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There's a whole lot of science-related fail in fiction, with some fields of knowledge bearing the brunt worse than others. In the case of linguistics, the vast majority of people have no idea it exists, never mind the basics. Obviously, this includes writers. Indeed, the prevalence of this trope (and its relative lack of being noticed) can be attributed to this fact - most people recognize that when dealing with questions of physics, biology, chemistry, etc., they need to ask an expert (though many writers just don't care) - whereas with linguistics, most people don't even realize that there are experts to be asked, much less that their own knowledge is generally insufficient.

Many language/linguistics tropes are attributable to this, and are split up here into errors in academic linguistics, translation errors, and errors in usage.


You Fail Linguistics: Basic mistakes in the way languages work, evolve, and differ from each other.


You Fail Foreign Languages: Examples of these tropes ignore the differences between languages and assume they all translate perfectly 1:1. And then they get the translation wrong.

  • Accent Relapse: Characters who've been demonstrated to speak fluent English prefer to speak with a heavy native accent if they no longer have to keep up the pretence.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: A foreign character speaks foreign-sounding gibberish, which is passed off (to the audience) as another language.
  • Bite the Wax Tadpole: Cultural and linguistic pitfalls playing havoc with ad copy in a foreign market.
  • Blind Idiot Translation: What happens when the translator is not fluent in one (or both) of the languages being translated.
  • Canis Latinicus: Latin-sounding gibberish, or Latin words put together nonsensically (or mixed with Greek), because everything sounds more dignified in Latin.
  • Conveniently Precise Translation: A perfect 1:1 translation achieved between disparate languages far more often than should be possible.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Using a foreign language to add a certain je ne sais quoi... which is not a good idea if you can't actually speak it.
  • Indo-European Alien Language: When aliens don't speak English, their language still conveniently adheres to the same grammatical conventions as most European languages—unlike many languages found on this planet.
    • Re Lex: The language is just English with different words substituted for the English ones.
  • Recursive Translation: A second- or thirdhand (or more) translation that loses more and more nuance with each successive step.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: A foreign character never speaks his own language, but speaks the local language like a native, only with an intractable accent.
  • Poirot Speak: A foreign character will occasionally grasp for the right word, and will revert to his native language when stumped. So far, so good, but the words in question will always be ones the audience is likely to understand in the other language, rather than the sort of vocabulary a non-native speaker would have difficulty with.


Me Fail English?: Many people assume "linguistics" to be all about correcting spelling, pronunciation and grammar "errors". In fact there is no such thing as objectively correct usage,[2] as languages evolve over time - linguists concern themselves with studying actual usage, warts and all. The following tropes are not strictly linguistics failures, simply poor usage:

  • The Big List of Booboos and Blunders: Words that get misspelled by being confused with other words, or the writer never having seen them written down before.
  • How Do I Used Tense
  • No Punctuation Period is when people dispense with punctuation entirely the result is difficult to read earning the ire of language purists to say nothing of most people who can read its especially inexcusable when combined with poor spelling andor grammar which makes it nothing short of incomprehensible
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: Wan righters how Kant spiel really two heavenly in the spoil cheque fracture off there ward proctologist.[3]
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Frustratingly common mistakes of punctuation (most commonly, the use of a comma where a colon or semicolon should go) in both amateur and professional writing.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Words have clearly-defined meanings. This is what happens when they get misused.


Linguistic Dissonance (AKA The Audience Fails Linguistics): While not made up of mistakes in itself, these tropes can cause difficulty with audiences who are unaware of the difference within languages over time and from place to place:

  1. This trope is present in most parodies of silent film, but pastiches of the 1930s onward sound much the same as the talkies of the period--normal.
  2. True, as far as it goes, but there is a recognized difference between descriptive and prescriptive linguistics with widely differing aims.
  3. When writers who can't spell rely too heavily on the spellcheck feature of their word-processor.
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