The Politics of subtitling

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    Recently, I watched a TV documentary about the proliferation of Nomura jellyfish in Japanese coastal waters. It was a shocking tale of the devastating environmental, economic, social and human impact of overfishing, global warming and marine pollution. The reason I’m blogging about the show as a sociolinguist, though, has nothing to do with the content of the documentary but with the fact that the speech of all the Japanese people appearing in the documentary was subtitled – irrespective of whether they spoke Japanese or English. Many of the fishermen, government officials and experts interviewed for the show spoke in Japanese and so it was obviously appropriate for their speech to be subtitled in English for non-Japanese-speaking viewers. By contrast, all the interviews with Professor Shin-ichi Uye of Hiroshima University, the world’s foremost expert on Nomura jellyfish, were in English. He spoke English with a Japanese accent but fluently, accurately and idiomatically. I found his speech easy to understand and so was surprised that someone had made the judgment that his speech was unintelligible to the degree that it needed subtitles in the same way that those speaking Japanese needed subtitles.
    Original languageEnglish
    Specialist publicationLanguage on the move
    PublisherLanguage on the move
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2011

    Bibliographical note

    Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • 200401 applied linguistics and educational linguistics
    • 200405 language in culture and society (sociolinguistics)


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