Language Preference in Movies

Most popular movies in the US feature dialogue in English. I tried to find some simple numbers regarding primary language of the top grossing films in recent US history, but I decided it was not something I could do quickly enough. Language in film is interesting. In marketing movies to Americans there are several options.

1. Speak English with no apologies. No attempt is made at an accent. The viewer is just asked to accept the fact that the language is inconsistent with reality. Yes, we realize the character is German or Swedish or Chinese. Yes, we realize the movie is taking place in Kenya or Spain or Brazil. Just forget about it and speak English.

2. Use English with some semblance of an accent. A common approach. Sometimes this strikes me as absurd and I’ll just start laughing in the middle of the film. I especially like fake German and Russian accents.

3. Use the correct language. This is rare, and usually only done with minor characters. Subtitles are the kiss of death to box office receipts. I’m afraid Americans don’t like to read.

I appreciate accuracy in language.Given the choice of accented English or the correct language with subtitles I’ll take the subtitles. I also like when language is used effectively to tell the story more thoroughly (the first example to come to mind is the use of non-subtitled Czech in Once that places any non-Czech speaking viewer in the shoes of the non-Czech speaking main character who does not understand some of the conversations taking place around him).

One criticism to language accuracy is that American movie stars are limited in the number of languages they speak. This is not a problem to me. Use actors that are from the countries the characters are from. I enjoy watching a film in which I do not recognize any of the actors. Recently I watched the Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest), which fits both categories. Swedish is the dominant language and the actors are not from Hollywood. I really enjoyed the viewing experience that these characteristics afforded.

Do you have a preference when it comes to movie languages? Do you ever laugh at accented English? What about subtitles, are you for them or against them?

I wonder how long English will be the dominant language in major American films. It seems to me that Spanish might not be too far off.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Language Preference in Movies

  1. Well, but in a lot of places in Europe, for instance, people can speak English, so it’s not necessarily unrealistic, as long as an American or Brit is around in the scene. I definitely like subtitled movies too, as long as they aren’t of the quality of the legendary “Someone set us up the bomb!” I love hearing the richness of language, and trying to pick up a couple words here and there. I despise movies that are dubbed.

    • Yes, there are cases when movies set in Europe use English appropriately. The movies that come to mind for me are films like Schindler’s List, Valkyrie, and a host of other films set in the WWII era that feature Germans speaking English in their daily routines.

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