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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

Intralingual subtitling—specifically, translation of audio in one language into non-optional text of the same language—can be used when a speaker’s dialect is considered difficult for target audiences to understand. Thus, these subtitles and the commentary surrounding them offer insights into ideologies of within-language intelligibility. In the present study, we investigate such ideologies from two approaches: by documenting how intralingual subtitles are being used in practice in two reality-based, US cooking shows, and by looking at published complaints about intralingual subtitles (primarily in US/UK English contexts). We find more subtitles for L2-English vs. L1-English speakers in the shows, and metacommentary around subtitling similarly suggests that L1-English subtitling is perceived as more salient and offensive, reflecting broader associations of unintelligibility with non-native speech. The use of subtitles for L1 English outside of noisy environments appears to be limited to certain varieties, such as Scottish or Indian English, suggesting that some L1 varieties of English can be acceptably codified as unintelligible. While the purpose of intralingual subtitles is ostensibly to facilitate communication and have been framed in the literature as tools for breaking down boundaries, both the practice and commentary around these subtitles highlight the largely negative connotations of marking someone as unintelligible.

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