1. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    A problem with race speech

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TLK, Apr 2, 2013.

    Hi all,

    First of all, this is my first post, so I'd like to take the time to introduce myself. As you can see, I'm TLK which stands for the title of the book that you'll hopefully be seeing in bookstores sometime in the not-so-distant future! May as well give it a shot! I'm looking forward to spending time here on these forums and hopefully I'll learn a lot from it.

    Anyway, on with the problem.

    In the aforementioned book, there is going to be a race of creatures (possibly two, actually) who are non-human. My problem with it is how to make them speak. Now, to set the scene a bit, this race is met by the protagonists who have been brought to this race's world from Earth. So, basically, I cannot do, for example, what Tolkien did and create a "Common Speech" since the protagonists (who are humans, English humans, to be precise) do not come from the same world as this race.

    Now, being a novel with many mystical and magical elements to it, my initial idea was to give this race a "gift of tongues", meaning that they have a magical power where they can automatically communicate using any language. However, to keep this race foreign, I've started writing their speech in not quite proper English, occasionally missing out articles, or other such things. For example, here is how one of them would speak:

    "This is creative writing forum. It is good way to learn about writing and I am grateful to creators of forum, they put in lot of work on forum. They not easy to set up."

    As you can see, quite disjointed. However, there will be a lot of places in the novel where members of this race are speaking amongst themselves and obviously then, they would use their own language. As there'll be times where this conversation is crucial to the plot, I thought it was a no-brainer to simply translate the text into English (and perhaps with a note at the start of the novel as to what I'm doing). However, with that dialogue being a direct translation, it would be a perfectly correct translation, with all articles present etc. But this leaves me with an interesting situation: When a member of this race is talking to a human, for instance, the language used would be not quite correct, like the text above. But, when talking to another member of their own race, the language would be perfectly correct. I think this could be very confusing for readers. However, I don't want to use the disjointed English for in-race conversations because I think that will cause it to lose some of its authenticity. After all, we should be hearing two speakers speaking in a language in which they are fluent.

    Now I don't really have a clue what to do about this problem, so that is, mainly, why I'm here, hoping you guys can help. As far as I see it, I have the following options:

    1) Make this race speak disjointed English in all conversations, and not worry about the authenticity.
    2) Make this race speak perfect English in all conversations, and not worry about them not seeming foreign or alien enough
    3) Make the race speak disjointed English to other races, and perfectly to members of their own race, with perhaps a note at the start of the book, saying this is what I'll be doing.

    So, this is the dilemma, and I'd hoped you guys could help me decide which of these options would be best. Of course, you may have better ideas, and I'd be happy to hear them. I'm also happy to answer any more questions you have.

    Thanks in advance! :)
     
  2. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Make them speak bad english, it adds aunthenticity.
     
  3. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Even to members of their own race?
     
  4. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Then any language can be authentic, so let them speak good English. Saves confusion and credits your readers with the intelligence to work out what's going on for themselves.
     
  5. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Of course our opinions are highly debatable. I suppose from a reading point of view good English would work, but say you want him to say hello, make it as such:
     
  6. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Ok, thanks for the replies guys. Perhaps good English is the way forward.

    About what Dagolas said though, obviously I can't put something along the lines of "he said, in a funny accent" after everything any one of these creatures says, so would perhaps a description of the difference in speech when we first hear one of these creatures speak be enough?
     
  7. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    You could describe their voices as:
    mechanical, grating, lilting, high-pitched, deep, synthesised, rasping, staccato, drawled, breathy, growling etc. Then bring that description in during times of tension as a form of highlighting e.g. the alien's voice rose to a shriek...
     
  8. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Hmmm, that does sound pretty good, I may end up using that approach.

    Thanks for all your help, guys! :)
     
  9. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I've seen a mixture of the two done before. Particular words that are pronounced differently that wouldn't be picked up through the use of voice descriptions. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything beyond "S'okay..." Something a character might say because that's simply how they've come to pronounce the word. Really, just anything that you could explain away by saying "Oh, it's a strong Southern accent," or "The character's speech was slurred." But typically, I think it's better to rely on description that in trying to spell everything in the way that the character says it, as it takes a reader a while to get into the mindset where they can actively read it without too much thought process and translation from the dialect to what it means.
     
  10. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Why not just say that they are speaking their own language and avoid any confusion for the reader? R.A. Salvatore does this and his novels are best sellers.

    An appalling example, but...

    "Big rock. You take. Smash head," Grug growled.

    "But I don't want to smash his head," Mike said.

    Grug turned to Thog, and in his native tongue said, "This guy is a Nancy-boy."

    EDIT: This should be done after description of their voice. I'd like to know what the language sounds like to human ears so I can sort of imagine them speaking. But after that, constant description would just be cumbersome and unless done perfectly could get quite confusing.
     
  11. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I agree with AVCortez in this matter. Give an initial description then differentiate the in-race dialogue from the out-of-race dialogue. It doesn't hurt the story, but I would pass off little quips like the above example though as something as simple as, "he turned to his partner and spoke something in his native tongue, then turned back. His partner gave a short chuckle." In that sense we can infer he gave an insult, assuming it's relevant enough to keep but not important enough that we must know what is being said. If you have multiple races in the same scene, It would be best to keep the transition between language to bare minimum.

    Or they could have perfect mastery of the language, structurally --due to a gift of tongues or something-- but thick accents. It is best to use perfect English as much as you can because I would get annoyed as a reader with constant translating taking place. There are other ways to emphasize the foreign nature of these characters, try to explore them all before deciding on language. I've had the same issue before and found varying ways to overcome it as need be due to the fact that there are many creatures that speak. Only important dialogue should be noted.
     
  12. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for all the replies guys! It seems that description and giving these guys a strong accent is the way forward, perhaps...

    Andrae, you mentioned other ways of emphasizing the foreign nature of these creatures, what sort of things would you suggest?
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Look at Terry Pratchett to see how he has witches, evil goblins etc speaking.
     
  14. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm struggling with something similar and yet not quite. Non-English characters who are humans, not aliens, and I haven't any definite answer here (who has...), also because I tend to avoid sci-fi with alien races that can communicate with humans with human speech. I think in the Valor series no one spoke English even though the novels were written in English and the characters had Anglo-Saxon/Latin derived names. They spoke some common tongue (=English) and everyone was pretty fluent at it. Maybe some things to consider are:
    - the non-humans have their own register and slang words
    - they struggle with the same errors and structures, so it's rather cohesive where they make mistakes (e.g. Finns have trouble learning the if-sentences+conditional/future structure in English cos in Finnish it's so different.
    - you can describe the sounds, like your humans can't make sense of the alien English cos the aliens mispronounce 'th' or 'ing' etc.

    I love language play in novels. Check out "Clockwork Orange" for inspiration.
     
  15. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for the input!

    The language in A Clockwork Orange is good but the problem is that it is essentially English with a few borrowed/made up words. That's all well and good, but in this novel, the whole reason why these creatures can speak English is due to a magical gift, so they haven't actually learned the language, they just know it. One thought was for them to speak perfect English but adding in certain words of their own language. For example, I thought that the word "Sir" could be used in their native language, to add a bit more foreignness to their speech. What do you guys think?
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That sounds good. They could always have certain sayings they keep repeating. Maybe honorifics? (compare the Japanese sama, san, etc.). Curse words? Expressions of approval or asking for approval/understanding (d'accord vs. okay)?
     
  17. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    If they can speak English because of a supernatural occurrence , it would be weird for them to speak broken English. Only case they would include words from their own language would be for one of their words that has no equivalent in English.
     
  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree and disagree.

    When it's something non-abstract, like a car, yeah, I would say a car instead of 'auto' (well, you'd still get it though).

    With more abstract things... LANGUAGE WARNING!

    Well, let's take the f-word. It has an equivalent in my mother-tongue, Finnish, but I use them both, 'fuck' and 'vittu'. I might curse in Finnish even if for the past hour I've been conversing in English (with some who wouldn't mind my cursing). The words have different nuances, they taste different in your mouth, yet pretty much every translator would translate 'fuck' to 'vittu'. So the aliens magically learned the common tongue (be it English, whatever). Well, they haven't forgotten their own language, have they? So maybe to be discreet, they'd curse in their own language. Or if it just suited the situation better.

    Not saying you have to use this tactic, TLK, just commenting on Xatron's post.
     
  19. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    It needs to be consistent and relatively easy to read. What you have there is perfect: you have a "rule" that you can use to keep things consistent, and it's only a minor change so the reader will not be slowed down too much in trying to read it.

    I don't know where you are in your drafting process, but if you are still working on your first draft I say just write it normal English first, and then go back and change all of the dialogue in one sitting. This way, you can be really consistent with it, and also it won't bog down you completing your first draft.
     
  20. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Thanks for your replies, guys, it's all been really helpful.

    I think I'll go with the perfect English approach, adding in a few words of their own language, such as "Sir" and some form of curse.
     
  21. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I think that's a good course. Keep it noticeable, but simple. Not a hinder to the reader.
     
  22. Kendria Perry
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    Kendria Perry Member

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    You could always invent your own language for them to speak and give English translations in footnotes.

    Or you could do what Humbert Humbert did and not give translations at all, and wait for some to guy to come out with a book called "TLK Annotated".
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I just read some excellent advice from Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing in the chapter* titled, "Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly." He notes that making the words themselves full of apostrophes and phonetic misspellings makes the reader strain. Instead he cites an example from the work of Annie Proulx in "Close Range", a book of short stories.
    Use the syntax instead of spelling. I found this advice very useful.



    *Calling them "chapters" is a stretch. ;) It was a fun read though.
     
  24. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    If they know English magically, i don't see why they should not magically know cursing and regional idiosyncrasies as well.

    If there is some language barrier, random grammatical errors reminiscent of pidgin English seems like poor form. You could refer to The Poisonwood Bible, in which a family of southerners usually narrates and speaks in standard English, but there's one scene in which they are with some Yankees, and they are the ones who make note of their southern accents. It's subtle and unobtrusive.
     
  25. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    "Hello," he said in his own language, a language filled with what to the human ear, was nothing more than a series of clicks and squeaks.
     

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