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Comments on U.K. guidelines on “subtitling”

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The Independent Television Commission (ITC), a regulatory body overseeing certain television channels in the United Kingdom, has produced guidelines for captioning (the U.K. term is “subtitling”), sign language, and audio description on British television.

The guidelines are available on the Web:

A note about words: For unknown reasons, our dear British friends insist on using the word “subtitling” to mean “captioning” (titles in the same language as the audio). A “caption,” to the British, is any other kind of onscreen textual graphic, like the written name of a news announcer.

A “subtitle,” in British vernacular, can also apply to a title in a translated language. It is thus impossible to distinguish between captions and subtitles in the British argot: They’re both “subtitles.” In British English, it becomes possible to subtitle a subtitled program, and also possible to subtitle a captioned program, in any of a hundred conceivable languages.

Clear as mud, isn’t it?

This terminology is objectively inferior to what we use in Canada and needs to die a quick death. I’m not all that interested in encouraging this kind of confusion, so “subtitle” in the U.K. documents will always be changed to “caption” in these comments.

For reference, the preferred terminology is:

Research note: The Guidelines mention a couple of research studies:



The iffy parts

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Comments on U.K. “guidelines” on “subtitling”

See also: Comments on U.K.guidelines on audio description

Updated 2002.10.19

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