What's Happening

This is discussion archived from a time before the current discussion method was installed.

Silent Hunter: Is CSI: Miami an example of this? There's been a few cases where two characters start off in Spanish, but switch to English after the first couple of lines.

Red Shoe: That's the trouble with the Translation Convention; you almost never know for sure that it's in effect. We get the occasional overt reference to it, like in Casanova, but I'd wager that 90% of the time, even the writer who's using it isn't actively aware he's doing it. In CSI Miami, it's hard to say whether it's the convention at work, or just the local quirk that there is a large population who switch back and forth between Spanish and English even in the middle of a sentence.

Smoot: Not a major detail, but in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Matter of Honor", the audience is treated to a subtitled scene of Klingons speaking the Klingon language to eachother, before their commander barks "Speak THEIR language!". Thereafter, it's all in English. (This had an in-plot reason.)

Paul A: In the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of Fenric", the audience is treated to a subtitled scene of Russians speaking the Russian language to each other, before their commander announces "From now, everyone is to speak only English". This did not have an in-plot reason, and was solely to make things easier for the actors and the audience. (No, I didn't have a point. Why do you ask?)

Silent Hunter: I found this being used in a 1954 film "Judgement at Nuremberg", making this one of The Oldest Ones in the Book.

Robert: It's much older than that. Shakespeare used it — Romeo and Juliet really spoke Italian — and it wasn't new then. There are probably classical examples.

Seven Seals: I don't think that should count. Correct me if I'm wrong, but there are no other languages in Romeo and Juliet for contrast, and Shakespeare never explicitly points out that the characters are really speaking Italian. The audience is unlikely to even realize that the characters "would have spoken Italian" if depicted "realistically".

The problem is that if you take it this far, then any work of fiction about characters from another culture who speak another language is an example of this trope. That's indeed probably as old as fiction itself, but it's not really an element of the story (and hence not a trope) unless the writer makes it one (either deliberately by pointing it out, or accidentally by glaring culture clash).

Robert: As the page currently stands, it is using the widest interpretation of the trope. Star Wars uses the convention in just the same way as Romeo and Juliet. Narrower versions so obviously follow from the wider version that they too will be as old as fiction.

The general convention that the principle characters are represented as speaking the language of the main text, even if they wouldn't actually have, is too important not to have a page, but we can point out the Lamp Shade Hanging and incongruities you mention.

Seven Seals: You're right, but there's still something about this that doesn't sit right with me. In its broadest form, the Translation Convention seems to be something that just has to happen for the story to work at all, because you simply can't tell a story of a different culture with a different language if you can't use the language of your audience — requiring that your audience be familiar enough with the other culture to know its language would defeat the purpose of the story. What makes this different from most other tropes where reality is ignored or bent is that you don't have to use those; they're just there to facilitate storytelling (notwithstanding the fact that a story would become very unenjoyable if you didn't use them).

The Star Wars (and to some extent Romeo and Juliet) use of this deserves special mention because obviously, for all intents and purposes, they might as well be speaking English. The only reason that we're supposed to pretend they're not is to ease the suspension of disbelief (if it's happening "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" they obviously can't be speaking English, even though it matters not one whit to the story if they do, since there are no cultural differences to speak of).

I agree that this is an important and very old part of storytelling, I'm just not convinced it's boiled down to its essence yet. If we're going to mention Romeo and Juliet, we should really point out that in its most general form, this is simply unavoidable (and for the most part unnoticeable); it's the more specific uses (like characters who speak multiple languages) where it takes on the form of a device.

Silent Hunter: Isn't the language changeover a trope in itself? Judgement at Nuremberg starts by showing translators being used.

Silent Hunter: Slight correction. Judgement at Nuremberg was actually 1961.

Sikon: Star Wars is not "translated" to English, period. Not even in the Tolkien sense. Galactic Basic is the same as English, save for additional setting-specific words like "speciesism", "offworlder" and "youngling". Yes, this makes no sense. Neither does having humans and many near-human species in a "galaxy far, far away". It's just a matter of suspension of disbelief.

Red Shoe: What are you basing this claim on? At the risk of sounding like a Wikipedian, "citation needed". It kinda sounds like a Wild Fan Theory.

Sikon: , although I thought it would be already obvious enough as the Aurebesh texts seen in numerous Star Wars media, including the films, are actually English texts written with fictional glyphs.

Ununnilium: From there: "As a result, spoken Basic is considered dubbed and Aurebesh text is considered translated. As in the Lord of the Rings books, the "dubbing" and "translation" had some implications." This implies that it is a Translation Convention. As well, there's no source.

Sikon: If you read carefully, this particular phrase about foreign, non-English versions. I agree that there's no source, though. I'll ask for some on

Red Shoe: There's also this interesting line:

In both the films and books, Basic is the same as English. In translations to non-English languages, Basic is assumed to be reciprocally the same language as the one being used.

Which does not strike me as a very clear way to phrase it, but it sounds like they're using "dubbed" to refer to the Translation Convention and "translated" to refer to Translator Microbes. After all, if Basic were English, it couldn't also be French, German, or whatever other non-english language the film has been translated to.

Sikon: Except that in foreign versions of Star Wars, the texts that are seen on screen are still in English. For example, [ this text] seen in Episode I, when the glyphs are converted from Aurebesh to Roman, reads: "Anakin turn the ship around and go back home right away".

Robert: That's not what 'really' appeared, it's a partial translation to English. From a metatextual standpoint, it's one of the cases where the translation convention is often incompletely applied, for simplicity's sake. It's not evidence the character's actually spoke English.

Compare Balin's tomb, in Lord of the Rings. The inscription on that begins 'Balin son of Fundin', with Balin written in dwarf runes, but Balin is not the name he was actually called. His real public name, which would have appeared on the tomb, was in the language of the area around the Lone Mountain, which Tolkien 'translated' into a Nordic language. 'Balin' is the equivalent of this name in the translated language, not the actual name.

Thus, the text on Balin's tomb, as depicted in the standard text. It's a partial translation into English, not what the characters would have actually seen - the same as with Star Wars. As I understand it, when Lord of The Rings is translated into other languages, this inscription generally isn't - again parallel with Star Wars.

Given this precedent, and considering how much simpler it is not to change written materials seen on-screen when dubbing films, it's simpler to assume that written texts are allowed to partly or completely ignore the translation convention.

Sikon: It's not only seen in films, but in comics and video games too. If you want to argue that "what you see is not what you get", go ahead. Call LFL. Tell them that what we see physically existisg in Star Wars, may in fact be different. Tell them that you reject their reality, and substitute your own — that Star Wars canon should be modified to explicitly mention that Basic is not in fact English, and what really happened can be different from what we see on screen (or on paper). Cite the translation convention. Tell them what fools they are for eeping their fans oblivious to that dichotomy. and how Star Wars historical accuracy has been ruined for you, sullied, dragged through the dirt. Tell them how it has crippled their reputation in your eyes for centuries, and how it has left a wound in the Force - a wound that echoes still. I think that only then will they see that what they have done is wrong... and that the balance in the Force must be rectified.

All of this won't change one simple fact: that Star Wars has strict canon, and you see is exactly what "really" happened. This includes any unusual sightings or hearings. Even sound in space was explained via Applied Phlebotinum that "emulates" sounds of other starships, despite the fact that most people would simply accept it as a convention. They treat their universe seriously.

Robert: I'm not that bothered about Star Wars, but it sounding like they're breaking Occam's Razor. An inconsistently applied translation convention is much simpler and more plausible than a galaxy far far away happening to speak English. It also avoids issues such as the name of the X-wing. If they were using English with a different alphabet they wouldn't have given the ship that name, since their 'x' wouldn't be than shape,

More importantly, I suspect most people who watch the films aren't aware of the Word of God on the subject; they'll assume Translation Convention applies, to the extent they think about it at all.

That makes Star Wars an example of a film where the audience applies the Translation Convention, whatever the writers may have intended.

Red Shoe: Sikon, dude, calm down. I'm just saying, there is nothing in the actual material which says Basic sounds like English (How could there be such an explanation, after all; who in The Galaxy would know what English sounded like). So I asked for a source. The closest you've given isn't official material, but Fanon. It sounds an awful lot to me like that's just what this is: something the fans agree on, but which no one in an official capacity has ever commented on. The moment you said, "[what] you see is exactly what "really" happened," you moved into the Literary Agent Hypothesis, in which case, what we should really be asking ourselves is: Who fired first, Greedo or Han?

Seven Seals: Well, I guess that would be Han in one Alternate Universe, and Greedo in another, if both are equally real... :-)

Sikon: Greedo, because the latest versions of the movies are canonical. And Luke saw the young Anakin ghost.

Ununnilium: But what about Scarecrow's brain?

Morgan Wick: Sikon's little idea that Basic=English reminds me of the line in a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode when the aliens claim Rigelian=English.

Red Shoe: We're one example away from a trope here. There's also a Night Court episode where the prince of a minor european country mentions that his country even has its own language, but "It's very similar to English; in fact, I'm speaking it right now."
Red Shoe: Another strange case. CSI: Miami. We're told that a character doesn't speak English. He speaks to the detectives in heavily accented english, mixing in several words of Spanish. All his dialogue is subtitled, but the Spanish words appear larger than the rest of the text.
Darmok: I was told this story some time ago. Hopefully somebody knows the specifics.

I believe that someone once pointed out the "error" of Terry Pratchett using the word 'gypsy' in one of his novels, Maskerade possibly, because it originated as a specific term to describe the Roma people (of planet Earth). Pratchett replied that this was indeed correct and that the word was translated from the original language (that spoken on Discworld), but that if he wrote the whole book in this language then nobody would understand it.

RelMark: Found it. The comment and Pratchett's response can be seen here. (Also, apologies for the multiple edits. Should have looked at the instructions before I started.)

Daibhid C: Strictly (and I don't want to sound like Sikon here) he doesn't say Morporkian isn't English, just that it "can't possibly" be English. In other books, it seems Morporkian is English: Feet of Clay, for instance, revolves around a trilingual pun that only works if the three languages involved really are very similar to English, French and Latin (or are completely different languages that happen to have the same homonymity between unconnected words). On the other hand, in Colour of Magic, Rincewind thinks English sounds vaguely Hublandish but is unlike any language he knows. And on the gripping hand, there are no language barriers in the Science of Discworld books, whether they're in Victorian London or Ancient Greece.

At this point the sensible troper should recite the Rule of Funny and MST3K Mantra one after the other, and then assume whatever makes more sense at the time.

Jordan: Does the translation convention have to be in English?- I read recently that in Tolstoy's War and Peace, there are some French phrases left untranslated, but extended conversations of French characters, specifically Napoleon's dialogue, are written in Russian.

Tulling: The use of french is limited to a few simple phrases, right at the beginning of the novel. It is thought that it was intended to show how removed the russian aristocracy of the time was from the common people - they are so afftected that they speak among themselves in a foreign language even when no foreigners are around. In other words, in this small part of the novel the Translation Convention is suspended in order to illustrate a practice Tolstoj found disagreeable.

Jordan: Thanks for clarifying that. I had thought that the French phrases were throughout the text. What I more meant is that Napoleon speaking Russain would be an example of translation convention and having the French phrases is equivalent to the small bit of subtitled dialogue you might for example find in a James Bond movie.

Ununnilium: To answer your original question, yes, that's an example of the Translation Convention; it doesn't have to involve English.

Scrounge: Moved the voyager lampshade haging to Translator Microbes
Fly: Doing away with:

WEIRD is that the beginning of Xenosaga has a Japanese Anthropologist in an African country... speaking English. In the original Japanese version [This needs confirmation now that I think about it...]

because it 1) doesn't seem to prove anything, 2) 'needs confirmation' and therefore might all be a bad dream or something, and 3) is written in the most non-cromulant way I think I've ever seen. :(
Daibhid C: The 'Allo 'Allo! bit with the accents representing languages; I've not seen that in anything else, but there's a similar bit in Astérix comics, where the Goths speak in Gothic font, the Greeks with angular letters, Egyptians in heiroglyph-style rebuses, and these are all mutually incomprehensive languages (although there's no such language barrier between the Romans and Gauls for some reason). Similarly, in the Discworld novel Jingo, the Klatchian language is represented by a vaguely middle-Eastern looking typeface (and characters speaking Morporkian with a heavy Klatchian accent, or vice versa, have the "h"s in their native font). Anyone know any other examples of this?

Daibhid C: Ah, it's under Painting The Fourth Wall.

Keith: removed the reference to The Dirty Dozen as an example of Germans in WW2 movies speaking English. They don't. The Germans speak German with no subtitles, and at one point the group's German speaker (a Pole) admits he had no idea what someone just said to him.

Silent Hunter: Neither is Kelly's Heroes an example.

Silent Hunter: I'm rewatching The Hunt for Red October and that "Armageddon" part is not only cool, it's even cooler on [[ account of the actor who does it]].
Azaram: A silly example from the World of Warcraft main site, when they were about to release the built-into-the-game voice chat... A Tauren wearing a headset giving battle orders ("Ok, sheep the one on the left, keep curses on..." (etc), and a confused looking blood elf hearing "Moo! Moo moo moo, moo, moo..." (Didn't add to the article because I wasn't sure it quite fit, being just one header on a website... but it's funny.)
Citizen: What is with people wiping out huge chunks of pages in mid-sentence? isn't the first. Whatever, on to reverting...

  • Mike: My best guess is that they're using browsers with some kind of size limit for text fields, and its chopping off everything below the limit.

Dalantia: Pulled this:

  • Subverted and played straight in Resident Evil 4: the player is given a chance to "learn Spanish" for a fee - all the signs and NPC speech will then be in English from that point onwards. However, it is all genuine Spanish in the first place, so if the player actually speaks Spanish, they don't need to get it translated.
    • Hunh?! Which version lets you do that?

Didn't happen in the GC or PS2 versions of the game. If it happened in the Revolution version, feel free to stick it back up, but make sure to put that it's only in that version.
Random Surfer: Would this trope apply to the following situations?

  • The Brian Friel play Translations: the native Irish are heard in English but are understood to be speaking Irish. The English are also heard in English (and are understood to be speaking English, obviously). If an English-only speaker and an Irish-only speaker talk to each other, both their lines are heard in English, but they can't understand each other.
  • in Kung Fu on at least one occasion, Caine translated for an American (who only spoke English) and a young Chinese boy (who only spoke Chinese). All the dialog was rendered in English. For example:
    Woman: Hello.
    Caine: She says hello.
    Boy: Tell her I'm hungry.
    Caine: He says he's hungry.
and so forth.

If not, what trope would I be looking for?

I'm not quite sure how to edit this, bu the anime series Code Geass involves all the Brits speaking Japanese, but orders are followd by "Yes, my lord" or "Yes, your highness" in english.

Trouser Wearing Barbarian: Gratuitous English?