Audio describing the mental dimension of narrative characters. Insights from a Flemish case study

By: Bonnie Geerinck and Gert Vercauteren


Volume: 06
Issue: 01:2020
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2020.0005
Pages: 85-107
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
audio description
intermodal translation
visual-verbal transfer
audio description strategies
character description



This research focuses on the heuristic value of new digital products, Book Apps, which are changing contemporary reading habits, especially for the so-called ‘digital natives.’ Their plurisemiotic nature, and the fact that Audio description (AD) is a service for people with sight loss that makes audiovisual content such as films and TV series accessible to them by verbally describing the visual elements they cannot access. This form of intermodal translation entails various challenges. One of them is how to render orally the emotions, feelings, and other mental states of narrative characters, i.e., elements that we infer from concrete actions, facial expressions, and gestures shown on screen. In practice, we can use various strategies, situated on a continuum ranging from an objective ‘describe what you see’ approach to more interpretative, subjective descriptions, explicitly naming the mental state underlying the visuals. Although early AD guidelines recommend objective descriptions, recent research has indicated that more subjective approaches may offer various advantages to target audiences in terms of immersion in the story world or imposed cognitive load. In this paper, we present the results of a case study involving the analysis of three episodes from different Dutch-spoken TV series to explore a) what strategies audio describers use to express mental states and b) where do they stand on the objective-subjective continuum. The results show that, contrary to what the guidelines recommend, the descriptions are situated nearer the subjective side of the continuum, suggesting that, when translating visual elements into a verbal form, audio describers tend to look beyond the screen to infer the implicit underlying meaning.


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