Watch Mariya Gershteyn’s documentary film “The First Memories” about her father’s war memories. This film became a subtitle translation project for two students at Boston University.

Mariya Gershteyn is a documentary film director. Her films have received and been nominated for numerous awards in the US and Russia. Her films explore the Russian Émigré experience in America, how one’s identity changes according to this new culture: what emigres lose from their old life and what they gain in their new life. 

Here are a few notes on subtitling which is not the same as translating.

1) Subtitling is the process of providing synchronized captions with limited means and within limited time. Thus, the language used in subtitles is quite different from colloquial language. Subtitles prefer formal language, rather than colloquial.

2) The language used for subtitling needs to be more compact - it occurs not only because of space limits but also due to time constraints. Given that from the audiences' viewpoint, reading subtitles requires a lot of cognitive effort, subtitles must generally compact all the information in only two lines of a maximum of about 35 characters each.  The time available for display (from ½ to 1 ½ seconds) depends mainly on the speed at which the material is spoken.

3) In order to know what information is more relevant, the translator needs to take into account that the film viewers also receive non-verbal information from the images. That information can never be disregarded. Thus, speech must be extremely concise if we do not want the audience to spend the whole film only reading subtitles.


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