1. xxtake_controlxx
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    xxtake_controlxx Member

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    Use of Other Languages or Unfamiliar Words

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by xxtake_controlxx, Apr 23, 2009.

    I was starting a short story - which should actually be pretty short - but I came across an issue. I am hoping for this story to be a period piece, meaning it is about a certain period in time. So, I've decided to write about Nazi Germany, specifically Kristallnacht. Anyway, since my character is Jewish, I am planning on using sparse Yiddush words for certain descriptions since I feel that they are better suited than an English version of the same word. I am also planning on writing a prayer in Hebrew in there.

    Is that frowned upon? Should I stick to English since the short story is aimed at an English speaking audience? Or is it acceptable to use words in other languages on occasion without defining them?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You could write it in Hebrew and then put a translation at the bottom of the page. I actually don't mind that if it's done for a good reason. You should really try to define the words. Otherwise, the reader might miss something crucial. The only reason not to put a translation is if most of the target audience is familiar with that word. For example, some Russian stories use French words, but this is only because a lot of the educated population is familiar with at least elementary French.

    If you're planning on submitting it, then it might be better to write it in English. A lot of magazines I have come across have a statement or two in their guidelines saying that the piece you submit must be in English.
     
  3. xxtake_controlxx
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    xxtake_controlxx Member

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    I don't think I'm actually planning on submitting it to a magazine or something. I'm really just writing it for my own benefit and maybe making it part of a larger story at some point in my life.

    I just feel - and this may be wrong - that sometimes other non-English words authenticate a piece, especially if the person speaking lives in an environment or is from an environment where another language is spoken or other words are used. I mean, I think, besides the prayer, which should be made evident whey it's being said, most of the words can be defined in context. Like, it doesn't need to be explicitly defined, I don't think. It may be because I know what the word means, though.

    Like, take this sentence (besides the fact that I don't think it's worded well):

    "Almost instantaneously I was able to tell the difference between the Jews and the goyim by those ugly little yellow stars all of us had to wear."

    It's from my story. I think that goyim is relatively well defined in context, but I'm not sure. Is it? And is it acceptable to use that instead of an English translation?
     
  4. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    From a personal perspective, I think it's totally reasonable to have unfamiliar words or bits form another language. But with anything, make sure it's not overdone. If we are never exposed to new words how would we learn? And I agree that I think it makes the writing more... real, I guess.
    If it were a novel I could see you having a glossary or something, but for a short story, I can't see it. But that's just me. Unless it's absolutely critical that the reader have the definition of a word or phrase, I wouldn't worry about it.
    And yes, I think the meaning of Goyim is clear from that sentence. I got that it was someone who was not a Jew. Is that right?
    Anyways, just my thoughts.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    It really depends on how you use it. Mansfield and Nabokov, two of the greatest writers of the 20th century, often incorporated elements of other languages into their writing to convey a deeper sense of meaning. The upside: you can communicate more effectivly and usually (since english is a fairly clumsy language in the hands of most) more elegantly. The downside: unless you're willing to jump online and translate, some readers might be turned off by it. That said, most readers will tolerate a single sentence or idea in a foreign language, risk misunderstanding it and continue. If you write something crucial or write too much in another language then readers will stop. Also, writing from a Jewish perspective, I think you can add a sense of authenticity simply through the voice, even only using english words. Look at some of the work of Art Spiegelman or Jonathan Saffran Foer (sp?) for examples of this.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    An example that comes to mind is Orson Scott Card's Speaker for thr Dead. The novel contains quite a bit of Portuguese. Card translates enough of it that a knowledge of Portuguese is not required, but someone who can follow the language somewhat can pick up nuances that would require too much explanation otherwise.

    I don't speak or read Portuguese myself, but I know enough of other languages that I was able to catch at least some of the nuances.

    To me, Card struck a nearly perfect balance between showing translated and untranslarted Portuguese in the story. It's a good book to study how he incorporated it into the writing.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    They would not have used Hebrew. For a very long time, Hebrew was only for prayer books and not spoken every day. Yiddish is a language that was essentially formed by merging Hebrew and German. It only became a language for every day use again after WW2, which of course is after the day that control is refering to.

    On a personal note, I know you weren't asking this and I don't have the right to tell you what you can and cannot write, control, but I can honestly tell you that I am sick to death of stories about Jews that make reference to that period of history.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Although this is a bit off topic, I will say that I can understand this viewpoint. But on the other hand, I am even more appaled by revisionists who try to pretend insist that those events never occurred, For that reason, I would not want people to stop writing about the horrors of that time.

    It is a very sensitive subject, and it certainly should not be exploited. Buit it would be even worse if it were forgotten.
     
  9. xxtake_controlxx
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    xxtake_controlxx Member

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    Yes, I know they would not have used Hebrew. I was only making reference to that specifically for a prayer that I was planning on ending the piece with - or at least using it near the ending. And any of the other non-English words are going to be Yiddish.

    And, for the second thing: I understand why the subject reference gets old. In all honesty, all subject references get old. But it's more how a person writes it than what it's about. Because with most pieces, it's not specifically what it's about, but the emotions involved and the relationships that are unique to the piece. I'm really writing this more as an experimentation with the point of view than specifically writing about the time period; it's just that I'm familiar with the time period and the time period was at the forefront of my attention because this past week - the 21st, I think - was Yom Hasho'ah (the Holocaust remembrance day).

    But *shrugs*. It's all a matter of opinion.
     
  10. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think this example of your use of language other than English works very well. Without even needing to give a definition of goyim, either in a footnote or somewhere within the story, readers can figure out what it means. I wouldn't worry about including language other than English-it seems to me like you've got a pretty good handle on how to include it in a way that enhances your story.

    That's the example I was going to use. I just finished Xenocide, and I think Card does a very good job of explaining enough of the Portuguese that you can still follow the story and even catch on to some phrases that he doesn't give the English translation for.

    I've read stories that go way overboard with that kind of thing, to the point where you start getting so lost in the languages that you can't pay attention to the story, but that doesn't mean that including foreign languages in a story mostly written in English is bad. It just takes a little work.
     
  11. Edwould1991
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    I'm writing a short story right now set in 17th Century Ireland, and i have to use the Irish language alot... I either explain indirectly afterwards what has been said, or i put in a simple key at the end, like was done in 'The Book Theif' (also set in Nazi Germany):D
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, it goes beyond "how" with this subject. I can only think of two books, and I've read a lot of them, where Jewish culture was prominent and made no reference to anti-semitism. It should be remembered, but can't people figure out how to write Jewish characters without talking about people who hated/hate them?

    On topic, I think you're on the right track with your example in your op. Nothing wrong with inserting words like that. Lots of writers do it. Orson Scott Card is a good example. With full sentences, I've seen lots of writers simply have the translation right next to it, outside the quotation marks.

    Also, another word you could use in place of goyim is "gentile."
     
  13. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    There are a lot of books written that deal with the events of the Holocaust, and while it may get tiring to read them, I'd have to agree with Cog. There are a lot of people who want to underwrite the Holocaust and try to insist that it never happened...I think there was even a movement a few years ago to try to get it removed from history books. Since there's a large group of people who want to try to erase it from history, I'd say the more books that deal with it the better...at least that way, history can be better preserved.

    ~Lynn
     
  14. xxtake_controlxx
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    xxtake_controlxx Member

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    I know it's odd that I'm explaining myself, but whatever. This story - because it's a short story - isn't dealing as much with the anti-Semitism directly as it is dealing with the actual event of Kristallnacht. Like, you get a glimpse of the anti-Semitism because of the time period, but it's not focused as much on the hatred directed towards the Jews (and the others who were persecuted during the Holocaust, since it's wrong to exclude the other groups such as homosexuals, gypsies, and the handicapped) as it is on the emotions of grief, fear, hopelessness, and helplessness. The time period is just used as a background for the short story.

    And yes, I know other words for goyim. It's just that I feel like I'm losing something with a translation of that word. I don't know why, but it's true. I tried writing it with a different word, and that's where I ran into this issue. It just didn't read the same with the use of a different word - at least to me - and I was just curious what others thought about using non-English words occasionally.

    Just as a side note - it's hard to talk about Jewish culture without bringing reference to anti-Semitism on some level. Such a large part of Jewish history revolves around anti-Semitism - even today it's extremely prominent. I know from experience that a large part of what keeps people interested in the Jewish faith and what helps people to keep the faith is that they - we - remember what has happened in the past to those of our religion, and, after all that, can we just discard what we fought so hard for? I mean, that's not all of it, but it's part of it.

    That may not have made a lot of sense. And it goes off topic tremendously.

    Anyway, thanks for the feedback guys!

    And Cog, I completely agree with what you said about it being better to write about it than to forget about it or pretend - or insist - that it didn't exist. That goes not only for the Holocaust - though it is a prime example - but for any genocide or crime against humanity on such a large scale.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there's nothing wrong with adding a sparse sprinkling of commonly-known yiddish words, since it's done quite often, when a writer has good reason for doing so, but if you go beyond that, you'll be alienating [and losing] all or most of your non-yiddish-speaking readers...

    as for the prayer, if it's just a few words/single short sentence and followed by it's english translation, i suppose it can do no harm... but if it's more than that, i doubt it'll do anything but annoy most readers...
     
  16. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I've sometimes seen prayers written in other languages at the very beginning of a book...sorta like a prologue? I didn't understand it, but the rest of the book was in English. So that might be an idea to consider.

    ~Lynn
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Linda Barnes does that with her Carlotta Carlule novels. She sometimes drops in a Yiddish proverb from Carlotta's grandmother, then a little bit further down, she paraphrases it in English.
     
  18. That Silly Welsh Guy
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    That Silly Welsh Guy Senior Member

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    Oh - glad I found this thread 'cause I was gonna start a new thread for the same sort of thing. What about if your character is from outside of that culture/language? That would work, yes? Like, if someone was to move to Spain in a book but knew no Spanish whatsoever, couldn't an author get away with not detailing an immediate and precise translation then? Because, the character themselves would have to learn what of people were saying therefore they'd on the same sort of playing feild as the readers. ... That wasn't explained very well :( But hopefully you'll understand what I'm trying to say.
     
  19. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I think that would be fine as long as both the character/readers learn what it means eventually.

    ~Lynn
     
  20. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Two other examples of using other languages well. River of Gods, and The Bourne Conspiracy novels.
     
  21. Bongo Mongo
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    If you are writing this for yourself and only yourself, then it is really up to you. Unless it bugs you re-reading it, I would say go for it!
     
  22. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know, and I'm sick of constantly being reminded of how much people hate me. Even a book that was actually about the challenges of a girl discovering her sexuality in a very Orthodox community couldn't get through the whole story without mentioning pogroms even though they had nothing to do with the story. We manage to write stories about other opressed cultures without mentioning racism or forgetting that opression. Jews deserve the same thing.

    Anyway, a book that would be great to read, for language help and for cultural understanding of the Jewish aspects is Born to Kvetch. In one section it explains the real maning of Yiddish words that we commonly misuse.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A very valid point, and as you are a writer, an opportunity as well.

    At this point, I do have to request that we return to the original topic. Although the original poster's story focuses on Nazi Germany and the oppression of the Jewish people, the issue under discussion is the incorporation of foreign language passages in fiction, and how to handle it.

    Sorry.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if the readers won't understand it, why put it there?
     
  25. WrongWriter
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    WrongWriter Banned

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    It is very awkward and contrived to use repetition of the phrase or footnotes.

    Most often you can use context (the "difference between Jews and goyim" line is perfectly fine). You can create a context to use:
    "I don't do business with chilangos!" Fine, I thought, but anybody around here who doesn't cater to Mexico City people isn't going to last."

    This makes it clear without jumping through hoops.
    Some writers (William Burroughs a noted example) use very esoteric words without explaining them until many chapters later.
    William Gibson drops words (including that word "chilango") and never bothers to explain them.
    Thing is...does it matter? Editors and teachers are hot to tell you that it does, that anything not laid out in crystaline clarity will drive readers to abandon. But in point of fact, readers grant you quite a bit of lattitude.

    For artistic reasons best known to the writer. To evoke something. To create an air of erudition or mystery. There is very little in creative writing that can pass the "why put it there" test. That's why it's creative writing, no essays.
     

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