Afterthoughts on “For an Abusive Subtitling”

Well-known Asian film scholar and translator, Markus Nornes, will present an academic, but very practitioner-oriented session on subtitling, using specific examples of English-Japanese subtitles in major films. This is a rare opportunity to be stimulated and challenged both professionally and academically. 

In 1999 I published an essay called “For an Abusive Subtitling,” which became the subject of much debate over the years ( It uncovered the invention of and historical transformations in subtitling practice in the 20th century. It demonstrated how market pressures “corrupt” the translation process, leading to subtitles that focus on superficial meaning while downplaying cultural, gendered, linguistic and other differences. This “corrupt” approach has been enforced by a complex set of naturalized rules that translators accept without question. The essay ended by advocating for an “abusive” approach inspired by new approaches, such as those of anime fansubbers. In this presentation I reject key planks in the original argument, as well as introduce the new terms “sensible” and “sensuous” subtitling. I will clarify and refine a number of my original positions, while opening up new perspectives on subtitling practice and theory.