RealityHasNoSubtitles 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.
Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2012-09-01 03:44:45 sponsor: norsicnumber2nd edited by: lakingsif (last reply: 2013-01-16 12:44:58)

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Guard: Hu sujehk, rayn?
Tidus: Whoa... Okay.
Caveman: Caynlr res!
Tidus: Uhh... Okay?
Tidus: (caveman grunts and motions in the air) Err... What...? Charades?
- Tidus meeting the Al Bhed in Final Fantasy X, their language written as you read it here.

At any point when a foreign word or phrase (or sometimes mini-conversations where you only need to know the mood) is used (with the exception of the occasional French/Spanish/German 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.

Also when subtitles are given in the foreign language (when you put subtitles on - cheers, that helps) as well as when a character speaks in a foreign language to another in order to inform the audience of the other character's nationality. When foreign slang is used and you don't know what it means either; when someone speaks English in a foreign accent, or with words from another language, that makes it hard to get, too. This includes when someone is so drunk or crazy (or an Ewok) that you need subtitles to understand the sounds they're making, but the other characters don't. This also includes 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. Some of Vicky Cristina Barcelona could be this, but a better example is The Guns of Navarone.

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.

This is related to Bilingual Bonus.


  • Film:

    • The Black Widow 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 any Muppets with the drunk chef in.

    • In Mr. Bean's Holiday that French kid and the man's short film.

    • Half of Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

    • 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).
      • Also, 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.

    • In Stargate Atlantis Radek would occasionally rant in Czech about something with no subtitles provided.

    • Trainspotting has both the foreign slang and the incomprehensibility in.

    • 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.

    • The Ewok race in Star Wars are incomprehensible to all but some of the characters they share the screen with.

    • In Ghost Dog, Ghost Dog's best friend is a french-speaking icecream seller who isn't subbed because Ghost Dog doesn't understand the language.

  • Television:

    • 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.

    • Similarly, 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).

    • 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 chateau they had booked, and the old man was trying to tell them that.

    • Many characters of Sesame Street and The Muppets (when on TV) fall foul of this.

    • Also, spells cast in a variety of dead languages in several fantasies - such as Bewitched, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, plus all those films and TV shows with a mentor, where said curator of some sort rambles on.

    • 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.

  • Gaming:

    • Assassin's Creed zig-zags with this in the first game especially. 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 also 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).
      • A fellow 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, one of the locations in the game is Hong Kong. Most people you meet there speak English, though there is a monk that speaks Cantonese with no translation given. ("Please give way" and "Can you speak Cantonese?")

    • 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.

  • 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 Webcomic Megatokyo, most Japanese is shown as English within brackets - except when non-Japanese-speaker Largo is the viewpoint character, in which case it is written phonetically, as he would hear it.
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