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Elective Broken Language

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Edward Cunningham: Hey! How come you speak perfect English all of a sudden?
Doctor Lao: Oh, it comes and goes. Whatever dialect the mood requires.
Cunningham: Oh, it just comes and goes?
Lao: Whassamatta you? Allatime asking silly questions! Wise guy!

Just like a character may choose not to speak or not to speak coherently, he or she may also willfully employ broken or idiosyncratic language. There may be various reasons for this: for instance, it can be part of Obfuscating Stupidity, a part of Fauxreigner's image, or a Cloudcuckoolander's peculiar way of self-expression. An increasingly common use of this trope is a subversion of Japanese Ranguage, Asian Speekee Engrish, Tonto Talk and other similar tropes: an exotic foreigner who actually has a good command of English may amuse him/herself by deliberately playing up with racial stereotypes.


May overlap with Language Fluency Denial. See also Hiding Behind the Language Barrier.


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     Comic Books 
  • The Sandman: Emperor Joshua Norton acquires a Chinese manservant, with whom he speaks in perfect English. When a drunken sailor comes up asking where the opium dens are, he responds with "Very sorree, no speak English".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Master of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome speaks some kind of broken English until Blaster gets killed, at which point he reverts to a perfect English.
  • As quoted above, the eponymous wizard in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao casually switches back and forth between speaking in a stereotypical Chinese accent and perfect English.
  • Ivan Vanko, the Big Bad of Iron Man 2, pretends to speak poor English around Justin Hammer (whom he, like everyone else, considers an idiot), but speaks coherently to Tony Stark because he views the latter as a Worthy Opponent.

  • Hantai Annie Wong from School For SPIES series by Bruce Hale speaks pidgin English and often uses Japanese words and expressions. It is revealed in the third book of the series ("Ends of the Earth") that she can speak English almost perfectly, but usually prefers pidgin in order to "keep people off balance", and because she feels it as a "part of her".
  • In The Three Investigators novel "The Secret of Shark Reef", there is a Japanese gardener called Torao. It turns out that he took on gardener's job in order to investigate the past of his grandfather; his broken English was part of the act (downplayed example, since he was doing it only temporarily).
  • Mother Jilo from Jack Douglas Horn's Witching Savannah series speaks broken English and refers to herself in the third person as a part of her "voodoo doctor" persona.
  • In East of Eden, Lee pretends to speak English in stereotypical Asian Speekee Engrish fashion:
    "Lee," he said at last, "I mean no disrespect, but I've never been able to figure why you people still talk pidgin when an illiterate baboon from the black bogs of Ireland, with a head full of Gaelic and a tongue like a potato, learns to talk a poor grade of English in ten years."
    Lee grinned. "Me talkee Chinese talk," he said.
    "Well, I guess you have your reasons. And it's not my affair. I hope you'll forgive me if I don't believe it, Lee."
    Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to open and deepen until they weren't foreign any more, but man's eyes, warm with understanding. Lee chuckled. "It's more than a convenience," he said. "It's even more than self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all."
  • Philo Vance: Liang, the Coe family cook in The Kennel Murder Case, has apparently been pulling this one on the Coes all along. Vance immediately calls him out on it, and Liang goes back to speaking standard English — it was Obfuscating Stupidity, Liang went to Oxford.
  • Belisarius Series: Despite being fluent in several languages, Ousanas often deliberately speaks pidgin, either as a ruse or as a joke.
  • Hercule Poirot admits to a friend in Three Act Tragedy that he's perfectly capable of speaking proper English if he wants to, but he chooses not to because he's found it helpful to appear as an amusing and non-threatening foreigner.
    Poirot: It is true that I can speak the exact, the idiomatic English. But, my friend, to speak the broken English is an enormous asset. It leads people to despise you. They say — a foreigner — he can't even speak English properly. It is not my policy to terrify people — instead I invite their gentle ridicule.
  • In A Series of Unfortunate Events, both Olaf in his "Gunther" disguise ("The Erzatz Elevator") and Madame Lulu/Olivia Caliban in "Carnivorous Carnival" speak very peculiar English as a part of their Fauxreigner image. Downplayed with Olaf (since he does it only as a part of one particular disguise), and played straight with Lulu who has been doing it for a large part of her life (Lulu's language is actually more idiosyncratic than Olaf's: for instance, she also refers to herself in the third person).
  • In Dune one character speaks very oddly with random pauses, spacings, and emphasis. This odd speech is to prevent the Bene Gesserit True Seeing on him.
  • In Firekeeper series by Jane Lindskold, the titular character usually speaks pidgin language because she believes proper grammar to be "unnesessary"; however, she can, and does, speak normally when she needs to make sure she is understood.
  • In Venus Prime, Luke Lim can speak English perfectly well, but uses an exaggerated stereotypical accent when dealing with white people in the hopes of putting them off.
  • A downplayed example from Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers series: in The Mystery of the Vanished Prince, Bets and her friends pose as Princess Bongawee and her retinue as a part of a prank. They speak broken English and their own made-up language.
  • Tekla in Seveneves intentionally uses Russianisms in her English. Her justification is that having to rebuild mankind from a group of seven, future mankind will have a single language, and since 5 of the 7 Eves are anglophones, it will probably be English. Thus intentionally mixing Russian in English is the best way to further her cultural heritage. It is shown that some Russian letters even made it into the future language.
  • In the "Mysterious Caravan" book of The Hardy Boys, the Hardys' friend Phil Cohen had to sneak into a restaurant to spy on a trio of treasure hunters. The chef who intercepted him (Phil tried getting in through the back/kitchen door) tried reasoning with him with perfect English (this part of the book is set in Jamaica, and the chef is a local), and Phil replies with gibberish to not attract attention. When his quarry leaves, so does Phil (again through the back), and the chef mutters that wherever Phil came from, he sure has strange traditions! When Phil reports to his friends later, they all burst out laughing.
  • In Tiger Saga by Coleen Houck, the eccentric, Yoda-like Indian sage Phet pretends to speak broken English and refers to himself in the third person. He can speak perfect English; moreover, he actually doesn't exist, and his appearance is just a "mask" used by two other characters.
  • In A Forgotten Magic by Kathleen O'Brien, the housekeeper Frances knows English perfectly, but "occasionally chose to ease tense moments by affecting a comical foreign confusion" (in particular, she likes to mix up metaphors, like "take the lion by the horns").

    Live-Action Television 
  • The Walking Dead: The leader of the Scavengers drops many supporting words from her speech, giving her an oddly clipped manner of speaking. It's later revealed that she can speak normally if she wants. She apparently just thinks that this makes her more eerie to outsiders.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting of Planescape, members of the Xaositect Faction may randomly make use of "Scramblespeak", a Factional argot in which the order of words in a sentence is jumbled up however the Xaositect likes. This can be very confusing, if not infuriating, for those who don't have a grasp on the idea, especially given how indecipherable the Cant (Sigil's native slang) can be to outsiders. It's justified because the Xaositects worship chaos and emulate it by giving themselves over to whatever random whim strikes their mood; it's not supposed to make any real sense. And, yes, doing it just because they think it's funny, or they want to annoy someone, is as good a reason to use it as any.

    Video Games 
  • In Fahrenheit, a Japanese-American bookstore owner Takeo speaks in stereotypical Asian Speekee Engrish fashion. It is later revealed that he does it merely because customers like "that wise old Japanese master stuff", and he was actually born in the US.
  • In Planescape: Torment, you can encounter the Xaositects and confront — or even learn — Scramblespeak yourself, as mentioned under Tabletop Games.
    • Additionally, there's the NPC Ravel Puzzlewell, a Night Hag who's gone a little... peculiar... after centuries imprisoned in an extradimensional prison. In addition to randomly switching from normal speech to Yoda-esque Object-Subject-Verb order and back, with the occasional bit of Third-Person Person, she's prone to partially or wholely repeating sentences by substituting words with their textual homophones. She may also go off on something of a tangent or switch topics entirely based on a homophone that particularly catches her attention. It's unclear how much of this is her own particular choice of speech and how much stems from her lingering madness.
  • Undertale has the Tem Shop Keeper, who speaks in poorly-capitalized broken English like all the other Temmies. However, if you refuse to sell an item she really wants, she gives you an evil smirk and says "You will regret this." If you helped her pay for college, she has an even more elaborate response:
    Is this a joke? Are you having a chuckle? Ha ha, very funny. I'm the one with a degree.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: a side quest reveals that, at least in this game, the Nopon choose to speak in their broken English in order to play up their cuteness and manipulate humans. It was started by a Nopon ship captain and the entire race followed suit.
  • Thief: the Trickster, god of the Pagans, can speak perfect English, as revealed by his disguise as the nobleman Constantine. He chooses to speak like the Pagans because he disdains human society. Whether this is true of the Pagans as well is unclear.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Matlal the witch doctor of Subeta's Omen Islands TALKS LIKE TONTO IN ALL CAPS, but he holds a college degree and only talks that way because people expect it.


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