1. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Dialogue' with Sign Language

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Annûniel, Aug 29, 2010.

    One of my characters is mute, but she has been taught sign language to communicate. I'm not exactly sure how to handle this grammatically speaking, but I have been treating it as normal dialogue with quotation marks and using 'signed' instead of 'said.' I imagine there isn't a rule written about this as it is a rarity, similar to how the grammar behind thoughts are slightly different between authors.

    Should I be doing this differently?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Sign language is just another language, so quotation marks should be used.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, then just spend time describing her body language instead of how she said it, and you'll be fine. I wrote a mute character for a while, and it's really fun to do - it gives you a much better feeling for the depth of the scene, because I always had her looking around for shortcuts to saying stuff - signalling and pointing and stuff as often as signing it. But that was because there was like one character in the whole thing who wasn't a jerk and bothered to learn sign language. :p
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dialogue is dialogue, regardless of the medium. Once it has been established that the character "speaks" by signing, you can even use said as the tag verb. But signed also works perfectly well, and if you use it on a regular basis in your story, it will quickly become invisible to the reader. That is exactly what you want.
     
  5. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks! Glad to know I was on the right track.
     
  6. L. Ai
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    L. Ai Member

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    A word of advice though, if you don't know sign language take a class first! Because grammer and word flow is quite a bit different from spoken language. Look up literature written specifically for deaf people and you'll see what I mean. I know you said your character was mute, not deaf necessarily, but it will lend a good dose of believability to her interactions.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good point/advice!... the sentence structure won't be the same as spoken dialog...

    but be careful not to make it too strange-sounding, or it could become annoying to the readers very quickly...
     
  8. T.N. Tobias
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    T.N. Tobias Member

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    Check China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. One of the major characters is, uh... different, and cannot speak. He treats the signing differently than speaking by using italics. It's necessary because there are sometimes parallel discussions, some in sign and some in speech. This way he doesn't get bogged down in narrative summary.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The use of italics is NOT necessary, and it is not the way to handle the problem.
     
  10. T.N. Tobias
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    T.N. Tobias Member

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    I didn't mean to say it was always necessary. In Mieville's case, that's how he chose to approach it. Seems like a stylistic choice to me but what do I know, I'm a noob.
     
  11. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I will take your advice, L.Ai, and look into sign language to see how they communicate. Though there are many different languages of 'sign,' so I don't know if they're all the similar in structure or not.

    Still, I'm hesitant to give a direct translation, if you will, of the character's 'speech.' Any translation of a language results in the loss of at least some of the nature of what was actually said. Languages are very much an extension of a people's cultures through verbal communication and, thus, they are rarely compatible with each other. I guess it's a dilemma that all translators face: keep the words as they are and hope the reader understands the context of what was said or translate the words and try to portray the spirit of what was said.
     

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