Another in a series of postings on CBC captioning (also see the separate page on the topic)

It is of course tempting to descend into pedantry when discussing the seemingly arcane field of captioning. (How arcane can it really be when it’s on nearly every program and millions of people watch it?) It is all the more tempting when discussing CBC captioning.

So let’s go hog-wild! What is with some CBC captioners and their irrational fondness for single quotation marks?

Screenshot shows Fidel Castro and a two-line caption ending with the word ’CUBA’

It’s a British perversion<slash>anachronism and a consequence of the CBC captioning department’s refusal (a) to accept the reality of Canadian orthography and (b) to break from a colonial past. I’ll have more on that in a future posting. But for now, it is indisputable that Canadian orthography uses double quotes in first instance (single then double then single then double when nested), with commas and periods inside quotation marks in every ordinary case. (Exceptions are so rare they are almost never found on TV, and they include listings of computer code – alt="CBC captioning fuckups", for example, is correct – and literal renderings of quotation-mark rules themselves.)

There are other downsides to using single quotes.

  • Due to shitty implementation by unilingual, typographically-ignorant American engineers, we’ve only had neutral quotes to play with. Yes, real quotation marks are now part of the extended character set, but nobody uses them. While the apostrophe character is nominally a neutral quote, early decoder designs rendered it as a closing quotation mark or apostrophe because single quotation marks were scarcely ever used. (NCI flatly refused to use them, actually italicizing quotes within quotes.) These neutral quotes, then, used curled-quote or apostrophe glyphs. Hence if you start a word with this character, it looks like an apostrophe much of the time. This will depend on font, and I most Line 21 caption fonts I’ve seen do it this way even today.

  • CBC, like many users of Swift, the fantastically expensive captioning software (up to US$12,000 a seat!), has some kind of encoding error that causes doubling back, deletion, and reinsertion of a character whenever apostrophe is transmitted. I assume this is due to having smart quotes (sic – a misnomer in every case I know of) turned on in whatever tool they write in.

    The software seems to be set to support the extended character set or part of it. According to Robson (The Closed Captioning Handbook, p. 312), if the open-single-quote character (code 12,26) is supported, then plain apostrophe (not ASCII 39 but 27) “should be curled the other way so that it can be used as a closing single quote.” There is some kind of weird shit happening in Swift whereby apostrophe is saved as some other character (opening single quote?) then removed and re-rendered by backspacing. If that sounds like an oddball display phenomenon, it is, but it’s built into the later revisions of the Line 21 spec.

    I have alerted Softel, makers of Swift, of this bug and offered to send them tapes, but Softel has a habit of ignoring me even when I’m right, which is usually.

Oh, but I haven’t given you the punchline yet. Only some CBC captioners use single quotes, while others use double, and neither group is clear on whether Canadian or British rules apply for the placement of periods and commas.

Do you still harbour the hope that these people surely must know what they’re doing if they’re being paid $38K to caption highbrow shows for the public broadcaster?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.08.21 13:54. 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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