Subtitles can be used to translate dialog from a foreign language to the native language of the audience. It is the quickest and the cheapest method of translating content, and is usually praised for the possibility to hear the original dialog and voices of the actors.
Translation of subtitling is sometimes very different from the translation of written text. Usually, when a film or a TV program is subtitled, the subtitler watches the picture and listens to the audio sentence by sentence. The subtitler may or may not have access to a written transcript of the dialog. Especially in commercial subtitles, the subtitler often interprets what is meant, rather than translating how it is said, i.e. meaning being more important than form. The audience does not always appreciate this, and it can be frustrating to those who know some of the spoken language, due to the fact that spoken language may contain verbal padding or culturally implied meanings, in confusing words, if not adapted in the written subtitles. The subtitler does this when the dialog must be condensed in order to achieve an acceptable reading speed. i.e. purpose being more important than form.
Especially in fansubs, the subtitler may translate both form and meaning. The subtitler may also choose to display a note in the subtitles, usually in parentheses (“(” and “)”). This allows the subtitler to preserve form and achieve an acceptable reading speed, by leaving the note on the screen, even after the character has finished speaking, to both preserve form and allow for understanding. For example, the Japanese language has multiple first-person pronouns, and using one instead of another implies a different degree of politeness. In order to compensate, when translating to English, the subtitler may reformulate the sentence, add appropriate words and/or use notes.
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