1. MMC83
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    MMC83 New Member

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    Foreign language and dialect question

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MMC83, May 6, 2011.

    Hi all,

    I've searched for a similar thread but could not find anything, so apologies if I've missed it.

    In my novel there are several different nationalities and I am curious as to how people prefer that to be presented. For example, in the first chapter, a young German girl is surrounded by a group of Soviet Soldiers during the fall of Berlin. They are discussing amongst themselves as to what to do with her. Obviously she can not understand what they are saying and I'm debating whether or not I should write the dialect in Russian. I've always believed that I should tell the story through the eyes of the MC, which in this case is the little girl. So, should I write the dialect in Russian so the reader is just as confused and anxious as the little girl, or should I write the dialect in English and explain that they are speaking in Russian and the little girl does not understand?
    I personally would prefer to go with the Russian dialect, especially since its the first time the Soviets are introduced, but any suggestions would be very much welcome.

    Thanks

    Michael
     
  2. Jonp
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    Jonp Senior Member

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    You could always go with no dialogue, and just say things like "One of the men turned to his neighbour and said something in a language she did not understand, but assumed to be Russian. She could not tell what he was saying, but his inflection and tone terrified her."
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think there are more effective ways to handle this than to present multiple lines of dialogue in a language the reader is unlikely going to be able to understand. For example, you can show that while the discussion is going on, one or more of the men are eying her lasciviously, causing her fears to mount.

    I remember reading something many, many years ago about the Russian troops entering Berlin. It was fiction, and I recall that it showed that the first troops entering the city were elite troops, presumably better trained, while the later waves would be composed of younger men drafted later in the war. The premise was that vulnerable young women should clear out before the later waves arrived. I don't know how true that was, but it's something you might want to look into.
     
  4. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    For the benefit of the reader, I'd advise writing the story in English, perhaps with the Soviet soldiers having a Russian accent English and the German girl having a German accent to her English.

    Otherwise, your dialog will look like this:

    The leather boot of the soviet soldier kicks open the farm house door, revealing a frightened German farm girl. Radu steps into the room, lowering his rifle.

    "Что мы здесь? Это, кажется, сцена в истории, где немецкая девушка не владеет русским языком." he mutters to himself.

    "Was sind diese Bolschewiken sagen?" The farm girl Inga says, as she backs away from the invading soldiers.

    "Должны ли мы говорить на английском или русском?" chuckles another Soviet infantryman as he steps into the room.

    Unable to comprehend their vulgar, non-German language, Inga asks "Warum können sie nicht in einer zivilisierten Zunge zu sprechen?"

    "Это, вероятно, не имеет значения. Только несколько человек смогут прочитать этот текст в любом случае." Radu answers, with a sinister grin upon his unshaven face.

    I don't know about you, but that is a little hard for me to follow...and I wrote it.

    >> TRANSLATION <<

    The leather boot of the soviet soldier kicks open the farm house door, revealing a frightened German farm girl. Radu steps into the room, lowering his rifle.

    "What have we here? It seems to be a scene from a story where a German girl doesn't speak Russian." he mutters to himself.

    "What do these Bolsheviks want?" The farm girl Inga says, as she backs away from the invading soldiers.

    "Should we speak English or Russian?" chuckles another Soviet infantryman as he steps into the room.

    Unable to comprehend their vulgar, non-German language, Inga asks "Why can't you speak in a civilized tongue?"

    "It probably doesn't matter. Only a few people will be able to read this anyway." Radu answers, with a sinister grin upon his unshaven face.



    Although the scene might work if you tell the story with their actions and not with dialog. It is more challenging to write a story with actions than dialog, but it can be done.
     
  5. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Lothgar, for the first time ever, you disappoint me. :( Both Russian and German text is pretty far from grammatically correct, never mind authentic. Mind you, the lines work fine for English-speakers, but I just think both Russians and Germans would say some rather different things in this situation. Well, ok, you probably weren't trying to go too deep here. ;)

    MMC83, I would strongly urge you, if you intend to portray foreign language in the style Lothgar has chosen, to have the sentances composed by a native speaker. If you're a native speaker yourself, you're all right, of course.

    If you can't get hold of a native speaker, don't bother with foreign language text, you're just going to immeasurably infuriate those readers who do know the language.

    If you still want to write Russian, you have the option of using Cyrillic letters, as Lothgar has done, which is beautiful and gives you a chance of getting the words correct, or you can choose a transliteration which may range from bad to worse. Example: the Russian word for thank you (спасибо) is transliterated as spasibo in English, but actually pronounced much closer to sspahsseebah. :p

    Personally, I would probably go the course suggested by EdFromNY, which is to leave the dialogue out completely, and just insert what a neutral observer could see (frowns, snarls, gestures, voluble talk).

    Some further tips and hints: Russians have a tendency to (almost) shout at each other even when discussing some quite harmless topic, and as long as women are not around, use swear-words for every second word, most of them considerably more drastic than you would find in the English language. In fact, I can't quite bring myself to write a dialogue (even in English) that I would consider authentic for this situation. :redface:

    EDIT: I forgot something else I wanted to add. I only have the memoirs of my grandfather and some other eyewitness reports to fall back on, but what they report about the behaviour of the Red Army as concerns German civilians is that generally, there was total chaos and their behaviour was quite random and unpredictable. Not everybody was a ravaging, raping brute. One bunch of soldiers could come, take all the girls and women from a group away, rape them, return them. Then the next group of Soviet Soldiers might come along, and share their provisions with the civilians, give candy to the children and perhaps even some money, and go on their way. The next group might come, take away everything the civilans had just received, rape the women again, and leave. They might be caught in the act by yet a further group that might execute the rapists on the spot and force the rest to hand back the plundered possessions. Total chaos. While there are plenty of instances of mass rape on the record, there are almost as many instances of Soviet troops going out of their way to aid and help German civilians and even German POWs.

    There could be some truth in what EdFromNY writes about the first (combat) wave, and the later waves. I believe there was also the issue that initially, the Soviet high command encouraged brutal behaviour towards German civilians as a form of retribution and punishment, but was already trying to curb it in (by equally brutal means) by the time of the Battle for Berlin, since the Soviet Union wanted to create a positive image of itself for the Post-War world, or was feeling the situation was getting out of hand.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I was able to figure out "these Bolsheviks", "civilized" and "speak". Well, to be honest, "civilized" was a guess.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    take a look at international thrillers by bestselling authors [robert ludlum, len deighton, john le carre, tom clancy, et al.] and you'll see how to best treat characters who do not speak english...

    you'll find that foreign language dialog is next to never used, foreign words used only rarely, and in either case, the reader is told in one way or another what was said...
     
  8. MMC83
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    MMC83 New Member

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    Thanks for your suggestions everyone. I think it would be wise to follow your advice and try to avoid using foreign language dialogue! :)

    Thanks again!
     
  9. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    None. For two basic reasons.

    1 - Your reader might read Russian perfectly well.

    2 - From the girl's point of view there are no nicely punctuated sentences with words in cyrillic. She just hears incomprehensible sounds.

    The eyes in "Through the eyes of the MC" are a metaphor. The point is not to describe what the reader would see and hear if we installed a camera inside the girl's head. The point is to use words to for the same images and sounds in the reader's mind as there are in the girl's.


    And, to illustrate this, another example:

    Q: The MC, wearing pink glasses, enters a room and sees a white chair.

    A1: In the room there was a white chair that looked pink through his glasses.
    A2: There was a pink chair in the room.

    Those describe the same scene from two different PoVs. Once you decide which one you're using, you shouldn't switch.

    A1: "Как вас зовут," said the closest guard.
    A2: The closest guard approached her and said something in Russian.
     
  10. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    The only point I was trying to illustrate is that if you didn't speak the language, you wouldn't have a clue what was being said. Personally, I don't speak Russian or German (I'm limited to English and some Spanish...even less Italian) and used google language tools to translate it for me...apparently very poorly.

    Additionally, I meant to suggest that the universal unspoken language might sometimes be a better way of telling the scene. A Russian soldier pointing a rifle at you, flipping the muzzle up and then leveling it back at your chest is pretty much universal for "Hands UP!". A Russian soldier pointing at you, then pointing at the door, and making a sweeping gesture with the muzzle of his rifle towards said door typically means he wants you to exit through the door...without ever saying a word.

    My apologies if I confused anyone.
     
  11. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    That's an interesting question, and a common problem in literature, I think Tolkien solved that making all the different people of LOTR talk a different english dialect, but in general I would split the scene in two parts: one from the german's perspective, the other one from the russians'.
     
  12. Caro13
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    Caro13 New Member

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    Hi,

    Expanding on the example above, you could have your soldier say "hands up" in Russian and also show that sweeping gesture of the riffle. This way, your character would guess what she is being told and your readers would too.

    I find it annoying to read whole phrases I can't understand, but a think that a few wisely used foreign words can halp make foreign characters more credible.
     
  13. Liza
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    Liza Active Member

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    No, I do not think that different languages should be used. A) The Russian speaking in Lothgar's post did not make sense at all to me, because I am Russian. All the words were out of order. XD Yeah, translators, not all that wonderful.
    And even with a foreign speaker, I think you should just leave the dialect out. Except for German, which the little girl understands, but I would write it in English.
     
  14. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    You should definitely avoid trying to write in Russian, AND avoid translating their conversation. Even if you are fluent in Russian. Here's why:

    It doesn't matter if you write in first or third person; this scene is from the German girl's perspective. The audience should see only what she sees, even if you have the luxuries of third person--if you translate a conversation she can't understand, you are drawing the scene away from the POV character. DON'T. Respect the fact that the girl is the reader's window into this scene.

    If you were to write it from one of the Soviets' perspective, that would be completely different--then the entire mood and flow of the scene would change. But then I'd tell you to use English only and no Russian--just stating that they are speaking Russian is enough.
     

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