The Activating Captions magazine features texts by art writers, scholars, and poets that reflect on captioning from a range of personal perspectives and experiences. Read more.

Selected article:

Aline Remael

We enlighten you. Sometimes.

You know us as a white line or two at the bottom of your TV screen or, in better times, the cinema’s silver screen. You know us from your favourite streaming service and latest ZOOM or TEAMS meeting with colleagues on the other side of the globe, or just down your street. You know us in our classic form and traditional environment: discrete, a necessary evil.

Let us enlighten you.

We are neither discrete, nor evil. We can be naughty and we appear everywhere.
We have finally been liberated.

We pop up above the proscenium in the theatre or left, right and centre, integrated into the stage design. We scroll from bottom to top or right to left on television screens and sundry monitors almost anywhere you go. We emanate from fictional or animated characters’ mouths, or we voice film directors’ meta comments adding extra layers to complex or humorous scenes. We tell you what a work of art may mean – or not. We tell you what went into it, who made it, where it comes from. We help you win that video game, comment on that manga. We save you from boredom as you kill yourself on the treadmill, or reach the railway platform out of breath. Train gone.

We can be all colours, all fonts, all sizes and we can speak in many tongues.

We show you what can’t be heard and tell you what can’t be seen. We translate words and we translate sounds. We are silent no more. We can be quiet if we must be, but loud and vibrant, beautiful and attractive if we may.

We create meaning, recreate meaning, add meaning, substract meaning, interact with images and sounds and your gaze or your ear. We immerse you in a different world.

We may have started at the bottom of the screen, in modest white or yellow lettering, constrained by rules of time and space. We may have been considered “abusive” because we cannot be faithful. We may have been said to “pollute” the image, been told to stay “invisible” while translating words, sounds and images. This and more may have been. But the digital world has empowered us.

Our foremothers known as intertitles enriched the narratives of silent movies, giving a visible form to the voices of so many actors. Today we are as diverse as those who make us, broadcast us, project us, stream us, print us, voice us, read us or listen to us, in their own language or that of others. We can be bilingual, multilingual, multimodal, global or local. We can build bridges and break down barriers. We may simplify, but then we also complicate. We may limit, but we also expand.

You may distrust us, sometimes, if you must.

But play with us. We’ll play with you.

Prof. Dr. Aline Remael is Professor Emeritus in Translation Theory and Audiovisual Translation at the Department of Applied Linguistics/Translation and Interpreting of the University of Antwerp. She is the founder of OPEN, the departmental Expertise Centre for Accessible Media and Culture. Her most recent publication is Subtitling: Concepts and Practices (2020) co-authored with Prof. Jorge Díaz Cintas.