Line breaks in subtitling: An eye tracking study on viewer preferences

Keywords: Eye movements, eye tracking, reading, subtitling, line breaks, individual differences, segmentation, audiovisual translation, syntactic processing


There is a discrepancy between professional subtitling guidelines and how they are implemented in real life. One example of such discrepancy are line breaks: the way the text is divided between the two lines in a subtitle. Although we know from the guidelines how subtitles should look like and from watching subtitled materials how they really look like, little is known about what line breaks viewers would prefer. We examined individual differences in syntactic processing and viewers’ preferences regarding line breaks in various linguistic units, including noun, verb and adjective phrases. We studied people’s eye movements while they were reading pictures with subtitles. We also investigated whether these preferences are affected by hearing status and previous experience with subtitling. Viewers were shown 30 pairs of screenshots with syntactically segmented and non-syntactically segmented subtitles and they were asked to choose which subtitle in each pair was better. We tested 21 English, 26 Spanish and 21 Polish hearing people, and 19 hard of hearing and deaf people from the UK. Our results show that viewers prefer syntactically segmented line breaks. Eye tracking results indicate that linguistic units are processed differently depending on the linguistic category and the viewers’ profile.

Author Biographies

Olivia Gerber-Morón, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain
Olivia Gerber-Morón holds a Bachelor of Arts in Multilingual Communication and a Master of Arts in Specialized Translation from the University of Geneva, and a Master of Arts in Audiovisual Translation from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). She is part of the TransMedia Catalonia Research Group and has collaborated on the HBB4ALL European project as the subtitle work package leader for user tests. The “la Caixa” Foundation has awarded her a PhD grant. Her research areas of interest in Audiovisual Translation are subtitling, subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing, and respeaking. Her PhD research focuses on defining the quality of line breaks across the different platforms and screens in order to create guidelines and standards to regulate subtitle segmentation for translators, broadcasters and other interested entities in the audiovisual industry.
Agnieszka Szarkowska, University of Warsaw, Poland Currently Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at University College London

Agnieszka Szarkowska is currently Research Fellow at the Centre for Translation Studies, University College London (2016-2018). Since 2007, she has also been Assistant Professor in the Institute of Applied Linguistics, University of Warsaw. She is the founder and head of the Audiovisual Translation Lab (AVT Lab, and specializes in audiovisual translation, especially subtitling for the deaf and hard of hearing and audio description. She is a member of European Association for Studies in Screen Translation (ESIST), European Society for Translation Studies (EST) and an honorary member of the Polish Audiovisual Translators Association (STAW).

How to Cite
Gerber-Morón, O., & Szarkowska, A. (2018). Line breaks in subtitling: An eye tracking study on viewer preferences. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 11(3).

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