Multilingualism in TV Land

As a linguist it’s always exciting to see when you get a snippet of non-English dialogue, but lately it seems like mulitilingualism on American television has finally come of age. My favorite examples:


The adventures of this series spans the globe and we know this because of all the language switches. Last night’s episode had characters speaking Japanese, Spanish and French – fortunately all of it was subtitled. Even with the subtitles though, I’m getting some good listening practice in. The final /s/ is sometimes dropping in the Honduran Spanish; the French is taking place in Haiti; and I’m catching the fact that Japanese names are ordered family name-personal name…the opposite of English.

The Unit

I haven’t had a chance watch it this season, but in past seasons, the boys of Delta Force have been known to speak any number of languages depending on the undercover mission at the time. I also respect that they managed to dig up a clock with Arabic numbers for an episode supposedly set in the Middle East. Nice global touch.

More and more Spanish

Interestingly, I see more and more snippets of Spanish dialogue. The obvious shows are CSI: Miami and the Cuban-American drama Cane, but even Latina Food TV chef Ingrid Hoffman throws out little Spanish snippets, much like Julia Child threw out French snippets.

Honorable Mention for South Park

One rerun had the boys of South Park traveling to Afghanistan to return a live goat to their Afghan pen pals. Now the writers did NOT include the Afghan boys speaking Pashto, Uzbek or Dari Persian, but it did have the young Afghanis say this classic piece of dialogue:
Afghan Boy 1 [with accent] – This does not make any sense.
Afghan Boy 2 [with accent] – We are speaking English. Does that make any sense?

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