Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Subtitling or Dubbing: Any Thoughts?

I spent much of last week at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, watching some brilliant documentaries and listening to representatives from the international film and TV industry. Of all the interesting things I heard, one idea particularly stuck in my mind. At a panel session with commissioners from television channels all over the world, the suggestion was made that filmmakers should seriously consider dubbing, rather than subtitling, any foreign-language content in their work. Why? Because studies have shown that a large proportion of viewers will go online using their tablet, smartphone or computer while watching TV, and therefore won’t be able to understand what is being said because they won’t be looking at the screen.

Maybe I’m being old fashioned, but I find that a little depressing. Have our concentration spans become so short that we can’t concentrate on one thing for an hour or even 30 minutes? Granted, we are talking about television here, not cinema. Woe betide anyone who tries to play with their phone in a cinema screen if I’m there – I’m English, I know how to give a stern and disapproving look!

I know that, as a linguist, I’m probably biased. I love listening to languages I don’t understand, plus I find it incredibly distracting if the sounds coming from the screen don’t match the movements of the speaker’s mouth. When I lived in Germany and would occasionally watch UK or US films dubbed into German, I’d find myself trying to lip read the English rather than just listen to the German. But do the general public really care either way? Is it only linguists who get worked up about this sort of thing? I’d love to hear what you think!