Twilight: Captioning the “gaspiest” movie ever

A screenshot from Twilight (2008) featuring Kristen Stewart

Featured post from 2009: How should gasps, groans, sighs, grunts, scoffs, moans, pants and other assorted “breathy” sounds be captioned? When should they be captioned? What’s the difference between them? Why does it matter?

Gasping sounds in Twilight

Of the 190 non-speech descriptions in Twilight, thirteen involve gasping, and twelve of these are associated with Bella. Gasping is used in the caption track as an all-purpose placeholder for the audible intake of air when Bella is scared (during the attempted sexual assault in Port Angeles), startled (when she wakes to find Edward [Robert Pattinson] watching her sleep), aroused (when she and Edward are kissing), excited (when she is lifted by Edward high into the trees), and dying (when Bella gasps three times within a span of thirty-five seconds following the nearly fatal vampire attack at the end of the film). In fact, when we analyze Bella’s character through the non-speech descriptions associated with her, we have to conclude that gasping is one of her key personality traits, at least as far as the captioner was concerned. Bella gasps.


We could continue this line of analysis, identifying the non-speech sounds associated with Edward, Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the evil vampires, etc. We could also analyze any non-speech descriptors that are associated with and bond together multiple characters. At one point, for example, when Edward and Bella are kissing for the first time, Bella (GASPS SOFTLY), but Edward breathes heavily too during this scene. In fact, it’s possible that the caption was meant for him. It’s hard to tell because the DVD captions for Twilight do not use placement to indicate who is speaking. In this moment, they are bound together around a single caption spanning multiple breathy sounds between them as they embrace.

Source: Twilight, 2008. DVD. Featured captions: (GASPS SOFTLY), (GRUNTS SOFTLY), (BOTH PANTING).

S. Zdenek

Dr. Sean Zdenek is an associate professor of technical and professional writing at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Reading Sounds: Closed-Captioned Media and Popular Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2015).


1 Response

  1. This is really interesting. After sitting in on the second CC workshop today, I wonder if this paralanguage is another creative way for the CCer (what name do we use for those who do CCing?) to express what’s going on in the movie (thinking about the example of Bolt you showed us today with the narration embedded). It’s obvious that “gasp” is not going to work for each and every circumstance, and it seems obvious that we can’t supply a “gasp” (or its equivalent) every time there is a gasp. Seems like the CCer has to really “know” the work to which he or she is CCing in order to discern went to use paralanguage and how to write it to convey the movie’s or image’s “message.”