Created By: captainsandwich on September 16, 2012 Last Edited By: captainsandwich on January 10, 2013

Foreign speaking spy reveal

A person is revealed to be a spy by speaking in a foreign language or accent

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
A spy, saboteur or the like is observed speaking in accent that he was previously shown not to have. Alternatively he could be speaking in a foreign language, or both. This character has let his guard down, probably preforming minimal or no counter-surveillance measures prior to doing so. The character in question thinks that only members of his intelligence agency are around. The things said in conversation are often easily damaging to his cover as well.

Contrast Spy Speak, which is making a conversation that has covert purposes seem mundane.


Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • In Death of Achilles, Fandorin learns that Wanda works for the Germans after overhearing her talking in German with an unknown man (who is later revealed to be a German residential agent).
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • In Dan Vs. Dan and Chris see the governor speaking on a foreign accent he did was previously not using in public. And almost immediately after, he was talking on the phone in foreign language. The things said in the conversation were also damaging to his cover. His sinister purpose and foreign allegiance were hinted at shortly prior to this.

[[/folder]]
Community Feedback Replies: 28
  • September 16, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    • In Inglourious Basterds a spy reveals himself unwittingly not by speaking (though his strange accent does raise suspicion) but by using a foreign gesture while ordering drinks.
  • September 16, 2012
    DaibhidC
    In The Great Escape, one of the POWs is exposed when a Gestapo officer says "Good luck" and he automatically replies "Thank you".
  • September 17, 2012
    dragonslip
    Subversion: In an episode of star gate SG 1 the team get sent back in time to star gate command in 1969 when it was missile silo. When they're taken to holding cells one of the guards decides to check if they're spies by asking "are you species?" in Russian. Daniel answers "no" without thinking. The guard takes this a proof they're Russian when in fact denial just happens to be a linguist
  • September 17, 2012
    Koveras
    • In Death of Achilles, Fandorin learns that Wanda works for the Germans after overhearing her talking in German with an unknown man (who is later revealed to be a German residential agent).
  • September 17, 2012
    abk0100
    ^^ Not A Subversion as far as I can see, but otherwise a good example

    • That Mitchell And Webb Look parodies The scene from The Great Escape: On the German version, of the gameshow NumberWang, the host casually wishes the contestants "Gut luck." One of them replies in English and is instantly declared WangerNumb and loses the game.
  • October 3, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Hm, I'm beginning to think I'll have to loosen the requirements.
  • October 3, 2012
    zarpaulus
    @dragonslip, mind if I correct your spelling?

    • In an episode of Stargate SG 1 the team are accidentally sent back in time to the SGC in 1969 when it was a missile silo. They are captured and one of the guards asks Daniel if they are Soviet spies in Russian. Daniel unthinkingly replies "no" in the same language, which he takes as proof that they are spies.
  • October 3, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    • In an episode of the fourth series of Blackadder the hero is trying to find the spy somewhere within an Allied hospital during WW 2. Every time he visits his friend George he passes a man with a thick German accent in the opposite hospital bed but no one ever seems to suspect that this man is the spy. It's a subversion of this. The man with the German accent is a British spy who has been Becoming The Mask having stayed in Germany for so long. The spy is the nurse who helps George write letters about the ins and outs of army life to his family back home... Or Is It in fact a Double Subversion and GEORGE was the spy, not realising he was giving away army secrets to his German family members in his letters?
  • October 3, 2012
    bananasloth
    • In the episode "Espionage" of QI, Stephen claims that Heinrich Muller (head of the Gestapo) thought making spies swear in their native language was the best way to get them to blow their cover. According to him, female spies were particularly likely to do this while giving birth.

    (why does YKTTW not allow characters with umlauts?)
  • October 3, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    We could probably justify Black Widow in The Avengers as this. She may be Russian in the comics, but she was defined as American in IronMan2, then opened Avengers speaking fluent Russian in a perfect Russian accent to another guy doing the same (the actor was Polish) and later, in a quiet drama scene with Hawkeye said "I'm Russian... or was".
  • October 4, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    Also, would this be related to YKTTW Reality Has No Subtitles? Part of that is "when a character speaks in a foreign language to another in order to inform the audience of the other character's nationality" (without subtitles).

    I believe this is where a foreign accent or language is used to establish that a spy is foreign (which gives their enemies lots of info), so it could easily be related or, in the cases of a foreign language without subtitles used, Sub Trope.
  • October 4, 2012
    Antigone3
    Older Than Feudalism: Different pronunciations of the Hebrew word "shibboleth" was used in the book of Judges to catch Ephraimite refugees.
  • October 5, 2012
    Chabal2
    • The French comedy La Grande Vadrouille has a downed English parachutist reveal himself to a Gestapo officer when the officer bumps into him and he reflexively says "Pardon me!" in English.
    • One of Agatha Christie's Tommy And Tuppence stories had Tommy figure out a jovial sea captain was actually a German spy when seeing his mood and actions change in response to a minor slight, which he had previously noted as typical of German officers.
  • October 5, 2012
    AFP
    I can't recall if I've ever seen it, but a variation might be for the agent to drop the fake accent once his cover has been blown, seeing that he has nothing to gain from the act.
  • October 10, 2012
    SteamGoth
    Um, guys? I think we have this: it's called Accent Relapse.
  • October 10, 2012
    m8e
    That's about accents so I think this could be made into an separate trope by dropping "or accent" in the laconic.

    This could cover stuff like being overheard when talking a different language or understanding a different language(like Daniel in Stargate SG 1). Maybe also reveals by Separated By A Common Language?

    edit: Isn't Accent Relapse about reveals in universe(=to other characters)? Do we have a trope about using a foreign language to reveal to the audience that the speaker is foreign and therefore a bad guy or whatever?
  • October 13, 2012
    TBeholder
    already ykttw-d: Native Language Shift
  • October 13, 2012
    m8e
    Native Language Shift (Character returns to native language within certain circumstances.) Might be to general and not tropable. These "certain circumstances" can be anything.
  • October 13, 2012
    LobsterMagnus
    A word that can be used to determine if someone is a native speaker or not (because it is very hard for a non-native speaker pronounce it correctly) is called a shibboleth, after a Hebrew word that the Ephraimites couldn't pronounce without their accent.
  • October 13, 2012
    Prfnoff
    Two mentions of "shibboleth", and I don't see how it's this trope at all.
  • October 14, 2012
    MetaFour
  • October 14, 2012
    qwiktune111
    In 24 series 1, Nina is revealed to be CTU's mole when seen talking on the phone in Russian,also gaining an appropriately foreign name,Yelena.
  • October 15, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    Played with in the best way possible on the re-vamp of Upstairs Downstairs; Hallam (and family) all speak German in 1930s England. Hallam works for the Home Secretary and is not a spy, instead he's the one they send off to Germany for negotiations to try and prevent a war (this didn't work). However, Lady Persie is a Nazi sympathiser and, being Hallam's sister-in-law and, at one point, lover, is trusted to stay in the house while they talk about National secrets. She, of course, goes tells her Nazi friends. But they all knew she spoke German which, her being so open about it in a strictly German-hating era, is one reason why they trusted her. Still a spy, even though Hallam and Co. aren't. Later she does feel bad about it, especially when Hallam informs her that a war is inevitable, and so commits suicide. Then in Downton Abbey her much nicer counterpart just died...
  • October 16, 2012
    Chernoskill
    In the year 1302 in what is Belgium today, in the Flanders War of Liberation: Those suspected of being Walloons or Frenchmen who could speak Dutch were asked to say schild en vriend "shield and friend", an expression regarded as particularly difficult for those who were not native speakers. Those who did not pronounce it correctly were determined to be the enemy and killed.

  • January 10, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the pilot episode of Hogans Heroes a German spy is revealed this way. A new POW (really a spy) claims he doesn't know any German. As a Secret Test the guys make it seem like the barracks are on fire and Kinch yells "the window!" in German; sure enough, the guy jumps out the window to escape the blaze.
  • January 10, 2013
    aurora369
    In Seventeen Moments Of Spring, Kat accidentally reveals herself as a Soviet spy when she starts screaming in Russian while giving birth.
  • January 10, 2013
    TonyG
    On Just Shoot Me, a couple claiming to be Nina's birth parents are revealed to be con men when they go into an elevator and start speaking French.
  • January 10, 2013
    robbulldog
    In Spies Like Us, Dan Akroyd suspects his two "American contacts" in Pakistan are Russian, based on an observation of a wristwatch. He confirms it by telling them something in Russian, which they start laughing hysterically before realizing they blew their cover.
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