Subtitles and Eurocentric Language Filter Bubbles

Subtitles and Eurocentric Language Filter Bubbles

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Working with subtitles and voiceovers, I meet people from around the globe and am confronted with exotic languages on a daily basis. Today, I would simply like to share a bit of my own experience when it comes to discovering new and exciting vernaculars. Nothing more, nothing less. I promise I will not go off on a philosophical tangent.

I recently worked on a project involving Hausa, Yoruba and Kannada. I referred to them as obscure lingo. Oh dear! Here are some facts that surfaced after some digging: 40 million Yoruba speakers, 35 million for Hausa as a first language and over 200 million speak it as a second language, as for Kannada…38 million. That’s more than half the population of France. Not so obscure, it turns out. Perhaps it shows once again how much I have been conditioned to look at the world through a Eurocentric lens. It made me wonder.

Let’s compare some numbers shall we? While India officially has two languages Hindi and English, the latter was reintroduced when it turned out that millions of non-Hindi speakers would not be able to communicate in this tongue. Oops, the country simply forgot about the 22 other languages written in 13 different scripts: Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Punjabi, Tamil, Nepali and Urdu being the most well known. Let’s not mention the 700-something dialects. I guess with 1.252 billion people, diversity is rife.

With its 173 million inhabitants, Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country and reflects the linguistic diversity of the continent as a whole. English being the official language, the country has ten major language groups, Hausa and Yoruba being the major players.

Despite the masses of people speaking these languages, finding translators and voice over artists for related projects, especially when we need subtitles, can still be like finding a needle in a haystack. It also raises the question why these languages are largely unknown outside their linguistic circles. Yet, a language such as Dutch with its mere 23 million native speakers is known the world over. Or is my perception thwarted again?

The top twenty list of language size – i.e. the number of people speaking a particular language – only features five European languages. Spanish being the most widely spoken European language – mainly spoken in Latin America – and the second biggest group in the world, after Chinese. It puts things in perspective.

I guess, in the end we all live in our bubble and from time to time we step out and see a whole different world out there. A world so alien that it shakes our innate and cultural believes. I know I said I would not go for the existential slant, what can I say? I lied.

In the meantime I would appreciate it if more Yoruba, Hausa and Gujarati linguists who can create subtitles would step into the light.

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