Friday, 2 March 2018

The year of the whores, the ship hit the fan - and tons of other live TV subtitling gaffes

When regular commenter Helen remarked on the amusement to be derived from error-strewn TV News subtitles, I realised...

...that I was a bit hazy about how they're generated. I googled the subject, and found an excellent article on the subject in the Radio Times (from which I stole many of the screen-grabs below). The sub-titler listens to a live programme on headphones, and repeats what he or she is hearing into a microphone attached to a software application which turns their words into the text we see on our screens. They have to learn how to speak in a particular way, or the app won't be able to interpret what they're saying  - it has enough trouble doing that even when the sub-titler is doing everything right. It's such a brain-scrambling job that the "re-speakers" have to take a 15-minute break following every 15-minute stint in order to clear their heads. I can imagine! The only way to cut down on howlers is to feed as much information as possible into the application so that, for instance, when it hears the name Sergey Lavrov (the Russian Foreign Minister) it doesn't do this:
And that when it hears the name "Fraser" it doesn't render it in this fashion:
Or leave us with the impression that, when it comes to bringing about regime change in Syria, the United States is relying on help from an unexpected quarter:  
Or insert revolting images into viewers' heads: 
I can understand viewers getting annoyed by silly, easily avoidable subtitling errors when watching recorded programmes - there's really no excuse, because there's normally plenty of time to correct them. Here at Grønmark Towers we watch a lot of films and TV drama series with the subtitles on, and the people who create them generally do a good job ( we really enjoy the interpretive descriptions - "Ominous music", "threatening growl" etc. - and the way they provide song titles and the names of performers for any background music is a delightful extra). But complaining furiously about subtitling mistakes on live programmes strikes me as unreasonable - as far as I can see, this type of error is currently unavoidable: nobody's doing it on purpose, and it isn't the result of ignorance. If you find the howlers distracting, don't turn the subtitles on! If you're hard of hearing, be grateful the subtitles are there in the first place. There's enough to complain about on television without going after these people as well - I expect they find these gaffes as funny as the rest of us (especially when they happen on a colleague's watch):
Janet jazz jazz jam - not one of Fergie's better buys.

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