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Foreign Languages in Writing


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If you are using an uncommon foreign language(Such as Inuit) would it be better to use the words from that language in the dialogue or to provide the reader with the translation while simply saying that the characters don't understand it?

I'm leaning toward authenticity and leaving the language intact, but I'm open to opinion on the matter.

Speaking of which, anyone speak Inuit? :biggrin:

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I think that kind of calls attention to itself too much, plus it's hard to read. I have read some works of fiction where the foreign person utters a phrase, then indicates in sign language what he or she means. Eventually, the two figure out a way to communicate.

But I think long stretches of

Blah-blah-blooey-blah-blah <I see the moon in the sky>

Blooey-blah-blah-blah-blah-blimey <and it totally matches your eyes>

would drive me crazy. What was the story somebody posted here recently where an American boy meets a French boy in Paris, and they figure out how to have a conversation? Very well done. What I remember there is, the American figured out the French words in context, and the French boy knew enough scattered words of English to make the point clear.

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What about a glossary of terms at the end so that they can go back and look it up if they care that much? Do you think that might cover the best part of both worlds?

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A lot will depend on how much is clear in context. If a character says "Gogblea al 'aht Mazanda" and then tried to kiss the protagonist, you can get the general gist of what they said. If the translation is important, I would try to find a way to have it as part of the story, not just dumped on the reader.

Too much foreign language use gets daunting and can turn readers off. If the characters are supposed to understand each other, then use English, with maybe something like '"Let's go to bed. I'm horny," he said in his uncultured Mandarin dialect.'

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The problem that I had with a recent story is that the foreign language wasn't correct. If you are going to use more than a few phrases -- if you are going to use whole sentences -- make sure it is not just a Google translator output. Make it something that the speaker would actually say in his or her own language. A few scheisskopfs, mon dieu's, salauds, stronzos, merdes can be understood in context.

It's bad enough having Australia and the United States,being two nations separated by a common language.

Apologies to Churchill.

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I'll only be using a few words, and it will be in the midst of a contentious situation where the two parties involved do not understand each other. I want to accentuate the fact that they don't.

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A few words, very few, are OK. But if I see foreign language that isn't immediately clear to me, what it does is take me out of the scene, and that's very disruptive. I don't ever see how having foreign works in a story helps it. I think it's better to simply say the one person didn't understand the other when he dropped into using his own language, or something like that. Writing something that almost none of your readers will understand is simply frustrating and annoying.

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