1. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    Bilingual passages

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by iolair, Feb 17, 2009.

    Is there any convention for showing more than one language used by characters during a dialogue?

    I'm mostly showing the non-English dialogue, in English translation (but occasionally in the original language, followed by the English translation), in italics, throwing hints to make it clear which is which.

    e.g.
    "Calen! Calen!", shouted Velia, "Ita am fufluns?" "Hello! Hello! Is there anyone there?"
    "I don't understand it", she said. "Eighty people live here. Where are they?"


    e.g.2.
    Velia gave Joel a thunderbolt glare, then followed Aivas. Joel stood to follow her. She turned in the doorway.
    "Just stay here!"
    She didn't bother to speak in English, but he caught the meaning well enough. He was left alone.


    Is there a better way to show the difference?
     
  2. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    I recommend the first example, but I'd remove the translation
     
  3. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I say leave the translations in. I've seen lots of writers do that. It doesn't inhibit the quality of the writing or the flow at all. Even if it did, it would be far worse to explain the meaning in a more long-winded way or confuse readers who don't speak the language if you have no translation at all.
     
  4. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    Unless the character is explaining what they said or repeating a translation to clarify, I would leave it out. Most readers will understand what was said out of context or go out of their way to look it up. I do the latter all the time. I've never read a book/short story/anything where dialogue in another language was followed by a translation in italics... that I recall.
     
  5. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes...only sell your book to bilingual readers! LOL
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can look at the works of J.R.R. Tolkien for examples. Also, for a newer example, Linda Barnes' Heart of the World contains a great deal of mixed language dialogue, as does Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead.
     
  7. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not really addressing this to you, Rei... sorry.

    But I do't think that--in this example--the translation is necessary. By reading the english part, you can tell the gist of what she meant. It's obvious in context. And I think that if you mean to sell to a non-bilingual market, that's the best way to go. Though depending on how large of a non-English passage you use, that may or may not be a viable method.
     
  8. delhi
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    delhi Member

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    If you want the readers to see the foreign language, to feel in their minds its sound or complexity or whatever, you should write it. If the characters immediately understand it, you can either translate it like in the first example or explain it, at least the first time if you use it repeatedly. Of course, if the characters aren't supposed to understand it, you explain it when you make them understand (according to you PoV). It's a nice tool to play with.

    Now, if the feeling of the language isn't as important as the fact that it is different, then you can just say it in English and refer now and then to the language they speak in.

    It mainly depends on the emphasis you give the language and the PoV. Try not to translate too long phrases, or the same expression over and over.
    I don't think there is one technique that fits everything; languages diversity is another tool, and as such you should exploit it according to the story itself.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are definitely good reasons for including the foreign language as well as te translation. In Speaker for the Dead, there are subtleties in the switching between formal and informal address in the Portuguese (for example), that are not easily conveyed in the English translation. Some are noted by narration as well, but others are not. Conveying it in the Portuguese dialogue is much more effective. I don't know Portuguese, myself, but even knowing enough of other languages like Spanish is enough to convey the subtext with a very small amount of preparation from the narration.

    That is why I'm recommending specific books rather than just mentioning formatting conventions. There's much more to doing it effectively than just the right formatting.
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    One thing that really rides me when reading Poe is that he often uses French and German phrases and I never know what they say, and often they are very important to the overall story.

    I always like a translation.
     
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use Turkish sometimes, but I try not to put a translation. I think it's ok to do this once or twice, but I don't like seeing translation littered through a novel--specially if it's wrong, and it so often is, amazing what gets published--not that I'm saying iolair makes mistakes, just a general observation.

    Often I do something like:

    "Bekle," said Arif.
    Joanne scowled. Why did he want her to wait?

    I think in the above, it's obvious that 'bekle' = 'wait'.
     
  12. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    I'm sure I am making mistakes (in the writing if not in the language) ... those examples are from my first draft (still in progress).

    As for the language I'm using so far, it's not one I would reasonably expect any of my readers to know - although it's an actual (dead) language, I'm using it in the same way Tolkien used his languages: to show that these people are different from us, and to add authenticity and background to their culture.

    I guess the most important issue is the POV - would the person listening hear the sounds, then try to understand what they mean (the translation is part of their thought processes), would they instinctively understand the meaning (they would just hear the meaning of the words), or would they not understand what was said in the other language at all. I've got all three situations going on at assorted times.

    In the first example I originally gave, the Velia starts speaking in her native language. In retrospect the original language version is probably not necessary, because she is just thinking in her native tongue?

    In the second example, Joel doesn't understand much of the language but has understood the meaning of what was said. The context makes that obvious, I think.

    Hmm, I have to think this out better before I do my rewrite!
     
  13. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess, but it's hard to say from such a short passage if the meaning will be easily understood. If it will be, sure leave it out, but if there is very specific meanings that you need and isn't obvious from the context, translating is important. I'm thinking of one book where they are in Germany and while the dialogue is 99% written in English regardless of what they are speaking, there are scenes where they are speaking both, and the German is German. One of the characters is bullying is MC, and the exact words he chooses matters to the plot, so it's not enough to know that the guy is insulting him, which is obvious from the context. We have to know what words he's using.
     
  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It IS difficult to judge just from the short extract below:

    "Calen! Calen!", shouted Velia, "Ita am fufluns?" "Hello! Hello! Is there anyone there?"
    "I don't understand it", she said. "Eighty people live here. Where are they?"

    This kind of thing might work:
    I would not translate ‘calen’ because I would have made a point of using this useful word throughout the novel/story; so, the reader would already know what it meant by now. When you used it the first time, you could have done something like:

    “Calen!” Velia said in greeting.
    “Calen. Nice to meet you at last,” Joe replied.

    As to the next bit:

    Velia looked around. “Ita am fufluns?” she shouted.
    But no one answered. She turned back to Joe. “I don’t understand it,” she said. “Eighty people live here. Where are they all?”

    Like this, the phrase still doesn’t need a translation. Its only function is to give colour to the narrative, if, as you say, you really want to add this kind of colour.
     
  15. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    The Book Thief?
     

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