• The Patriot Talon

Subtitles, an unsubtle look at their importance


Language molds the mind against people, culture, art, and film. It plagues the creative mind and stunts the development of a community as a species by preying on how bound we are to knowledge and habits. Thus, our binds can only be lifted when we embrace art and film.


These embodiments of culture are not normative to preconceived notions of what art can be., Paintings, books, film an music build a bridge to the barrier of an “us” vs “them” ideology, that language creates between non-language speakers to native speakers.


“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” Bong Joon Ho said when receiving a Golden Globe earlier this month.


He craves for people to understand that language barrier to culture is slim with the abundance of subtitles. I believe that in order to develop American society we need to watch and absorb more foreign cultures. Watching movies with subtitles is the best way to do this, because people prefer films in subtitles across the world, it will create a standard for subtitles, and it will help influx foreign films to the U.S.


Europe is a boiling pot for languages, along with the cultures that come with mixing with the multiple communities and languages that make up the continent.


The European Commission defines the official 24 spoken languages as “Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Spanish.”


The perfect test of how to convey the importance of subtitles was created by a survey which asked moviegoers what they preferred, and Language Onsight expanded on the study.

In March 2010, the British Film Council (BFC) ordered its own survey to determine whether audiences preferred their foreign language movies to be subtitled/dubbed...audiences in Hull only had the option of seeing the dubbed film, while in London only the subtitled version was shown. In Manchester, audiences had the option of seeing either format,” reads the report.


“The researchers concluded that fans of mainstream cinema, such as blockbusters like ‘Avatar,’ were most likely to see the dubbed version of the film. Meanwhile, those who saw the subtitled version were more likely to have an interest in foreign language and arthouse films. In addition, 65% of those who saw the subtitled film watched non-English language movies either a lot or occasionally, compared to 34% of those who saw the dubbed version.”


The preference of a certain view of art is not only in subtitles but a diverse group of individuals. The people in the study crave foreign media and watch films subbed our society hasn’t come to accept as a norm. The small steps of sharing film that anyone can understand despite nationality is already done with our exports in films. Why can we not do the same?


We have to accept the culture of other societies, or we will fall behind not only in the movie industry, but also in enriching our citizens in different cultures. However, in the efforts of bringing subtitles to the norm, these modern translations are lackluster.


“The ATAA’s chairperson, Ian Burley, who has been subtitling French, Belgian and Italian movies for more than 30 years, also took a look at Roma’s English subtitles,” said The Guardian, in a 2019 article, “and found them riddled with stylistic inconsistencies, sloppy synchronization, and clumsy line breaks or punctuation, all of which are liable to distract or discombobulate the viewer.”

The clarity in translation can make impacts in history for better or worse, even outside of the silver screen. An Italian mistranslation created an entirely new form of media. “Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli began mapping Mars in 1877, he inadvertently sparked an entire science-fiction oeuvre.


The director of Milan’s Brera “Observatory” dubbed dark and light areas on the planet’s surface ‘seas’ and ‘continents’ – labelling what he thought were channels with the Italian word ‘canali’. Unfortunately, his peers translated that as ‘canals’, launching a theory that they had been created by intelligent lifeforms on Mars.”


Culture can make or break a society, especially if it stagnates by festering within itself. We have a duty to the connection of our society of humans to embrace other media and other countries’ art. If we can read tweets, Instagram profiles, surf Reddit, we can take the time to read text on a film.


This lack of interest in foreign films breeds laziness and the industry is suffering from bringing its business to the US as The Guardian states “U.S. box office for the top five foreign-language films has declined by 61% in the last seven years.”


Why would foreign films make their movie translated into English, when the market for the country that speaks the most English doesn’t buy tickets to the movie?

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