Language barrier theory

(Chapters 3-6)

Language barrier theory

Postby staplepuffs27 » Wed Feb 21, 2018 7:51 pm

It's always bugged me how Ryo was able to communicate with people once he arrived in China. He couldn't have known Chinese because he admits in the first game that he doesn't understand it. How can we plug this apparent plot hole?

Simple: he speaks English. A small percentage of Japanese people speak some English. I'm assuming that number might go up a little for those who live in Yokosuka, which is somewhat Americanised due to the US navy bases. Ryo would be used to seeing English signs and perhaps speaking with Americans stationed there. Though it is strange that Ryo seems unaware of sailors in Yokosuka, he is able to communicate with them in the game (I'm assuming they're American). It's very possible Nozomi taught him some English since she's from Canada. Also, he is able to communicate with Tom, a New Yorker. It seems clear to me that Ryo has been exposed to the North American culture in Yokosuka his whole life, and it's reasonable to assume that he can speak decent English.

In Hong Kong, 46% of people speak English (I'm not sure what this number was in the 80s). Ryo would be able to do OK if he spoke English to this population. Along the way, I bet Ryo picked up a lot of Chinese. The best way to learn a language is to ingrain yourself in that population. I'll bet Ryo was interested in Chinese ever since he tried to translate the Chinese letter in the first game. So, it's possible he was studying Chinese before he even left for Hong Kong. By the time he gets to Guilin in disc 4, he can probably speak decent Chinese.

What do you think of this theory?

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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby Hyo Razuki » Thu Feb 22, 2018 5:56 am

He would have picked up Cantonese in Hong Kong. Due to Hong Kong being British from like the 1840s to the 1990s, the Beijing government's language policy did not affect Hong Kong back then and spoken Chinese (Mandarin) was almost nonexistent there. I think you could take it up at school as a second foreign language next to English but it was irrelevant in daily life in Hong Kong in the 80s.

And as for the Guilin region, I don't think they speak Cantonese there. I don't know what it was like in the 80s but when I went there a few years back, most people spoke Mandarin and some spoke minority languages on top of Mandarin, such as Zhuang or something like that. But I don't remember ever hearing anyone speak Cantonese in places like Guilin or Yangshuo.

Anyway, the bottom line is don't overthink it. It's a work of fiction so characters who need to understand each other do understand each other. It's the same in many novels or movies.
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby ShenmueTree » Thu Feb 22, 2018 10:11 am

More plausible theory is he studied Chinese during his boat trip, and he just speaks really bad Chinese but like Dr Who's TARDIS the game intreprets both language as Japanese.

OR, in Shenmue's world everyone can speak Japanese for some reason.
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby BlueMue » Thu Feb 22, 2018 12:20 pm

At least the characters don't pick up anything about the others language wich makes the whole thing even more painfully obvious. Like in MGS 3 when Granin tells Snake that his Russian is very good, even though they speak nothing but English.
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby Niowiad » Fri Feb 23, 2018 6:09 am

Hyo Razuki wrote: Anyway, the bottom line is don't overthink it. It's a work of fiction so characters who need to understand each other do understand each other. It's the same in many novels or movies.

Exactly :spinnn:
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby Abraham_1 » Fri Feb 23, 2018 8:00 pm

One of the biggest plot holes in Shenmue. Another one I can think of is how Tom says he’s leaving for America tomorrow and yet he appears to board a plane there that night.

However, this language plot hole simply exists because it would be extremely inconvenient if there were a language barrier. It basically needs to exist and there’s no explaining it as far as I can tell haha
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby sand4fish » Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:13 pm

^ How is that a plot hole? In my opinion the Japanese language as lingua franca in Shenmue's world can be easily explained. Think of it as an alternative reality, where Japan managed to keep China as a colony long enough that their language became part of the Chinese society. Therefore, people living in Hong Kong and China are bilingual in Japanese and Chinese. So it doesn't matter if Ryo can't speak Chinese, which clearly he doesn't, because everyone can speak Japanese in Shenmue's China.
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby Jerid'sRamenShop » Mon Feb 26, 2018 5:52 am

But that would be like saying everyone can and does speak Spanish in the US, especially in the States with the most Spanish speakers, either legally or illegally and that simply is not the case. It is not the best example, but it is one. Ryo would not of learned much more other than general greetings and the extreme basics, certainly not being fluent. I am not sure how long the boat ride was or how long it took Ryo (character story wise) to even accomplish everything he did in the first game to even leave for the second.

And I always thought Tom spoke Japanese. I mean he is working there selling hotdogs, he has to have some kind of a grasp of the language for the customer regardless of how limited his interactions may be.
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby BlueMue » Mon Feb 26, 2018 3:46 pm

Abraham_1 wrote:Another one I can think of is how Tom says he’s leaving for America tomorrow and yet he appears to board a plane there that night.

I think the plane shown in the cutscene is just a symbol. It's not the one that Tom is actually supposed to be on. It admittedly confused me too.

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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby Your Boy Leroy » Mon Feb 26, 2018 4:16 pm

I remember reading an interview (or excerpt of an interview) with Yu Suzuki regarding the language thing. This was about the time Shenmue II came out on the X-Box. He simply explained that in the Shenmue world, everyone speaks Japanese. The publisher of the article pointed out that if that's the case, then the whole section from the original Shenmue where Ryo needed someone to translate a Chinese document for him should've been non-existent.

I remember thinking at that time that Shenmue was probably dead anyway, so it was kind of sad reading Suzuki's short explanation. It sounded like a man just saying whatever because he knows nobody cares about this topic anymore anyway. For that time, at least.
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Re: Language barrier theory

Postby Jerid'sRamenShop » Mon Feb 26, 2018 9:37 pm

BlueMue wrote:
Abraham_1 wrote:Another one I can think of is how Tom says he’s leaving for America tomorrow and yet he appears to board a plane there that night.

I think the plane shown in the cutscene is just a symbol. It's not the one that Tom is actually supposed to be on. It admittedly confused me too.


Maybe he caught an early flight. It happens. :lol:

Your Boy Leroy wrote:I remember reading an interview (or excerpt of an interview) with Yu Suzuki regarding the language thing. This was about the time Shenmue II came out on the X-Box. He simply explained that in the Shenmue world, everyone speaks Japanese. The publisher of the article pointed out that if that's the case, then the whole section from the original Shenmue where Ryo needed someone to translate a Chinese document for him should've been non-existent.

I remember thinking at that time that Shenmue was probably dead anyway, so it was kind of sad reading Suzuki's short explanation. It sounded like a man just saying whatever because he knows nobody cares about this topic anymore anyway. For that time, at least.


But that is not a half bad answer, even if total BS. Some one can speak a language and not be able to read it for sure or vice versa. In fact there is a guy from Portugal or somewhere that teaches how to read Kanji through manga and explains it all through English writing, but states he can not speak English. :shock: That was supposedly one of the reasons why the Chinese government made the classic hanzi simplified, so they would be easier to read, teach and learn in school. Even IF Ryo was fluent in speaking Chinese, (Either Mandarin or Cantonese) does not mean he would automatically be able to read it. And even if the Japanese kanji was originally taken from the Chinese hanzi, that does not mean all meanings/combos/plus new characters not readily available in kanji, etc. are the same.
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