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Subtitling Matters

New Perspectives on Subtitling and Foreign Language Learning


Elisa Ghia

Drawing on recent theoretical developments in second language acquisition, this book proposes a new approach to the learning of foreign languages through subtitled audiovisual input. Subtitled text is explored as a source of language acquisition, and its dialogue and subtitle components are focused on as sources of linguistic input. The primary focus of the research is subtitling and the impact it can have on learners’ noticing and acquisition of linguistic structures. The concept of translational salience is introduced, a phenomenon that can occur due to an accentuated contrast between L2 dialogue and L1 subtitles. Two experimental studies on the acquisition of English syntax by Italian learners are used to test the role of translational salience in both noticing and L2 learning. The results lead to a definition of salience particular to the audiovisual medium and raise challenging issues in the pedagogic applications of subtitling.


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Chapter 3 Salience and Translational Salience


3.1 Introduction: What is Salience? In the previous chapter, we explored subtitled audiovisual texts along a lan- guage acquisition perspective and we saw how their multiple components can dif ferently af fect learning. L2 input is mainly provided in audiovisual dialogue in a form that reproduces to some extent spontaneous conversation and is characterized by a set of simplified traits, which make it a suitable linguistic variety for L2 learning (Quaglio 2008; Pavesi 2012). Like real conversation, dialogue is contextualized within a specific visual setting, which is made up of scenes and all the nonverbal communicative cues provided by the actors (gaze, lip movements, body language). Interlingual subtitles are then added to the audiovisual product, contributing to making dialogue even more comprehensible by increasing informative redundancy and adding translation into the viewers’ L1. Depending on their graphic and linguistic characteristics, subtitles can further af fect the perception of audiovisual texts. In particular, we saw at the end of Chapter 2 how spe- cific subtitling strategies can facilitate speech comprehension or enhance given chunks of dialogue, creating perceptual salience. It is such salience that constitutes the focus of the book, and particularly of this chapter. In the study of language perception and language acquisition, salience is often mentioned as a broad notion liable to af fect both processes. But what exactly is salience? How can it be defined empirically? As a general trend, the concept of salience tends to be interpreted rather intuitively and is circularly described by reference to its...

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