Jan Pedersen

Jan Pedersen was educated at the universities of Stockholm, Copenhagen and Uppsala. He received his Ph.D. from Stockholm University in 2007 and was made an Associate Professor in Translation Studies there in 2015. His dissertation is entitled Scandinavian Subtitles, and it is a comparative study of TV subtitling norms in the Scandinavian countries. He is the former president of ESIST, member of EST and TraNor, co-editor of Benjamins Translation Library and Journal of Audiovisual Translation, which he also co-founded. He is a frequent presenter at international conferences, and his publications include the 2011 monograph Subtitling Norms for Television, as well as many articles on subtitling, translation and linguistics. He also worked as a television subtitler for many years. Jan works at Stockholm University, where he holds the post of Director of the Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies, where he also researches and teaches audiovisual translation.

Keynote speech:

Rehumanising Subtitling: Why humans make better subtitles than machines


Subtitling is in many ways a special form of translation. For example, the very concepts of source text and target text are different from literary, as well as most kinds of non-literary, translation in that they are polysemiotic (or multimodal). Subtitles are not target texts in themselves; they become a part of the fabric of the film and do not make sense on their own. This makes the subtitle instrumental in creating the target text. Subtitles are also transient like the speech they represent, which means that the subtitler must choose among the many and varied meanings that the source text offers and decide what to add to the source text to create a target text that can give the viewer a meaningful experience. The process of subtitling is consequently a hermeneutic activity encompassing much more than language.

The nature of subtitles and the process of subtitling make machines poor subtitlers, despite recent attempts to automate (part of) the subtitling process. Subtitles are more than written (and translated) transcripts of dialogues, and the complexities of the polysemiotic/multimodal source text make the process of subtitling unsuitable for machine translation. The algorithm-based transfer of words offered by machine translation cannot replace the creative, hermeneutic output of the subtitler, who instead becomes a post-editor, whose creativity is limited by the solutions offered by the machine, particularly as working conditions decline. Furthermore, the increased reading speeds that facilitate machine translation make for a more strenuous viewing experience. The resulting decrease in quality makes a good argument for rehumanising subtitling.