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Research and Study on Subtitles and Intertitles

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5242 words Published: 27th Aug 2021

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Jan Ivarsson has done his research and study on subtitles. The subtitles came from another form before it is created which is the now we known as the inter-titles. The inter-titles started to be use in the silent film. The inter-titles is done by using texts, drawn and printed on a paper to display to the audience. It is displayed between the sequenced of the film. The inter-titles were first seen as an epic, descriptive title in one of the movie Uncle Tom’s Cabin created by Edwin S. Porter in 1903. Inter-titles can easily solve the translation problem. The original titles is change, being translate again, filmed and remake. According to Jan Ivarsson, (2004) “for the movie Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the technique may have been invented by cartoonist and filmmaker J. Stuart Blackton.” (A Short Technical History In Europe)

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For furthermore improvement of the inter-titles, speakers are used to give simultaneous interpretation of the film to the audience. Soon, in 1909, the titles are changed into sub-titles which they took the idea from the local newspaper in Europe. At first, the subtitles were inserted in the movie along with the inter-titles for the same movie. But, with the development of the sound film which took over the silent film, the inter-titles is no longer needed. This is because in the sound film, audience can hear the voice and sound of the actors, there is no needed of the inter-titles to show the texts. Thus, the titles that usually displayed between the sequenced of the film disappear.

For further information, “the first attested showing of a sound film with subtitles was when The Jazz Singer (originally released in the US in October 1927) opened in Paris, on January 26, 1929, with subtitles in French. Later that year, Italy followed suit, and on August 17, 1929, another Al Jolson film, The Singing Fool, opened in Copenhagen, fitted with Danish subtitles.” (Gottlieb, p. 216)

Although some film company use the inter-titles for their movies, the producer finds out that inserting the inter-titles will make the cost of the film to increased and the technique use is quite complex. Although the inter-titles were no longer used in the film industry, but the subtitle that was used along with the inter-title was continue. The subtitle is inserted together with the pictures and it is placed at the bottom of the film. The producer finds out that this technique cost more cheaper compare to the inter-titles. So, subtitles are widely used in films.

As time passes by, the subtitles are inserted into television broadcast. Arthur Robinson’s Der Student Von Prag, 1983 was first shown in the BBC broadcast. According to Jan Ivarsson, (2004). “This was probably also the first scheduled showing of a film in the history of television.” (A Short Technical History In Europe)

Although subtitle can be shown in the television, it is soon to be found out that the subtitle is very difficult to be read and see on the television compare to the film that show in the cinema. This is because the television has a narrow contrast range compare to the cinema. As a solution to this problem, video tape is invented to solve this problem. After that, subtitle can be clearly seen in the television and the problem is solved.

Literature Review

Brij Kothari (2005), Avinash Pandey (2005) and Amita R. Chudgar (2005) state that subtitles are mainly categorized into two types in their research. Same languages subtitling (SLS) is the type that normally appear in television programs which is shown in the same languages as the audio. In India and most of the country, SLS play its respective role in improving the cultural scriptacy skill and it exposes the readers to the print since their tender years. On the other hand, closed-captioning (CC), the second type of subtitling is initially introduced to enable the hearing disadvantaged people to access the television programs easily. Nowadays, for each television programs, CC is available in several languages or script instead of only-one-language of SLS. As we can see in CC’s name, the users can hide or reveal the “closed” subtitle as their wish while enjoying the shows.

The Functions Of Subtitles

Anon(1949) in his book “The ACL Movie Book- A Guide To Making Movies” speak out some of the function of subtitles in movie. In his point of view, the most basic function of subtitle is to provide information that the audience urge for. Subtitles enhance the understanding of the viewer toward the movie according to the sequences.

Apart from that, Anon (1949) thinks that subtitles also act as tools to link the sequences. When the screens or pictures are changing, the subtitles may separate the line by space or gap. This is to ensure that the audiences will not be confused by looking at the subtitles while watching the programs.

In Anon (1949)’s opinion, subtitle can create different ambience according to the plot which is trying to challenge the imagination of the viewers. In a same situation, just one caption can create different impact to the emotion of the audiences; it sounds like incredible, but is absolutely true.

Anon (1949) also states that one of the most crucial functions of the subtitles is the subtitles represent what are said by the character. When an audience is watching a movie, with the common sense, he will know that the subtitles at the bottom illustrate the words which spoke out by the character on the scene. This is only a simple function, but we should oblige that subtitles are absolutely important in a movies.

Joann Portalupi (2001) and Ralph Fletcher (2001) have the view that in writing, subtitles help the students to interpret the essay’s topic. A title without a further explanation will lead to the different angle of understanding toward a particular topic. For example when we look at the main title of a book, the main title is only to attract the reader’s attention while subtitles are the catalysts that provide additional information which promise the content of the book.

Peter Bondanella (1996) and Julia Conaway Bondanella (1996) think that subtitles also contribute substantively in the literature. In their book, they show the function of the subtitles in the poems of a multicultural Italian writer, Benni. In their opinion, subtitles are the literacy tools that explain the meaning or order that ironically can be neither explained nor arranged. By that, we can found subtitles in Benni’s poem occasionally, illustrating the ironic writing style of literature during the 18th century.

Pierre Nora (2001) in her book, claims that besides than giving instruction on the way to read the topic, subtitles also relate to the history in some way. According to Pierre Nora (2001): “A parallel exists not only between novels and reality but also between history and current events, and the meaning of the text develops in the interaction among those elements (i.e., history, novel, and current events) (pg.147).”

The Positive Effects Of Subtitles

Liesbeth Pyfers (2009) who is the writer of a website named by “Signing Book” define that subtitles show that the speaking of the person who talk and the symbol of the signer. It bring plenty of positive effects and benefits to the public especially those who cannot hear.

Liesbeth Pyfers (2009) thinks that for those who cannot hear, they need some visible sources to understand the content of the television programs. By that, subtitles are invented to ease the deaf people in watching the shows as when they look at the subtitles, they will know what the speaker are talking about. Subtitling during the early century is mostly shown in white font, with black outline at the bottom of the screen. In order to enable the deaf people to differentiate who is talking on the particular subtitle, different colours of subtitling for different characters are introduced. Instead of using complicated languages, the content of the subtitles are simplified for the deaf people.

Moreover, in a good edited film for those who cannot hear, its subtitles are not only including the content of talking, but it will also vividly print out the music, surrounding sounds and even silence on the screen.

Besides, Liesbeth Pyfers (2009) states that subtitles also have the advantage that it can replace the sign languages. The sign mentioned is means by the picture or animate that is inserted into the scene to exaggerate the visual effect. But in some instances the sign maybe irritating or difficult to be understand by the audience. By that, we can use subtitles instead of sign languages to provide the same rate but more legible visual effects. In the other way round, besides than replacing the sign languages, subtitles can be implemented to support it too. By that a win-win situation is achieved as both type of impact can be given to the audience at the same time. However, children below 10 years old will prefer the sign languages because the words are too hard for them to be digested.

Furthermore, Liesbeth Pyfers (2009) claims that the subtitles can also support the finger spelling. When a person cannot understand the finger spelling or any other languages, he can always refer to the subtitles to obtain the data he wants for. Another positive feature of the subtitles is it can navigate the viewers. For example, the chapter heading can always lead the viewer to the part of the movie that he wants to watch.

Liesbeth Pyfers (2009) has the perception that subtitles can support reading too. Interactive CD-ROM productions for children and students nowadays majority have these features- subtitles. The user can learn through the sign languages, caption or both. Sign languages functions as the formation of mind-map in the user’s mind while the text can strengthen the user’s memory in some aspect.

Both are imperative element in enhancing the effective absorption of knowledge into the user’s brain. The website did a research with a result which is “The Deaf children (90 children, 7-19 years of age) who participated in one of the Signing Books user tests compared two video-clips of a signer signing a story in SLN. The first clip had no captions, the second clip did have captions. Almost all children (90%) preferred the captioned clip. The children said they could watch the signer and read the captions at the same time, and that the captions helped them understand the sign language better”.

Last but not least, Liesbeth Pyfers (2009) has the view that subtitles can be utilized in satisfying copyright regulation. When a signing book is translated from the printed story book, there must be slightly different between the original content and the signing languages, this predicament will lead to the copyright problem as the original publisher will unhappy with the dissimilarity. This mistake can be rectified by printing the subtitles out together in the signing book, so that the texts will be the same for both types of books.

The Negative Effects Of Subtitles

Boris Trbic (2005) states that in the movies especially the foreigner film, after the subtitles are translated into the other languages, the audience may miss the linguistic subtleties of the original context. The subtitles may mess up the entire movie as in the movies at 40s, the tone, mood and the pace of talking of the actors cannot be print out by just the few lines of words.

Apart from that, Boris Trbic also claims that when a foreigner film is translated, the cultural references will be lost during the process and the audience will not able to enjoy the feeling of the original film.

Besides, Boris Trbic (2005) said that to make the matter worse is some translated subtitles provide the audience with the wrong information just like what many Hong Kong’s film did. The wrong translations are funny in some way but it will also affect the children’s thinking. Here are some examples of it:

“Beware, your bones are going to be disconnected!” (Saviour of the Soul).

“Sex friend, you’ll never get reincarnated” (Banana Spirit).

“The bullets inside are very hot. Why do I feel so cold?” (The Naked Killer).

Moreover, Holger Mitterer (2009) and James M. McQueen (2009) have the same point on views on the negative effect of subtitles based on their research. They claim that the subtitles in native language retard the viewers from learning the foreign languages.

Beside than the audience refuse to choose the subtitles from second language, most of the media company are the party that prevent them from learning the other languages. According to their research:

“In countries which use subtitles instead of dubbing (e.g., the Netherlands), only native-language subtitles are available, so again listeners are denied potential benefits in speech learning. Native-language subtitles are obviously essential for listeners who do not already speak a second language, and may thus be the only practical solution in cinemas.”

Previous Studies on Subtitles

First Study

Maria Bernshutz, (2010), a person who took master and PhD degrees in marketing, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary and Master in Communications and Media from the Evotos Lorant University, in her study of Empirical Study Subtitled Movies produced in translation Journal, Volume 14, No 1 in January 2010 had shows her studies of movie subtitle on young people of Hungarians. The young people of Hungarians consist of 63% women and 37% men. Young people of Hungarians whom can speak in English Language were chosen to be included into her research for this topic of subtitled. This is because some of the movies that are going to be analysis are in English Language. According to Maria Bernshutz, (2010) “Hungarian young people watch the original film for the language in contrast to Finnish respondents, whose motivations was entertainment” (Volume 14, No 1)

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The research is done in two ways which one of the ways is qualitative mode and the other way is the quantitative mode. The qualitative mode consists of a group of Hungarians which needs them to surf the internet to done the research while for the quantitative mode which consists of 413 third year student of Convinus University, the research needs them to focus on the questionnaire which will be given to them. As an assists, a research company lend a hand by organizing and work with the online focus group. The research company will collects and observed for the online group. Meanwhile for the quantitative mode, the data is collected and analysed by a program which is known as the SPSS software. For the qualitative study related to the subtitled film was conducted via the internet. The online focus group was conducted in a chat room. In the chat room, the users are able to watch each other utterances. They are able to react on them base on the ‘real’ focus group. As an additional, the participants are able to express themselves as free as they wanted to compare when they had to meet personally. During the conversation in the chat room, a few questions are given to the focus group to be discusses. On the other hand for the quantitative study of Hungarians people towards subtitle, the people are required to answer the questions which are provided to them. The question will ask which subtitle that they should recommend about. The people who took part will answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as they reaction towards the questions.

As the results shows, the result for the focus group conversation is analysis in three different levels. The first level is the phase of narrowing the data in which the results depends o visualizing and representing of the code. The second level is the phase of visualizing the data in which the results depends in the way a person watch a TV and what the person had watch for a subtitled film. The last level for the focus group discussion is the phase of drawing conclusion. The overall conclusion that can get from the focus group is that most of the Hungarians mention the subtitles have the same connection with the learning language. Furthermore, the learning language is mostly in contrast for most of the Finns. The results for the number of counts “yes’ and ‘no’ for the quantitative mode, it shows that least people who like subtitle for quiz show while most of them like the point of view of subtitles towards the movie in cinema. According to Maria Bernshutz, (2010),”Learning in Hungary amusement everywhere.” (Volume 14, No 1)

Second Study

Clausson, David (2007) from the section of Humanities and English Section of Halmstad University has carry out a student thesis title which is subtitled – To be or not to Be – A Study of English Listening Comprehension. In his study, the samplings were Swedish students from Sweden. A total of 105 students from four classes at Polhemskolan, from an upper secondary school in Lund, Sweden were to be made a comparison for how subtitles might affect the students understanding of the English spoken. In his study, 56.3% of the total students were female while the rest of 43.7% were boys. According to Clausson, David (2007), “One way of presenting spoken language to a student is through films and TV-shows.” (p.3)

The research is conducted by showing two different scenes from the movies to each of the classes. The two movie are ‘ And Justice For All ‘ and ‘ The Verdict ‘. In the process two of the classes will get movies with English subtitles while the other two classes will not get movies with subtitles. The scenes that will be given to the students are spoken in American English. On the other hand, the films are filmed at the late 1980 which the pronounced of the English were not that much different. After that, a test of questionnaire is given to all of them. The first questions are mainly focused on the age and gender. The test is used to trace the speaking, reading, writing and listening habits o the students when it comes to English Language.

The result will be discussed according to the information learned from the questionnaire. The result will be shown in three groups which is the advanced group, medium group and weak group. In the advanced group, most of the students score well for the questionnaire. After a few discussions, it was to be find out that the students from the advanced group usually will have friends and family whom can they speak English with and they do read novels and surf the internet by using English as their main languages. As for the medium group, the students have fewer friends which they can speak English, and they usually do not watch English subtitles when watching TV. Thus it was to found out that their English was not as good as the advanced group. Lastly for the weak group, the students majorities do not answer most of the question given in the questionnaire correctly. The results show that the student does not understand English.

Third Study

Clausson, David (2007) from the section of Humanities and English Section of Halmstad University in his paper Subtitles – To be or not to be for the Hong Kong study discussed the use of subtitle in teaching English into Cantonese-speaking student. The aim of the study is to find out the most effective way for a Hong Kong student to learn English through watching English movie. In his research, 22 students that come from 5 classes are divided into different groups for subtitling method.

The method that has been used is bi-modal input, standard subtitling, reversed subtitling and English transcript. All the groups were given the same movie to be watch except for the English transcript group, they are given only the script of the film. After that, a test was given to the students about the events that had happen in the storyline of the movies. The students are required to remember the name of the places, people and things. not long from the test, a second test was given to the students. The question is the same but it has been undergone some rearrangement so the students will not completely done the same thing as test one.

Both of the tests show that the bi-modal input method is the most effective way for the students to learn English. As for the other groups that had to watch the movie, they show that standard subtitling and reversed subtitling are effective but are not as effective as the bi-modal input method. The results also shows that the English transcript is the least effective way for the students to learn English.

Movies and Subtitles

Film Review on Forrest Gump

  • The Director : Robert Zemeckis
  • The Casting : Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Robin Wright Penn (Jenny Curran), Gary Sinise (Lieutenant Dan Taylor), Mykelti Williamson (Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue), Sally Field (Mrs. Gump) and Haley Joel Osment (Forrest Gump, Jr.)

“Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

This is the most famous quotation in the six Academy Awards winning film that rewarded Tom Hanks as Best Actor, and Robert Zemeckis as Best Director in year 1995. The screenplay was written based on the novel of the same name whom the author is Winston Groom, starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright Penn and Gary Sinise as the most significant characters in the film.

In general, the synopsis of the film talks about the life of Forrest Gump, the main character who possesses only 75 for his IQ, dealing with up and down situations in his life. He has also unwittingly joined in the world major historical events twentieth century. Another important idea is how he perceives love in his life. Love is the main theme in the story. The two most important people for Forrest Gump are his mother and Jenny. In the film Forrest says many times that he misses Jenny. The love story between them is simple, eternal and faithful.

The director presents the film in an amusing and metaphorical way. Life is like a road while we are the runners. Things happen along the road and we’ll find different scenes along the way. The film also talks about some of the major events happened in the late 20th century. For example, in hilarious way Robert Zemeckis describes the assassin cases of some presidents of America, the Vietnam War, Watergate scandal and the race issue in the country. The story also talks about freedom, family and reality.

All in all, the film is a very touching story that describes about life. Genuinely to say Forrest Gump is a worthwhile film to be watched.

Film Review on Tooth Fairy

  • The Director : Michael Lembeck
  • The Casting : Dwayne Johnson (Derek Thompson / Tooth Fairy),
  • Stephen Merchant (Tracy), Ashley Judd (Carly), Julie Andrews (Lily), Chase Ellison (Randy), and Destiny Whitlock (Tess)

“…dreams are good, for everyone.”

Tooth Fairy is the 2010 comedy film starring by Dwayne Johnson as the major character. This film was released on 22 January 2010. The screenplay of the film is written by Lowell Ganz, based on a story by Jim Piddock. The hockey scenes were filmed at the Great Western Forum using players from the Los Angeles Kings.

In general, the film talks about the belief of Derek Thompson, the main character who is a hockey player and also the Tooth Fairy. He undergoes difficulties in life, especially in playing hockey. He as a proud minor-league hockey player is forced to serve as a Tooth Fairy for a stint as punishment for his disbelief in magic or dreams. He doesn’t believe the tooth fairy and claim himself as the tooth fairy. Another idea is he always dampens the enthusiasm of a person. He likes to tell the youngsters that they should not strive for their ambitions and high achievers. He never says ‘what if’ as told by his girlfriend, Carly.

The film is presented metaphorically. Encouragement is the main theme in this film. The film is trying to convey an idea to tell the people that we must always try hard to strive for our dreams. Dreams are beautiful and everyone should have dreams. Dreams can help us to grow up better and succeed in our life. We should not dampen the interest of a person. In other word, we must give support to other people for them to strive for their dreams and ambitions. Encouragement from other people will give us enough courage to pursue our dream. If we fail to achieve our goals, we may not feel ourselves are useless as we know that someone believe in us and they will always support and encourage us to achieve our dreams.

The Findings

We have chosen two English movies for our English project assignment. The two movies that we had chosen for our English project assignment are Forest Gump starring by Tom Hanks and Tooth Fairy starring by Dwayne Johnson. For our English project , we are required to analyze both English movies of different-language subtitles. For the English movie Forest Gump, our subtitles are in English as the same as the speaking language of the movie. As for the English movie Tooth Fairy, our subtitles are in Chinese which is our mother tongue language.

After we had watched both the movies Forest Gump and Tooth Fairy, we found out that both the movies are very interesting and hilarious. After we had a few discussions among ourselves based on the two English movies, we found out that the English movie Forest Gump with its English subtitle make us more understandable about the details of the movie about what it tries to bring out to us compare to Tooth Fairy with its Chinese subtitle. There are a few reasons that we may say that the movie forest Gump is more understandable compared to the other English movie, Tooth Fairy.

The first reason is that we can understand both English and Chinese. When we watch both of the movies, the actors in Forest Gump movies use simple English and we can understand every word and sentences that the actor have spoken in the scene. In addition, with the help of the subtitle that show us the words that the actors have said, it helped us to understand better. We can perceive the messages that the actors of Forest Gump try to bring to us. For example, in the story, the actors said that life is like a chocolate. Through this few words, we can know what he tries to send the message to us. On the other hand, for the English movie Tooth Fairy, as we can understand both English and Chinese, we can understand what the story wanted to tell us too. But for an English movie to have a Chinese subtitle, we were sometime confused by the meaning of the words. The movie Tooth Fairy has used simple English, but after looking at the Chinese subtitles, some of the simple words may turn out difficult to be understand or the meaning is out then the original meaning. As for this reasons, we found out that the English movie Forest Gump with English audio and English subtitle is much more understandable compare to the English movie Fairy Tooth with its Chinese subtitle.

Furthermore, some of us had stop learning Chinese since secondary school. The Mandarin subtitles in the English movie Tooth Fairy are not in the moderns word that we learn during the 90-an. The Chinese subtitle that shown to us are traditional Mandarin words that had been used by our parents during their ages. So for young generations like us, it is hard to understand the Mandarin words that shown and we even can’t read the words too. So this make us more understandable as we look at the English subtitles compare to the Mandarin subtitles which some of us do not know how to read it.

Now, at universities, English has become the main interactive language compare to Mandarin and Malay Language. This condition has no difference compare to us. In our university, we use English to gather information, interact with the lectures and even to organize an event. And for that reason, new vocabularies that we had not encounter yet during our secondary school start to emerge. As to improve our English, we tend to look at English subtitle when we are going to watch a movie. This will help us to learn new words that we had not learnt before. So, in the English movie Forest Gump with English subtitles, we had learnt some new phrases and words that we seldom use and this helps us to improve our English better and for the next time we encounter the same word, we can understand better. As for the English movie Tooth Fairy with Mandarin subtitle, we are not that concern because we do not frequently use Mandarin in university, so it is not as important as the English subtitle movie Forest Gump.

As a conclusion, based on the reasons that we had shown above, it is the English movie Forest Gump with English subtitle that make us more understandable compared to the English movie Tooth Fairy with its Mandarin subtitles.


In a nutshell, after our group put our finishing touch on this project, we all agree that subtitles are an important element in improving our English languages. It is a universal truth that subtitles has become part and parcel of our life in this era of knowledge-based economy. We should utilize subtitles instead of taking it for grant.

English as the international language is actually not something that can be simply mastered through rote learning. On the contrary, we must put some efforts in writing, reading, speaking and listening. When we are watching a movie, the subtitles shown at the bottom play an imperative role in strengthening our linguistic and communication skills. If a person can practice English by speaking out the dialogue while looking at the subtitles, we believe that he English communication skill will definitely improve by leaps and bounds. By that, languages can be improved tremendously by only watching the movies, it is not necessary to dig deeper into our pockets for the intensive English tuition classes.

On the other hand, as we can conclude from the literature review and case studies done before, interpreting it from different angles, subtitles benefits us more even though it also have some negative effects. As a caring society, subtitles help those who cannot or have difficulty in auditory by enabling them to know what the casts are talking about. In poem or any literacy works, subtitles provide further explanation to the particular topic. Moreover, in the interactive CD-ROM productions for children and students, subtitles give a clearer view on the concepts that ease the absorption of knowledge of the learners.

As a conclusion, we oblige that subtitles have become a household word in our daily routine. We are glad to spend quality time in researching its development. This project enables us to undergo paradigm shift in our stereotyping mindset which think that subtitles only appear in movies. By that, we promise to utilize it uses and spread its function to the world.


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