1. David Lee

    David Lee Member

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    Language barrier. How and when to transition for the reader?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by David Lee, Nov 18, 2016.

    I am at a crossroads. Currently writing a scene where we are following two demons as they become involved in a dramatic situation. So far I have used "demon speak" for their dialogue and have used narrative to show what is going on. In the beginning, it works well and adds some interesting mood to the scene. Now, however, I have come to a point where the dialogue is relevant and can not be implied by the narrative.

    How do I make the transition between the language barrier for the reader without suddenly switching from the demon speak into English? I have been thinking hard on this and nothing seems right so far. If I just simply switch to English suddenly it takes away from the mood that has been formed already.

    If I omit the demon speak from the start I lose part of what I am trying to create here.

    This is what I have:


    The Naraka, The Slag Pits

    [The idea for] a huge area that was once a battlefield for the angels and demons. The angels used light where the demons used darkness to fight one another. The forces involved collided against each other creating great fissures and cracks in the natural rock; the landscape was forever changed. Steam pockets pressed upward from deep below causing random eruptions as the weakened and brittle surface crust gave way. Enormous sections collapsed leaving behind craters full of magma.

    Over time the magma cooled somewhat and formed new crust with smaller pockets and pools that allowed the pressure to release itself through natural vents. The area became known as Hrl Ibmv Wnhi (translated: The Slag Pits).

    It was at this point that a young Demon Prince, who went by the name Katabohamon, was forging his rise to power...


    The mephits slowly circled their prey. It had wandered into the pools and was now shrieking pitifully as the steam and gasses slowly and agonizingly melted what was left of the decayed flesh from its bones. Hopping on one leg it tried to find solid footing in hopes of freeing itself. The mephits swarmed, each of them striking at the dying thing. They knocked it off balance and went into a frenzy as it fell face first into the acidic mire. It thrashed violently as the screams turned into gurgles. The mephits ripped and tore at its backside shredding flesh and sinew until there was nothing left. They feasted.

    A short distance away there was a loud splash as a greater demon landed and began running across the scorched rock. It was casting dark bolts into the sky. Above, two Valkyries dodged the bolts and continued tracking the demon. A second demon landed with a crash, smashing what was left of the corpse and several unfortunate mephits who were not quick enough.

    The Valkyries screeched as they locked in on the first demon, streaking toward it. Katabohamon snarled, squinting his eyes... the mist was thick here and the sky was dark. He could not pinpoint the Valkyries with any accuracy but their incessant screeching would be their undoing as a delicious idea occurred to him.

    The Demon Prince shot toward the largest cluster of pools he could see. The rock here had been turned to glass and was fragile. The slightest vibration causing new cracks to appear across the unstable surface as pressure was released from below. Looking back he signaled to Ahbaxas.

    “Bpgl hrla njhe hrl weebi,” Katabohamon said.

    Ahbaxas grinned. “Iejns mwli,” he said.

    The two demons began making a low almost inaudible moaning. The ground reacted to the vibration of the sounds the demons were producing. Tiny fragments and pebbles began to jitter and dance across the surface. The demons brought their resonance together holding the sub tones at precisely the right frequency.

    There were small tremors and faint rumbling from below. The Valkyries broke through the dark mist each of them wailing the high pitch shrill as they closed in for the kill. That was all that it took as the opposite end of the sound spectrum caused a reaction, the glass shattered. The ensuing eruption was huge. Both Valkyries were caught in the spray of shrapnel and hot gas as the ground exploded beneath them.

    The demons dove and scrambled behind the limited cover more worried about being drawn into the gaping maw as the ground fell away rather than the effect of the heat or the blast.

    “Gpj!” Ahbaxas shouted.

    Katabohamon was sliding backward as the ground continued to crack and crumble beneath him. The pit was growing rapidly. He latched onto the rock and glass, his talons breaking and snapping as he embedded them trying to find some stability to stop his descent.

    Ahbaxas had found refuge on a higher ledge, turning back, he saw Katabohamon straining. There was a dark moment as Ahbaxas considered leaving the prince behind. They looked into each others eyes. As his prince was slowly losing his grip, Ahbaxas made a choice.

    “Nh ni pjzeghpjmhl hrmh hrl Wmbcognli smal pwej pi nj hrl andih ez mbb hrmh ni esspggnjv ao Wgnjsl,” Ahbaxas said.

    Katabohamon was too proud to beg for help.


    Sorry for the lengthy post. The last sentence with dialogue is where I need to let the readers know what is now being said and I would love any ideas on a transition that is seamless as possible.

    Thanks all.
     
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  2. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    Any mood you are trying for in including this is lost because I can guarantee no reader is going to bother reading it. They'll cotton on that it is, for all intents and purposes, gibberish, and skip it from that point on.
    Use English from the start, and add demonese in sporadically later, if you must. The fact that it's hard to transition from entirely one to entirely the other is a symptom of the fact that it's better avoided.
     
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  3. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Honestly? I don't think the demon speak adds anything at all to the narrative. Perhaps you're just a little too close to the narrative to see this, but the truth is, as a reader who knows nothing about your story and I see gibberish like "ghk fnnfda md fhsjf h", I automatically skip over it. I don't even bother with it, because, well, why on earth would I? I already know I won't understand and the info actually comes after this gibberish. Too much of this gibberish and I may put the book down altogether. Perhaps you think it adds to the mood because you actually know precisely what the demons are saying - I, the reader, do not, and am not half as fascinated by it as you might be.

    I'm not saying eliminate demon speak altogether - it has its place. But I do not think its place is in whole exchanges written entirely in demon speak.

    My opinion is that perhaps you should write it the same way any writer would when incorporating a foreign language into an English book. You basically write in English and throw in one or two foreign words, and either those words' meaning can be deduced by context or else it is translated for the reader's benefit immediately after the line. So like this:

    A: hey, did you get the milk?
    B: I haven't been to the potraviny yet.
    A: Well, I need that milk to make pancakes. Get going already!

    ^I have no idea if my example is good or not but you see what I mean. It should be obvious what "potraviny" is (corner shop in Czech) in context.

    Or like this:

    A: "Yeah he was certain he was gonna win."
    B: "Got a bit cocky, didn't he?"
    A: "Thought he was the best. Well, as they say, yun san wenyow yun san go." There's always a mountain higher. B shook his head with a sigh.

    ^obviously it would have to be incorporated into an actual paragraph and not formatted like the above, but again, you get the point.


    Alternatively if you insist on keeping all your demon speak (I strongly advise against that), but if you do, then translating immediately after the line is fine too - you obviously do not wanna do this for every single line but only key lines.

    In a book I'm reading that's about someone's transition into another culture, English is used to interesting effect. The main character is a girl who speaks broken English, since she's a fresh US immigrant, and sometimes she will say, "You crazy melon, why are you crying?"

    "Crazy melon" is actually the literal translation of a Cantonese phrase - since I speak Cantonese, I immediately know what she's on about. In any case, this is a very interesting way of adding that flavour you speak of, in my opinion, without being too intrusive. I can't say how confusing it is or isn't, since as I said, I speak the language the character's translating from.

    And in other places when she's speaking English with her American friends, her part in the dialogue is written in stilted and even incorrect English. When she's speaking Cantonese with her mother and the whole exchange is obviously written in English, it is written in fluent and smooth English to reflect her fluency in the language.

    Perhaps that's a better way of retaining some flavour of the unknown?
     
  4. David Lee

    David Lee Member

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    Thanks for the feedback, yes, I see the point you are making and tend to agree. I was thinking maybe there was a way to do it that I wasn't aware of is all. I have already made changes to the draft.
     
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  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Completely agree with @Mckk, as I am often wont to do in these cases. She and I are both polyglots, so the idea of another language/code in and of itself is not an issue for us. What's at issue is the engagement for the reader. The reader has to have data that he/she can parse and process and use as part of the creation of the story, and the lines of Demon Speakonese just don't parse. As Mckk already pointed out, when one speaks more than one language one is aware that different languages do what they do in different ways, which allows for different kinds of syntax, word play, etc., that are the dynamics that give that language its distinctiveness and flavor. I speak Spanish and Russian, and the two, though related as Indo-European languages, are like night and day. Spanish is a show-off in a flamenco dress of endless ruffles and lace and doesn't just take more words to say the same thing Russian will say in just three words and English in five words, it revels in the act of turning a sentence into a paragraph that leaves you mentally breathless by the end. As an interpreter and translator this can be an annoyance, but as a creator of fiction I see that this is part and parcel of the Spanishness of Spanish. Were I to deliver lines - written in English for the reader to understand - I would imitate this endless roll of words, not use actual Spanish that the reader doesn't understand. Russian is the opposite. It's an inflected language, so the words are declined for grammatical cases meaning there are far fewer "helper" words to direct the traffic of syntax. This makes for a curt, brusque manner of speech, but also opens a whole other vista of wordplay that Russians enjoy greatly making any conversation between friends a layered game of flat meaning, hidden meaning, and double entendres.

    Those are real-world examples, of course, so I would say you should think about how these demons communicate in their own language and give us that, in English. Do they have a system of honorifics? Do they have a pecking order of who can speak to whom? Is there is a formal and informal mode depending on when one addresses higher or lower status/age/size/length of head-horns. :) Those are just random examples of things to think about, but you get meaning, yes? All this - created by your hand - will be much more telling to us about these demons than lines of dialogue we cannot read.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'd tend to agree - when you think of books about other cultures or languages - say something about the war in vietnam , they don't have huge tracts of vietnamese, in most cases if a viet is shown speaking its in english, with maybe one or two vietnames words thrown in for context

    Demon is no different
     
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  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Also if there's a human present you can play it like this

    "your kin will be torn apart and buggered by rabid goblins for this you rotting piece of angel shit" screamed Ahbaxas in the demon tongue

    Bob looked on uncomprehending, the demon language sounding to his mortal ear like a breeze block going through a car crusher
     
  8. tonguetied

    tonguetied Contributor Contributor

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    What a great question and responses. I was thinking about how to handle space alien dialogue who are scientists so their language usage would be very specific and technical compared to the standard layman alien which makes it easier in my mind, more tell than show to ensure clarity. big soft moose's post is an excellent example for my needs. And much grass to Wreybies and m̀hgòi to Mckk (thanks google for the Cantonese which I hope is close to being right).
     
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  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Another approach as shown by James Clavell in 'king rat' is to use stylised English for the foreign language. In the book (which is about Changi POW camp in ww2) its an important plot point that peter marlowe speaks malay and is thus able to translate for "the king" (a prisoner who has built a trading empire in the camp) with the guards who also speak it and with the locals.

    In general when he is showing the guards speaking to prisoners or each other he uses english but with translated idiom or isolated japanese words, but when Marlowe is speaking Malay Clavell uses stylised old english "he says he might on this night hath something to please the discerning taste" to make the point that it is different
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
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  10. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Excellent example. This is kinda' what I mean when I was talking about other languages and the way the do what they do. In Russian, a perfectly common way to ask someone where they are going is Куда ты? (koo-dah ty). The most literal translation into English would be Whither thou? The Russian phrase doesn't even use a verb because Куда (whither) already contains the idea of motion.
     
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  11. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Haha yes, that's correct :-D

    @Wreybies - I now have an image of Russians going "Hast thou gotteth mine coffee?" and "Homeward! The end of work is nigh!" (is that how you spell nigh??) :ghost:
     
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  12. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I know it sounds funny, but the Russian equivalent words for whither, thither, and hither (куда, туда, сюда) are alive and well and in everyday use by average Russians. :) The Russian word for plain-old stationary where (as in Where is he?) is где (gdye).
     
  13. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I like how Kathy Reichs handled the Canadian French-English in her Brennan novels:

    "[Line of French dialogue]," said [Character]. [English translation].

    Though as everybody else has said, constructing a language from scratch requires a lot more than just 1:1 changes in vocabulary.

    In my Doctor Who fanfic, decided I that would my Malmooth character Shanjik's POV be shown in English vocabulary, but with non-English grammar. Wanted I to get the same effect as Yoda-speak, but without copying the exact details, so started I looking into how was English grammar different from others.

    Found I that is "Subject-Object-Verb" order one of the most basic ways to categorize a language: are most Earth languages SOV (He-This-Did"), is the closest second SVO ("He-Did-This"), and is Yoda-speak OSV ("This-He-Did"). Ruled out I SOV and SVO because wanted I to be my alien's grammar unusual compared to humanity's, ruled out I OSV for obvious reasons but also OVS ("This-Did-He") and VOS ("Did-This-He") for sounding too similar, so started I using VSO ("Did-He-This"). Not perfectly, don't I imagine, but closely enough that felt I comfortable that would be my character's internal monologue both alien and intelligible.​
     
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  14. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    Врейбиз, мы очень любим тебя, наш учитель русского языка!
    Sorry, I can't help myself.
     
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  15. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Hahah. :-D

    Ничего. Мне очень, очень нравится. :supercool:
     
  16. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Wreybies @NiallRoach - I want in on the Russian joke!! :ninja:

    And why is gdye funny? Sounds a lot like Czech's kde. The K here sounds a lot more like an English G.
     
  17. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    He professed his affections and proclaimed me the local teacher of Russian. ;)

    The где part isn't funny, just the bit about the other words for whither, thither, and hither still being in perfectly common use in Modern Russian. Funny in that those words, while still known to us in Modern English, are sufficiently antique as to sound odd were one to use them in street parlance. :)
     
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  18. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    Whither and its buddies are in common use in pretty much all of the languages I have experience of; Russian, German, Icelandic, Latvian. As far as European languages go, we're the odd ones out.

    /derail
     
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  19. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    YA TEBYA LYUBYU TOZHE, I don't have time to switch to Cyrillic.

    Seriously, @David Biggs , back to the OP, less is more for this. In my book, I used Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Chinese and Bactrian (ancient Afghan/Urdu), but very sparingly, and always immediately translated. I probably sprinkled more Latin in than anything else, but I used words that were easily pronounceable, and were either recognizable or familiar. I was amused with vexillatio, which is a military term meaning "little flag," a detachment of subunits from a legion to go support someone else. It has come to mean annoyance, because presumably legion commanders were not happy to cobble up a few centuries or a cohort for detached duty elsewhere, and probably didn't send their best. I used that line, which culminated in a chapter dealing with exactly that last topic, as the officer encountered a detachment OIC who had been the recipient of his "eighty of the worst batch of scoundrels, ne-er-do-wells, and thieves, one promoted to centurion, and sent on their way, hoping never to see them again."

    In your case, the first usage was
    “Bpgl hrla njhe hrl weebi,” Katabohamon said.

    Ahbaxas grinned. “Iejns mwli,” he said.

    If you translate them immediately following first use, then you can transition into demon-speak using English for the rest, which you might want to differentiate by using a unique style of English. In mine, I didn't differentiate much between people speaking Greek or Latin, but when they used Aramaic (ancient Arabic), I used a King James version of English (thou sayest, etc). Also Chinese learning Latin spoke in kind of a pidgin, which actually reflects Chinese language structure, and similarly, Romans first learning Chinese or Bactrian were having initial difficulty speaking. But don't overdo it... that can become a distraction if their lack of linguistic fluency is not causing them some problem relevant to the story. Simple sentences, and a few " ... " to indicate they are trying to find the right word is enough for that, so the reader shares their frustration.

    But don't continue using that kind of gibberish throughout as it will get old fast, especially since you have chosen unpronounceable words.
     
  20. Francis de Aguilar

    Francis de Aguilar Contributor Contributor

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    I agree. I had a similar quandary with a scene set in Italy, but the feedback on here soon cleared it up for me. Just the odd, and if possible, understandable word.
     
  21. RaitR_Grl

    RaitR_Grl Member

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    You could also try something that Christopher Paolini did in his "Inheritance" books. Write the "Demon speak" in italics, and then include an appendix at the end, sort of as a "demon speak glossary". Some readers might find it a bit bothersome to constantly flip pages back and forth, but I didn't have a problem with it. Just like when I read George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones books, I found myself constantly flipping to the appendix to check out who's who whenever he mentioned a new name, and even in the fifth book, I still referred to the maps in front of the books when he mentioned a new location. May be a bit bothersome, but definitely helpful.

    Good luck!
     

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