Reality Has No Subtitles YKTTW Discussion

Reality Has No Subtitles
When captioning isn't used... because if they can't get it, neither should we.
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(permanent link) added: 2012-10-08 13:26:14 sponsor: norsicnumber2nd edited by: Quag15 (last reply: 2013-08-11 08:30:55)

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At any point when a foreign language is spoken (with the exception of the occasional word where the meaning has become almost universal, i.e. 'Bonjour', 'Gracias' etc.) and not given captions. So, it's untranslated and - when you don't speak the lingo - you have to take a stab at the definition from the context, body language, or some really not-so-vivid hand dancing.

When subtitles are given, they're in the foreign language (when you put subtitles on - cheers, that helps). This also includes when someone is so drunk or crazy (or an Ewok) that you need subtitles to understand the sounds they're making and, of course, when a foreigner curses (and such) in their native tongue.

For conversations - or a section thereof - to fit this, it is that because of the language (including dialect and/or accent) you don't get the words, rather than (as with "It's all Greek to me") because of the words you don't get the language.

Entire conversations that are foreign but uncaptioned are rarer. Basically, if something should be subtitled for the other characters - and most importantly the audience - to understand, but it isn't.

The opposite of this would be where a word or phrase in a foreign language is used and subtitled, but we all know what it means.

Compare Fun with Subtitles. This is related to Bilingual Bonus and often the result of a Language Barrier.



[[folder:Comic books]]
  • Used in early issues of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic book, where Chinese people were given dialog in Chinese with no translation for this reason.
  • In a How To Get Fired comic strip about Doctors, the man who always gets fired is the only one with a speech bubble in actual words, saying "improve our handwriting?", as all the other Doctors' speech bubbles are illegible scribbles.

  • The Black Widow (and other Russians) in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers is a good example, as well as when Dr Banner is in India and there are no captions for the people there. In some showings of the film, there were subtitles, but not in all showings. There are none on the DVD, either.
  • In Mr. Bean's Holiday, that French kid and the man's short film. Anything that Mr Bean can't understand is untranslated, but thankfully rather irrelevant to the story.
  • Half of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, i.e. whenever Cristina and/or Vicky are around the Spanish who don't speak English.
  • In The Guns of Navarone:
    • Captain Mallory talks on the phone with the Nazi guard commander while pretending to be a Nazi sentry. The entire dialogue between them is in German with no translation (but from their facial expressions and intonations you can generally figure out what they're saying).
    • When the Nazi E-boat stops the fishing boat the protagonists are on, Captain Mallory pretends to be the skipper and speaks in Greek to both the E-boat captain and his own crew. Again, he uses gestures and facial expressions to make his meaning clear to the audience.
  • In The Matrix Reloaded, while the Merovingian is giving his speech about how French is his favorite language, he speaks a long phrase in French (which is actually a string of curse words) with no translation.
  • Trainspotting has both the foreign slang and the incomprehensibility.
  • Lost in Translation is heavy handed in this, but it works for the movie's story. When two Americans are stuck in Japan for different reasons, and can't speak the native language, they start to feel very isolated, especially in a culture so foreign to the West. Having characters speak in Japanese without offering any subtitles emphasizes the isolation both of them feel, and how alien it could be in that world without anyone around to communicate with.
  • It is famously used in The Third Man to emphasize how totally out to sea the American main character is when he visits Vienna.
  • Bon Cop, Bad Cop could walk this line, depending on the version you're watching. (The film is 'bilingual', dealing with a Quebec cop and an Ontario cop.) For the English version, though, the scene with the French coroner is untranslated and passes by quickly. The French cop later admits he didn't understand what was said, either.
  • Star Wars:
    • The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi are incomprehensible to all but some of the characters who share the screen with them.
    • Done to quite an irritating extent in The Star Wars Holiday Special, where the first chunk of the special is a family of Wookies speaking to each other without subtitles nor with an outside English-speaking character to react to them.
    • In The Phantom Menace, whatever young Anakin says to the Hutts is untranslated.
    • In A New Hope the Sandpeople have their own language, too.
    • Throughout the franchise, Chewbacca and R2-D2 are comprehensible mainly to only their counterparts, Solo and C-3PO.
  • In Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Ghost Dog's best friend is a french-speaking icecream seller who isn't subbed because Ghost Dog doesn't understand the language.
  • In The Passion of the Christ the original plan was to have no subtitles during the whole film. Remember, the entire film is in Aramaic and Latin. Luckily, this idea was scrapped.
  • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar signs that Will should ask Caroline out to dinner. This is left untranslated as Caroline can't understand the signs used.
  • In the 1982 film The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Edward James Olmos plays the title character and speaks in untranslated Spanish throughout the film. This was done at Olmos's suggestion to emphasize the isolation Cortez felt as a Mexican outlaw in south Texas during the early 20th century.
  • In The Hobbit Elvish speech is subtitled in all instances but one: when the dwarves arrive in Rivendell, Elrond (after speaking with Gandalf) looks at them and says something in Elvish. The dwarves (who don't speak Elvish, as Elves vs. Dwarves is in full effect) bristle and ask if he offers them insults, but Gandalf quickly intervenes and says he's offering them supper. Of course, Elrond speaks the Common Speech just fine, so he's probably just messing with them.
  • In The Usual Suspects, the police have to hire a translator to interview a victim of The Caper and miss an important piece of evidence because the translator botches his translation.
  • The Peacemaker has long segments of untranslated Russian dialog, which subtitles helpfully refer to as "[Men speaking in Russian]".
  • Hudson Hawk. While Hudson is ordering food at a restaurant he speaks in Italian. At the end of the order he asks for some ketchup and the waiter walks away complaining about the uncultured American. None of their Italian dialogue is subtitled.
  • The independent Russian film The Cuckoo is entirely about this: A Finnish man and a Russian man are stranded together in the wilderness with a local woman. All three can only speak and understand their native language, guessing what the others are saying through body language and emotions. The DVD release gave the option to watch with or without subtitles, though it's understandable without them--even if what they're saying is not entirely clear that way.
  • Red Tails has some fun with this. Since there's a Language Barrier between Lightning and his girlfriend Sofia, her Italian is un-subtitled. At the same time, when the German ace "Pretty Boy" talks to his compatriots his German is subtitled.
  • Superman II. When the astronaut Boris first meets General Zod on the Moon, he says several words of untranslated Russian to him (presumably it was the equivalent of "Who are you and what are you doing here?").
  • Big Trouble in Little China. While David Lo Pan is interrogating Wang Chi and Jack Burton, he speaks in Chinese to Wang Chi with no translation for the audience. Whatever he said, it sounded threatening.
  • Pitch Black: Abu al-Walid, Ali, Hassan and Suleiman on their way to New Mecca aren't subtitled when whey speak or pray in Arabic, and they speak English when they talk with the other people.
  • You Only Live Twice:
    • Tiger Tanaka speaks untranslated Japanese to his underlings several times.
    • James Bond is about to have his chest hair dyed black as part of his Japanese disguise. He says "Why don't you just dye the parts that show?" His Bond Girl Aki repeats this in Japanese to the female Japanese attendants (who apparently don't speak English) and they all laugh.
  • In Wreck-It Ralph Q*Bert's speech is that of the videogames, even when Felix is using it. The rest of the Nicelandians are clueless behind.


[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • In Stargate Atlantis, Radek would occasionally rant in Czech about something with no subtitles provided.
  • There are episodes in Season 1 of popular drama Revenge where Emily speaks languages including French and Spanish without translation (though these aren't relevant besides telling us she's multilingual) and in one episode, where she repeatedly converses with another character in fluent Japanese, she then lies about what was said, and there is no captioning.
  • In the miniseries version of Shogun, when Blackthorne (the English protagonist) is around and the Japanese characters are speaking in Japanese, there's no subtitles.
  • In the first season of Lost, Korean couple Sun and Jin would speak among themselves, and the show would provide English subtitles. But when they spoke in front of others who did not understand Korean, no subtitles appeared.
  • In Monty Python's Flying Circus "The Funniest Joke in the World" sketch, the British Army creates a German version of the Joke so they can use it against Nazi troops. There's no translation (mainly because the German version is made up of nonsense words). Good thing, too -- understanding it would kill the audience!
  • In an episode of Absolutely Fabulous, Patsy and Edina go to France on vacation. Three times an old man comes to the door and speaks in French; they're frightened of him, and keep just closing the door and ignoring him. Edina's daughter, who speaks French, shows up at the end, and it turns out they've been staying in a run-down cottage instead of the fancy château they had booked, and the old man was trying to tell them that.
  • Many characters on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show fall foul of this, speaking no language at all and, being puppets, they don't have captions - or didn't originally.
  • In the TV movie Canada Russia 72 about the famous hockey tournament, Canadian player Bobby Clarke says "Eat s***, you little c***s*****" to Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov as he skates by. Kharlamov responds with something in Russian and Clarke sneers "What does that mean?"
  • In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Marshall becomes so drunk to the point that he needs subtitles... which are provided for barely some of the speech.
  • Breaking Bad does this with most, if not all, of its Spanish dialogue.
  • Firefly uses this when various Chinese curses are spoken, and you can tell that they're curses from the context.
  • In Casualty 1906, a disagreeable Eastern European woman was being treated by the Edwardian doctors while behaving violently and probably being drunk. A Polish speaker would know what nationality she was supposed to be and could understand what she was saying however, on the DVD, the subtitles gave the untranslated text in Russian - people who don't know the difference would be none the wiser from the English dialogue on-screen.
  • Stargate SG-1 didn't ever use subtitles, which was probably a good thing considering most of the Russian spoken on the show would've punched huge holes in the fourth wall.
  • Played With in the Coupling episode, "The Woman with Two Breasts". The Israeli woman that Jeff is talking to speaks no English, and no subtitles are provided because he, like we, has no real idea what she's saying. Then, in the second half, when the whole sequence is run again with her speaking English and Jeff speaking nonsense, we again get no subtitles, and have to rely on our memories of what his side of the conversation was. Plus, we get to find out that some of his assumptions about what she was saying were...less than accurate.
  • Barney Miller:
    • In one episode they bring in a woman who everyone thinks is crazy (she escaped from a mental asylum where she's been held ever since she first arrived in the country 20ish years previously) and speaking her own made-up language. It turns out she is perfectly sane; she's just speaking a rare Macedonian dialect. The squad happens to find someone who speaks Macedonian to commuicate with her. None of the Macedonian is subtitlted.
    • Chano's frequent lapsing into Spanish when annoyed or upset isn't subtitled.
  • Several one-shot and minor foreign characters in Seinfeld spoke fluent, uninterrupted languages of their respective nationalities, occasionally without the aid of subtitles, such as The Soup Nazi, and Kramer's Hispanic friend that showed up for one episode and was never spoken of again, relying on the Rule of Funny and Rule of Drama, as they can fluently speak English if need be.


In Henry V, an entire scene between Catherine and her lady-in-waiting is conducted in French.


[[folder:Video Games]]
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Zig-zagged in the first game. If Altair runs into any of the locals while walking about, several may speak English (translated by the Animus) but whenever he runs into guards, especially when rescuing a person, he may quote something that never gets translated.
    • The guards may quote something in either Arabic or French depending on which region you are in, though sometimes they may speak English as well.
  • In the Mothership Zero DLC for Fallout 3, the player character is abducted by aliens whose language is never translated. The aliens' motivation and reasons for abducting humans can therefore only be inferred (and it makes them a whole lot creepier). Additionally, another abductee is a samurai who speaks in un-subtitled Japanese.
  • Max Payne 3 plays around with this. Max Payne doesn't speak Portuguese, so for most of the game you have no idea what the people around you are saying. Occasionally though, Max will catch a cognate, such as amadores (amateurs), and react to it.
  • Spec Ops: The Line uses this in the opening to increase tension. You don't understand any of the Farci being spoken.
  • In Final Fantasy X the Al Bhed language is subtitled - only the subtitles are in Al Bhed, not English. As you collect translation books throughout the game, various letters in the subtitles are gradually replaced by their English equivalents to represent Tidus' growing understanding of the language.
  • In Deus Ex:
  • Sleeping Dogs has a bunch of "peppering Cantonese cuss words into English" and background NPCs who speak basically accurate but unsubtitled Cantonese, though Mrs. Chu is the only plot-relevant character to only speak Cantonese.
  • The World of Warcraft Draenei starting zone involves the player befriending a tribe of anthropomorphic bears called furbolgs (the Stillpine tribe.) Initially, the player can't speak their language, so the NPC text is untranslatable gibberish.
  • Nikolai in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 speaks in Russian, as do some of the soldiers, and it is not subtitled like the English is (though the English can be heard perfectly fine anyway).
  • In Knights of the Old Republic 2, Darth Nihilus' speech (in the ancient Sith language) is left untranslated in subtitles and the player character doesn't seem to be able to understand him either, despite her ability to understand a wide variety of alien languages.
  • The humans in Asura's Wrath speak a different language from the Demigods with no subtitles. This is used to show how out of touch they have become over the millennia.
  • Halfway through Uncharted 2, Drake winds up in a small tibetan village. All "conversations" with the non-English speaking villagers are simply subtitled [Speaking Tibetan], even after Drake has learned to speak it. The effect of this is amplified by the fact that Tenzin, Drake's partner during these chapters, is one of those villagers.

  • In Megatokyo, most Japanese is shown as English within angle brackets--except when non-Japanese-speaker Largo is the viewpoint character, in which case it is romanized, as he would hear it.
  • In Unsounded some kind of supernatural bird speaks to Sette. The Rant lampshades this: "Don't ask for a translation - Sette doesn't understand it so you shan't either!"

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • Lady Rainicorn in Adventure Time speaks untranslated Korean.
  • Played With in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Tri-Stone Area". The characters speak in cave-man jibberish, and no sub-titles are given. Of course, if you know all the Catch Phrases, Running Gags and things that happen Once an Episode, you pretty much know what they're saying, just from the situation and inflections used. The authors break in in stop-motion animation, and talk about this:
    Jeff "Swampy" Marsh: Whoa, whoa, whoa. So--so they're just gonna be talking in "cave-talk"?
  • In the animated adaptation of Teen Titans, Guatemalan siblings Mas y Menos only speak Spanish and are not given subtitles. While this makes for some hilarious moments when interacting with their Spanish-illiterate team mates, they become comedy gold if you can actually understand them.

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