1. sayebr
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    sayebr New Member

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    Foreign languages

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by sayebr, Jul 8, 2013.

    All the characters in my novel speak English, though they are different races. Not exactly races, since they're all human, but they do have different native tongues. There are times when they're speaking to each other that they throw out phrases in there native tongue, like threats or 'damnit' (except it would come out in there tongue, obviously). Now short, one word phrases wouldn't need to be translated, since I think the meaning is obvious, but a phrase like a threat or something. How would I write that in there so the reader knows what's being said without literally translating it?
     
  2. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    That will depend a lot on the point of view and on the other characters - do they understand the threat or not? If they do understand, they you can show the meaning through their reactions, the way they act. If it's told from the point of view of another character who understands, then it might be reflected in his/her thoughts.

    If they don't understand, then there's probably no need for the reader to understand it either.
     
  3. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    The main thing you must take into account is to not leave your reader confused about what is happening. So if you are having them use another language with any frequency you must put some method for the reader to understand what is happening. You can do this by having the reply from another character in English giving away what the previous character was saying. The other option is to give enough hints at what they said using your narrative around the conversations.

    However you choose to do it, do make sure not to leave your readers feeling out of the loop to often or it can annoy them quickly. Once in a while it's fine to leave them in the dark, as it happens sometimes in films that a character speaks in a foreign tongue and you don't get captions to translate, but certainly not if it's important for you to know as the viewer – the same holds true for books.
     
  4. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    The main thing you must take into account is to not leave your reader confused about what is happening. So if you are having them use another language with any frequency you must put some method for the reader to understand what is happening. You can do this by having the reply from another character in English giving away what the previous character was saying. The other option is to give enough hints at what they said using your narrative around the conversations.

    However you choose to do it, do make sure not to leave your readers feeling out of the loop to often or it can annoy them quickly. Once in a while it's fine to leave them in the dark, as it happens sometimes in films that a character speaks in a foreign tongue and you don't get captions to translate, but certainly not if it's important for you to know as the viewer – the same holds true for books.
     
  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There have been a few threads about this subject, I think.

    Oh well. Is your story 1st person, 3rd person limited, or omniscient? If omni, then you can just tell it in narration. If first person, the person who speaks the foreign tongue knows what s/he says. Examples:

    Maybe I should just tell him that if he doesn't comply, I'm going to kill his wife? "Jos et tee niinku mä sanon niin vittu mä tapan sun vaimon!"

    Or no matter what's the POV, you can do this:

    "John, I'm gonna threaten to kill his wife."
    "Come on, Jane, really?"
    "Hell yeah. Jos et tee niinku mä sanon niin vittu mä tapan sun vaimon!"

    Or you can do this:

    "Jos et tee niinku mä sanon niin vittu mä tapan sun vaimon!"
    "Shove it up your ass, punk, you know she'd kill ya first, so your threats are as good as sh*t. I'm not gonna do anything for you, asshole."

    I mean, you have so many ways to make the message clear. Get creative!
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You're going to get lots of differing advice on this. My best advice to you is to remember that you can make use of ALL the different methods you are given here. You can keep it to short, one word responses that are sufficiently contextualized as to give them meaning AND in another part of the story you can have someone respond in such a way as to explain AND in another part you can simply describe the lavish string of foreign gutturals, sibilants and tortured diphthongs leaving your MC in the dark as to the intent of the speaker AND...

    No one single piece of advice is ever a panacea. Make use of all of them. ;)
     

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