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Language Mechanics

Language mechanics incorporate the proper use of spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and other factors deemed necessary for high-quality captioned media. Rules included in these guidelines are primarily those which are unique to captioning and speech-to-text.

Spelling and Capitalization

  1. Be consistent in the spelling of words throughout the production, including vocabulary that can be spelled either as one or two words or in hyphenated form. For conventional words, dictionaries and style guides must be followed. Proper names, technical terms, and specialized language must be verified though specialty references or directly from an authoritative source. Remember that no single reference source can claim to be error free.
  2. Do not use British spellings or punctuation.
  3. Do not emphasize a word using all capital letters except to indicate screaming.
  4. Be consistent in the spelling of words throughout the media. This includes vocabulary that can be spelled either as one or two words or in hyphenated form.
  5. Capitalize proper nouns for speaker identification. All other speaker identification should be lowercased unless this identification is being used as a proper noun. Examples:
    Inappropriate (bobby) (Male Narrator)
    Appropriate (Bobby) (male narrator)
  6. Lowercase sound effects, including both description and onomatopoeia, except when a proper noun is part of the description. Examples:
    Inappropriate [Machine Gun Firing]
    Rat-a-tat-tat
    [Plinky Squealing]
    Appropriate [machine gun firing]
    rat-a-tat-tat
    [Plinky squealing]
  7. See the Numbers section on the Captioning Key Appendices page for detailed guidelines for numbers including dates, time, periods of time, fractions, percents, dollar amounts, and measurements).

Punctuation and Grammar

Always follow conventional rules of Standard English to the greatest extent possible, utilizing style guides to reach sound decisions.

Captioning spontaneous speech can be very difficult, as real conversations often contain improper grammar or run-on sentences, dialect, and slang. Problems are compounded with restrictions of time and space. As punctuation cannot correct non-grammatical speech, its role in captioning is to facilitate clarity and ease of reading.

As a general rule, written English language depends largely on word order to make the relationships between words clear. When word order alone is not sufficient to establish these relationships, there is little choice but to resort to punctuation that is sometimes unique to the captioning process.

Hyphens and Dashes

  1. Nonessential information that needs special emphasis should be conveyed by double hyphens or a single long dash.
  2. When a speaker is interrupted and another speaker finishes the sentence, the interruption should be conveyed by double hyphens or a single long dash.
  3. When a speaker stutters, caption what is said.
    Inappropriate book
    Appropriate b-b-b-ook
  4. When captioning spelling (including fingerspelling), separate capital letters with hyphens. Example:
    A-N-T-I-O-N-E-T-T-E

Ellipses

  1. Use an ellipsis when there is a significant pause within a caption.
    .
    .
  2. Do not use an ellipsis to indicate that the sentence continues into the next caption.
  3. Use an ellipsis to lead into or out of audio relating to an onscreen graphic unless there is a complete sentence in the graphic that is more appropriately introduced by a colon.
    demonstration of how to use an elipsis
    Please enable Javascript to view the fully-featured clip. View MP4 version.
    demonstration of how to use an elipsis

Quotation Marks

  1. Use quotation marks for onscreen readings from a poem, book, play, journal, or letter. However, use quotation marks and italics for offscreen readings or voice-overs.
  2. Beginning quotation marks should be used for each caption of quoted material except for the last caption. The last caption should have only the ending quotation mark. Example:
    Reading from a journal…
    Inappropriate “Mother knelt down
    and began thoughtfully fitting”

    “the ragged edges
    of paper together.”

    “The process was watched
    with spellbound interest.”
    Appropriate “Mother knelt down
    and began thoughtfully fitting

    “the ragged edges
    of paper together.

    The process was watched
    with spellbound interest.”

Spacing

  1. Spaces should not be inserted before ending punctuation, after opening and before closing parentheses and brackets, before and after double hyphens and dashes, or before/between/after the periods of an ellipsis. Examples:
    Inappropriate ( narrator ) I am happy . . . thank you.
    Appropriate (narrator) I am happy…thank you.
  2. A space should be inserted after the beginning music icon (♪) and before the ending music icon(s). Example:
    ♪ There’s a bad moon rising ♪

Italics

Use of italics is not always technically possible (e. g., on certain Internet players), but when it is, the guidelines below apply. When it is not an option, quotation marks are appropriate in certain situations (e. g., foreign words) and identification is appropriate in others (e. g., the source of essential background audio). Use italics as follows:

  1. A voice-over reading of a poem, book, play, journal, letter, etc. (This is also quoted material, so quotation marks are also needed.)
  2. When a person is dreaming, thinking, or reminiscing.
  3. When there is background audio that is essential to the plot, such as a PA system or TV.
  4. The first time a new word is being defined, but do not italicize the word thereafter.
  5. Offscreen dialogue, narrator (see Exception 2 below), sound effects, or music (this includes background music).
  6. The offscreen narrator when there are multiple speakers onscreen or offscreen.
  7. Speaker identification when the dialogue is in italics and speaker identification is necessary.
  8. Foreign words and phrases, unless they are in an English dictionary.
  9. When a particular word is heavily emphasized in speech. Example:
    You must go!

Exceptions to the use of italics include:

  1. When an entire caption is already in italicized format, use Roman type to set off a word that would normally be italicized.
  2. If there is only one person speaking and no other speakers, whether on- or offscreen, use Roman type with no italics.
  3. Do not italicize while translating for a person onscreen. Example:
    Inappropriate (female interpreter)
    I enjoyed New Mexico.
    Appropriate (female interpreter)
    I enjoyed New Mexico.

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