Real-time translation subtitling, usually involves an interpreter and a stenographer working concurrently, whereby the former quickly translates to the dialog while the latter types; this form of subtitling is rare. The unavoidable delay, typing errors, lack of editing, and
high cost mean that real-time translation subtitling is in low demand. Allowing the interpreter to directly speak to the viewers is usually both cheaper and quicker; however, the translation is not accessible to people who are deaf and hard–of–hearing.
Some subtitlers purposely provide edited subtitles or captions to match the needs of their audience, for learners of the spoken dialog as a second or foreign language, visual learners, beginning readers who are deaf or hard of hearing and for people with learning and/or mental disabilities. For example, for many of its films and television programs, PBS displays standard captions representing speech the program audio, word-for-word, if the viewer selects “CC1”, by using the television remote control or on-screen menu, however, they also provide edited captions to present simplified sentences at a slower rate, if the viewer selects “CC2”. Programs with a diverse audience also often have captions in another language. This is common with popular Latin American soap operas in Spanish. Since CC1 and CC2 share bandwidth, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends translation subtitles be placed in CC3. CC4, which shares bandwidth with CC3, is also available, but programs seldom use it.
Subtitles Vs. Dubbing and Lecturing
The two alternative methods of ‘translating’ films in a foreign language are dubbing, in which other actors record over the voices of the original actors in a different language, and lectoring, a form of voice-over for fictional material where a narrator tells the audience what the actors are saying while their voices can be heard in the background. Lectoring is common for television in Russia, Poland, and a few other East European countries, while cinemas in these countries commonly show films dubbed or subtitled.
The preference for dubbing or subtitling in various countries is largely based on decisions taken in the late 1920s and early 1930s. With the arrival of sound film, the film importers in Germany, Italy, France and Spain decided to dub the foreign voices, while the rest of Europe elected to display the dialog as translated subtitles. The choice was largely due to financial reasons (subtitling is more economical and quicker than dubbing), but during the 1930s it also became a political preference in Germany, Italy and Spain; an expedient form of censorship that ensured that foreign views and ideas could be stopped from reaching the local audience, as dubbing makes it possible too create a dialogue which is totally different from the original. In larger German cities a few “special cinemas” use subtitling instead of dubbing.
Dubbing is still the norm and favored form in these four countries, but the proportion of subtitling is slowly growing, mainly to save cost and turnaround-time, but also due to a growing acceptance among younger generations, who are better readers and increasingly have a basic knowledge of English (the dominant language in film and TV) and thus prefer to hear the original dialogue. Nevertheless, in Spain, for example, only public TV channels show subtitled foreign films, usually at late night. It is extremely rare that any Spanish TV channel shows subtitled versions of TV programs, series or documentaries. With the advent of digital land broadcast TV,
it has become common practice in Spain to provide optional audio and subtitle streams that allow watching dubbed programmes with the original audio and subtitles. In addition, only a small proportion of cinemas show subtitled films. Films with dialogue in Galician, Catalan or Basque are always dubbed, not subtitled, when they are shown in the rest of the country. Some non-Spanish-speaking TV stations subtitle interviews in Spanish; others do not.In many Latin American countries, local network television will show dubbed versions of English-language programs and movies, while cable stations (often international) more commonly broadcast subtitled material. Preference for subtitles or dubbing varies according to individual taste and reading ability, and theaters may order two prints of the most popular films, allowing moviegoers to choose between dubbing or subtitles.
Animation and children’s programming, however, is nearly universally dubbed, as in other regions.
Since the introduction of the DVD, some high budget films include the simultaneous option of both subtitles and/or dubbing. Often in such cases, the translations are made separately, rather than the subtitles being a verbatim transcript of the dubbed scenes of the film. While this allows for the smoothest possible flow of the subtitles, it can be frustrating for someone attempting to learn a foreign language.
In the traditional subtitling countries, dubbing is generally regarded as something strange and unnatural and is only used for animated films and TV programs intended for pre-school children. As animated films are “dubbed” even in their original language and ambient noise and effects are usually recorded on a separate sound track, dubbing a low quality production into a second language produces little or no noticeable effect on the viewing experience. In dubbed live-action television or film, however, viewers are often distracted by the fact that the audio does not match the actors’ lip movements. Furthermore, the dubbed voices may seem detached, inappropriate for the character, or overly expressive, and some ambient sounds may not be transferred to the dubbed track, creating a less enjoyable viewing experience.
Subtitling as a Practice
In several countries or regions nearly all foreign language TV programs are subtitled, instead of dubbed, notably in:
- Albania (most all foreign-language shows are subtitled in Albanian, children’s movies and TV shows are dubbed, mostly animated)
- Argentina (cable/satellite TV only)
- Armenia (Subtitles in Armenian, children’s shows principally are dubbed)
- Arab Middle East and North Africa — Modern Standard Arabic-language subtitling, used for foreign programming/cinema and often used when Arabic dialects are the primary medium of a film/TV program. Countries such as Lebanon, Algeria, and Morocco also often include French subtitling simultaneously.
- Australia (especially by SBS)
- Belgium (Subtitles in Dutch in Flanders, dubbed into French in Wallonia, bilingual [Dutch-French] subtitles in Flemish and Brussels movie theaters, dubbed versions in Wallonia. Children’s shows and teleshopping are dubbed)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (subtitles in Serbian or Croatian)
- Brazil (some cinemas and cable channels use Brazilian Portuguese subtitles)
- Chile (cable/satellite TV only)
(Most Chinese language programming includes subtitles in Chinese, since many languages and dialects are spoken by the populace, but the writing system is independent of dialects.)
- Colombia (cable/satellite TV only)
- Costa Rica (cable/satellite TV, and on some national channels like Channel 7)
- Croatia (Subtitles in Croatian)
- Denmark (Danish subtitles in all foreign programmes except children’s shows)
- Finland (Subtitles in Finnish or Swedish, Finland is bilingual; in TV children′s programs are dubbed and off-screen narration in documentaries is often dubbed.)
- Greece (only children’s shows and films are dubbed)
- Hong Kong (Dubbing in Cantonese often happens, but subtitling is also common, since these foreign programs are often broadcast in multiple languages.)
- Iceland (Subtitles in Icelandic. Television programming and motion pictures directed towards children are dubbed, although cinemas often offer subtitled late-evening screenings of the latter. The off-screen narration in documentaries may be dubbed, although on-screen dialogue are always subtitled.)
- India (Most English channels now give subtitles of their programmes in English)
- Indonesia (Subtitles in Indonesian, some foreign movies have subtitles of more than one language)
- Ireland, (Subtitles in English for non-English programmes, including those in the Irish language. Occasional subtitles in Irish language for programmes shown on the Irish language channel: TG4)
(Non-Hebrew television programmes and films are always translated into Hebrew with subtitles. Bilingual Hebrew/Arabic or Hebrew/Russian subtitling, showing translation into both languages simultaneously, is common on public TV channels. Dubbing is restricted to programmes and films aimed at children below school age. As of 2008 the closed captioning industry in Israel is on the rise since a law has been approved, stating that all the Hebrew programmes of The Israeli Television must be subtitled for the hearing impaired. Moreover, in recent years it became a norm in other channels and broadcasting bodies in Israel.)
- Japan (side-by-side with dubs)
- Latvia (Subtitles in Latvian, occasionally in Latvian language shows or simply in Russian language channels in Russian.)
- Malaysia (Subtitles in Malay for programming in English and vernacular languages such as Chinese and Tamil and foreign languages such as Hindi and Korean except certain programmes dubbed into Malay such as anime, news programmes in respective vernacular languages (news reports in vernacular language news programmes with foreign people speaking are translated in subtitles) and certain Malay-language live action programs subtitled in English. Also appearing for programming in Indonesian since 2006 except for news reports in Malay news programmes that have Indonesian people speaking where they are not subtitled. All movies on 35 mm film subtitled in Malay and Simplified Chinese. Usually, animation and 3D movies are exempted from subtitling (though studios may choose to add subtitles at their discretion). Indian and Chinese moviesusually have subtitles of more than one languages)
- Montenegro (Subtitles in Montenegrin, some children’s shows dubbed in Montenegrin; Serbian or Croatian subtitles imported frequently)
- Netherlands (Subtitles in Dutch, children’s shows are dubbed)
- Norway (Subtitles in Norwegian. Television programming and motion pictures directed towards children are dubbed, although cinemas often offer subtitled late-evening screenings of the latter. The off-screen narration in documentaries may be dubbed, although on-screen dialogue are always subtitled.)
- Peru (in Aymara and Quechua)
- Poland (almost all live-action movies in cinemas are subtitled; some PG-13 movies can be found in two versions, with subtitles and dubbing)
- Portugal (Most shows are subtitled in Portuguese, but children’s shows and documentaries are usually dubbed)
- Romania (Subtitles in Romanian, no series dubbed)
- Serbia (Subtitles in Serbian language, some children’s shows and teleshopping are dubbed)
- Singapore in English, Chinese and Malay, with some subtitling bilingual in either Chinese and English or Chinese and Malay
- South Africa (from Afrikaans, Sesotho, Xhosa and Zulu into English)
- South Korea (Subtitles in Korean)
- Sweden (Subtitles in Swedish Television programming and motion pictures directed towards children are dubbed, although cinemas often offer subtitled late-evening screenings of the latter. The off-screen narration in documentaries may be dubbed, although on-screen dialogue are always subtitled.)
- Taiwan (Mandarin subtitles appear on most shows and all news or live action broadcasts)
- Turkey (Ethnical languages of the country in TRT 3)
- Ukraine (TV shows in Russian are often shown with Ukrainian subtitles)
- United Kingdom
- United States (required by U.S. Federal Communications Commission for licensed English-language channels when program is in another language)
- Uruguay (cable/satellite TV only)
- Venezuela (cable/satellite TV only)
It is also common that television services in minority languages subtitle their programmes in the dominating language as well. Examples include the Welsh S4C and Irish TG4 who subtitle in English and the Swedish Yle Fem in Finland who subtitle in the majority language Finnish.
In Wallonia (Belgium) films are usually dubbed, but sometimes they are played on two channels at the same time: one dubbed (on La Une) and the other subtitled (on La Deux), but this is no longer done as frequently due to low ratings. In Australia, one FTA network, SBS airs its foreign-language shows subtitled in English.
Categories of Subtitling
Subtitles in the same language on the same production can be in different categories:
- Hearing Impaired subtitles (sometimes abbreviated as HI or SDH) are intended for people who are hearing impaired, providing information about music, environmental sounds and off-screen speakers (e.g. when a doorbell rings or a gunshot is heard). In other words, they indicate the kinds and the sources of the sounds coming from the movie, and usually put this information inside brackets to demarcate it from actors’ dialogs. For example: [sound of typing on a keyboard], [mysterious music], [glass breaks], [woman screaming].
- Narrative is the most common type of subtitle in which spoken dialogue is displayed. These are most commonly used to translate a film with one spoken language and the text of a second language.
- Forced subtitles are common on movies and only provide subtitles when the characters speak a foreign or alien language, or a sign, flag, or other text in a scene is not translated in the localization and dubbing process. In some cases, foreign dialogue may be left untranslated if the movie is meant to be seen from the point of view of a particular character who does not speak the language in question.
- Content subtitles are a North American Secondary Industry (non-Hollywood, often low-budget) staple. They add content dictation that is missing from filmed action or dialogue. Due to the general low-budget allowances in such films, it is often more feasible to add the overlay subtitles to fill in information. They are most commonly seen on America’s Maverick films as forced subtitles, and on Canada’s MapleLeaf films as optional subtitles. Content subtitles also appear in the beginning of some higher-budget films (e.g., Star Wars) or at the end of a film (e.g., Gods and Generals).
- Titles only are typically used by dubbed programs and provide only the text for any untranslated on-screen text. They are most commonly forced (see above).
- Bonus subtitles are an additional set of text blurbs that are added to DVDs. They are similar to Blu-ray Discs‘ in-movie content or to the “info nuggets” in VH1 Pop-up Video. Often shown in popup or balloon form, they point out background, behind-the-scenes information relative to what is appearing on screen, often indicating filming and performance mistakes in continuity or consistency.
- Localized subtitles are a separate subtitle track that uses expanded references (i.e., “The sake [a Japanese Wine] was excellent as was the Wasabi”) or can replace the standardized subtitle track with a localized form replacing references to local custom (i.e., from above, “The wine was excellent as was the spicy dip”).
- Extended/Expanded subtitles combine the standard subtitle track with the localization subtitle track. Originally found only on Celestial DVDs in the early 2000s, the format has expanded to many export-intended releases from China, Japan, India, and Taiwan. The term
“Expanded Subtitles” is owned by Celestial, with “Extended Subtitles” being used by other companies.
- 3D subtitles combine the standard subtitle position along the X and Y axis of the picture, with a third position along the Z-axis. This third positioning allows the subtitle to “float” in front of the 3D image. This option is available in Digital Cinema and in 3D Blu-ray releases.
Types of Subtitling
Subtitles exist in two forms; open subtitles are ‘open to all’ and cannot be turned off by the viewer; closed
subtitles are designed for a certain group of viewers, and can usually be turned on/off or selected by the viewer – examples being teletext pages, US Closed captions (608/708), DVB Bitmap subtitles, DVD/Blu-ray subtitles.
While distributing content, subtitles can appear in one of 3 types:
- Hard (also known as hardsubs or open subtitles). The subtitle text is irreversibly merged in original video frames, and so no special equipment or software is required for playback. Hence, complex transition effects and animation can be implemented, such as karaoke song lyrics using various colors, fonts, sizes, animation (like a bouncing ball) etc. to follow the lyrics. However, these subtitles cannot be turned off unless the original video is also included in the distribution as they are now part of the original frame, and thus it is impossible to have several variants of subtitling, such as in multiple languages.
- Prerendered (also known as closed) subtitles are separate video frames that are overlaid on the original video stream while playing. Prerendered subtitles are used on DVD and Blu-ray (though they are contained in the same file as the video stream). It is possible to turn them off or have multiple language subtitles and switch among them, but the player has to support such subtitles to display them. Also, subtitles are usually encoded as images with minimal bitrate and number of colors; they usually lack anti-aliased font rasterization. Also, changing such subtitles is hard, but special OCR software, such as SubRip exists to convert such subtitles to “soft” ones.
- Soft (also known as softsubs or closed subtitles) are separate instructions, usually a specially marked up textwith time stamps to be displayed during playback. It requires player support and, moreover, there are multiple incompatible (but usually reciprocally convertible) subtitle file formats. Softsubs are relatively easy to create and change, and thus are frequently used for fansubs. Text rendering quality can vary depending on the player, but is generally higher than prerendered subtitles. Also, some formats introduce text encoding troubles for the end-user, especially if different languages are used simultaneously (for example, Latin and Asian scripts).
In other categorization, digital video subtitles are sometimes called internal, if they are embedded in a single video file container along with video and audio streams, and external if they are distributed as separate file (that is less convenient, but it is easier to edit/change such file).
|Can be turned off/on||No||Yes||Yes|
|Multiple subtitle variants (for example, languages)||Yes, though all displayed at the same time||Yes||Yes|
|Editable||No||Difficult, but possible||Yes|
|Player requirements||None||Majority of players support DVD subtitles||Usually requires installation of special software, unless national regulators mandate its distribution|
|Visual appearance, colors, font quality||Low to High, depends on video resolution/compression||Low||Low to High, depends on player and subtitle file format|
|Transitions, karaoke and other special effects||Highest||Low||Depends on player and subtitle file format, but generally poor|
|Distribution||Inside original video||Separate low-bitrate video stream, commonly multiplexed||Relatively small subtitle file or instructions stream, multiplexed or separate|
|Additional overhead||None, though subtitles added by re-encoding of the original video
may degrade overall image quality, and the sharp edges of text may introduce artifacts in surrounding video
For Software Video Players
|Name||Extension||Type||Text Styling||Metadata||Timings||Timing Precision|
|AQTitle||.aqt||Text||Yes||Yes||Framings||Dependent on Frame|
|Gloss Subtitle||.gsub||HTML/XML||Yes||Yes||Elapsed Time||10 Milliseconds|
|JACOSub||.jss||Text w/markup||Yes||No||Elapsed Time||Dependent on frame|
|MicroDVD||.sub||Text||No||No||Framings||Dependent on Frame|
|MPEG-4 Timed Text||.ttxt (or mixed with A/V stream)||XML||Yes||No||Elapsed Time||1 Millisecond|
|MPSub||.sub||Text||No||Yes||Sequential Time||10 Milliseconds|
|Ogg Writ||N/A (mixed with audio/video stream)||Text||Yes||Yes||Sequential Granules||Dependent on Bitstream|
|Phoenix Subtitle||.pjs||Text||No||No||Framings||Dependent on Frame|
|PowerDivX||.psb||Text||No||No||Elapsed Time||1 Second|
|RealText||.rt||HTML||Yes||No||Elapsed Time||10 Milliseconds|
|SAMI||.smi||HTML||Yes||Yes||Framings||Dependent on Frame|
|Spruce subtitle format||.stl||Text||Yes||Yes||Sequential Time+Frames||Sequential Time+Frames|
|Structured Subtitle Format||.ssf||XML||Yes||Yes||Elapsed Time||1 Millisecond|
|SubRip||.srt||Text||Yes||No||Elapsed Time||1 Millisecond|
|(Advanced) SubStation Alpha||.ssa or .ass (advanced)||Text||Yes||Yes||Elapsed Time||10 Milliseconds|
|SubViewer||.sub||Text||No||Yes||Elapsed Time||10 Milliseconds|
|Universal Subtitle Format||.usf||XML||Yes||Yes||Elapsed Time||1 Millisecond|
|VobSub||.sub + .idx||Image||N/A||N/A||Elapsed Time||1 Millisecond|
|XSUB||N/A (embedded in .divx container)||Image||N/A||N/A||Elapsed Time||1 Millisecond|
There are still many more uncommon formats. Most of them are text-based and have the extension .txt.
Subtitling For Media
For cinema movies shown in a theatre:
For movies on DVD Video:
For TV broadcast:
Subtitles created for TV broadcast are stored in a variety of file
formats. The majority of these formats are proprietary to the vendors of subtitle insertion systems.
Broadcast subtitle formats include:
.ESY .XIF .X32 .PAC .RAC .CHK .AYA .890 .CIP .CAP .ULT .USF .CIN .L32 .ST4 .ST7 .TIT .STL
The EBU format defined by Technical Reference 3264-E is an ‘open’ format intended for subtitle exchange between broadcasters. Files in this format have the extension .stl (not to be mixed up with text “Spruce subtitle format” mentioned above, which also has extension .stl) For internet delivery:
The Timed Text format currently a “Candidate Recommendation” of the W3C (called DFXP) is also proposed as an ‘open’ format for subtitle exchange and distribution to media players, such as Microsoft Silverlight.
Reasons for Not Subtitling a Foreign Language
Most times a foreign language is spoken in film, subtitles are used to translate the dialogue for the viewer. However, there are occasions when foreign dialogue is left unsubtitled (and thus incomprehensible to most of the target audience). This is often done if the movie is seen predominantly from the viewpoint of a particular character who does not speak the language. Such absence of subtitles allows the audience to feel a similar sense of incomprehension and alienation that the character feels. An example of this is seen in Not Without My Daughter. The Persian language dialogue spoken by the Iranian characters is not subtitled because the main character Betty Mahmoody does not speak Persian and the audience is seeing the film from her viewpoint. A variation of this was used in the video game Max Payne 3. Subtitles are used on both the English and Portuguese dialogues, but the latter is left untranslated as the main character doesn’t understand the language.
Subtitles as a Source of Humor
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Occasionally, movies will use subtitles as a source of humor, parody and satire.
- In Annie Hall, the characters of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are having a conversation; their real thoughts are shown in subtitles.
- In Austin Powers in Goldmember, Japanese dialog is subtitled using white type that blends in with white objects in the background. An example is when white binders turn the subtitle “I have a huge rodent problem” into “I have a huge rod.” After many cases of this, Mr. Roboto says “Why don’t I just speak English?”, in English. In the same film, Austin and Nigel Powers directly speak in Cockney English to make the content of their conversation unintelligible; subtitles appear for the first part of the conversation, but then cease and are replaced with a series of question marks.
- In Yellow Submarine, the Beatles use the subtitles of “All you need is love” to defeat a giant glove.
- In The Impostors, one character speaks in a foreign language, while another character hides under the bed. Although the hidden character cannot understand what is being spoken, he can read the subtitles. Since the subtitles are overlaid on the film, they appear to be reversed from his point of view. His attempt to puzzle out these subtitles enhances the humor of the scene.
- The movie Airplane! and its sequel feature two inner-city African Americans speaking in heavily accented slang, which another character refers to as if it were a foreign language: “Jive“. Subtitles translate their speech, which is full of colorful expressions and mild profanity, into bland standard English, but the typical viewer can understand enough of what they are saying to recognize the incongruity. Transcript of the dialog
- In Cars 2, Susie Chef and Mater speak Chinese with English Subtitles and Luigi, Mama Lopolino and Uncle Topolino speak the language with English Subtitles.
- In parodies of the German film Der Untergang, incorrect subtitles are deliberately used, often with offensive and humorous results.
- In the Carl Reiner comedy The Man with Two Brains, after stopping Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) for speeding, a German police officer realizes that Hfuhruhurr can speak English. He asks his colleague in their squad car to turn off the subtitles, and indicates toward the bottom of the screen, commenting that “This is better — we have more room down there now”.
- In the opening credits of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Swedish subtitler switches to English and promotes his country, until the introduction is cut off and the subtitler “sacked”. In the DVD version of the same film, the viewer could choose, instead of hearing aid and local languages, lines from Shakespeare‘s Henry IV, part 2 that vaguely resemble the lines that are actually being spoken in film, if they are “people who hate the film“.
- In Scary Movie 4, there is a scene where the actors speak in faux Japanese (nonsensical words which mostly consist of Japanese company names), but the content of the subtitles is the “real” conversation.
- In Not Another Teen Movie, the nude foreign exchange student character Areola speaks lightly accented English, but her dialog is subtitled anyway. Also, the text is spaced in such a way that a view of her bare breasts is unhindered.
- In Trainspotting, the leading characters have a conversation in a crowded club. To understand what is being said, the entire dialog is subtitled.
- Simon Ellis‘ 2000 short film Telling Lies juxtaposes a soundtrack of a man telling lies on the telephone against subtitles which expose the truth.
- Animutations commonly use subtitles to present the comical “fake lyrics” (English words that sound close to what is actually being sung in the song in the non-English language). These fake lyrics are a major staple of the Animutation genre.
- Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels contains a scene spoken entirely in cockney rhyming slang that is subtitled in standard English.
- In an episode of Angry Beavers, at one point Norbert begins to speak with such a heavy European accent that his words are subtitled on the bottom of the screen. Daggett actually touches the subtitles, shoving them out of the way.
- In the American theatrical versions of Night Watch and Day Watch, Russian dialogues are translated by subtitles which are designed accordingly to the depicted events. For instance, subtitles dissolve in water like blood, tremble along with a shaking floor or get cut by sword.
- The film Crank contains a scene where Jason Statham‘s character understands an Asian character’s line of dialogue from
reading the on-screen subtitle. The subtitle is even in reverse when his character reads the line. Later, an exclamation made by another Asian character is subtitled, but both the spoken words and the subtitles are in Chinese.
- In Fatal Instinct, also directed by Carl Reiner, one scene involving two characters talking about their murder plan in Yiddish to prevent anyone from knowing about it, only to be foiled by a man on the bench reading the on-screen subtitles.
- Ken Loach released the film Riff-Raff into American theatres with subtitles not only so people could understand the thick Scottish accents, but also to make fun of what he believes to be many Americans’ need for them (mentioned in the theatrical trailer). Many of Loach’s films contain traditional dialect, with some (e.g. The Price of Coal) requiring subtitles even when shown on television in England.
- In Bobby Lee‘s “Tae Do,” a parody of Korean dramas in a Mad TV episode, the subtitles make more sense of the story than the Korean language being spoken. The subtitles are made to appear as though written by someone with a poor understanding of grammar and are often intentionally made longer than what they actually say in the drama. For example, an actor says “Sarang” (“I love you”), but the subtitle is so long that it covers the whole screen.
- In television series Skithouse, a journalist interviews a group of Afghan terrorists in English, but one of them gets subtitled and sees it. He gets mad because he takes as an insult that he is the only one to get subtitled.
- In Mel Brooks film Men in Tights, the thoughts of Broomhilde’s (Megan Cavanaugh) horse Farfelkugel are shown as subtitles when Broomhilde attempts to jump on saddle off balcony. As Farfelkugel shudders, the showtitles show “She must be kidding!”
- In the television series Drawn Together, the character Ling-Ling can only be understood through English subtitles, as his dialogue is delivered in a nonexistent language referred to as “Japorean” by Abbey DiGregorio, the voice actress for the character.
- In the television series Green Acres episode “Lisa’s Mudder Comes for a Visit” (season 5 episode 1), Lisa and her mother converse in Hungarian, with English Subtitles. First, Lisa looks down and corrects the subtitles, “No no no, I said you hadn’t changed a bit! We have a lot of trouble here with subtitles.”, and they change. Mother’s Japanese chauffeur asks “I begga pardon – I bringa bags inna house?” that elicits a gong sound and Japanese subtitles. This is followed by Mother’s great Dane barking with the subtitles “I’ve seen better doghouses than this” with Lisa responding “We’re not interested in what the dog says”, and the subtitles disappear. Later, the subtitles ask farmhand Eb if they will be needing any more subtitlesfor the episode.
- In the UK television series Top Gear, in episode 6 of Series 13, they purposely mistranslate the song sung by Carla Bruni, having her supposedly denouncing hatred towards the trio of presenters (“but mainly James May“) for destroying what is claimed to be her own Morris Marina.
- In Vance Joy’s music video “Riptide” it shows a woman singing the lyrics to the song. At many points the lyrics which are sung “I got a lump in my throat cause you’re gonna sing the words wrong” are deliberately mis-subtitled as “I got a lump in my throat cause you gone and sank the worlds wolf”
- In “Weird Al” Yankovic‘s music video for “Smells Like Nirvana“, the second verse is subtitled as a way to mock the supposed unintelligibility of the song. One of the lines is “It’s hard to bargle nawdle zouss???” (with three question marks), which has no meaning, but is explained by the following line, “With all these marbles in my mouth”. While singing the latter, Yankovic indeed spits out a couple of marbles.
One unintentional source of humor in subtitles comes from illegal DVDs produced in non-English-speaking countries (especially China). These DVDs often contain poorly worded subtitle tracks, possibly produced by machine translation, with humorous results. One of the better-known examples is a copy of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith whose opening title was subtitled, “Star war: The backstroke of the west”.