Friday, January 11, 2013

The Best Way to Write Foreign Dialogue

They probably speak more Italian than Latin now.
Something that has frequently irritated us in media is the portrayal of foreign speakers. Sometimes a story calls for a foreign language. Other times the entire thing is set in a foreign land yet the actual language is ignored, which we imagine they call artistic license. We found the British TV show Rome very entertaining, but it was annoying that every single character in ancient Rome was speaking English. Of course this makes the show more accessible, but from a linguistic standpoint they should have really done the whole thing in Latin.

In the case of Rome, most of the characters have British accents. Don't let us go off on a tangent about the lack of American actors in the history and fantasy genres...

One of our pet peeves is when characters are given English dialogue with a stereotypical accent. War films are often guilty of this as German soldiers speak in English with one another, only with horrendous German accents. It's made even worse when the dialogue is sprinkled with words from the foreign language, which doesn't even come close to making it authentic. Throwing the occasional "Scheiße" into dialogue isn't fooling anybody.

Subtitles are great for karaoke too.
Our favourite method is having the dialogue in the foreign language, subtitled of course, as we outlined in our previous post on dubbing and subtitling. This method gives scenes more authenticity and enables us to enjoy foreign languages in their entirety. The computer game Assassin's Creed II was guilty of using English with bad accents to represent a foreign character. The protagonist, Ezio Auditore, is Italian but spent the entire game speaking like Super Mario. We were delighted to see that Assassin's Creed III, set in colonial America, features full scenes and sections of gameplay in the Native American language of the characters, complete with subtitles.

Our only complaint is that at it looked like the designers had confused Native American architecture with that of the Ewoks from the Star Wars franchise.