1. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    Multiple languages under one book?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by PurpleCao, Mar 26, 2010.

    Apologies for the repeated questions, but I just had a thought.
    As people might know, I was creating a bizarre culture for a novel project. Obviously, this culture would have it's own language - which you wouldn't write an entire book in, or even all of their speech if they were the focal point, because making people learn a fictional language is no fun, and most people are willing to ignore the fact people in another country are speaking perfect English to each other.
    However, I then came across a thought.
    If these people are depicted speaking English for the ease of the reader, how would I illustrate an outsider not understanding them, when they are to speak the same language?
    Or let's say I flipped from my focal race, to the outsider. Is it then acceptible to have their speech in their own tongue, or is that confusing?
    Sorry if that isn't described well, i'm unsure of how to put it.
     
  2. EileenG
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    EileenG Member

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    I'd keep everything in English, but perhaps use a different font, or italics or something similar to indicate that it's in a different language. Usually changing fonts etc is frowned on, but it might work in this case.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Keep it all in English.

    Do not use typeset trickery to indicate the foreign language. No italics, no underlines, none of that.

    Indicate through your narrative. Talk about the other group's lack of comprehension. Mention the way the language sounds to the other people's ears.

    Never resort to visual special effects. A book is words, it is not a video game or a movie.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Show it in the actions. The outsider is looking confused and lost, or has to keep asking someone what is being said. You don't have to do it often to establish the language gap.

    Please DON'T resort to typographical stunts.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    listen to wrey and cog!... i ditto their 'best advice'... that makes three of us...
     
  6. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    What do you mean by the way it sounds? As in, to put it in English, but then through narrative indicate how the word was 'actually' pronounced?
     
  7. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    The way it sounds, literally means the way it sounds. For example, if you speak English, German might sound harsh and rough, while Spanish or French might sound like music. At the same time, someone speaking a foreign language might sound like they rush through a million words a second, while another language might sound like it takes a minute to say a single word. Some languages sound similar, while some don’t sound like a language at all.

    In your story, you can show this to the reader. By describing how the language sounds, the reader can imagine the people talking in their own language.
    Another thing you could do is write the foreign language. If you were writing the story from first person, this would work, since if the MC can’t understand the language, the reader doesn’t have to understand either. Even if you don’t write from first person, there are cases where this would work.

    If you switch between the two races, the race you originally started out with can now speak their own language, while the race you are focusing on can speak English. You just have to make sure that the two languages sound completely different, since the last thing you want to do is confuse the reader.
     
  8. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    May I make that four?
     
  9. themistoclea
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    themistoclea Member

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    I've struggled with this as well. If a major point of your story is about the alienation of being a stranger in a new culture it's hard not to feel like all that you're doing is describing the character's lack of comprehension ('he said something that sounded like...') but there's no other way around it. Italics or exotic fonts will be gimicky and contribute nothing new.
     
  10. rainy
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    rainy Senior Member

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    I wanted to add my two cents because I have experienced handling language barriers in both writing, and real life.

    First off, like everyone else said--no changing of font face. No one will take it seriously.

    From the outsider POV, I would depict most of the conversation as narrative instead of dialogue.
    "They conversed among themselves. MC twisted his coat button, staring down at the grass, straining to make sense of the words and block them out at the same time."

    You can throw in some exact quotes if the passage is short but with no translation. If the POV char doesn't know what's being said, neither should your reader.

    From the speaker POV, I would normally write the short passages as quoted dialogue in the language, and then provide a translation in italics next to it. If it's a long conversation that you need to write out, I would use narrative describing the use of the language, and English in quotes. Even though I find italics in quick translation to be useful, providing long passages would be tedious and ugly.

    MC2 stomped her foot. "Beep bop boop." Go away, monkey.

    or

    MC2 turned to BFF and snapped in Language Name, "Why is he just staring at the ground? Is he dumb?"
    "Could be." BFF shooed away a crow that landed beside her. "Or maybe he just likes his shoes."

    You might need to try out a few things to find what fits your story best. I have a character that speaks two langauges, and one that only speaks the common tongue. When narrating from the MC who speaks both, I try to keep the sentences brief with a quick italic translation. This works because there's very, very little that needs translated and the lines that do are usually commands or threats during a hostage situation. I found it best for this particular story also because of the situation surrounding the dual language. It's not his mother tongue, so by default he would be translating to English in his head.

    However, long passages are just narrated, "They discussed. . ." sort of deal. When it flips to the non-speaker, I write what the others are saying if it's short, but with no translation. Longer passages I just narrate but with no translation.

    Some side notes:

    Make sure your language is, above all else, consistent. Believe it or not, your readers might actually pick up a word or two. People tend to be inclined to language, even if basic. Too many sentences and your reader will probably get the drift of what means "I" "you" "and", etc. If you're not consistent, some people will find it distracting. I'm one of those people. If I see a language, I immediately start trying to figure out the grammatical structure. And if there is a descrepancy, I'll probably spend more time trying to figure out how that's possible and ignore the story. That could just be me.

    I wouldn't over focus on the language unless it has a point. When you're stuck in a society that you have no language connection with, you tend to resort to a lot of non verbal communication. You will make an effort to smile more than usual. You will make eye contact when someone does something nice. You will raise your eyebrows if you're surprised by such generosity. You will gesture at something funny and cover your mouth like laughing to show you appreciated it too. You will make an offering motion with a tray of sweets in front of you. You will point at your husband who is exasperating you and shake your head while smiling. And when the situation doesn't call for any of this, you'll find yourself either struggling to guess the conversation or reciting Mother Goose in your head. These things I can speak from experience.

    If you haven't really associated with languages you don't speak, try turning on a foreign language channel or tuning into a foreign language podcast. Listen for awhile and notice how you react. How you struggle to *hear* words, catching bits that seem to be English though it's not. Notice how you try to block it out. How your thoughts wander. How you make up dialogue based on context. How that might confuse you when they decide to join you into the conversation. Oh, and notice how laughing can be infectious.

    Also listen to samples of different languages to get a better idea of how language sounds. What you do personally like and dislike about how it sounds? The speed, the rythm, the unusual combinations, the distinct lack of certain letters. For example, it's a bit odd but I love my husband's mother tongue because it has two distinct B sounds and two distinct D sounds. It has it's own script, so there's a wider ranger of sounds than some other languages. At the same time, there's a definite lack of "v" and a heck of a lot of "ee" and "chh" sounds.

    Now you don't necessarily need to include such detail in your made up language. But as the writer, it's best if you know your world better than anyone else. Then you can drop subtle hints, and indirectly make the world much more real to your reader.

    If you want to be totally distracted and amused, search youtube for Xhosa Challenge. Watch the original and then the best part: the video replies.

    Best luck,

    //R
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Strange you mention it. When I lived in Berlin, I had friends who had been East Berliners (the wall had already come down) and one of them mentioned to me once that English sounded full of N's. He said, to him it sounded like, "Nye, nye, nye, nye, nye."
     
  12. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    That is really funny. I guess we don't really know how our language sounds to someone else until someone who speaks another language tells us. A comment like that really shows us that every language does have its own sound.
     
  13. rainy
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    rainy Senior Member

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    But it's important to note that how a language sounds is related to what the person is use to hearing. I've heard others mention English, and American in particular, is aggressive with the "r" sound.
     
  14. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's how it's done in whatever I write. I don't give translations, as the character whose point of view this is from isn't supposed to understand them, but I'd usually say something like: 'and let out a long torrent of incomprehensible syllables in (insert language here).'

    You could also bring body language into it, but don't make it tell the reader the exact meaning of what the character has just said. If necessary, it can inform them of their intentions and their feelings, but it should never be a free translation. If the people in the book don't understand, why should the reader? Unless, of course, there is no other person in the book to hear the conversation, when a translation is important.
     
  15. PurpleCao
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    PurpleCao Member

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    Thanks for the insight. I think I understand how to make it work now.
    The main thing that made me think of this is the structure of the new culture. I was wondering how someone with an understanding of English (or, from his point of view, Roma-Imerius) and nothing else would make sense of this strange, strange structure (as in, instead of saying 'The man's wife is pregnant it'd come out more like They [Referring to the girl] who are blessed by [God], blessed with child by [Man]') made me wonder how on Earth I was meant to phase between the two without major effort, but I like the reference to simply stating the name of the language and then writing in English.
    This new culture takes forever to say anything of any real value :p
     
  16. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    It sounds to me like you want to do something that would be very tricky and very challenging, even for an experienced writer. My suggestion is to try to find a book that does something similar, and read it. That can give you ideas on how to approach what you want to do.

    The best book I know of that does something similar is A Clockwork Orange, in which the protagonist speaks a futuristic street language.

    Good luck with your book!

    Charlie
     

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