Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Wonder of Subtitles

There is an unusual aspect to TV in Taiwan: there are Chinese subtitles for almost everything. I don't mean just the English language programs, either. Even the Chinese language programs have Chinese subtitles. I've asked Taiwanese people why this is, and they usually just get a puzzled look on their faces and say, "I don't know. Maybe for the deaf people."

Well, if they don't know, I certainly don't. I have a theory, though. A lot of the programs they get are in foreign languages, and I am making a guess by assuming that in the past even more were. Also, a lot of Chinese movies are made in Hong Kong, and they speak Cantonese there. So I think that maybe they just got in the habit of using subtitles. I don't know.

There are some benefits to having subtitles. For one thing, foreigners can use them to practice reading Chinese. For another, people who can read Chinese well can still follow what's going on when the volume is turned down (which is rare), or when there is a lot of background noise.

One of the downsides is that when you go to watch a movie, people who read the subtitles start laughing before the punchline in jokes is delivered. At first I was impressed at how well Taiwanese people got foreign humor because they always laughed at the jokes so quickly. Soon I realized that they were reading the subtitles, which give the whole joke before it is actually spoken. Sometimes this can be annoying because the laughter can drown out the spoken joke.

Another downside is that people are a lot less concerned with making noise in movie theaters. They don't have to hear the dialog (in fact, even if they listen to an English language movie, they can't understand it), so they chat, or let their children make noise, which is distracting.

All of this occurred to me when I was watching a movie I downloaded. It was one of those promotional copies that frequently splashes a warning on the screen that says that the copy of the film is for promotional purposes only, yah duh yah duh yah duh. I've watched such films in the past (I had a friend whose roommate's parents were members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences--the Oscar people--, and she had a lot of videos her parents had received of films that were nominated for Academy Awards). Back then, it was really annoying to have those messages blocking the screen. Now that I'm used to having subtitles on everything (not to mention all kinds of other intrusive logos and graphics), I hardly even noticed it.

It just goes to show that, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.

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