Monday, December 12, 2011

Global Language and the Collapse of Civilization

 Have you ever thought about what Will Smith sounds like in Germany, where all of their movies are dubbed in German? Think about it. Apparently, the same voice actors always portray the same celebrities in foreign countries. It makes sense, after all it is much more natural and pleasing to our minds to always hear the same voice coming out of the same person. However, this leads to some interesting problems. A an old favorite American movie may not be enjoyable for a German who, hearing the English version for the first time because the actual voice of the movie star is so different from the one they are used to. Also, what would happen if the voice actor died before the actual celebrity?

This gets even trickier if the actor is in the process of making an epic movie series that is being filmed and released over several years, like Lord of the Rings? This is not confirmed, but I have heard that the German voice of Legolas died after the first film was released but before he was finished dubbing the entire series. Imagine it, the search for a similar sounding German voice would be intense, given the budget of the movie and it’s potential to make money in the German market. All right, maybe not massively intense in financial terms, but still, think about what it would be like if you were somehow in charge of finding the replacement.

Thinking about this makes me consider the prospect of making a living out of using your voice. What if you were a poor, homeless beggar, but you had the perfect voice to be an announcer for boxing or some other sports? From rags to riches, just because you were in the right place at the right time, begging with the right voice. I’m sure the people in charge of German voice actor replacements have a better method than going out looking for bums, but you get my point.

Having conversations with people from all different backgrounds can bring out all sorts of things, such as how different humour is different across cultures. Occasionally this difference leads to the hearing of a really funny new joke, but for the most part it leads to some polite fake laughter or a chuckle. Actually, that is being generous; often, it leads to blank expressions and “I-don’t-get-its.” Especially across languages, because subtlety cannot be translated.  A many great jokes lose much of their flare in translation.

Even in English, the punch of the joke can be pulled by the differing mannerisms between American, British, and Australian English. Actually, more specifically, because of the different slang in different regions, these divisions are much more acute than at the national level. A Scottish joke might not be so funny to a Welshman, just like a Southern joke might not be so funny to a Yankees fan.  But linguistic asymmetries aren’t the only things that make humour different across cultures. Trust me, the British sense of humour greater differs from the rest of the world.

One of the reasons I like traveling is because I like learning about these sorts of things, and thinking about them. Language, and the English language in particular, fascinates me. In the today’s quickly globalizing world we are moving closer and closer to a common language. I don’t know what the statistics are, but do I know English the common language on the international backpackers circuit, and I imagine it is the most widely recognized on the planet. Albeit, it is often spoken as a second or third language, and in many cases with an extremely limited vocabulary, but it is the most useful language to know in most places around the world. Consider how long it might take before most people on the planet could effectively communicate with almost any other person in the world, if ever.

It’s interesting to notice the changes in the way the way that I speak the longer I stay away from home. It may surprise you to learn that many people are often surprised to hear that I am American, even after hearing me speak. Clearly, if they listen to me for long enough it becomes pretty evident. That being said, both consciously and subconsciously I pick up phrases I hear and incorporate them into my vocabulary. I don’t do it with the purpose of fooling people, but I must admit that the idea of having a unique way of speaking all to myself allures me. After all, don’t reporters work on their ‘non-regional dialect’ so that they can move up in the broadcasting world? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not devoting too much attention to intentionally change the way I talk or write; the change is organic. Just now I noticed that I spelled humour the British way when spell check told me it was wrong, a complaint I have often heard from British users of American word processing software.

I’m making money with my labour at the moment, (notice the unintentional British spelling, again,) and it’s not a bad way to live. I am also still waiting to hear about the nightclub job, which I am still hoping to get. I still don’t know how long I’ll stay in the city, or what I’ll be doing in a month, which is also not a bad way to live. Life is what you make it, and I am happy with the experiences I am making at the moment. Life is too short to spend it toiling away at something you don’t like to do, and if you have the means, wherewithal and courage to do what you really want instead, I highly recommend it.

On that note, I just want to share how thankful I am that I am in a position to be where I am right now. I think about the millions of people who don’t have the same opportunities that I do. Many times, their choices include working in an unsafe, dirty factory or starvation. Or worse yet, the choice between following a certain political group or gang and being raped, tortured, and murdered. Politically speaking, I don’t want to claim that I have some superior knowledge on how to best run the world. However, I do know that it would be possible to feed every person in the world. I do know that it would be possible to offer internet access to the entire population, given enough time, effort, and sacrifices. I only hope that I can take my life of freedom and opportunity to somehow help make that happen.

We live in an exciting time in human history. The future is less predictable now than it has been in all of recorded history. What technology awaits us in the coming years? How will the geopolitical environment change in the next fifty years? How will the climate change in that time? Americans from my parents generation all know where they were when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy died, and I know that all Americans from my generation know their exact circumstances when they heard about the planes crashing into the twin towers on the 11th of September. Will the next generation have a similar moment of remembered shock? Hopefully they will, for I believe that the alternative is a life so full of shock that such moments will have lost their punctuality.  Still, I am an optimist. Civilization isn’t going to collapse anytime soon, not at least if I have any say in the matter.

1 comment:

  1. This was a very enjoyable post. I've got a few comments to make on it.

    Having lived in Germany I can vouch for the fact that hearing an old white German's voice come out of the mouth of Will Smith IS extremely bothersome, but I also heard from Germans who speak good English that they prefer the original audio because it sounds more natural (and the acting is MUCH better).

    But I honestly don't think they had too much difficulty finding a replacement for Legolas, as it sounded to me like the were using the same six voice-actors for every film: 1- Old man, 2- Old woman, 3- Young man, 4- Young woman, 5- Little boy, 6- Little girl. The voice of Will Smith is indistinguishable from the voice of Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Living outside your own country definitely changes the way you speak, especially if you spend a bulk of your time with non-native speakers. But go back to America and it's amazing how quickly you fall back into your old speech patterns.

    It's great to hear you're making money and continuing to appreciate your life.