1. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Translated words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by King Arthur, Jan 28, 2016.

    My book has a few words from ancient languages I've used. Mainly to add authenticity, we follow the Celtic characters in modern English (apart from the occasional un-translatable concepts), but other races such as the Saxons or people speaking Latin are kept in Old English and Latin. Do you think this is a bad idea?

    A good example of what I mean:

    “Spare this mongrel, and let him run off and tell the other wéalas[1] of this kingdom [...]"



    [1]Saxon word meaning “inferior race” or “foreigner”. Later became bastardised into Welsh, giving the people of Wales their name.


    Taken from my novel. The POV character speaks both Celtic and Saxon so can understand the rest of what he's saying.
     
  2. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My two cents: It may add authenticity, but I'd be pretty annoyed by a book that kept throwing foreign words in my face, forcing me to pull out of the story to check footnotes just to follow along with a conversation. If the character whose POV we're following doesn't understand the words, then it would work better (they don't understand so we don't understand). If they do understand, though, it would make sense to keep it all in English to allow the readers to follow along just as easily as the POV character.
     
  3. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Are you asking about the usage of the non-English word or the usage of footnotes to explain them? Either way, really, it's not the sort of thing I'd mind unless there were say, more than two or three non-English words per page for several pages in a row. Then it'd get a bit overwhelming and harder to retain the new words individually. Otherwise though, I'd feel like I was learning something, which I'm always down for. (And I do prefer footnotes to a glossary; it's easier.)

    It's definitely a personal taste thing, but if nothing else, other writers have definitely done it before, so at least there's precedent.
     
  4. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In your example, I'd automatically assume "wealas" to be some kind of swear word or insult, especially because swear words and insults are often untranslatable.

    Anyway, if the meaning of the foreign word is easily understood in context, then fine. Otherwise you could use it and translate it in the narrative - although if done this way, then do it sparingly because it would get annoying pretty soon.

    If the usage of the ancient word requires me to consult any kind of index or footnotes or for me to have read and memorised some list of important info you provided at the beginning of the novel - then that's a HELL NO for me. I'd just get pissed off and stop reading lol.
     
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  5. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    You might want to check out The Song of Albion series by Stephen Lawhead. I think he does a wonderful job of mixing Gaelic and English in a way that brings out the Celtic flavors of the story. Celtic words are defined once in text and always in italics. Because you use the words so often it's easily understood after that.

    Otherwise, insert a footnote.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2016
  6. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Thank you for all your advice and thoughts!

    I'll try and make it less scholarly, maybe even translate some of the words in prose rather than as footnotes (in 100 pages I have about 5 footnote words).
     
  7. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Fun fact about historical English: the K in knights and knife etc. were actually pronounced ka-night and ka-nife. It has changed many times over the course of history, and has evolved into the most complex and hardest to learn language to date. Just a fun fact of semi-useless info, the more you know. :D
     
  8. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    And words ending in ed were pronounced like the ed in Edward. And up until a few years ago people said "pizzer" instead of pizza and "nazzy" (take the s out of snazzy) for "nazi".
     
  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @King Arthur Cool! Learned something new myself today. Thanks. :)
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I agree with @Mckk and others, use the rest of the sentence to imply the word or its connotation and don't put footnotes in a fiction novel.
     
  11. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    Indeed the sisters of those words are still pronounced just like that in related languages. Knífur in Icelandic, and Knecht in German. Hell, the silent -gh in English was originally pronounced like the -ch in Loch, so you end up with words like Thruch for Through (the vowel lengthening was a seperate development).

    As for the most difficult language to learn, I'm not convinced. Speaking as a ESL teacher, it's a language easy to learn well enough to communicate fluently in, but mastery is all but impossible. The latter comment goes for most languages, but many have much, much higher barriers to entry than English, like Chinese or Russian or Icelandic.

    Wait, what's this thread about?
     
  12. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @NiallRoach it is about translated words. Seems I accidentally started a rift off on language in history. But hey, you also given me some random knowledge that I didn't already have. Learning is fun when it isn't in a school room setting. :p

    Though the topic of this thread is translated words and footnotes used in novels, particularly within the Historical Fantasy Genre (more emphasis on Historical than Fantasy).
     
  13. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    No fantasy at all, in fact.
     
  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Footnotes would turn me right off, as well as more than a handful of non-English words. I want to be immersed in a story, not feeling like I'm reading a history textbook.

    I read a book recently that threw in lots of non-English words without explaining them (I discovered when I got to the end that there was a glossary at the back...) and it annoyed and confused me in equal measures. Even though the general meaning of the words was often clear from the context, I didn't like it. Once or twice would have been enough for me.
     
  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Tenderiser I agree and disagree with you at the same time. I think it falls down to how much I respect the book, as to whether the footnotes are a good thing or a bad thing. But on the whole I agree with the foreign language thing a bit more, though I tend to give a pass to older books as they tend to have been written so long ago that there was no way to know who would be reading them in the future. So I guess we should give the classical books a pass, fore they knew not who would read them in the future (or present day, depending on how you look at it). :p
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    But what classic books are we speaking of? I mean, you have to go REALLY quite a bit back before you start running into books that make use of a brand of English that has to be categorized as historically and linguistically distinct from Modern English. And if the books are as old as all that, they'll have been translated into Modern English. You can read Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1920) or E.M. Forsters Maurice (1913), and save for the odd reference to things we don't use anymore and the complete lack of reference to technological things we do use today, it's perfectly standard Modern English. You have to go back to Chaucer before you run into writing that's hard to understand, and even the differences you find in Chaucer's work are mainly artifacts of writing before the standardization of spelling. If you're willing to let go of modern spelling rules and just sound the words out, you'll realize that 90% of the words in a piece by Chaucer are perfectly intelligible and known to us. They're just written in a way that reflects his manner of speech and accent. Yes, the other 10% of things that are opaque do point to the differences to be found in late Middle English, but it's not much more than that.

    For me, this and all the other threads that have popped up in the past couple of weeks regarding use of non-English in works meant to be read by English speaking readers boils down to one - single - question: When you are writing, is your story, and the ability of the reader to engage it, more important than the reader knowing how clever you've been/are? You can answer that question any way you like since the answers to such a question are of the opinion kind, not the flat-fact kind, but that's the question.
     
  17. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    The only one I can come up with off hand is The Count of Monte Cristo, I think it qualifies under my terms aforementioned, and has some footnotes scattered throughout for various reasons.
     
  18. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used a lot of Latin, Chinese, and some Greek and Mongol in my current WIP, set in the first century. However:
    1. I used only pronounceable words
    2. In the case of Latin and Greek, I tried to use words that were familiar
    2. I italicized all usages
    3. I immediately translated them on first few uses.

    Examples:
    They traveled with a vexillatio detachment of cavalry across post-war Judea. (From vexilla 'little flag,' and root word for vexillation, meaning annoyance: because it was a pain in the ass to cobble up a bunch of people to send off on detached duty from their parent legion. This was later specifically discussed when the Roman officer meets with a detachment officer-in-charge who had actually received his vexillatio of the 80 worst ne-er-do-wells in the legion as their annual commitment of a century for remote duty.)

    The young cybernetes officer of the deck began to call commands. (Greek, meaning controller or steersman, root word for Latin word gubernator, and root for English cybernetics, control theory. The word is correctly pronounced Kew bernetes, but I don't care if they pronounce it Sigh bernetes, it doesn't matter.)

    Hina commanded an arban of ten men. Later she became the first woman of the Huyan clan ever to command a zuun of a hundred (Mongol, used often enough to establish them as sort of like squads and companies, though I never use those terms. That would equate Xiongnu organization to Roman, Chinese or modern military, as it was not the same)

    The Hanaean bowmaker demonstrated the strange crossbow, which he called a lian-yu, to the centurion, working the top magazine repeatedly to unleash ten unfletched arrows in about as many seconds to the target a hundred yards downrange. Marcus told him the word meant 'continuous crossbow.' (worked like a lever action repeating rifle, with box magazine on top acting as lever, available today in kits). The Romans had a similar device on their ship called a polybolus 'many-shooter', though it was much larger deck-mounted ballista torsion crossbow. It was locked onto the target in azimuth and elevation, and fired by continually turning a windlass crank on the end... ratchedy-ratchedy, ratchedy thunk!

    I hope I have set the readers in the era without inundating them with a mass of unpronounceable words, trying to give them a language lesson, or impress them with my knowledge. I want them to see, feel, smell and hear the unusual things of the era, and understand how they are similar and different from the things of today.
     
  19. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    I often use Arthur's youth and inexpertise to my advantage at the start of the novel.


    “How many strong are they?” asked Arthur, [...]

    “About ten centuries,”

    “Six hundred strong...” muttered Arthur. He then added, aloud: “And we’re roughly the same, aren’t we?”


    With some basic math, you can see a century is sixty men.
     
  20. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    PS.. I kept a glossary of these words, but only for my use, to remember the more unusual ones and to spell them consistently. No the glossary in NOT going in the book, nor am I footnoting it!
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    @Lew you haven't got those brackets in your book, right?
     
  22. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good technique... looks like the century continued to go down from the 80 man units of the 1st century. I like to think the Romans discovered 80% manning for their fully-ready units 2000 years before we did.
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would actually regard that as narrative intrusion of the less-than-ideal sort. The writer using the mouth of a character to explain things to me that the writer knows.
     
  24. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Absolutely not! In fact those are just off the cuff samples as I don't have the WIP handy right now. That is how I used them, but not direct quotes
     
  25. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I thought as much but I had to make sure. :D
     

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