I understand the point of describing sounds made by objects or people not visible in a scene, especially when they are relevant to the plot and/or make the characters react to it. A doorbell or explosion in the background, for example.

However, what is the purpose of describing obvious, mundane sounds produced by actions displayed on the screen? People with limited hearing can tell what sound is produced by watching the scene, and describing details of insignificant sounds don't mean anything to deaf people.

Doesn't this excessive ammount of unnecessary subtitles lines on the screen ruin the experience to all intended viewers?

1 Answer 1


Deaf people may not have been always deaf. What you call mundane may not be mundane for many people, and it adds up to their experience. For example, a screeching door sound may mean something in the plot. Birds singing even of out of sight have a connotation, and you don't have to be deaf to test it out: just watch a movie with subtitles and take the sound off. Now tell me if it's the same not to know about the sounds in the scene.

Please note that subtitles like this are considered high quality because of its consideration to people with hearing issues. Subtitles without onomatopoeia are considered as low quality and are prohibited in some countries (like mine, although is not really enforced, sadly).

Finally, it's the same as in voice commands in a computer: the computer will tell you even the most obvious thing, things you might even be seeing on screen.... but of course, visually impaired people won't.

In short: you could have different subtitles for hearing impairment and normal people, but it's easier and cheaper to do the one that cover all bases. Hence, onomatopoeia on subtitles and everybody's happy

  • To expand the experiment, find a movie, or video, somewhere which you have not seen before that has both normal, and hearing impaired subtitles available. For the first viewing, watch it with the normal subtitles. The next day, or later, watch it a second time with the hearing impaired subtitles. After at least another day, watch it with sound on and subtitles off. Questions to ask yourself after the 3rd viewing: "Which of the first two was a fuller experience?", "Which of the first two was closer to the third?", and "If I lost my hearing tomorrow, which version would I prefer to buy?"
    – user102492
    Jul 14, 2017 at 5:20
  • In the UK (I can't be sure for anywhere else) there are often two english language subtitle tracks on DVD and BluRay discs: one with just the spoken dialogue and one with the spoken dialogue plus any noises that are seen as relevant to either the plot or the scene setting. As Devin says: the best practice here is to add both just to be on the safe side Jul 14, 2017 at 7:42
  • "although is not really enforced" - given that it can easily be a matter of opinion whether a given sound is relevant or not, maybe we should be glad about some leeway here, lest we want providing subtitles to become another legal minefield. Jul 14, 2017 at 8:59
  • I'd say that subtitles are the words only, while closed captions also describe ambient noises.
    – TRiG
    Jun 26, 2018 at 8:56
  • I think there should be one master file with subs+captions that will be synced/translated. And then it's easy to produce the subs-only files chopping out the captions.
    – brasofilo
    Feb 27, 2019 at 2:19

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