1. IUPapabear
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    IUPapabear New Member

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    Foreign Languages in Your Writing.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by IUPapabear, Aug 17, 2011.

    I seen a post on here about using a translator and it got me thinking. How do you handle changing languages in your writing?

    A story I am working on has two Americans (soldiers) that are in Iraq. When they interact with the locals I have been staying with English, and merely noting that they use the local language in various ways. I am not talking huge sections of interactions, but rather small segments of dialogue.

    In a movie, they sometimes, switch languages and use subtitles, so I guess I am asking what your preferred method may be when writing a novel or short story?
     
  2. Amsterdamatt
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    Amsterdamatt Member

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    It depends on the viewpoint of your book. If you are telling the story from the point-of-view of a particular character (and I don't just mean in first-person) then the decision as to whether to translate foreign languages depends on that character's perceptions. Does he understand Arabic (or Kurdish or whatever)? If not, then neither should the reader.
     
  3. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    For the most part, you cannot assume your readers would understand any second language so, unless you have a scenario where you have an interpreter, your best bet is to do as you have been doing and stick with the lingua franca. There are, of course, always going to be exceptions. I have had short scenes where there are people speaking a second language. They speak only brief passages and the gist of what they are saying is to be extrapolated from the surrounding conversation - something like ...

    "Dime tu tarjeta de credito."
    "Excuse me? No. I am not giving you my credit card!"
    "Por que no?"
    "Because you'll spend all my money, that's why not."

    That's a really dumbed down version of what I was talking about but you can see that there is no need for direct translation of the Spanish because the responses clearly indicate what the Spanish comments are. Sometimes you can get away with ploys like that but you need to be sure the first language comments really are clear enough to indicate the second language conversation. I have one ms where there is a hearing impaired girl. In almost every case, her gestures are either interpreted by her father or are a source of total frustration to both the girl and whomever she is trying to communicate with. Every situation demands a different solution.

    I'm sure others will have better suggestions but, fwiw, that's my 2c.
    Good luck.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you should keep any use of foreign words/phrases down to a bare minimum... and with arabic, even less than for more recognizable ones like french, italian, or spanish...

    just indicate to the readers that the person is speaking in another language and don't try to show it... instead, use body language and facial expressions to let the reader have some clue to what's being said, if no character in the scene is translating it into english...
     
  5. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Then what about alien languages in sci-fi and fantasy stories? Star Wars used alien languages all the time, and didn't always give us subtitles. In those cases it was more like thewordsmith said by using an alien language and english side by side. Does anyone know what Chewbacca was really saying? And he was one of the main characters. ;)
     
  6. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^
    Too much of that kind of business gets tiring, for me.

    Give a flavour of the language, perhaps some phrases... I'd check how someone like Hemingway does it.
     
  7. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the character understands it then I'll give a direct translation in brackets immediately after only if it isn't obvious what is being said from the character's response.

    If the character doesn't understand it then I don't write any of the dialogue at all - if the character doesn't know what is being said then I don't want the reader to know (including those who might speak the foreign language) either. :p
     
  8. lost123
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    lost123 Senior Member

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    try to write the way you want
     
  9. Phantomwriter
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    Phantomwriter Member

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    I guess you could also have it like in the Eragon books. You can have it if you don't want to put some insite texts to have the translations at the end.
     

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