Captions vs subtitles

In a short break from the editor series, and in the spirit of If you write it down you’ll remember it, I’m going to risk a mauling by defining captions and sub-titles for video.

Not that they haven’t been defined already, but I am a British person guilty of having:

the worst possible terminology for captioning and subtitling.

I thought that as one of the guilty, it would worthwhile setting down. Here goes:

Aimed at the deaf and hard of hearing, and assume you cannot hear the sound.
They include indications of who is speaking, and relevant sound effects (like the phone ringing).
They are usually “closed” (which seems to mean you can turn them on or off).
Think the teletext page 888 on TV. (For the british audience.)
Aimed at those who can hear, but not necessarily understand the language.
Do not bother showing sound effects or usually indicating who is speaking.
They are usually on (not optional).
Think foreign films with sub-titles.

There is much more to it, and it’s worth reading more, although beyond these absolute basics, the differences seem to be “tendencies” or “usually”, presumably due to the poor implementations.

I generally deal with the web rather than television or DVDs, so my worry has always been about adding captions, as that is the obvious accessibility issue.

6 contributions to “Captions vs subtitles

  1. I have read Joe’s stuff and I wonder why he doesn’t follow through on his own logic as regards the difference between subtitles and captions.

    He asserts that BSL cannot be captioned:

    Well, in the proper order of things it [BSL] first needs to be subtitled just as would be the case for French, for example because as Joe himself says, foreign languages primarily need to be subtitled and thereafter they could be captioned.

    Okay I accept that some languages are harder to translate than others but that does not mean to say that BSL is _*Not*_ a “language”, per se simply because it is difficult to translate: the fact is that it CAN be translated – and therefore subtitled (and as such, “captioned”).

  2. I think this is interesting because subtitles can be interesting because the fact that a word might mean two different things and someone who can not hear might not be able to understand the context of what was said without captions. Well I am taking elementary (ASL) 1
    and American Sign Language is put together doing that all the time. They use the same sign for two different words. The cool thing is that they are similar words most of the time.

  3. Nicolas

    Good luck with your ASL — but if you can squeeze it — try having a peek at:

    This is proof positive that there IS a written form of sign languge, not just American Sign Language, but virtually ANY country’s sign language. I was totally fascinated by it and it’s Well worth a visit.

  4. Sign languages cannot be captioned. Only spoken languages (and sound effects, etc.) can be captioned.

    This means, of course, that incidental vocalizations uttered by sign-language users can be captioned. And, in theory, must.

    It also means that if you’re running a sign-language video and have an interpreter audible (or have cleaned up an interpreter’s translation and have an actor reading a script), you have to caption that. (Even if the translation is incorrect, BTW.)

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