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Subtitling and Character Restriction

Subtitling is the closest approximation to translation by people who are not part of this industry. While it is a subjective issue, most people prefer subtitles before dubbing: the original audio is kept and it is less invasive. In short, almost everyone knows its general characteristics.

But not everyone knows that subtitling has many more limitations and guidelines which ought to be taken into account in order for the subtitle to flow as well as possible, whilst maintaining the original idea.

For starters, there is an important character restriction. Although it depends on the client, each line must consist of less than 40 characters. Many times we will have to completely rephrase a sentence to get it to fit into so many characters. Especially taking into account that punctuation (scripts, commas, etc.), counts the same as vowels or consonants. This is why, many times, people who understand the language in the film notice that the subtitle “does not look much like” the original dialogue.

To overcome the obstacle of character restriction, there are many techniques used to condense the text. For example, we can replace proper names for pronouns: “Federico is a lucky man” can be reduced to “He is a lucky man.” Connectors can be eliminated in almost all cases: “By chance…,” “By the way…,” “Nevertheless….” We could say that we have to “chop” a sentence and leave only the true idea. As a corollary, a phrase taken from Back to the Future:

“I remember it vividly. I was standing on the edge of my toilet hanging a clock, the porcelain was wet, I slipped, hit my head on the sink, and when I came to I had a revelation!” This entire phrase can be condensed into the following: “I remember, I was hanging a clock in the bathroom, I slipped, hit my head and when I came to, I had a revelation.”

The correct subtitling of a film, documentary or any type of material must be done taking into account many guidelines that only a professional translator can apply. Trusted Translations offers subtitling services in addition to dubbing and voice-over.