The Malta Independent 3 February 2023, Friday
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University department offers assistance to national TV on subtitling – lecturer

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 2 October 2022, 09:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

A wide spectrum of viewers can benefit from subtitles on television programmes, said Translation, Terminology and Interpreting Studies lecturer Giselle Spiteri Miggiani.

In this respect, the Department is offering consultancy as to which types of programmes are suited for inclusive interlingual or intralingual subtitles

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Last week, The Malta Independent on Sunday quoted Deaf People Association member Loran Ripard Xuereb saying subtitles are excellent and very much needed on national TV channels, but an interpreter would be better since sign language is deaf people's first language.

Xuereb was contacted for his comments after the Nationalist Party had earlier suggested that programmes on the national television stations should carry sub-titles to enable the hearing impaired to follow. The PN had said there is also European funding specifically for this, which is still to be tapped in by Malta.

Spiteri Miggiani said that same-language subtitles are useful not only for inclusivity purposes but also for viewers, such as people who for some reason watch programmes with the volume muted or don’t want to disturb those around them as they are commuting from one place to another. More importantly subtitles can help ease understanding in the case of challenging accents, articulation or fast and overlapping speech.

Additionally, even older people or viewers with mild hearing loss can be supported by subtitles. When hearing loss occurs at a later stage in life, sign language may not necessarily be their first language.

“Same-language subtitles can also be a useful language learning tool, for instance, for non-Maltese speakers who wish to learn Maltese. On the other hand, interlingual subtitles that provide language transfer can provide access to viewers who do not understand the original language. For example, we can have foreign-language productions subtitled into Maltese or Maltese-language TV programmes subtitled into English (giving access to non-Maltese residents). Subtitles also enable the exportation of local Maltese-language productions to festivals and platforms overseas.”

“The ideal scenario is one in which both services (sign language and subtitles) are made available, in general. Which of the two modes we provide would depend on the specific type of programme. Sign language is probably necessary for live programmes, while subtitles applied to film and fiction can fulfil multiple functions and reach a wide spectrum of viewers.”

The Department of Translation, Terminology and Interpreting Studies at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Malta is currently engaging in reception studies to investigate local demands and preferences.

The lecturer said that the department has also been in contact with the Deaf People Association Malta to involve them in these reception studies. “The aim is to explore the needs and preferences of the local deaf and hard of hearing community and to use this data to shape local inclusive subtitling guidelines accordingly.” Additionally, the Department has also been liaising with local broadcasters and producers and has collaborated on projects that sought to provide subtitles for specific productions.

The Department has been training translators and interpreters for the past 20 years. However, it has only very recently introduced a new specialisation in audiovisual translation, where students learn how to translate and adapt media products for subtitling, voice-over and dubbing purposes. “Apart from the so-called media localisation modes that provide translation, there are also the media accessibility modes that are subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing and audio description for the blind and partially sighted.”

In an open proposal to governmental authorities and national TV channel “decision makers”, she said that the Department is willing to provide consultancy as to which types of programmes are suited for inclusive interlingual or intralingual subtitles (English or Maltese). The Department can also help provide access to their pool of human resources who are trained to deliver such services. She proposes deciding upon a minimum quota of local subtitled broadcasts, also to try to comply with EU media accessibility directives.

"We can offer a combined mode of subtitling that I like to refer to as ‘inclusive subtitles’. These can simultaneously encompass translation from one language to another and accessibility features (such as the description of sounds, music or speaker names), thus providing access on a linguistic, cultural and sensory level without creating a separation among viewers. Therefore, a universalist and integrated access approach where the terms 'access' and 'inclusivity' are used in their broader meaning,” she said.

With reference to the PN’s declaring that there are untapped European funds for subtitling, she said that “resources then shouldn’t be an obstacle”.

Currently, students within the Master’s course are also contributing to local research, through their dissertations, as they study the local demographic on their subtitling preferences. These studies are contributing to the development of local guidelines in order to suit subtitling norms and conventions to Maltese-specific demands: linguistic, cultural and sensory. For instance, one of the studies in progress is testing the local viewer tolerance threshold to vulgar language in Maltese subtitles, while another study is testing accessibility features. Previous dissertations have investigated reading speed and general viewer response to Maltese subtitles. The local guidelines refer to subtitles both in English and Maltese in a local context.

“The media often highlight the importance of accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, but accessibility is also about the blind and partially sighted,” she said.

Currently the Department is also engaging in inclusivity projects in collaboration with Heritage Malta, where they are implementing audio description in local museums and cultural sites. This means that hopefully, in the near future, inclusive audio guides will be available, so that everyone can enjoy a work of art and artefacts, including people who are blind and partially sighted. Apart from that they're also creating audio descriptions for children.

For more information on the impact research and training offered at the Department of Translation, Terminology and Interpreting Studies visit https://www.um.edu.mt/arts/translation/

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