1. Shirachi
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    Shirachi New Member

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    The Language Barrier

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Shirachi, May 9, 2010.

    I'm outlining my fantasy 'epic', but I've hit a snag: the language barrier.

    My main character is set to travel the continent -- containing three major countries -- but I'm worried about languages. Naturally, they all would speak a different language (I wouldn't be surprised if one had multiple). But I'm hesitant to introduce this because: 1.) it would be confusing, if accurate; 2.) a butt-load of work to create and develop several different ones; 3.) I'm paranoid and shouldn't worry about something so trivial?

    I've been toying with the idea to take the cue from Tolkien and introduce a common tongue, but it ultimately feels like I'm copping out and being unrealistic.

    How do you cope with it -- ignore it? Worry about it later?
     
  2. Hugo
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    Hugo New Member

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    Just because they speak different languages doesn't mean you actually have to write out anything in that language: "Hello friends, " he said in fluent Easternlandish, "I slew this stag but it is too much food for one man. Won't you join me at my fire and fill your bellies. There is enough for your whole party...blah blah blah"
     
  3. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Shirachi

    Maybe you could just give your main character a Star-Trek universal translator, so that he/she automatically hears everything in his/her native tongue.

    Or less flippantly, maybe he/she could travel with a multi-lingual guide!

    I certainly wouldn't go writing the story in different tongues though. That will lose the reader really quickly! :)
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    both posters gave good advice here... can't add anything to it...
     
  5. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    It's not lazy or unrealistic in the slightest to create a common language for neighboring countries. In fact, I'd say it's unrealistic to say that the three major powers on a continent have no way to communicate with one another through speech. I must point out the language you and I are using right now: English. It's not just limited to England. It's a worldwide language, one used by many different nations to maintain foreign relations.

    I'm not saying that three countries wouldn't have their own languages. I'm just saying that there would almost certainly be one dominant language they all used to maintain relations, or at least issue threats if they're enemies. And if most people can speak it, there would be no huge need to worry about it. Unless, of course, your character is one of the few who never studied that tongue...

    That said, I like the idea of a foreign character relying on a human (or your human substitute) translator. You can make it known that there are multiple languages being spoken, or just one, without having to bother with actually creating a language or worry about confusing the reader. It also presents several interesting possibilities for the plot.
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe there could be one universal language that learned people and scribes all know, like Latin used to be, or diplomatic French...wouldn't help much with the peasantry of course!
     
  7. Poecilia Wingei
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    Poecilia Wingei Member

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    Speaking as someone who was moved around a lot of different countries while growing up, I just love to read about characters who find themselves unable to communicate their ideas when they most need to, or who suffer second-language gaffes and the harsh judgments of native speakers. :)
     
  8. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Unless you're really dead-set against it, I think it would be good to show the different languages, for the same reasons that you should show the different cultures.

    You don't need to include actual lines of dialogue to include the language diversity in your story - just note that, say, Languagia is more fluid with rising and falling tones, while On Gawid is made of many short one or two-syllable words that are combined into four and five-word phrases, each indicative of a broader concept. So maybe when you try to translate "We're traveling over the mountain in order to prevent a war," you get a long pretty-sounding sentence in Languagia, and On Gawid speakers have a short pithy phrase meaning "Needful over-mountain war-stop (us-as-group-of-travelers implied)." You don't even need to go into that much detail or show many examples to make your readers happy and impressed at your skill.

    As for how it affects your story's world, you can take advantage of the language differences in all kinds of ways. You can show your characters planning for language issues - by hiring a translator, by deliberately picking allies who speak different languages or dialects, by buying a phrasebook if the aristocracy or middle class has one available, by learning a few key phrases ("What kind of meat is this? Where are the toilets? How much does that cost?"), or by deliberately planning a longer overland journey in order to stick to towns where trademen go and where the locals probably know enough of the main characters' language to be useful.

    And language can be useful for building culture, which can be used to add dimension to your characters. Maybe there is a language which is dying out among uneducated people, but which is still used by religious leaders, or by nobility, or by poets, or by doctors or other professionals. Maybe the three countries have recently encountered explorers or merchants from a different continent entirely, so new foreign words (for spices, for trade goods, for technology, or for insults) are just beginning to permeate the languages your main character encounters. You could have a pretty hilarious conversation between your main character and someone from another country, where both people are trying to use these new foreign words to communicate because they have no other common ground available.

    Obviously, it's your choice, and particularly if you are a beginning writer it is entirely reasonable to just ignore the problem in order to get your story down. (You could, if you wished, go back later and revise it to add languages in a second draft.) But it is fun for many readers to see how the language problem is played with by the author.
     
  9. Lankin
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    Lankin Member

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    What you could take from Tolkien is: It is generally o.k. to have main characters that are a little more open-minded and have a little more language skills than other members of the same race.
    Elrond is wise enough not to send a bunch of 9 people somewhere that do not even understand each other :)
     
  10. Reis
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    I'm having similar problems with this before then I realize that I'm not the only one.

    Unless your readers are total geek fanatics, the language barrier is going to cause serious problems for the convenience of you readers as well.

    This 'epiphany' (lol) occurred to me ever since my first encounter of the human species called Japanophiles (geeks or 'otaku' of the anime/manga community). Granted, a few of them were kind enough to translate anime/manga raws for me and some culture but some are really downright annoying, they even bother or insult actual Japanese people!

    Generally, this is going to do more harm than good unless you target a specific audience. I usually use "(<dialogue>)" in a fashion similar to how subtitles/English dubbing is used on some movies, so readers won't have trouble understanding characters speaking in a foreign dialogue.

    However, if you just want to make dialect diversity more of eye-candy than actual usage, I leave HeinleinFan's suggestion for that instead.
     
  11. Lankin
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    Lankin Member

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    Got some otaku friends myself.. Perfectly know what you are talking about. :)
     
  12. ilocar
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    ilocar Member

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    whats the time-scale? if you're in a country long enough, learning the languages could be a plot mover

    whats the character's livelihood? if he's a statesman or someone like a merchant who travels alot he should already know at least the most widely spoken languages.
     
  13. System-Crashed
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    System-Crashed Member

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    Well, why don't you go with Final Fantasy X's al bhed style of language? Just assign each consonant to different consonants and each vowels to different vowels?

    So, S=C, F=D, I=E, and H=W

    So, Fish = DECW
     
  14. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Perhaps you could carefully contrive a simple, common language of hand-signals understood by all cultures. Something to mean "Do you want to trade?", "what's your name?", "i come in peace"... Not too dissimilar to real-life really.

    It would help to know more about the world. It is pre-industrial or futuristic? Are there any discernable differences between the cultures? ect, ect.
     

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