Mute, but Not Silent

When a character is mute, it is often assumed per se that (s)he doesn't have a voice at all and can only communicate by writing or sign language. In reality, this is often far from the truth: muteness, by definition, means just incapacity of coherent speech and inability to form words. Therefore this person may be able to hum, to make sounds, to pronounce vowels and sometimes even consonants, and it may be an important way of communication for him or her (the character may even employ "translators" who have learned to understand his/her incoherent speech).

May overlap with The Unintelligible. Compare Speech-Impaired Animal, which is an animal not quite using human language, but communicating with sounds that vaguely resemble human talk. Also compare Elective Mute, who is able to speak, but chooses not to.


Comic Books
  • The Dejah Thoris comic series once featured a Firstborn boy who was only capable of unintelligible speech.
  • In Love and Rockets, Khamo's ability to speak clearly was lost when he became severely burned. He is only capable of making hissing and rattling sounds, though somehow, his daughter Casimira can translate for him.

Fan Works

  • Goldfinger: Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger's Battle Butler. Goldfinger says when he's introduced that Oddjob is mute, and indeed the only sound he ever makes is a wordless yell to tell his master he's "found" his missing golf ball (as in, planted a new one).
  • The Monster in Young Frankenstein is unable to form coherent words, but is still very vocal. In particular, he often yelps or whimpers when on the receiving end of slapstick.

  • Lisa Acquin from Sans Famille by Hector Malot sometimes expresses her emotions by making sounds, though usually she prefers sign language. At the end of the novel, she regains the gift of speech
  • In Cereus Blooms At Night, Mala Ramchandin in the "present" of the story does not speak. However, Tyler does later witness her communicating by bird call and mewing at a cat. She makes various non-human noises, and eventually does say 'Poh-Poh'. However, she was once a verbose child as presented by the "past" stories.
  • In The Curse of Chalion Umegat's assistant Daris is an elderly little man who is missing his thumbs and tongue. The missing tongue means that he can't speak, but he does make various mouthed hums, welcoming noises, and other sounds.
  • Layla from The Healer Of Fox Hollow is also missing her tongue, so she can make sounds, but not words.
  • Marta from The Hardest Ride by Gordon Rottman is mute due to a brain trauma; however, she can laugh and make other sounds.
  • Annie from Bartered Bride by Lena Goldfinch has dyspraxia; she is able to make sounds, but can neither speak coherently nor write.

  • In The Magic Flute, when Papageno is punished by having his mouth padlocked, he is able to hum but not speak, to the point of carrying on a brief duet with Tamino in this way.

Video Games
  • Transistor: Red was a singer before losing her voice at the beginning of the game. She loses her ability to speak, but can still hum.

Web Animation
  • Cinder from RWBY suffers from this throughout Season 4 after being severely injured at the end of Season 3. She can barely speak at all, managing only a strangled whisper at best. Emerald serves as her interpreter, relaying Cinder's words to other people. She recovers by Season 5 to the disappointment of her colleague Watts, though she still prefers to remain silent when she can.

Real Life
  • Selective Mutism can cause people to unwillingly shut down all communication. In the process of regaining the ability to fully communicate, they may make strange noises to try to make their point.
  • May be a result of such medical conditions as dyspraxia and aphasia that leave vocal cords undamaged but affect brain regions responsible for forming coherent speech.