In this paper we examine the influence of text editing (edited vs. verbatim subtitles) and subtitle presentation rates (12 vs. 15 characters per second) on the comprehension and reading patterns of interlingual and intralingual subtitles among a group of 44 deaf, 33 hard of hearing and 60 hearing Polish adult subjects. The results of the eyetracking study show no benefit of editing down the text of subtitles, particularly in the case of intralingual subtitling and deaf viewers. Verbatim subtitles displayed with the higher presentation rate yielded slightly better comprehension results, were skipped less often, and resulted in more effective reading patterns. Deaf and hard of hearing participants had lower comprehension than hearing people; they also had a higher number of fixations per subtitle and were found to dwell on subtitles longer than the hearing.
Recent research on the reception of interlingual subtitling revealed that it is cognitively effective: watching a subtitled film results in a good understanding of the film content, it does not require a significant tradeoff between image processing and text processing, and it leads to a good performance in the recognition of the words and expressions contained in the subtitles. To date, the studies that revealed the effectiveness of subtitle processing have been conducted mono-nationally — e.g. d’Ydewalle and De Bruycker (2007) in Belgium; Wissmath et al. (2009) in Switzerland; Perego et al. (2010, 2015) in Italy; Hinkin et al. (2014) in the US. However, it has not yet been demonstrated empirically whether subtitle effectiveness varies depending on the familiarity of viewers with subtitles. The cross-national study described in this paper aims to fill this gap and appraise the cognitive performance and overall appreciation of a moderately complex subtitled film by viewers with different degrees of familiarity with subtitles, i.e., viewers living in countries (Italy, Spain, Poland and Dutch-speaking Belgium) with different audiovisual translation traditions. The main findings reveal that subtitling is effective irrespective of users’ familiarity with it, although it is not enjoyed equally among the tested populations.