Learning About Line Breaks at the 54th ATA


– Juliana Mendonça (PLD member) –

The 54th ATA Annual Conference was my first after becoming a freelance translator. The San Antonio location is close to me in Texas, so I could not miss the opportunity to attend. I must say that it was worth it, and I am looking forward to the 55th ATA in Chicago.

One of the highlights was the opportunity to meet PLD members and participate in some of the sessions they presented, sharing their experiences, their knowledge and accomplishments in several areas of translation and interpretation. In one of these sessions, our colleague and PLD Assistant Administrator, Bianca Bold, presented on Line Breaks, drawing from her extensive work with subtitling for audiovisual materials. Despite my limited experience in this area, the presentation offered great insights on individual perception and attention to detail, all of which are integral parts of any project we might undertake in our translation/interpretation careers.

Bianca started the presentation showing us a few pictures and asking how many of us found them greatly disturbing, somewhat disturbing or mildly disturbing. Take a look for yourself. How do you feel?


As seen in these images, line breaks have the power to really catch our attention, and this is especially true in short and visually appealing texts displayed in banners, web sites, slides, billboards, buttons, apps, subtitling, etc. These were the types of texts Bianca focused on in her presentation, i.e. texts that we must read quickly and that are part of an audiovisual media, texts whose reading pace is dictated by their audiovisual context and not by the reader him/herself.

For texts with such a visual impact, content is only one part of the equation. In reality, the content might be perfect, but if an issue – such as an incorrect line break – is present, we might see it differently.

In all, line breaks can be seen as a small part of a whole that might become significant if not positioned correctly. They might even change the meaning or the perception of the audience, compromising the message being transmitted. Check out the video Translators are a Waste of Space that Bianca shared with us to see how a combination of a very creative mind and line breaks positioned with precision could create a masterpiece.

Going more specifically into the technical aspects of adding line breaks, Bianca presented several best practices. These guidelines fall into three main categories amongst which we need to achieve balance, depending on the characteristics of the text and on the impact it should create:

  • Linguistic – A break should always be inserted – if needed – at the highest syntactic level.

o   For example, a break would separate the subject from the predicate or, within the subject, a noun phrase from a prepositional phrase, and so on.

o   For more complex sentences with coordination and subordination, a line break should separate units of meaning.

  • Visual – it’s necessary to observe visual presentation looking at the text as an aid for the whole content. For that, it should be pleasant and not distracting.
  • Acoustic – The acoustic criteria would allow for breaks in order to emphasize or de-emphasize certain portions of text, depending on the impact it should have on the audience.

By adopting these guidelines, translators will be able to achieve the necessary balance in breaking the lines, helping the audience receive an accurate message that does not interfere negatively with their audiovisual experience.

Overall, this was a great presentation with a nice mix of theory and practical examples that helped define criteria for breaking lines, considering their impact on the final product.

Juliana Mendonça is an English > Brazilian Portuguese translator in Round Rock, TX. She enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, knitting, crocheting, and writing. She has recently published her first children’s book.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

5 + seven =