Subtitle segmentation quality across screens
Year of publication
Subtitle segmentation, i.e. the way text is divided in a two-line subtitle, is believed to be one of the features that influences the readability of subtitles. For over two decades, experts in subtitling claimed that subtitle lines should be split according to syntactic rules to facilitate the reading process. However, the subtitling industry does not always implement these syntactic rules when creating subtitles. Two reasons could explain why these rules are not always applied: human time and effort to edit subtitles, as well as considerable text reduction to keep units of meaning together in the same line. Previous empirical research on this topic has not provided conclusive evidence as to whether syntactic segmentation has a direct impact on the subtitle reading process. This PhD thesis aims to shed more light on the impact of subtitle segmentation by conducting further research with elements that had not previously be included: a wider range of user profiles, devices with different screen size and more measures in the experimental design. Three empirical studies were carried out to determine whether subtitle segmentation is a key element in Media Accessibility. The first two studies examined the relevance of following syntactic segmentation among viewers with different native languages and hearing statuses, measuring cognitive load, comprehension scores, eye-tracking variables and preferences in line breaks. The third study assessed the reception of subtitles across devices with different screen size, analysing viewers' subtitle layout (specifically focusing on line-break styles) preferences and comprehension. Overall, the results of these studies seem to indicate that subtitle segmentation is not a critical factor in Media Accessibility. Although non-syntactically segmented subtitles generally induce higher cognitive load and more eye movements, they do not negatively affect comprehension. Viewers are able to adapt their reading strategies regardless of the subtitle segmentation approach or the screen size. Eye tracking results demonstrate that linguistic units are processed differently depending on the way they are split on the screen, their linguistic category and the viewers' profile. The results of this PhD thesis discuss the effects of segmentation on subtitle processing and the viewer experience in the context of today’s changing audiovisual landscape. It is hoped that this thesis provides support for the need to base guidelines and current subtitling practices on empirical research evidence to enhance the quality of Media Accessibility.