1. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Translating Foreign Language...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JJ_Maxx, Dec 14, 2012.

    So I have a part in my writing that reads like this:

    Is this the appropriate way to translate the sign to a reader?

    ~ J. J.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think the parentheses are correct.

    Why include the French at all? The only reason I can think of to do so is if the character doesn't read French, and in that case, I wouldn't provide a translation immediately afterward. Let the reader discover the meaning of the sign at the same time the character does, and in the same way.
     
  3. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    I'm trying to create atmosphere by using the French wording. So they don't think, 'Hey, why is his sign in English when it's France! That makes no sense! I'm gonna send this author a note to tell him he is rubbish!'. ;)
     
  4. ZDavid
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    ZDavid New Member

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    In my personal opinion, unless what the sign reads is significant at a later point, I tend to agree with Ed on "why include the French at all?". I understand you're trying to provide a little atmosphere, but I would think that unless the atmosphere is well laid out to begin with, a couple of words in another language are not going to be sufficient to create a scene on their own. I'm sure you are well aware of that. I'm simply making a point that I'm still not sure why it's really necessary.

    If your heart is set on using the French, however, the parentheses look fine to me. The only thing that's off (from my eyes, anyway) is that your period is in the wrong place. It should come after the close-parenthesis, in this case.
     
  5. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Why have the translation at all? Can you not make it clear that Tessier is a toymaker in another way?
     
  6. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I'm coming from the other direction on this one... why bother translating it?

    Your scene is probably playing out in one of two ways: 1/ either the reader already knows who Tessier is, so they already know he's a toymaker; or 2/ they don't know who he is, but your POV character is about to walk into his workshop/shop and as soon as they do a line describing the place (which you'll probably be doing anyway) will let them know.

    I agree the French gives atmosphere and I'd rather use that than just English, but the translation is going to break the flow. Stick it in a footnote if you really must have it.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just have it in French and don't translate at all, especially if the character speaks French. And if the character doesn't speak French then the translation makes even less sense. Why don't you simply have your character read the French, and then observe the shop - that's what people do, they see a sign that they don't understand, they start looking for clues, in this case it would be the shop window. Simply show your readers toys lining the window - it'd bring it more to life.

    Or just write the translation immediately after the French and present it as the character's thoughts.

    One word on punctuation - I'd personally use a colon.

     
  8. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    Or you can refer to it as a toymaker's shop in the following sentence to make it clear. The character looked at the sign and then entered the toymaker's shop. Or mention it in his/her thoughts.
     
  9. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I understand. My current project is set partly in a Spanish-speaking country, so I have the same challenge. I slip in Spanish words (italicized) and then find ways to show the reader what they mean. I sometimes slip in sentences or words in Spanish and don't translate them, allowing the reader to figure the meanings via the contect. You can establish by dialogue or narrative beforehand that Tessier is a toymaker, and then just present the sign in French.
     
  10. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    I would just use the French sign in the description, and later make the character reveal it's a Toymaker's shop when he finds out.
    For example, if you walked past a Godisaffär in my town, you would just read this weird sign. Upon entering you'd notice it's a candy shop.

    But if your character speaks French, then you can add the translation, but I'd do it in a more subtle way.

    For example:
    (it's a suggestion, I'm not an author, I'm not correcting your work and I don't know how this would fit in the narration)
    Arraving at the Toymaker's, a humble sign above the wooden door reads, ‘Tessier - Fabricant de Jouets’.

    But then again, I could be completely wrong.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first of all, that's not a correct translation, since there is no 'the' in the sign version... it says, 'Tessier - Toymaker'

    and i agree with all who say to not put the translation in parentheses, but to let the readers know what it says in some other way, such as mentioning the sign says 'Toymaker' in french... or simply describing a shop full of toys, with a guy whose in the process of making one somewhere in the shop...

    i also wonder what 'humble' would mean in re a sign... and nothing should be in italics in the ms... just underline what you want to be printed that way...
     
  12. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    A large neon sign in huge letters would be the opposite of humble, pretentious even. A small wooden handwritten sign would be humble.
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Better to describe it as "small wooden handwritten" and let the reader interpret it as "humble".
     
  14. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    But correct me if I'm wrong, but sometimes houses are referred to as humble, are they not? It is a word used to show that they do not flaunt their wealth or status.

    But back to the topic, I believe there have been movies that will start using subtitles, then switch to english speaking later in the movie. It's a technique to set a mood or atmosphere.

    My story is set in Fontenette, a small town nestled in the hills of southern France. This particular toymaker lives on a small dirt road named Chossière. This is all in the beginning of my story and it fits the pattern. French town, French road, French sign, etc... This is all to create a feeling of a French countryside. It will become less blatant as the story progresses, however.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    True. It comes down to this: what do you want the reader to see? If you say "humble", the reader may see a small, cramped shop with little to attract the eye, but may not see a small wooden handpainted sign. If you say "small wooden handpainted sign", the reader will see that and create other impressions as well, but may not think of it as "humble" so much as "quaint".

    Yes, but movies are a very different medium. What works best in a film doesn't always translate well to print. The presence of subtitles allows the viewer to translate immediately. But if there were not subtitles, viewers might well become frustrated with a scene done entirely in a foreign language. OTOH, print doesn't allow for noninvasive, simultaneous translation, so including a translation immediately following the foreign language makes for cumbersome text, while failure to clue the reader in on what just happened, or was said, can frustrate the reader.

    In which case, by the time you get to the toy shop, the reader will know the sign is in French.
     
  16. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Well I guess the description of the marrionettes in the window and the toy soldiers would give people a clue. I will either, leave it in French or change it to English.

    Another question is can I add some French in the dialogue? Example:

    Seem alright?
     
  17. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I think it is fine to use Bonjour and Monsieur, because everyone knows what they mean. (In french books they often say "Mister", and use other english words.). But the dialogue does sound a bit forced (a bit "faux français" - there is a very bad English comedy series called 'Allo, 'Allo and it reminds me of that.) "I wonder who it is from?" does anyone speak like that, in English (it is how you would speak in French)? If you are using English - use phrases as you would in English, not how they would say them in French.
     
  18. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Well, not only is it French, but it's early 20th century as well. 1900-1910-ish. So they spoke differently back then. Perhaps this is too much for me to handle...
     
  19. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I would stick to normal speech patterns but not use modern words or phrases, if it is only 1900's (not actually that long ago - check out Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work from before the turn of the century). Otherwise it sounds a bit odd. (only my opinion).
     
  20. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Well, I did read some Anne of Green Gables today, and the dialogue was quite formal I believe. (Green Gables was published in 1908.)

    Some examples:


    Now, that being said, the example I posted was just that, an example and is not an actual scene in my story. Elderly folks, in the 1900's are very polite and proper. Henri Tessier is an ederly toymaker, who keeps to himself and is very polite and proper, especially when recieving visitors.

    I guess it's hard to critique in a vacuum without knowing the whole story. ;)

    ~ J. J.
     
  21. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    True. But classics don't sound old fashioned. Jane Eyre doesn't sound old fashioned or formal to me - it just is. I agree you should ensure your characters are polite and formal, but something didn't ring true in the dialogue.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In any case, avoid translating. Expose the meaning through context. The window could display hand-crafted toys, for example.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But that doesn't necessarily mean that people's actual speech was formal - it may be that the fashion in novels (especially, as in this case, children's novels) was to depict characters as speaking particularly formally and correctly.
     
  24. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    Personally, I feel if a character understands a language, then it should be written in the text in that language. In this case that means I back the idea of translating the sign directly into English and not having the French at all. However, I do understand the desire to have the French in there due to its feel and flavour.

    As for adding a translation for language spoken by a character that the POV character doesn't know, I would only do that if there was a mechanism for the translation - either a translator is there, or some kind of translation equipment.

    This brings to mind a minor anecdote. When I wrote my second novel, there was a single place where the POV MC is with another MC who I deliberately didn't go inside the mind of for most of the book. The other MC didn't speak the POV MC's language at that point, so when he says a paragraph of dialogue it's all in a foreign language to the POV MC, who after she hears it just reacts with total lack of comprehension. However, one reader complained that I had used a foreign language and hadn't translated it. He expected to be 'in the mind' of the other MC and didn't get that I hadn't translated it because the reader was supposed to be as much in the dark as the POV MC!
     

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