1. jwilder
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    jwilder Member

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    German to English translations in written dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by jwilder, Mar 29, 2012.

    Not sure if this is the proper forum for this question - I didn't see a Dialogue forum, so I hope this is ok here.

    I'm writing a period mystery. At one point the MC must go into Germantown of 1920's Chicago. The MC speaks fluent German and the inhabitants she'll meet in Germantown do not speak English, therefore all the dialogue will be in German for this portion of the novel.

    How do I write this so that readers can understand the dialogue without every exchange looking like:
    “Guten Tag, Fraulein! Wie kann ich Sie heute helfen?” Good day, Miss! How can I help you today?
    "Guten Tag! Ist Frau Kloster zu Hause?" Good day! Is Mrs. Kloster at home?

    Or, do I do the above structure for two or three exchanges, then simply switch to something like italics to show that the conversation continues in German even though it's written in English? I feel like actually having the German on the page lends much more depth and realism to the scene, but I'm concerned about readability and continuity.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You establish that they are speaking German, but you present the dialogue in English.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!

    to do what you want will result in a book few will bother to read... me among them...

    and don't use italics for more than a single foreign word/expression, or for necessary emphasis of a word...
     
  4. lorilee
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    lorilee Member

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    I'm having the same dilemma. My main character has been abducted, taken to a foreign country and doesn't understand the language. I want to convey her alienation by using the German, but want the reader to understand. I was thinking of trying to convey the meaning by actions, body language and setting in the few phrases I'm using.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Then express what she does manage to understand in English, and indicate how much of it makes no sense at all to her. If YOU know German well enough to pull it off, you can even throw in some mistranslated phrases of what she THINKS she hears. A reader who knows the language may be able to guess some of what was really said, but no important story information should be conveyed that way. The real message of importance is the comprehension gap and the frustration and confusion that arises from it.
     
  6. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can flavour the passage by throwing in some German expressions. Hemingway was really good at that.

    This way, readers won't feel lost and it gives the scene a sense of 'authenticity'.
     

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