Non-English on English-language TV: No subtitles


I wrote a bit earlier about the increase in number of subtitled TV shows. Not foreign TV on predominantly English-language screens but the jump in number of shows featuring a mix of languages. Knowing that many Americans don’t have the patience and tolerance for languages or subtitles, this has been an interesting development. It has always existed in shows to some degree but its centrality to certain shows, such as The Americans, has made the concept more prominent.

I thought back, as the latest season of Louie premiered this week, to last season’s arc in which Louie has a brief affair with a Hungarian woman who speaks no English. I wrote about it at the time, and about how no subtitles accompany her speech. I assume this was an intentional device, inviting the viewer to share in Louie’s feelings of being charmed by and having real feelings for someone he cannot understand (as well as the frustration of not being able to understand or communicate complex feelings).

As much as I thought about compiling a list of shows in which more than one language (and subtitling) is used regularly, I also thought about the number of shows that have used the intentional lack of understanding brought about by another language’s use as a device. Any thoughts?

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