1. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    Translating Cultural Language

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by QualityPen, Nov 28, 2016.

    In some languages in our world, there are distinct cultural aspects of languages which cannot be translated directly. For example, in Spanish and Russian there are formal and informal versions of the word, "you." I am aware that English used to have this concept ("you" is the formal, "thee" was informal), but this concept has faded from modern English usage long ago.

    In cultures with the concept of formal/informal second person it is considered highly impolite to refer to somebody in the informal version if you do not know them well. For example, a Spanish speaker may find it offensive if a stranger refers to them with "tu" rather than "usted." Is there a good way to show this interaction to English speaking readers or is it too clunky or lost on this audience?
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The missing informal 2nd person singular is actually thou. Thee is the object form, equivalent to him, her, rather than he, she.

    Assuming you are writing in a fictional world where the informal is definitely cause for insult, this would be most easily expressed, I think, through the narrative. Trying to work this into the actual dialogue would be tedious. Also, I think it's important to have a good grasp of how and why informal is used rather than formal. I happen to speak both languages you mention, Russian and Spanish, and in neither language is the informal an automatic insult when used with a stranger. I would never refer to someone of my own age or younger as usted (formal), regardless of whether I know them or not. And in Russian, вы (formal) vs ты (informal) has a very similar dynamic. When to use each is more complex than just knowing or not knowing someone. Most languages that have formal, informal, and honorifics actually have rather complex inculturated senses of when to use them. And it's not stable from one speaking region to the next. In Puerto Rico, we are very heavy, where in some other Spanish speaking countries they lean more towards usted. But in both cases it's only a lean, a tendency, something you notice when your own lean goes the other way.
     
  3. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I feel like most English speakers know about formal/informal pronouns? I mean, who hasn't taken a year or two of French or Spanish or whatever?

    So I think it would be easy enough to introduce the idea, but the problem might be to continue making it clear which form was being used. There are only so many "he said, using the informal pronoun" and "she noted that he'd shifted to the informal pronoun--good" comments you can make before things get unwieldy...
     
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  4. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    Thanks for the corrections. Russian is my first language, and there are situations in which using "ты" might be considered rude, even if not necessarily an automatic insult as I previously said. Usually if an individual considers this usage rude, they will usually respond with "when did we transition to ты?" I think the Russian movie Irony of Fate had that dynamic shown in one of the scenes. My understanding of Spanish is rudimentary, so I'll definitely take your information into consideration.

    Thanks for the response!
     
  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Не за что. ;)
     
  6. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I can make a suggestion. If you want to keep the cultural flavour, have your characters refer to people as Señor Guerrero, Senõrita Maria, etc. That way you can use the English "you" with the notion that in that culture people don't treat each other that informally. English speakers are already used to this with the German Herr, the Japanese San, the Spanish Señor, the French Monsieur. No idea if it exists in Russian. Help my general culture, does it?...
     

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