1. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Incorporating foreign language in dialog

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Charisma, Jan 19, 2015.

    A few chapters in my WIP are set in an area where the native tongue is not English. I want the novel to be as realistic as possible in terms of both the narrator's perspective (who knows the language) and the experience of the language itself, so I don't want the reader to be walked through purely English dialogs, later to be told that the mode of communication was not English.

    Having said that, I guess it can be just as jittery to read some gibberish one knows nothing about, followed by its English translation. Still, I am trying to manipulate various styles of incorporating foreign tongue into dialogs without it being distracting, but artistic.

    For instance, in intense scenes, instead of translating pertinent dialogs just like that, I have tried to stagger the translation into steps:
    Another technique I think might work, in this case especially, is not translating dialogs I feel the reader can logically interpret. See, in this particular language, many English words are used as a part of colloquial conversation, and I'm hoping that when in the context, the reader would pick up on the meaning. Say, for example, in the context of an attempted robbery:
    ^I would like to know what you think they just said.

    Taken together--how helpful do you believe these strategies would be? Are they still deterring/jittery? Any other ideas you have in mind?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know what jittery means in this context, but I can tell you that as a reader of spec-fic, I tend to gloss over such text until my eye again finds English on the page. Like many such questions, you're going to get answers from the I love it camp and the I hate it camp. If it's not too much in evidence, it won't stop me from reading it, but if it's page after page of this, then yes, there's a good chance this will turn into yet another unfinished book. For me. I prefer to have the writer indicate to me that this is in their language and then give me the text in English.
     
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  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your first example is really off-putting to me, as an English speaker. I'd struggle to even pronounce these words, which would distance me from reading it comfortably. A long string of such gibberish could easily lead to the easy way out, of quitting.

    You might do better with something like:

    Mainay kitni dafa bolo hai" he began, continuing in Hindi " what makes you think you can do that?"

    The second example was just confusing. Does Jaldi mean police? Does karo mean call?
     
  4. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    No, it's a complete dialog with no embedded translations. "Police" and "call" are being used as part of the dialog, they're not a translation of anything.
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, I understood that's what you were saying. My point is that it's not clear, it could be misunderstood that way.
     
  6. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    I don't see any reason to put in whole chunks of a foreign language. My eyes just glaze over when I see it.

    Unless the words have already been defined and will be used often (like titles of people or untranslatable things), I wouldn't use a foreign language.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Neither of your techniques work, in my opinion.

    The first was extremely off-putting and felt downright unnatural. I simply didn't bother reading the foreign language snippet - if your readers, and I assume they're English readers, are just gonna skip right over it, is there even any point in including it?

    The second example really sounds like a case of you knowing the language and knowing what you want to say, and thus you assume it must be obvious to other people. Because from my perspective, it looked confusing as all heck. I thought "nahi hai" was a person - although now I wonder if you meant the police. And I gathered "abhi" was "hurry", but otherwise, the rest of it eludes me. The fact that I have to wonder if "nahi hai" is a name or the police isn't good enough either, because that's confusion right there.

    People tend to include perhaps only a single word in the entire dialogue that's foreign, for example... I've never had to include foreign languages in my fiction but lemme give it a go.

    Grandma sat down on her favourite chair with a sigh.

    "Po-po?" I asked.

    Grandma murmured acknowledgement without opening her eyes.

    "Would you like some cha?"

    "Oh, you're so gwei! That would be lovely."

    I smiled, happy to be able to serve my beloved grandma. So I rummaged in the cupboard for her favourite cha, but to my dismay I realised we'd run out of her favourite Wooloon, and all we'd left was Earl Grey. "Is Earl Grey all right, Po-po?"
    When I heard no reply, I looked over my shoulder at her. Her head had tipped forward, her shoulders rising and falling gently. The afternoon light made her silver hair look like precious cotton and washed her sweet, wrinkled face powdery pale. I held back a sigh and closed the cupboard as quietly as I could, and tiptoed out of the room.​

    So, that's how I'd do it. I assume it's obvious "Po-po" is either a name or a title, but in any case, it's obvious it refers to the grandmother because of the context I give it. "Cha" is not immediately obvious, but once you get onto the Earl Grey paragraph, it becomes clear. Likewise, what "Wooloon" is should be clear enough when put beside "Earl Grey". "Gwei" is never explained, but it doesn't necessarily have to be, because based on the line immediately following it: "That would be lovely", it should be clear that "gwei" is a positive thing, a compliment, perhaps an endearment. It's not important for the reader to know exactly what it means as long as they understand it is something sweet and positive, which I feel is clear.

    Of course, this is the first time I've ever tried incorperating a foreign language into my English prose, so maybe what I wrote is a complete disaster and I won't even know it :D

    For those interested, the words I used are from Cantonese Chinese :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
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  8. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have always disliked foreigners speaking English with a foreign accent in film. I would rather read subtitles.

    Alas you can't have subtitles in books and I would just skip over any language I did not understand. If it was a language I had a limited knowledge of such as German or Spanish I would probably find myself taking time to translate it and the passage would lose all flow, which would be worse than just skipping it.
     
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  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I may use the foreign language in an entire line of dialogue only if I deliberately don't want the reader to understand right away - or rather, if I don't want the character in the situation to understand. For example:

    We sat down in front of the desk. The bank manager sitting opposite peered at us from above his glasses, unimpressed by our scruffy clothes. "You said you wanted to open an account?" he asked in Cantonese, his eyes sliding over to mine and completely ignoring my clearly foreign friend beside me, even though it's her who needed the account. "Did you bring a proof of address?"

    "Well, she's due to sign her flat contract tomorrow."

    The man rolled his eyes, sitting back. "Then come back tomorrow."

    "We'd really like to get this done today. We've brought her job contract that has her address on it."

    He glanced over at my friend, her head of red hair and bright green eyes marking her out like a sore thumb, and, dropping his eyes on the document I'd slid across the desk, he muttered with a shake of his head, "Ji wei gwei-lo dai sei me!"

    My friend raised her eyebrows, eyes searching mine for a translation. I gave her a tight smile. There's no need for her to know - it'd just make her feel bad. So instead I said, "He said he'll do it. Everything's fine."​
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  10. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Ah, okay then! Since I know both languages, it's rather hard for me to break away and see it from the perspective of someone who doesn't. From the general comments, I guess I'd rather not use it than cause the reader to run away screaming XD Also, thanks @Mckk. I think I've seen many books do that, too.
     
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