Multilingual TV series

« previous post | next post »

Coby Lubliner called my attention to the Belgian Netflix series "Rough Diamonds." It takes place in Antwerp, so the default language is Dutch (Flemish), but the characters move into Yiddish, English and French with the greatest of ease. The subtitles don't indicate the language spoken in any one scene, except that when [Yiddish] appears what is actually heard is Ashkenazi Hebrew. (To someone who doesn't know either Dutch or Yiddish it will not be clear which one is spoken.)

Another multilingual Netflix series is "Unseen," which takes place in South Africa, and the characters continually switch between English, Tswana and Afrikaans. But in this one the subtitles tell us.

I hope this trend catches on and we start to get similar series for Switzerland, Canada, India, China, and many other multilingual cities and countries.


Selected readings


  1. Phillip Minden said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 10:38 am

    No, that's Eastern Yiddish, mostly Central EY with some variations with actors who are native. Whatever occasional Hebrew or Aramaic word or phrase is there, belongs inside the framework of Yiddish, as does the rare Ivrit word. The series isn't free from stereotypes (nor from second-rate acting here and there), but it's uncommonly good at aiming at authenticity, all the more so as even some of the main characters have not even an adjacent background in their own lives.

    The non-native accent is stronger is some than in others, but they really made an effort there.

  2. RfP said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 12:16 pm

    Drops of God, on AppleTV+, switches frequently between French, Japanese and English.

    Based on a popular manga, it’s essentially a “duel” between two connoisseurs over which one will inherit the world’s most valuable private wine cellar.

    And don’t be fooled by how silly that might sound—it is very good.

  3. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 12:43 pm

    It is trendy in some circles to dismiss Netflix as a has-been, for not front loading buzzy prestige shows that writers in those circles like to write about. They have managed to not notice that Netflix has a really deep catalog of international programming. Anyone wiling to read subtitles has hours of shows to watch, the quality range being about normal, or perhaps even a bit better.

  4. Rube said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 12:50 pm

    @Richard Hershberger Now that Netflix has noticed that my wife and I have watched several Japanese and Korean programs, it now recommends to us more programs than we could physically watch, even though many of them look quite good.

  5. DBMG said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 1:32 pm

    Yves Allégret's classic 1948 film Dédée d'Anvers (Woman of Antwerp), while mostly in French, has some charming multi-language scenes with Dutch, English, German and Italian.

  6. Philip Schnell said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 2:56 pm

    Also notable is “1899,” which was made by the same team that did “Dark.” It takes place (well, initially at least) on an ocean liner in the titular year, and its script features over twenty languages, including German, English, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Norwegian, French, Mandarin, and Romani. It was a twisty delight in the spirit of “Lost,” but was, alas, cancelled after one season. One of Netflix’s more unfortunate habits …

  7. Jimmy Hartzell said,

    June 1, 2023 @ 8:52 pm

    The Yiddish is Yiddish, and is not indicated by the subs. But when the subtitle says [Yiddish], that is Ashkenazi Hebrew, and that indication is only used for prayers.

  8. John said,

    June 2, 2023 @ 4:54 am

    The S4C series "Y Gwyll" (better-known to English speakers as "Hinterland") and "Craith" ("Hidden") had each scene filmed twice: once in Cymraeg and again in English. S4C broadcast the all-Cymraeg version for Cymraeg-speakers, and BBC4 had a mixed-language version for English-speakers.

  9. Coby said,

    June 2, 2023 @ 11:02 am

    Actually, there is also some Albanian spoken in Rough Diamonds, among the Albanian mafia members. Otherwise they speak fluent Flemish and English.

  10. Randy Hudson said,

    June 10, 2023 @ 9:20 am

    The Apple TV+ series "Pachinko" is about 4 generations of a Korean family, set in various times in Korea, Japan, and the US. Korean, Japanese, and English are represented in the subtitles in different colors, and at times all three languages show up in the same utterance.

RSS feed for comments on this post