Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (or Closed Captions) are not only helpful for those who suffer from severe or profound hearing loss but also for those with mild hearing loss and good lip reading skills. It is therefore necessary to understand the different needs involved in catering for the above requirements. Interlinguistic subtitles are an adaptation of the film’s dialogues to another language, therefore the aim is for an audience who are unable to understand or have little knowledge of the source language used in the film. On the other hand, intralinguistic subtitles, are a written summary of the whole sound content of an audiovisual product, including non-verbal and para-verbal elements, strictly intended to reach a deaf or hard of hearing audience.
Making subtitles for deaf or hard of hearing viewers therefore requires a unique awareness, a different approach with a totally distinctive criteria.
According to recent research, the reading speed of the deaf and hard of hearing is slower on average than in the case of readers with normal hearing. Consequently, the ideal time length of a subtitle has been calculated between 2 and 3,5 seconds per line. Also, the deaf and hard of hearing have been found to be more at ease in reading only one rather than two lines at a time, while people with normal hearing are more comfortable when reading two lines in the same frame. Another decisive factor to be taken into account when subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing strictly relates to language. Syntax and morphology of the sentence structure greatly differ if the speaker is someone with normal hearing or someone with hearing difficulties, as in the latter case influence of sign language is significant. Moreover, the deaf and hard of hearing often have no access to higher education and their vocabulary may be limited. As a result this leads to a number of comprehension difficulties especially when faced with idioms and metaphors.
It is therefore necessary to adjust the text to these requirements without excessive modification, as consistency with the author’s style is of primary importance for its crucial cultural function.
Whenever possible, consistency with the original language shall be maintained, as the deaf and hard of hearing often have excellent lip reading skills; for this kind of audience, subtitles are first of all and most importantly an aid to comprehension. A number of subtle techniques may be applied for this purpose, including for example, the use of different colours in the subtitle in order to easily identify the speakers (colour codes are different for every country). Also, subtitles may be placed directly under the image of the corresponding speaker (an obsolete technique hardly ever used these days).
Punctuation is another central tool in the subtitling process. Mostly neglected by nearly all translators of interlinguistic subtitlers, punctuation is on the contrary a very helpful tool to convey significance, even more so in the case of subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing. It is suffice to say how important timbre, tone, voice intensity, pauses are for correct understanding of sense. All these items are perfectly accessible by people with normal hearing through listening to their direct source, while the deaf and hard of hearing may be aided in understanding their meaning through a good use of punctuation in subtitling. Punctuation marks, descriptive sentences and the use of different text characters, tabs and formatting tools may also be of great help for this purpose. Only through an expert use of all the above elements the natural perception differences between audiences with normal hearing and the deaf and hard of hearing could be successfully overcome.
INTERTITULA has acquired invaluable experience and standards of excellence in this line of work, perfectly fulfilling quality criteria in the field of subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing.