The impact of text segmentation on subtitle reading

Keywords: eye movement, reading, region of interest, subtitling, audiovisual translation, media accessibility, cognitive load, segmentation, line breaks, revisits


Understanding the way people watch subtitled films has become a central concern for subtitling researchers in recent years. Both subtitling scholars and professionals generally believe that in order to reduce cognitive load and enhance readability, line breaks in two-line subtitles should follow syntactic units. However, previous research has been inconclusive as to whether syntactic-based segmentation facilitates comprehension and reduces cognitive load. In this study, we assessed the impact of text segmentation on subtitle processing among different groups of viewers: hearing people with different mother tongues (English, Polish, and Spanish) and deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing people with English as a first language. We measured three indicators of cognitive load (difficulty, effort, and frustration) as well as comprehension and eye tracking variables.  Participants watched two video excerpts with syntactically and non-syntactically segmented subtitles. The aim was to determine whether syntactic-based text segmentation as well as the viewers’ linguistic background influence subtitle processing. Our findings show that non-syntactically segmented subtitles induced higher cognitive load, but they did not adversely affect comprehension. The results are discussed in the context of cognitive load, audiovisual translation, and deafness.

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, UK
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).
Bencie Woll, University College London, UK

Bencie Woll is the founder of the Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre at University College London, and the first professor of sign language and Deaf studies in the UK. Her research interests embrace a wide range of topics, including the linguistics of British Sign Language (BSL), the history and sociolinguistics of BSL and the Deaf community, the development of language in young deaf children, and the Deaf brain. She was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 2012.


How to Cite
Gerber-Morón, O., Szarkowska, A., & Woll, B. (2018). The impact of text segmentation on subtitle reading. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 11(4).