A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Among the Great Peculiarities of Life

TOF has lately been binge-watching a TV show called The Listener which, as it turns out, bears a passing resemblance to a trope he was using in "Nexus." But he noticed a peculiarity. The closed captioning does not always match the spoken dialogue. This is fairly common. Usually a shorter word or phrase is subbed for a longer one, probably on the theory that it takes less time to read and they have to stay more or less in synch with the audible show. But in this case, there is a consistent alteration.

The show is filmed in Toronto (and was in fact aired on CBC in its original life). But on Ion Television, where the reruns are rerunning, every Canadian reference has been excised. A suspect who the captioning said was "born in Nova Scotia in 19...:" becomes "born in... 19..." in the sound track. References to "Toronto" are unspoken. "Nice, safe Canadian prison" became "nice, safe ... prison." And so on. It has become oddly distracting because the references always appear in the captioning but are missing from the sound track.

Why the showrunners on Ion thought it needful to pretend the action was not taking place in Canada, TOF does not know. Where they thought the viewers would think the show was taking place, given the trolley cars, street names, uniforms, insignia, and other cues, is also a mystery. One suspects "executive decision" since no ordinary worker could be so asinine.


  1. Apparently many films are shot in Vancouver, B.C. and I just saw a video, Vancouver Never Plays Itself:
    Maybe it's got to the point that Canada won't be allowed to play itself?

  2. Closed captioning companies have... interesting rules. If you go on Amazon Mechanical Turk (, there are several companies paying minimum wage or below for captioning. One is often told not to put in specific things, or to use only a specific list of descriptions (like [EXCITING MUSIC]). One is not allowed to actually transcribe or translate words not in English or to identify the tongue; they have to be transcribed as [SPEAKS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE]. And so on.

    So yeah, it wouldn't surprise me if somebody decided all regional words must be left out. Deaf people get treated with a lot of weird disrespect in this industry.

    1. The Chinese subtitles for Firefly identify all the "Chinese" used in the show as "[Speaks galactic language]".

      Possibly because nobody sat the actors down and told them how to pronounce Chinese in such a way that Chinese people will recognize it, much less understand it. (Neither did anyone tell them "You know there are actual cusswords in Chinese, right? You don't just make up profanity for a foreign langugae.")

    2. (*'Neither did anyone tell the writers "You know there are actual cusswords in Chinese..."', rather. The actors didn't write their own dialogue...which is probably why every character's dialogue sounds as much like Joss Whedon being Olde Timey™ as every other character's.)

  3. TV captions certainly can be interesting. You'd think that airing a British program across the pond would make use of the original captions (sure, the format needs to be translated, but that's got to be simpler than redoing the captioning), but then you'd miss out on the inventive attempts to decipher all the accents and slang.

    Shows are also sometimes edited at the last minute, or when sold into syndication, and nobody ever bothers to update the captions, so you get to see which names had to be changed, or which jokes they had to fix up, or which songs they had to replace with generic music.

    I wonder if the ubiquitous "speaks foreign language" is just because when you pay strangers a pittance you never know what they might put in, if it's a language you don't understand — safer just to leave those parts out. As for swearing in a foreign language when it's part of the script, writers sometimes deliberately make up cusswords, because using actual rude words would be, well, rude. I don't know if that applies in this case, though.

    Overall, I have to agree that deaf people are not treated with respect. You can't count on the captions working, or even staying in tempo. I cannot fathom why they didn't improve this for digital TV... other than that there apparently aren't enough deaf people to be worth caring about.


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