1. lastspartacus
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    lastspartacus New Member

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    Real World Languages as Fantasy Languages

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by lastspartacus, Oct 26, 2012.

    In the space opera I have been working on, a large part of the story revolves around encountering and deciphering other languages quickly for diplomatic reasons. Rather than create a bunch of fictional mumbo jumbo words, I was thinking about simply using real world languages.

    The gray subhumans on the edge of the world speak Tagalog. The enemy empire from another star system speaks Spanish. Would there be any problem with readers, do you think, or loss of suspension of disbelief if one were to do this?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Many readers know more than one language, so more people than you might guess will be snickering, and not pleasantly. All the more so if your own understanding of the language is weak.
     
  3. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I don't think that would work so well in space opera/sci-fi. Fantasy set in another world maybe, but not sci-fi unless the premise is that they are all human and have been separated based on language and ethnicity. If it's straight up aliens who speak spanish that you have in mind, it would be a little unbelievable. (And by a little I mean a lot)
     
  4. lastspartacus
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    lastspartacus New Member

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    The setting is set in an alternate universe, and the real world languages would be assigned to human nations. Does that make a difference?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not really. Languages reflect the culture in which they develop. You can't just randomly shuffle them around.
     
  6. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    The only way this may work is if you are actually basing the whole alt. universe as a direct correlate to our world - your main language is the language of the British Empire, your evil empire is the actual Spanish Empire (in space!) and your grey subhumans are direct correlates of Filipinos... But that last one might only work if you write deliberately in a parodic voice - if you are serious, then it's just chauvinist, to use a mild term!

    If you want to avoid mambo-jambo gibberish words, why just not let your C-3PO character translate directly?
     
  7. thedarkknight
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    thedarkknight Member

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    To answer your original question, yes, I think the reader would lose their suspension of disbelief.

    It would be like Christopher Reeve finding that modern day penny in his pocket at the end of Somewhere In Time.
     
  8. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I realize that is a late answer,
    but I simply could not help myself.

    In Dune, most of the "imaginary" terms are actually arabic,
    which would perhaps seem fictional enough if a person were not arabic.

    However, I do know arabic, as a native language,
    and so it all felt somehow artificial, since the words were sprinkled like magic when they were obviously commonplace.

    I mean, oooh, "Al-Mu'adib". Woooh!
     
  9. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    Well, it depends on how it's done. I enjoyed reading The Clockwork Orange especially because I recognized origins of the slang words the kids used (I'm not Russian but there are similarities enough in all Slavic languages). Finding familiarity within unfamiliar spelling was fun and an added twist to the storyteller's voice.

    Of course the result was quite different from what the original intention must have been (but it can't be avoided when using real languages). Anyway, it still made sense.
     
  10. nykeron
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    nykeron New Member

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    Sylvertech: I have never seen Dune (veniam peto), but if I would have found an alien yelling at the main character "Yallaaaaa ya to2borni, baddi ro7 ta 2ekol masheweh" (for non arab speakers: Come on, my dear, I want to go and eat a mashewe) everything would lose its charme, at least if the guy wasn't arab-like. ANd if it was something serious, I would find it extremely... funny!

    I am 100% for using fictional languages. If you make the Bad Guys speak, let's say, German, how do you think German will feel reading your work?
    If you're writing something where the bad guys are German, because of the plot, so you HAVE to make them speak German. If you choose to make them speak German, then everything changes... Am I wrong?
    And if you're not really into linguistics, just do the minimum... Some common words and so on... ;)
     
  11. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    you can make your own language based loosely on a real one without a lot of issues. just make it different enough that spanish speaking readers wont be put off.
     
  12. Knight's Move
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    Knight's Move Member

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    I am currently writing a science fiction story based around a group of consulting interpreters, yet aside from a few words here and there (mostly for names or things that don't have a word in English), I have not found it necessary to include the foreign languages. Either the character understands it, and so you can write it as their understanding (ie, in English), or they don't, in which case from the listener's point of view it doesn't matter what the other person said, it's all gibberish to them anyway. Some people enjoy building whole constructed languages for their stories, but if that's not your thing, I don't think it's necessary to even include much from the foreign languages.

    If, however, you find it absolutely necessary to include certain phrases or words from one of the languages, I really think it's best to make up your own.
     
  13. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    Thank god Herbert stuck with the standard Arabic and not the slang.
    By the way, is it a lucky coincidence that you used the dialect of my country?
     
  14. nykeron
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    nykeron New Member

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    it's my accent :p and wouldn't change it all! When I travel people finds it so lovely :p
    so I guess you're from Yogurtland! (as we use to call it me and my friends)
     
  15. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    You could use some very rare languages, like ancient gaelic or Creol (Kreol? don't know the spelling) so that even if a few readers know the language they will only be amused and not disappointed.
     
  16. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    Won't they all be speaking Esperanto in the future? (Harry Harrison thought so)

    BTW 'Sub'humans speaking Tagalog? You could be accused of racism when published if you went with that.
     

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