Native Language Shift YKTTW Discussion

Native Language Shift
Character returns to native language within certain circumstances.
(permanent link) added: 2011-05-21 19:46:17 sponsor: EzzyAlpha edited by: Jagyularr (last reply: 2012-01-23 18:16:15)

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Alice was born and raised in Spain. However, she moved to the States and speaks perfectly good English. One day, Bob decides to prank her. He jumps out of her closet, she freaks out, and in the confusion, she starts screaming in Spanish.

To put it simply, when a character isn't speaking their native language they might revert to it when scared or hurt (or when they just don't want the other character to know what they're saying)

Related to Pardon My Klingon, Foreign Language Tirade, and Foreign Cuss Word, Sister Trope to Foreign Language Tirade


  • Comes up a lot in movies/TV series about the Mafia, with Italian-American gangsters throwing in some Italian at moments of high excitement. In at least one scene in Casino, for instance, mob boss Remo Gagi goes into Italian in an animated conversation with another gangster who's beaten him at cards. He doesn't seem very happy

  • Inverted in The Parent Trap (1998 remake). When Annie (posing as Hallie) hears that her father is planning on marrying Meredith, she starts ranting in French, which is not her first language. This threatens to blow Annie's cover, since Hallie doesn't know French.

  • Mentioned via aversion in Tarnsman of Gor (the first in the Gor series). Tarl and his trainer (also named Tarl, aka "the older Tarl") realize his fluency in Gorean is proceeding apace when he doesn't switch to English.
I had begun to dream in Gorean...I was fluent in Gorean. Once, when struck by the Older Tarl, I had cursed in Gorean, and he had laughed.
  • Inheritance Cycle: In Brisingr, both Fadawar and Nasuada were born in the same clan, and so can speak both their native clan language and the common Human language. However, Nasuada was not part of their clan for long though, and so has trouble speaking the clan language. During an argument, Fadawar deliberately switches from Human to their clan language, knowing full well that Nasuada has trouble speaking it to mock her.

Live-Action TV
  • In My Name Is Earl, Catalina would sometimes curse at people in Spanish. However, she was actually speaking to the viewer.
  • Used in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men" when the Ferengi accidentally travel back in time to 1947, before they are able to fix their universal translators. Also counts as an inversion, as the human characters' speech (as heard by the Ferengi) was distorted in that episode to create the effect of the malfunctioning translators.
  • A sort of reversal was in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. A dead Voyager crew member was "adopted" by an alien species. Their way of procreating involves reviving corpses and somehow physically turning them into one of their own. However, the crew member in question flees from her new home, reunites with Voyager and tries to re-adapt to her old life. It slowly turns out that this isn't going to work, hinted by the fact that she begins to lapse into her adoptive parents' language when stressed.
  • This was a trademark of I Love Lucy's Ricky Ricardo. Once he got into a rage he'd go into his native Spanish.
  • Was a plot point in Seventeen Moments Of Spring -- Kat was going to scream on her native tongue while giving birth.
    • Naturally, the anecdotes "improved" this into Germans planning to impregnate Stirlitz himself, just to check once and for all whether he's a spy.
  • On "The Office", when the employees are all invited to "roast" Michael, Oscar spends his entire time slot screaming in Spanish.

Web Comics
  • Viktor from Lackadaisy reverts to his Slavic mothertongue whenever he's upset enough to really start swearing.
  • Richek in Jack switches rather easily back to Russian when he's surprised.

Western Animation
  • In Futurama, Amy curses in Chinese.
  • In JLI: Generation Lost, when a certain person pulls I Got Better, Rocket Red starts shouting happily in Russian, then shouts (in Russian), "Wait, I'm so excited I'm shouting in Russian! No one can understand what I'm saying!"
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, when the ponies burst into Zecora's hut and wreck the place, she babbles angrily in Zebra.

Real Life
  • Truth in Television: Even if you talk your second language perfectly, if you're not used to it, you probably will resort to this.
    • Inverted: Some people train themselves to swear in their second language. This is useful in situations where swearing would be frowned upon but inevitable (like stubbing your toe in front of grandma).

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