Quality’s Enemy in Subtitling: Peripheral Errors
by Deborah Wexler
When audiovisual translators receive suggestions from the reviewer, files with track-changes, template changes, etc., they need to review the subtitle in context before making or accepting changes. If they don’t, the odds of introducing mistakes into the files grow dramatically.
An example from a Tagalog to English translation:
Subtitle 1 [the translator did not read it]:
The phone is ringing. I’ll get it!
Subtitle 2 [the translator read it and changed it]:
woman is calling again.
Subtitle 3 [the translator did not read it]:
I won’t take her call.
Concordance error in subtitle 3:
The “her” should have been changed to “his”: “I won’t take his call.”
This amounts to making a blind change to a file! As you can see, the translator failed to correct the “new” error in an adjacent subtitle.
I call this new phenomenon “peripheral errors.” They are not only created when a translator fails to see an existing error in the surrounding subtitles, but when the fix alters the text in a way that does not fit in anymore, thus creating “new” grammatical, syntactic and semantic errors.
Also, new cloud subtitling software has filters that allow us to see subtitles in need of fixing and to jump between them quickly. There are two types.
1. Format filters. They look for subtitles that violate format guidelines, like reading speed, characters per line, lines per subtitle, etc., so the linguist or editor can fix them.
2. Linguistic filters. They look for subtitles that need changes due to template updates or to suggested changes by the reviewer, so the translator can fix them.
The problem is that some programs, instead of just jumping from one change to the next, hide the rest of the subtitles, so the context surrounding the change is no longer visible to the translator.
To avoid leaving peripheral errors behind, the audiovisual translator should always read the surrounding subtitles to check the immediate context.
If they are working with a program that hides subtitles from view, they will need to be even more careful: they should use the filter, make a note of the subtitle number, disable the filter, go to the subtitle in question and read it in context. If they check two subtitles before and two subtitles after before they make changes or accept suggestions by the reviewer, they will be good to go.
Audiovisual translators should avoid making any kind of blind fixes, manually or through filtering. After all, our name appears in the credit at the end of the video.