Closed captioning (for Latin 1 languages only)?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/10/04 05:16 -07:00, original URI:

So, the question for today is simple enough.

What to the movies Lady in the Water, True Believer, and Kuffs have in common?

I will admit not much, whether you think in terms of plot or actors or quality or reception or genre or critical response.

But they do have one thing in common.

When the mother of the accused in True Believer is telling her story to James Woods that her daughter is translating, the closed captioning says she is speaking Korean.

There are scenes in Lady in the Water where the old Korean lady is telling a story in Korean for her daughter to translate, and when she talks, the closed captioning reads that she is speaking Korean without giving the Korean words.

And there is a scene in Kuffs when they sit in a Chinese restaurant for the older brother's birthday and when they come out singing the birthday song, the closed captioning reads singing Happy Birthday in Chinese. And they really are singing the actual Chinese words (I cannot tell for sure with the other two since I do not know Korean).

I have numerous examples from television shows, too -- it is a pretty consistent experience from what I can see.

Of course these are all unlike most of the closed captioning I have been seeing lately for "Latin 1" languages, which included the other language text even when it was just a few lines.

So, assuming that when one sees the program, one may or may not know the other language, it seems like the viewer with perfect hearing should be treated equally with the one who needs closed captioning to follow the story -- and thus the actual Korean or Japanese text should be there.

But it's not.

Now closed captioning industry standards like EIA-708 that are basically FCC-required have stubs to support UTF-32 captions, and also downloadable fonts. And there are plenty of companies like VITAC that have on their feature list quite a few languages -- check it out:

Bahasa - Indonesian
Bahasa - Malay
Brazilian Portuguese
Canadian French
Chinese Simplified
Chinese Traditional
Continental Portuguese
English - UK
English - US

Parisian French
Spanish Castilian
Spanish Latin American

So I think it is within the capability of technology.

I guess they just don't want to pay to get the translations done. I suppose it isn't very cost effective since it would not be seen very often by people.

The fact that they often do take time to translate Spanish and French and other Latin 1 languages makes me wonder if it is solely budget issues or if it also a time issue since the other languages are so much more expensive and require so much more effort for the translation. I hate ascribing motives but I wonder whether there are any deeper reasons.

Anyone reading this post know?


This post brought to you by (U+1126, a.k.a. HANGUL CHOSEONG PIEUP-SIOA-CIEUC)

# William Overington on Thursday, October 04, 2007 2:17 PM:

I notice that you mention Latvian.

I started the following thread a little over two years ago about the inclusion of the special characters for Latvian in some of my fonts.

I am not sure to what extent this relates directly to your blog post, yet maybe the thread might hopefully be of interest to you and to some of your readers.

William Overington

4 October 2007

# Michael S. Kaplan on Thursday, October 04, 2007 2:26 PM:


Unless you have made a deal with a closed captioning  company to turn your font into a downloadable soft font, then there is no way that it is even remotely on topic.

William -- let's try to stop the off-topic comments. I think some of my readers would appreciate free beer or money or hot women or hot men or firetrucks or guns or any number of things. It does not make it okay in a comment unrelated to the post....

# Si on Thursday, October 04, 2007 5:47 PM:

I suppose terminology here is important. You might want to check out Joe Clark's

My understanding, and I could be wrong, is that the closed captions on TV are for people who can't hear the dialog, because they're hearing impaired, in a loud bar, or like to have the volume down or off. The font used is stored in the TV/device so looks different from set to set.

For MCE we shipped some "teletext fonts", along with the required Western set of cc fonts. the teletext fonts could also be used for closed captions in some cases, that supported various CC languages including Hebrew and Arabic - these are privately installed licensed variants of Lucida Console. As I recall we had to use some PUA for forms that were not in Unicode, and the MCE guys used mapping tables.

Subtitles are generally generated separately and are applied as a static layer over the top of the programming. These have historically been language translations of dialog. With HD-DVD subtitles can be displayed using live fonts, hence OpenType being referenced in HD DVD specs for use in both menus and subtitles/captions.  

# Michael S. Kaplan on Thursday, October 04, 2007 6:14 PM:

That makes sense Si. Thanks. :-)

It still seems unfair that someone who can hear gets to hear Korean or Japanese that they may be able to understand, yet someone who is hearing impaired does not get the analogous opportunity....

# Mihai on Thursday, October 04, 2007 6:42 PM:

<<the viewer with perfect hearing should be treated equally with the one who needs closed captioning to follow the story -- and thus the actual Korean or Japanese text should be there>>

It depends how you look at things. Growing up with closed captioning for all foreign movies, I am used to it as a way to get the meaning without covering the original voice and artistic interpretation (after all, and Oscar for the best actor probably more about voice than about face).

So subtitles are not "textual rendering of the sounds" but "the original words translated into something you can understand"

Put otherwise: the subtitle should give me the same experience as a person who understands the language of the movie. If I see a German movie, you should translated all the German so that I understand it. If in the German movie there is a short scene in Chinese, with no German translation, then I also do not expect translation. It means that the director (maybe) wanted to give me the feeling of how it is to feel as a stranger, without understanding what is going on around you. If the Chinese scene was subtitled into German, then I would also expect it translated into y language.

Those who understand Chinese are at loss exactly because they understand. They don't get the "this is how it feels to be lost" message that the director wanted to send.

I get the same with Romanian text in foreign movies. It is there with the intention to give you the feeling of foreign, alien, strange, unknown. Not for me :-)

# Dean Harding on Thursday, October 04, 2007 7:19 PM:

I think Mihai has a good point. Usually the point of foreign languages in movies is just to "sound foreign" (in fact, many times they're not even saying anything coherent) so you wouldn't expect the CC to include the translation.

It's like when you hear a crowd roar and the caption is "Roaring Crowd" -- you wouldn't expect it to say "RRRROOOAAAR!" or something :p

# Michael S. Kaplan on Thursday, October 04, 2007 7:28 PM:

But what about when it is genuine (like that Happy Birthday, and I am pretty sure like the James Woods movie)?

The genuine Japanese and Korean added to the reality and helped with the suspension of disbelief. But not in the CC. :-(

# Carl on Friday, October 05, 2007 4:23 AM:

When I lived in Japan, I never managed to find a TV that does close captioning. It's my belief that it's just not done over there, but I could be wrong.

# Carl on Friday, October 05, 2007 4:33 AM:

I take it back. According to Japanese Wikipedia ( ) some TV shows do have closed captioning there, but it's usually limited to animes and period dramas because of the hassle of typing up well formated kanji/kana sentences.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Friday, October 05, 2007 8:46 AM:

Well, according to that article it originally was that way, but post 1997 has been gradually been happening for more programs.

# Mihai on Friday, October 05, 2007 12:15 PM:

<<But what about when it is genuine (like that Happy Birthday, and I am pretty sure like the James Woods movie)?>>

I think we should make the difference between the captioning for foreign movies (speak language A and the captioning language B) vs captioning for hearing impaired (speak language A and the captioning language A).

The rule (I would say) is "the guy reading the caption should have the same experience as the guy hearing the sound"

So for hearing impaired you are right: if I don't understand Chinese (and I hear it) I will have the same experience with the one who can read English, but not Chinese. If one understands both (speak), he will (probably) understand both (read). Ok, with the slight complication of Mandarin/Cantonese and TC/SC for Chinese, where understanding reading does not directly imply hearing :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on Friday, October 05, 2007 12:19 PM:

Ah, that is a facinating complication, though! :-)

# Joe Clark on Monday, October 08, 2007 1:04 AM:

OK, what are you really asking here?

“Can’t closed captions use Unicode?” No.

“Shouldn’t captioners be using Unicode?” They can’t. (Not even in HDTV.)

“Can’t captioners use the actual script of the list of subtitling languages they offer?” No.

They’ve got a reduced Latin character set only (and stop calling it Latin 1; it isn’t).

“Shouldn’t even brief passages of common European languages actually be captioned?” Nearly always, yeah.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Monday, October 08, 2007 1:07 AM:

Kind if a shame really, especially since some of the standards seem to have planned ahead for the possibility. :-(

# Joe Clark on Monday, October 08, 2007 1:23 PM:

What Mihai is trying to say is that subtitling ≠ captioning. Please don’t start using his terminology, yet another kind of incorrectness.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Monday, October 08, 2007 2:08 PM:

Si already made the point as well, but thanks, Joe. :-)

# David on Monday, May 12, 2008 8:09 PM:

I think closed caption should be moving in the Unicode direction, so that TV supports captioning practically any language that can be written.  

I happen to be deaf and to know several foreign languages, but a more open captioning system would really benefit language learners as well as the deaf.  This is because the ability to read a foreign language often progresses faster than the ability to "catch" words spoken at full conversational speed by a native speaker.

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