Do Shot Changes Really Induce the Rereading of Subtitles?

Agnieszka Szarkowska, Izabela Krejtz, Krzysztof Krejtz

2017 W: Fast-Forwarding with Audiovisual Translation / Jorge Díaz Cintas, Kristijan Nikolić. Bristol : Multilingual Matters, s. 61-79.

In this chapter, we look into the question of whether shot changes induce the rereading of subtitles, as is generally believed both in the subtitling profession and in literature on subtitling. The widely quoted argument as to why subtitles should not be displayed over shot changes is, in the words of Díaz Cintas and Remael (2007: 91), that ‘studies in eye movements […] have shown that if a subtitle is kept on screen where there is a cut change, the viewer is led to believe that a change of subtitle has also taken place and starts re-reading the same onscreen text’. In TheGuidance on Standards for Subtitling, the Independent Television Commission (ITC, 1999: 12) – the former British regulator, the predecessor of today’s Ofcom – states that ‘subtitles that are allowed to over-run shot changes can cause considerable perceptual confusion and should be avoided. Eye-movement research shows that camera-cuts in the middle of a subtitle presentation cause the viewer to return to the beginning of a partially read subtitle and to start re-reading’. Arguing along those same lines, although commenting on subtitles displayed over changes between scenes, rather than between shots, Robson (2004: 184) states that ‘research has shown that if a caption remains on the screen when the scene changes behind it, viewers will automatically start reading the caption over again, assuming that the caption changed with the scene’. None of these authors, however, provides any reference to eye tracking studies confirming such claims.