I'm italian, and I was commissioned a video composed by several interviews to old people living among some hills. The final product now is a 70 minutes long video composed by interviews that are mostly spoken in italian language.

Seldom, though, these elders switch language, and start speaking in the local dialect. That happens quite often for a few words; sometimes, albeit rarely, they speak entire phrases in their dialect.

At the beginning this didn't seem like an issue because that's a pretty common thing here, and more or less everybody in this region would understand those words, so we didn't ask the elders to just repeat the phrase in italian during the interview. Now, though, those who commissioned the work started to worry about people not getting those words, in case the video gets some distribution outside of this region.

Consequently, I find myself in the necessity to create some proper subtitles (dialect to italian). The issue is that I'm not sure about how to format them in those situations where the dialect appears only for a few words in the middle of a phrase.

Of course when the phrase is entirely in dialect it would get entirely subtitled. But what when it's just a word or two? Is there some international standard? Did you ever happen to find a precedent to this situation?

The options I'm currently thinking of are these:

  1. subtitling the entire phrase like it was entirely spoken in dialect;
  2. making a subtitle which includes only the dialect word and its translation.


Per fare il savorèt prendi delle mele, e le grattugi.


To make jam you take apples, and you shred them.

The bold word is spoken in dialect, not in italian.

Subtitles' option 1:

Per fare la marmellata prendi le mele, e le grattugi.

Subtitles' option 2:

Savorèt = marmellata.

While the first option is certainly clearer, it also sounds excessive and I fear it wouldn't fit well in the overall aesthetic of the video. Putting an entire phrase, written in the exactly same way it is spoken except for one word, in front of the spectator, thus implying it has to read it, seems almost offensive.

The second option sounds more interesting. The subtitle might appear by fading, so that it doesn't come in too abruptly. At the same time I fear that they'd require the viewer to give even more attention to the phrase being spoken, to recognize the weird words and fitting the translated word in their place. That might be confusing to some.

  • There is no right answer to this. You can do either of those things. I'm sure others might have other suggestions. It really is a matter of what works stylistically for your finished product. Feb 22, 2019 at 2:10

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't do the second option at all. Subtitles should flow with the text, an comparision sign disturbs the flow.

I personally would prefere to simply rewrite the entire sentence.

Depending on your distribution media, I would make it closed captions, so people can turn off or on the translation.

Maybe, you could consider to translate the entire project, as this could be a less intrusive than switching subtitles on and off.

But I would handle it like most documentarys, when there are other languages involved. Simply translate the sentence.

  • I disagree with a lot of this. The OP was talking about words or phrases that are in a dialect. It does not need subtitles that flow. There is a lot of flexibility in how the translation can be done. That said, closed captions are in appropriate for translations, especially if they are fleeting. Very few people, other than media professionals and those with hearing impairments know how to turn captions on and off. Translating and subtitling the entire project also doesn't make sense as most of the video is in the target language. Feb 22, 2019 at 2:14
  • said among us, in this particular case I'm not even paid enough for an entire translation of that kind Feb 22, 2019 at 9:27
  • said among us, in this particular case I'm not even paid enough for an entire translation of that kind Feb 22, 2019 at 9:27

Definitely not option 2.

I remember watching an Indian film with English subtitles that didn't supply subtitles when English words were spoken. Normally that's not a problem when entire conversations, or at least full sentences, are in one of the languages.

The problem was that many of the characters continually used English phrases or words mixed into their Indian sentences, and the English words were omitted from the subtitles.

This meant that one had to read the subtitles completely in sync with the spoken dialog so that the spoken English was heard at exactly the time when one would have read the next word. That was effectively impossible, and after far too many rewinds I finally gave up on it.

Even when one can synchronize the two, continually switching back and forth between eyes and ears within the same sentence can be very tiring.

This is the opposite situation of what you are trying to do, but I think it has the same annoyance factor.

The suggestion to subtitle everything is a good one.

That not only allows people to decide for themselves whether they need to use it, it also means that people that have trouble hearing can understand it too.

(I frequently have subtitles turned on, even when watching in English, because so many modern actors love to mumble and slur their words.)

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