Details matter

For instance, carefully looking at the travel zones to be sure that the week pass I bought (for all trains, ferries, and buses) actually goes all the way out to my hotel! (Not quite, argh! Seems the only way to upgrade it is to go all the way back to the airport!???!) So, my six a.m. decision-making after a twenty-two hour journey is not so hot. :-/
Going on the SBS tour, however, was an excellent idea. 🙂 They broadcast in sixty-eight languages, which puts them in a class by themselves. They use the phrase “mini-UN”: perhaps this is true in terms of written translation? Yet, it seemed to me that the daily production of so many different language group voices is much closer to the language regime of the European Parliament. SBS does television and radio, with radio described as “the mother of the organization” and subtitling as “the key” to delivering the organization’s charter, which is to “bring the world to Australia.”
Two aspects of the visit captured me: the parallels between subtitling and sign language interpretation, and meeting with Francis Lee, Head of the Cantonese Program for SBS Radio (Sydney).
I have never thought deeply about subtitling as a craft. What struck me today is the challenge of coordinating the written text with the rest of the visual imagery. For instance, coordinating chunks of text with the matching scene is similar to what sign language interpreters do by minimizing visual noise and identifying speakers. Additionally, there are huge challenges in timing and the need to manage – even weed out – various sound inputs: such as overlaps in speaking (turn-taking dynamics), recomposition to work within differential time constraints (it takes longer to read text than to hear speech; just as simultaneous interpreting requires processing time), and having to create sense (meaning) even when speakers utter something extemporaneously that actually doesn’t make sense (all interpreters must do this, not just sign language interpreters).
The SBS also does closed-captioning &emdash; only in English &emdash; for the Australian Deaf Community. I wanted to ask if they combine closed-captioning with subtitling but the moment did not arise. The presentation was educational concerning the intent to be verbatim and neither give more information than the average non-deaf television watcher would receive nor less; to be cautious of condescension but aware of cues that would be obvious to a hearing (non-deaf) person but not accessible at the same time to a deaf person, such as recognizing George W. Bush’s voice before an image of him appeared visually.
After tea, I tagged along with a few folk who work into Arabic, including Arda (English, Armenian, and Arabic), to check out the Arabic language group’s desk for radio. As luck would have it, there was no one there. 🙁 Most of the group went downstairs to subtitling but, on a whim, I joined Diana to visit the Cantonese and Mandarin desk. What a happy turn of events! Francis has been fulltime at SBS for fourteen years, prior to that he was an engineer. He entertained my attempt to link homomorphisms to repeating dynamics in social interaction, “That is very abstract!” he said, smiling. Guilty as charged! I picked up a copy of his bilingual (Chinese/English) book on “English Idioms: under the lucky stars”, which I am eager to read and share with a few friends (yes, George, I’m talking about you!)
Diana (who doesn’t need business cards because she already has so much work with Mandarin!) spent most of the time talking with Martin (?), after awhile Francis introduced me to Jennifer, a part-timer. I learned from her that access to spoken language as well as signed language interpretation appears to be a widespread practice in Australia, although underused either because people do not realize the service is available or “trust their friends more.” Seems that the law is much more progressive here than in the US or even most European countries, as she said interpreters are not only available for court proceedings, but also medical (“even private doctors”) and educational (if parents want to find out how their children are doing in school, for instance). Anyway, Jennifer said of Francis, “Life comes your way,” while talking about how he manages to pull in subs when he needs them. I like that saying. 🙂 The Cantonese desk runs nine, hour-long television show per week. They draw most of their material from English sources and create the shows themselves. The shows are done live with some pre-recorded segments.
I met some nice “Critical Link” people during and just after, including Emmanuelle (researching pragmatics in court interpreting), Gaëlle (an administrative type, hmmmm!), and Helena (who I’ll have to tease next time). Arda introduced me to Micaela (?) over tea; we had an interesting talk about Sign Languages). By the way and talk about serendipity! &emdash; the folks at SBS had placed stacks of two volumes near the cakes and cookies for our perusal: their annual report and (go figure!) a report, Connecting Diversity, by Ien Ang and Greg Noble (who was also at the Crossroads conference)! (There are two more co-authors, Jeff Brand and Jason Sternberg.) I glanced through it already and it looks sharp &emdash; high production value (not surprising) and fascinating information on media use across language groups and generations in Australia.
I like when these things happen!

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