Speaking foreign

In fiction most characters seem able to communicate with each other without any problems, even if they speak different languages, though some authors use language difficulties or attempts to speak other languages for comic effect.

For example, in Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad, which I’m currently re-reading for the umpteenth time, one of the witches comes up with requests like, “Openny vous, gunga din, chop-chop, pretty damn quick”, “Gooden day, big-feller mine host! Trois beers pour favour us, silver plate”, and “Garkon? Mucho vino aveck zei, grassy ass”, which nobody understands. One of the other witches just speaks more slowly and turns up the volume.

Just thought I’d share this with you.

This entry was posted in Language.

23 Responses to Speaking foreign

  1. Polly says:

    A little off topic, but, did you see [i]Code46[/i]? I liked the way English and Spanish among other languages were blended together in the future.
    Unlike [i]Blade Runner[/i], they made a point of maintaining the lingo throughout the movie. It was also pretty clear due to the fact that it was only the “niceties” and a few other key words that were non-English. I do foresee such a thing in the US.

  2. Polly says:

    darn BBC code. should’ve used tags.

  3. Laci the Hun says:

    It’s pretty strange when in English speaking films there are foreign characters as well, and suddenly thy’re left alone and they’re still keep using English among themselves. It’s just not natural.

  4. Ben L. says:

    I admit I hold a disdain, fair or otherwise, for film putatively in one language but performed in another for the viewing audience, for example “The Enemy at the Gates”. Certainly, I don’t expect actors to use a language they aren’t fluent in for just one film (although this is not unheard of, e.g. Lucy Lu in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). I do expect, however, that producers might wish their films to retain at least the first ounze of credibility. That said, I think the silly comedies can more readilly get away with less authenticity.

    The same fault doesn’t bother me in books, of course, since I firmly believe in subtitles anyway. But I think it would take a great deal of intercultural understanding to produce any sort of book that would truly reflect a different linguistic group.

  5. Anders says:

    An example of foraigners who understand each other allthough they shouldn’t is Star Trek. People from different planets who have never met before, all speak English. But that’s the only way to do it, I guess, otherwise it would be difficult to make the show interesting.

  6. Polly says:

    People from different planets who have never met before, all speak English.

    It’s the Universal Translator (UT). The only software to achieve intergalactic acceptance and uniform implementation due to the efforts of the supereme universal monopoly power of Microsoft.

    It’s also backward compatible with the hardware of both pre- and post-industrial cultures on “M”-class planets, no matter what version Windows they happen to be running. It works perfectly as long as you don’t try to use another UT along with it. Otherwise, everything just comes out as expletives.

  7. Dan says:

    In relation to speaking slowly and turning up the volume: when I was with my friend my Mexico at the market he was going to buy beer so the woman asked for his ID–“your ID please.” and he didn´t understand so he looked at me, but before I could translate, she said very slowly and loudly, “YOUR . . . ID . . . PLEASE.” Still not understanding he looked to me, and I was allowed to translate the sentence now.

  8. Lektu says:

    > (although this is not unheard of, e.g. Lucy Lu in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”)

    Michelle Yeoh, perhaps. Lucy Liu was not in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.

  9. David says:

    I’m not sure if I’m on the right track, but on Fawlty Towers, there’s that spanish guy who tries to speak english while the John Cleese’s character tries to speak spanish.

  10. Mike says:

    There’s another old British show I’ve been seeing on public television lately, though I’ve never been able to catch the title. It takes place in a French village during the German occupation, so most of the characters are German and French, though there are a few British characters as well.
    Anyway, in this program, they show that someone is speaking French, German, or English by having the actor speak in an affected French, German or English accent. There’s even a British character who speaks broken French. Pretty clever idea, I thought.

  11. TJ says:

    I used to wonder also about the old shows when some “international” stuff goes on or some people from different cultures talk with each other …… the dialog goes in one language …. and either english or arabic … so I just wonder (if that was a historical episode or so) … what was the real language that these two used? Didn’t they really have someone that would help them translate stuff between each other?
    To tell you the truth ….. it is still an enigma for me!!

  12. David says:

    Mike, is the title ‘Allo Allo’ by any chance?

  13. Josh says:

    This is kind of related… I guess, but why is it that whenever a film takes places in ancient greece or rome and the characters speak english (which is understandable) they always speak with a British accent? Why can’t they ever be Greek or Italian accents? I don’t think a modern Greek or Italian accent would be any less believable than a modern English one.

  14. On this very comments page I see people from different planets [ 😉 ] – no, not actually, but from a different SAME planet – who have never met before, all speaking English of a sort. And understanding each other! Not that that is a peculiar virtue of English, but it goes to show that international understanding (which, mind you, is _much_more_ than plain communication) is very much possible. A pity Esperanto didn’t catch up, with its rational grammar, spelling & pronunciation.
    Saluton al chiuj!

  15. Colm says:

    “A pity Esperanto didn’t catch up, with its rational grammar, spelling & pronunciation.”

    @Ronald: Eble ĝi estus pli simpla kaj efika si ĉiuj personoj ke nun parolas la anglan kiel dua lingvo parolus anstataŭe la E-on, sed mi ne estas tre certa ke ĝin estas kion ni volas – un lingvo por tutmondiĝa interkomuniko. Mi amas multe ke mi devas lerni aliajn lingvojn. Faras ĝi la mundo pli interesa. Kompreneble, mi ankoraŭ amas la E-on kaj trovas ke ĝi estas utila.

    Perhaps it would be more efficient if everyone who currently speaks English as a second language spoke Esperanto instead, but I am not really sure that this is what we want – one language for global intercommunications. I love that I must learn different languages. It makes the world more interesting. Of course I still love Esperanto and think that it is useful.

  16. Polly says:

    Mike, is the title ‘Allo Allo’ by any chance?

    It sure sounds like the same show. I haven’t seen it in years. Is it still on the air?
    Same goes for “Fawlty Towers” (or any of the rearrangements of the letters each day for some colorful phrases)

  17. Josh–I agree that it’s very strange what’s done with accents in many American/British movies that are supposed to take place in other countries. That was one thing I noticed that was different about The Nativity Story when I saw it–the characters seemed to have accents more like one would expect for their native languages rather than a Brit accent.

  18. Laci the Hun says:

    Saluton Ronald 🙂

    Estu esperplena! Eble en la estonteco nia lingvo “will catch up”. Mi uzas Esperanton ĉiutage kaj en la universitato kaj en mia privata vivo. Mi konas, en mia ĉirkaŭaĵo, almenaŭ dek gejunulojn, kiuj uzas Esperanton ĉiutage kaj sufiĉe bone. Eĉ, mi konas tri denaskajn Esperantistojn. Do mi vidas la eblecon en nia lingvo.

  19. Mike says:

    @David and Polly:
    I just looked up Allo Allo, and yeah, that’s the show. It plays late at night on one of the local PBS stations here in Washington state (KBTC or KCTS, I can’t remember which).

  20. James says:

    randomly think of War and Peace which has large sections of dialogue in French and bits of German, of Sophie´s Choice Which i think has 6 languages in it, and Jane Eyre with whole paragraphs of French. You honestly can´t expect more than one language in the average film. I like the onesthat do though (note to self, must rewatch Traffic now that i speak Spanish)

  21. David says:

    In Australia we only get ‘Allo Allo’ on cable television, but Fawlty Towers has been playing alot on normal television lately.

    We also get alot of “TIME” DVD adds for ‘Allo Allo’.

  22. Saluton, Colm kaj Laci –

    Mi havas la saman opinion ol vi. Mi estis nur aludinta al la neracia malkonkordo inter la skribmaniero kaj la prononcado de la angla, kaj ankaù la multaj neregulecoj de tiu lingvo.

    I am of the same opinion as you. I was only referring to the irrational discordance between the spelling and pronunciation of the English language, and also to that language’s many irregularitities.

    To all, best wishes – korajn salutojn! – from Brasil 8^)

  23. Jerry says:

    I suppose that most people have moved on, but I just want to add my 2cents worth. Regardint the Nativity Story and other movies set in different cultures, I found it quite correct that the actors should have British or American accents. Consider: e.g. in the Nativity Store, the characters would have been speaking a version of Aramaic; they would speak this without an accent. Why then should the actors adopt an accent for the movie? It adds nothing to the authenticity and only makes it sillier.

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