T minus 13 days to ATypI Brighton 2007: Captioning

Can we get this over with, please?

U.K. (and Irish) English and our English may use different words for the same concept, as with lift/elevator. That’s noncontroversial.

U.K. English may have a different sense for some words, like pants (trousers or underwear?). In that case – this is important – you could clear it up by not using the ambiguous word and using two other words (no to pants, yes to trousers or underwear).

U.K. English insists on using one word for two things, subtitling. Unlike the previous case, you cannot clear up the ambiguity by using two other words. Subtitling is subtitling in this dialect, but subtitling is also captioning.

Hence, while it may not be clear whether or not you are wearing “pants,” it is at least possible to specify what you are wearing using other words. A film that is “subtitled” could mean any of several things – captioned or subtitled or both at once.

Hence “How was your Saturday night?” “It was all right. The Missus and I went to the subtitled movie” tells you only that your friend and the Missus went to a movie and there were words on the screen. What kind of words? You don’t know the answer.

Rather despite what Wikipedia says, every country with a captioning infrastructure except the U.K. and Ireland calls captioning captioning (viz Canada, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand). Countries without such an infrastructure simply do not understand what captioning is (viz India, South Africa, Jamaica) and will flail around for a moment before settling on subtitling. They’ll be just as wrong as the Brits and the Irish, but they will be innocent. And the ambiguity will lead to legislated nonsense like the Irish broadcast regulator’s insistence that “subtitling” levels must increase while also allowing some “captioning.” It’s all captioning, and it’s the only thing you’ve been watching all along.

Our British and Irish friends nonetheless go to elaborate lengths to insist that nobody, at all, ever, misunderstands what is meant by subtitling. While they may claim that, after the manner of the tobacco industry claiming that smoking does not cause cancer, we can actually prove that nobody ever misunderstands captioning and subtitling. The U.K. usage is polysemous but irresolvably ambiguous. That makes it wrong. What makes it different from the previous case is that nobody’s innocent.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.08.30 20:14. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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