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This is a sort of follow up to Why do translated subtitles differ from the dubbed voice?

While the above question discusses why the subtitles and dub are different, they don't answer the question of which is more accurate.

I prefer to watch the movie in the original language with subtitles but I've found (when both are on) that sometimes even the meaning of what's said is completely different.

e.g.

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In this line from Spirited Away, the subtitle says "No, but I know it's very precious" but the line spoken is "Yes, it's the gold seal you were looking for".

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In this one, the subtitle is "You felt fine while you held it?" but the line spoken is, "He sliced me in two, you know, and I'm still angry!" which is a complete departure in meaning.

But I'd like to think if watching in the original language that the subtitle is correct. Is this the case? Do subtitlers generally stick to the original dialogue and the dubbers play a little looser to match the faces and mouths?

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    it seems your question is entirely answered there: probably different teams for the translations, probably to line up with the character's mouths or length of the spoken text. I don't think there's much more to it.
    – Luciano
    Sep 6, 2021 at 8:57
  • No, that answers the question about why they are different. I want to know which one is generally more accurate.
    – komodosp
    Sep 6, 2021 at 10:35
  • As to the question which of the two is more accurate, I've added another duplicate. Together these two should give a good general overview over this highly controversial topic. However, pondering on which specific dialogue is more accurate in this specific scene is likely rather futile.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 6, 2021 at 11:19
  • Leaving aside deliberate differences, every time I watch a subtitled movie I find simple errors in the subtitling that can only be due to haste or mishearing of what was spoken.
    – user207421
    Sep 13, 2021 at 6:36

1 Answer 1

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Watching movies in different languages that I can understand, more or less, my point of view (I watch movies that are not in my native language with subs, with my girlfriend who speaks something else, therefore we put subs even when watching a movie in my language :)

First the differences

  • subtitles often are shorter than the actual dialogue, because the viewers must read them, and sometimes a lot is said - it's kind of summarized
  • dubbing must stick as much as possible to the actors lips, therefore they have to change the real translation to match that

But there are other differences not directly linked to the dialogue and language: most of the time, in any language, dubbing - while pretty accurate semantically - loses a ton in the "acting" department ; "dubbers" do say what they have to say, but comparing the original and the dubbed version, usually the latter lacks a lot of the original expressions, tone, intensity... basically the "emotional" message said is pretty different. (exception note: some older movies have great dubbing)

So that's a (big) +1 for subs.

Another difference I noticed is that while the dubbing is (usually) closer to the actual dialogue in terms of phrase length, they tend to "smooth" the language. For instance, in English, the "f*" word appears in the subs, but is not correctly translated in the dubbing, which is softer. Same for other slang words.

Another +1 for subs.

The +1 for dubbing is that you can keep your eyes on the movie... (I remember someone (American) talking about the movie "Amelie". He said "that's a nice movie, but I didn't know what is better, watch the movie (and miss dialogue) or read subtitles").

So to answer your question more directly, I'd say that in terms of contents dubbing is probably closer to the actual translation (phrase length) but you miss many other things that make this positive aspect not so ideal (this is the reason I mentioned the differences).

And subs care less about making the dialogue "softer", and stick more to the original script. They're "compressed" but probably closer to the slang-level of the original dialogue.

Nothing is perfect when you don't understand the original language.

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  • (Un)fortunately, though, you seem to be answering the more general question (which is also the more important one), in which case we might indeed close the question as a duplicate of that, since pondering on that specific dialogue is probably rather futile, as your answer explains none of the two are more accurate than the other.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 6, 2021 at 11:16
  • This is fine. But there is no definite answer. As I said, subs keep the words (esp. slang) closer to the actual dialogue and dubs offer a closer translation in terms of word-count, but, besides words, are losing part of the non-said emotional message with it. It's a kind of translation, an "acting" translation, and dubs fail in this department.
    – Déjà vu
    Sep 6, 2021 at 11:23
  • As to the answer itself, I have to say the point that dubbing loses a lot of the acting and emotional intensity I can't really agree with. Yes, you lose some acting by the original actor and that is a problem. But if done right, dubbing is supports the acting and emotion of the character. While having the actor say something that you don't understand doesn't necessarily help convey the emotion that is acted out. Reading a translation that you can't directly associate with what's acted on screen just doesn't really cut it. Therefore I generally find dubbing more "acting-friendly".
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 6, 2021 at 11:26
  • But this topic is also drenched extremely in cultural differences. E.g. cultures which don't have a working dubbing industry and only know dubbing from crappy animes and the like have naturally made far worse experiences with dubbing. It's also largely a question of habit. As you said, none is really or any more "accurate" than the other by some arbitrary objective standard and it's ultimately a matter of taste. But that dubbing is working against the acting I find a common half-truth that depends on your definition of acting.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 6, 2021 at 11:30
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    Interesting, and I agree on both counts, but "if done right", is a big "if" ; most movies(/series) dubbing is pretty bad (we usually try dubbed then subbed) ; (say for shows after y2k...). Anyway, the question is closed, not the answer...
    – Déjà vu
    Sep 6, 2021 at 11:43

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