I’m a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. I also tend to read novels and work out how to film them, even if the novel will never ever be filmed.
Massive spoilers for Anathem and other works will therefore follow.
Anathem portrays multiple languages, the main two being Fluccish (think Americn English) and Orth (think clerical Latin). Fluccish is used everywhere; Orth is used in the mathic community (think monasteries). Our narrator Erasmas, an avout – a member of the mathic community – speaks both. The novel depicts all conversations in English, but there are places where avout are shown speaking Orth and not being understood by members of the general public.
So how do you show that on screen for a modern audience?
Well, you could cheat a little:
The 1990 film adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October had two linguistic groups: the Soviet crew of the submarine Red October, and the Americans who were tracking the sub. The Soviets were initially shown speaking Russian with English subtitles, but early on in the film director John McTiernan moves the camera in for a tight closeup on a character’s lips. The character switches from Russian-with-subtitles to Russian-accented English in mid-sentence (on a word common to both languages), the camera pulls back, and we the audience understand that the Russian submarine crew are still speaking Russian, but we are hearing English. I thought this was a little old-fashioned at the time but went along with it.
Later on, when the Americans meet the Soviets, The Soviets switch back to Russian-with-subtitles, but enough of the Soviets speak at least some English that the rest of the movie is in English.
It works, but it wouldn’t work for Orth/Fluccish, since we the audience have to in some scenes understand both at the same time. The title of this post is from one such scene: avout over here talking in Orth, when another non-avout character barges in and tells the avout to stop scaring the celebrities, who don’t speak clerical Latin – I mean Orth.
Or you could cheat a lot:
Remove references to having multiple languages. Maybe the avout all have British accents, and everyone else speaks with an American accent.
Or something I havent thought of yet? Try this topic on the Worldbuilding forum.