Intralingual subtitling of Dutch on Flemish television: contradictory evaluations of the linguistic scene in Flanders.

Reinhild Vandekerckhove, Annick De Houwer, Aline Remael

University of Antwerp, Belgium & University college Antwerp, Belgium


Flemings are exposed to several varieties of Dutch when watching Flemish television programmes. Although Dutch is the native language for most Flemings, subtitling of Dutch has become a common practice in recent years. An extensive analysis of a corpus of 798 Dutch television programmes broadcast on Flemish television reveals both the linguistic and extra-linguistic determinants of intralingual subtitling practice. One of the major findings is that some regional and supra-regional varieties have more chance of being subtitled than others. Apparently this practice is based on certain assumptions about Flemish viewers' comprehension of several varieties of Dutch. In order to find out whether actual subtitling practice really meets viewer needs, we conducted a stimulus-based viewer survey. 453 Flemish adult respondents, all of them native speakers of Dutch, viewed a number of subtitled and non-subtitled fragments of Dutch television programmes. They were asked various questions about their understanding of the fragments, about the need for subtitling support and their appreciation of it. In some respects the respondents’ comprehension ratings corroborate subtitling practice, while in other respects they question it. The latter holds especially for the unequal ’treatment’ of some regional varieties.

A remarkable consensus can be found in viewers’ responses with regard to Netherlandic Dutch: Flemish viewers increasingly appear to have lost touch with Netherlandic Dutch and report low comprehension and a high need of subtitling. Viewers’ needs are met within fiction programmes (but not within non-fiction!) where Netherlandic Dutch is systematically subtitled. Thus, subtitling practice within fiction programming mirrors present day language evolutions in Flanders.

The results raise questions about the relation between language attitudes and language comprehension and about the impact of subtitling: is intralingual subtitling simply an answer to changing needs, or does it reinforce existing linguistic developmental trends?

Session: Paper session
Television 2
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 10