Reading second language subtitles : a case study of South African viewers reading in their native language and L2–English
Most South African subtitles are produced and broadcast in English despite the fact that English is the first language of only 8.2% of the entire population (Statistics South Africa, 2004). Therefore, current English subtitles are predominantly received as second language text. This poses questions as to how people perceive these subtitles, and if and how their reading of English second language (L2) subtitles differs from their reading of L1 (non-English) subtitles. In recent years, eye tracking has proven to be a valuable method in observing and measuring the eye movements of people watching and reading subtitles. In order to explain the use of eye tracking and in order to answer the question at hand, this study comprises a literature review and an empirical study. The literature review gives an in-depth account of previous studies that used eye tracking to study reading and elaborates on the parameters used to account for various findings. The two empirical components of this study examined the accessibility and effectiveness of English L2 subtitles by presenting native speakers of Afrikaans and Sesotho with subtitles displayed (a) in their native language, Afrikaans or Sesotho, and (b) in L2 English, while monitoring their eye movements with an SMI iViewX™ Hi-Speed eye tracker and comparing the data with that of English L1 speakers reading English subtitles. Participants were also given static text to read (accompanied by a corresponding comprehension test) in order to see if there was a relation between participants’ first and second language reading of static text and that of subtitling. Additionally, participants were given a questionnaire on their reading behaviour, reading preferences, access to subtitled television programming and reading of subtitles in order to find explanations for occurrences in the data. The initial hypothesis was that there would be a difference in L1 and L2 subtitle reading and attention allocation as measured by key eye-tracking parameters. Using ANOVAs, statistically significant differences were indeed found, but the differences were much more significant for the Sesotho L1 than the Afrikaans L1 speakers. After excluding possible confounding factors that were analysed in attempt to refute this hypothesis, the conclusion was that participants inherently read L1 and L2 subtitles differently. The hypothesis is therefore supported. However, the difference in L1 and L2 subtitle reading was not the only significant finding – the Sesotho L1 speakers’ reading data revealed a greater underlying issue, namely literacy. The problem of low literacy levels can be attributed to the participants’ socioeconomic background and history, and needs to be addressed urgently. Recommendations for future research include that the current study be broadened in terms of scope, sampling size, representativeness and experimental material; that the focus be shifted to the rest of the languages spoken in South Africa for which the users do not have a shared sense of bilingualism and for which the L1 skills and levels of L1 literacy vary; and to further explore the relation between the reading of static text and subtitle reading in order to ensure adequate subtitle reading in terms of proportional attention allocation. However, the issue of low literacy levels will have to be addressed urgently; only then will the South African viewing public be able to gain full access to any form of broadcast communicative material or media, and only then will they be able to benefit from subtitling and all that it offers.
- Humanities