can also help with word recognition and vocabulary building. Two researchers named Neuman and Koskinen had carried out an experiment using nine weeks with 129 seventh and eighth grade ESL students that most of them were in advanced level, watching nine 5-to 8-minute long segments of an American children oriented science production. The outcome found by the researchers is subtitling or captioning was more helpful to vocabulary recognition and acquisition than traditional television watching, or reading while listening. Various increasingly complex tests showed the positive effects of subtitles. These tests ranged from word recognition to abnormal sentence exercises testing word comprehension in article, and the most challenging level, meaning identification of words presented in isolation. (Martine Danan, 2004, p.67-77)
2.2.3 Commitment to language learning
Maria Bernschutz(2010) claims that "People living in a former British in India, since there are more than thirty dialects existing there and English is a mediator language that helps people understanding one another." Based on the research result of Maria Bernschutz, it can be confirmed that young people in Hungary watch subtitles films mainly to learn languages. From the respondents in her research, some said that subtitles bring us closer to the meaning of language learning. It is not surprised that some watched movies just to read its subtitles for learning language.
Another research also shows that subtitles help in learning language. Ali Hajmohammadi(2004) claims that "Subtitled materials attract more and more viewers, especially where cinema is concerned, in many different countries and language group." It is found that there are various kind of explanations for this fantastic enthusiasm. Ali Hajmohammadi said that in his country, Iran, the national television programmes still generally dubs fiction where subtitles are reserved for documentaries and news. It is surprising that young people and others in Iran manifest their growing favour for subtitles films on DVD or video tape. These two types of sources are sold and hired at video clubs across the country. Many of them are labelled in Persian saying 'For a better command of English'. Hence, audiences or viewers see subtitled as mean to improve themselves in a foreign language, which in most situations is English, as well as to enjoy the film.
2.2.4 Enjoyment of the film
Subtitles do not only help in learning but also enjoyment of film. D. Bannon(2010) claims that "subtitles should compliment the tonal nature of language-the sounds, pauses and stresses of an actors' on-screen performance." He mentioned that viewers need subtitles that capture the nuances of repetition, sound combinations as well as the emotional effect of the original dialogue. Subtitles become the vital interpretive tools to bring enjoyment of films for non-native viewers or audiences. They are worthy and successful endeavour that helps bridge cultural and linguistic gaps by translating and providing as much as possible of the original with viewers.
2.3 The Negative Effects of Subtitles
2.3.1 Distract attention of viewers
Subtitling is believed involving least interference with the original film. Subtitles block the integrity of composition by attracting viewer's attention to the bottom of the frame. They gain audiences' concentration on the translated words and the actors speaking them to the exclusion of peripheral or background dialogue, sound, or characters. Subtitles do not give a full translation as dubbing, and hence, the viewers do not look at the words and the expressions or acting of the actors or performers simultaneously. The synergy of performance and acting may be undone by subtitling. Besides, translated dialogue may be elevated selectively and the impact and importance of visual expression would also be downgraded. Since subtitles are admitted to have negative effects or drawbacks, they are seen to bend or change the source text the least. They make the audiences to experience the real and genuine "foreignness" of the film. It is because subtitles distract and obstruct attention on the visuals and often leaves parts of the dialogue not translated. (Mark Betz,2002)
Information from other sources also shows that subtitles are seen to interfere with the visual experience because they impede portions of the picture as well as the actions of the actors. The reading action is distracting, especially in action pictures. Viewers would be busy on reading the subtitles but not pay attention to what others are doing. However, if an action movie is being shown, we do not need to understand what the actors say. (Ewa, 2010)
In the article of cons of subtitling, it is found that subtitles require audience be literate and require audience watch screen at all times. Subtitles are also an additional obstacle on the screen, which mostly brings disadvantage for smaller screens on websites. It is suggested that abridged versions of content and selections of words should be used to make them nice-looking on the screen. (Scott J., 2009)
According to the different information above, a small conclusion can be made that is subtitles distract viewers' attention in watching a film since they require viewers to watch and read the translations or words when watching the film. They also block some images as well as actions of performers.
2.3.2 Misleading translation mistakes
Subtitles that contain errors in spelling, suitable choice of word and word order may mislead the original meaning of the dialogue of actors in the film. Wrong or inadequate messages of film would be transferred to the audiences. Astri Herawati Samsidi (2009) claims that "The result of the analysis showed that the referential mistakes had the highest frequency of occurrence with the percentage of 77.78%." It is found that subtitles consisting of referential errors had different meanings from the utterances.
Jonas Borell (2000) claims that "The more language one masters, the better. Therefore it is interesting to examine how subtitling or dubbing of audiovisual material might affect the understanding of the material and perhaps contributes to language acquisition." A direct argument grows from the intuition against subtitling. It is argued that subtitling deteriorates the understanding of the material when the viewers move gaze and attention away from the action of the actors and towards the subtitles. Thus, subtitling could be assumed to trigger negative influence on the actual or real understanding and perception of coherence of audio-visual materials such as films and TV programmes. This situation becomes worse when viewers learn the wrong understanding or information and apply them in their daily life.
2.2.4 Annoy viewers
Subtitles not only distract attention of viewers but also annoy them, depending on the target audience. The reason why viewers are annoyed and irritated is there are too many subtitles in a film. The best example is a Korean's drama, named 'Fugitive Plan B'. It is believed that many of the audiences of the drama are from the middle-aged group that they are unwilling to read the subtitles to understand the story. One of the writers of the drama said that "It is true that excessive subtitles will annoy the middle-aged viewers." (Roryg2008, 2010) Therefore, it is recommended that subtitles should be conducted and displayed in a short and precise way so that the audiences are comfortable in reading and understanding the drama as well as in movies.