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What’s black and white and red all over? Yeah, that’s an old American joke, but there’s more than one answer now.

The newspaper and closed captions.

Throughout closed captioning’s history, they have been primarily an American thing. It’s kind of like apple pie, baseball, and Donald Trump (okay, maybe not the last one). They’ve got ‘em in Canada because they get dragged along with just about everything we do in the States. Closed captions were created in the ‘70s, but didn’t catch on fully until 1996 when the FCC decided that captions should be ubiquitous with television. So yeah, it’s mainly done here and other countries don’t completely get it.

But like many other things that we Americans do, it has started to find its way to other places and has changed along the way.

  • In the UK, it’s common to see them in multiple colors depending on speakers.
  • In French closed captioning, you see all sorts of weird stuff. They usually have ellipses the entire duration of a gap in dialogue or a sound, the sound effects aren’t always in brackets or parenthesis, and the text is usually yellow.
  • Spanish closed captioning is common, but it’s mainly for the US market and therefore follows American rules.

While a great many caption files are originated in India these days, the common viewer there doesn’t know what in the world they are. And with the multitude of languages in India, captioning for the hearing impaired doesn’t get much attention. I think people there are generally happy if they understand most of the language in a movie and ignore it when a different one goes by. As English is often understood by speakers of many languages in India, English subtitle files created for India often fill the place of multiple formats. They act as English subtitles, which aids in understanding between different minority languages and as closed captions for the hearing impaired (though sometimes with sound effects and sometimes without). Just about every dialogue is captioned or translated including songs and Sanskrit chants.

At DKP, we’ve experimented with closed captioning in Italian and German in addition to Spanish, French, and Indian languages. With Italian closed captioning and German closed captioning, we pretty much stick with the American standards.

We think they’re best anyway because, hey, we’re American!