Are spelling mistakes in subtitles justified?

It seems unlikely that the fight against spelling mistakes in texts of all types will have a happy ending. In this hyper-informed society in which we live, we are beset by the anti-hero of spelling mistakes and the worst thing is that there is a dangerous tendency to normalise the presence of this character in the movie of our lives.

The misuse of language in the new technologies also does little to help the cause of correct spelling, which is becoming a supporting actor in danger of turning into just a bit-part. Today’s adolescents, who in a decade will be psychologists, teachers and mechanics, usually write messages between them of the type: “B4N” (Bye for now) and” GR8” (Great!) In 40 characters there is no room for such strange things as syntax, morphology, punctuation and spelling. In the short term, people think that ignoring these aspects does not constitute a threat to the good health of their social circle. I still remember years ago when the English newspapers reported that the British Prime Minister at that time, Tony Blair, had written toomorrow in a note.

The drama is that this spelling mistake did not lead to him being removed from number 10 Downing Street. In short, these developments are nothing less than a potential threat to our beleaguered spelling.

Subtitling is another exciting form of translation. The target audience may be people who are learning the language or people with hearing problems of varying severity.

A subtitle, for reasons of reading time and recommended number of characters (approximately 1.5-2.5 seconds per one-line subtitle) must provide all the basic information in a very short text. Italics indicate dialogue and capital letters are used for the text on posters and the initial title, among other conventions. The ability to synthesise is a real art and plays a leading role, along with good spelling of course.

A sense of humour is required given some of the translations made into Spanish. We can find the English expression “make a toast” being translated into Spanish as “tostada”, which literally means a piece of toast, rather than “brindis” which is the right word in this context. Another classic is words such as “comprovar”, which does not exist at all and is the result of having the v and b so close together on the keyboard when trying to type “comprobar”, the correct Spanish word. Other classics in Spanish subtitles arise from confusion between different words that sound very similar. Examples include “haber/a ver” and “vaya/valla/baya” and such mistakes make understanding pretty difficult. However, the solution is not to dismiss the problem with a laugh. We should instead consider spelling mistakes in subtitles as akin to a blast of the horn in the middle of the dialogue that can help make future generations aware of the real need to take care in this area.