Writing Without Sound: Language Politics in Closed Captioning

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2011


Digital Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin


As the field of Composition pays more attention to the diverse composing practices encouraged by new media, it becomes increasingly incumbent on scholars, researchers and teachers to consider the affordances as well as the limitations or challenges of these practices for students and other composers: both material and ideological, personal and political. In considering writing with sound, then, we must also consider writing and reading of individuals without access to sound. As we consider the translation of meaning across modes, the transformation of material across compositions and recompositions, we might be reminded also of the complexity of translation also within and across languages, such as that from sounds to written symbols in Closed Captioning. This paper will draw on work in composition and translation studies that acknowledges the complexity and importance of cross-language translation in a global economy and values difference and negotiation of meaning—even occasional incomprehension—in language use to consider Closed Captioning (CC) policies and practices in America (Cronin; Horner et al.; Prendergast; Venuti; White). Translation here is understood as an act of meaning making within and not just across languages, whereby English is always in conversation with other languages, even in monolingual settings, and negotiated within itself by unique language users (Ferré; Pennycook).