1. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

    Nov 14, 2016
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    West Coast of the US of A

    Language and Naming Places

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by QualityPen, Apr 12, 2017.

    In a fantasy setting, is it better to name places in their native language, or in English? Specifically, I am asking about names made of normal words.

    For example...
    Bashnya Vetrov vs Tower of the Winds
    Cours-En-Ria vs Castle on the River
    Cours De Cuerzava vs Cuerzava Castle
    Pasra ton Acadra vs Pass of Acadra
  2. truthbeckons

    truthbeckons Active Member

    Apr 1, 2017
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    It's a stylistic choice. You can give the translated version of the place name if the meaning is evocative. If it's based, even partially, on a real language, it might be fun for the reader to dig out the words, especially if they won't be missing key information if they don't happen to know the literal meaning for certain.

    (It's also easier, rather than working out an internally consistent naming language, to just give English translations.)

    I think the important thing is to be consistent, sticking generally with translations or untranslated names, but remembering that you can always explain what they mean when you want/need to.

    Think about what the characters know and understand, too. If they don't know the language, they might hear of a place as "Cours-En-Ria" and refer to it that way because they don't know that it means "Castle on the River", while characters fluent in the local language might give an English translation to make it clear that they know what they're talking about.

    That's not just for dialogue, the whole narration can suggest either familiarity or alienness that way.

    Because this is based on preference, if you're not sure, it might help to look at what a range of fantasy authors do, see which approach you like the most and decide whether it would work for your project.
    Infel and QualityPen like this.
  3. Miscellaneous Worker

    Miscellaneous Worker Member

    Feb 4, 2017
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    Where there is work...
    I usually believe it is based on the region of the story- take a real place such as France, movie or book. The people speak in English and name places the same way, but special places are named in French. If the culture or area of the story matters, I suggest using the native language.
  4. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

    Sep 23, 2015
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    This is an interesting question, I've been developing my own fantasy setting recently so it's been on my mind a bit.

    I think it's important to remember that place names work on two levels: the characters use them in dialogue with each other, but you are also using them to signify stuff to your reader. I always try to keep in mind the fact that, while I'm writing the story in English, the characters are speaking to each other (or thinking to themselves) in a language which isn't English. So the question is really one of: when do you translate for the reader, vs. when do you rely on them to figure it out for themselves? It's not a problem uncommon in other settings: we use untranslated bits of foreign languages in everyday speech. How do I decide whether to say "self-proclaimed" or "soi disant" in a given sentence?

    It's generally a question of how much distance you want to create between the reader and the story/character/whatever. We generally assume that our readers are more comfortable with English than with other languages. If you use more untranslated bits of foreign (especially made-up, fantasy) languages, you'll leave the reader feeling more alienated. If that's the effect you want, then great.

    I'd say it can also be used to demonstrate distance between characters within the story, though. We associate foreign languages (or fancy English) with more sophisticated, educated, or high-status characters. We associate plainer language, or more idiomatic or informal language, with lower-status characters. Consider the following lines as an example:

    "Our clandestine rendezvous was to take place at midnight, on the bridge at Cours-en-Ria. He assured me he would have the gold with him."

    " 'e told me to come 'round about midnight, out to the middle o' the bridge by the old castle. Said 'e'd have my baubles with 'im."

    Anyway, these are just some of my (not very organized) thoughts. I think the short answer to your question is: you don't need to pick one way or the other and stick with it, instead it might help describe things if you switch it up depending on the situation.
  5. Ulquiorra9000

    Ulquiorra9000 Member

    May 5, 2017
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    Columbia, MO
    In fantasy, I sometimes see the narrator use a foreign name for something, then provide the translation for the reader's benefit, then continue using either just the foreign name or the English one, whichever is used second. Like: "Bashnya Vetrov, the Tower of Winds, stood proud among the sheep-dotted rolling hills. The Tower had weathered many sieges before, never falling. Some call the Tower 'the pride of our kingdom', in fact." That's just one method, though.

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