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Closed Captioning

Subtitling, Stenography, and the Digital Convergence of Text with Television

Gregory J. Downey

Publication Year: 2008

This engaging study traces the development of closed captioning—a field that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s from decades-long developments in cinematic subtitling, courtroom stenography, and education for the deaf. Gregory J. Downey discusses how digital computers, coupled with human mental and physical skills, made live television captioning possible. Downey's survey includess the hidden information workers who mediate between live audiovisual action and the production of visual track and written records. His work examines communication technology, human geography, and the place of labor in a technologically complex and spatially fragmented world. Illustrating the ways in which technological development grows out of government regulation, education innovation, professional profit-seeking, and social activism, this interdisciplinary study combines insights from several fields, among them the history of technology, human geography, mass communication, and information studies.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology


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p. v


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pp. vii-ix

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Introduction: Invisible Speech-to-Text Systems

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pp. 1-13

If you were living in the United States on the morning of September 11, 2001, your household probably possessed at least one television set (98.2% of US households did) and had access to a wide variety of news and entertainment channels via analog or digital cable (68% of all US households with television did). In fact, on an average day that year, ...

Part One. Turning Speech into Text in Three Different Contexts

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1. Subtitling Film for the Cinema Audience

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pp. 17-52

In 1930, a short three years after the popular introduction of “talking” motion pictures in the United States with the release of The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson, a teenaged violin student in New York City named Herman Weinberg was working at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse to adapt the full-orchestral scores of foreign films to the smaller chamber orchestras of the US cinema. He soon found himself out of a job—not...

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2. Captioning Television for the Deaf Population

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pp. 53-102

During the fall of 1970, Donald Torr, a professor at Gallaudet College in Washington, DC, was trying hard to get his students to watch more television. This was not an easy task, for Gallaudet was a school for the deaf, and television, as deaf educators well knew, “relies so heavily on an audio track that it is extremely difficult, or simply impossible, for deaf people to understand it.”1 Yet deaf children still watched television, just...

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3. Stenographic Reporting for the Court System

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pp. 103-151

The year 1959 was a busy one for Alaska. Having just attained statehood under the approval of the Eisenhower administration, the former territory was now faced with the daunting task of quickly setting up a modern bureaucratic apparatus that would meet the requirements of federal law. In particular, Alaska needed to construct, equip, and staff an entire state court system. But besides building courtrooms, ...

Part Two. Convergence in the Speech-to-Text Industry

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4. Realtime Captioning for News, Education, and the Court

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pp. 155-198

It was billed as the “Trial of the Century,” just as others had been decades before, but the O. J. Simpson murder trial in 1994 would be the last claimant to that title for the twentieth century. Not only would the litigation be long and complex, lasting fifteen months and generating nearly fifty thousand pages of transcript as grist for the inevitable appeal and civil suit to follow, but the media interest in this...

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5. Public Interest, Market Failure, and Captioning Regulation

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pp. 199-243

In January 1986, The Cosby Show—a half-hour, family-oriented sitcom featuring comedian Bill Cosby and a talented cast of fellow African American actors—had captured the imagination of audiences to become NBC’s highest-rated program. It was also a financial windfall for the previously last-place network. When this prime-time staple was first closed-captioned at the start of its 1985–1986 season, it was raking...

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6. Privatized Geographies of Captioning and Court Reporting

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pp. 244-274

In 1993, the same year that the Television Decoder Circuitry Act (TDCA) went into effect, ensuring that anyone who bought a new television set in the United States would have access to closed captioning, the market for captioning labor behind the television screen was undergoing a dramatic change. The National Captioning Institute (NCI) still performed about 80 percent of all captioning for the nation’s television...

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Conclusion: The Value of Turning Speech into Text

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pp. 275-300

In 1882, an article in the American Journal of Otology described a wondrous new invention by Amadeo Gentilli called the “glossograph,” a machine that allegedly performed “the automatic transcription, in the form of an easily translatable record, of the human speech at its ordinary rate of utterance.” Gentilli’s device was anything but “easy” for the person using it, however. His first design involved inserting a “false...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 301-302


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pp. 303-379


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pp. 381-387

E-ISBN-13: 9780801893438
E-ISBN-10: 0801893437
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801887109
Print-ISBN-10: 0801887100

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 22 line drawings
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology
Series Editor Byline: Merritt Roe Smith, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 542394374
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Closed Captioning