Multiple languages in a novel?

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Thread: Multiple languages in a novel?

  1. #1

    Multiple languages in a novel?

    My current novel has a swedish protagonist, traveling to visit his relatives in the US. The novel is primarily in swedish, but big chunks of dialogue are in english. There are several approaches I could take to this:

    1. Just do what many WW2 movies do, and write all dialogue in swedish, while pretending it's english. I hate this method.

    2. Write what a character says in english, and use parantheses to include translations.

    3. Most swedes know enough english to get through it, so maybe just write the english language parts in english, the swedish dialogue in swedish, and leave it at that.

    What do you think? Do you have experience with this?
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  2. #2
    The novel is primarily in Swedish?? So you are WRITING it in Swedish...which is a language you are fluent in?

    I dunno. I doubt thereís many people on here who have written an entire novel (as opposed to short pieces) in anything other than English.

    I have written novels in English and had characters speak other languages in the novel but unless itís a very short phrase I keep it in English even if the part in question is in another language in the story, if that makes sense. What I do is make it clear when the dialogue in question is in the other language . Why do you hate that method? Itís pretty trouble free from a reader standpoint.

    Mainly you just want to make it clear and avoid unnecessary distraction or extra work whatever language your reader speaks. The parenthesis idea sounds distracting, like something from a languages textbook.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Why do you hate that method? Itís pretty trouble free from a reader standpoint.
    Yes, the novel is primarily in swedish, but includes english-speaking characters. I guess the reason I dislike that particular method, is because I instantly notice it. I especially dislike it in films, where the have the nazi (or ze nazi) speak english with a german accent.

    I guess I thought keeping the different languages would be a good way to easily distinguish between the characters, but I see your point.

    One could also add a distracting, comedic touch by being totally self-aware, and have a character make a bad joke about this issue

  4. #4
    Mentor Arachne's Avatar
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    If the book is for the Swedish market and most Swedish people understand English well enough to read it then I'd use the two languages. I think the readers would enjoy it like that (I would be constantly proud of myself if I was bi-lingual and therefor enjoy a chance to test myself) and it would also be at its most authentic - win win.

    Arachne

  5. #5
    In Sepulchre by Kate Mosse half the book follows an English speaker and the other half a French speaker - however the book is written mostly in English. The French characters say a few simple French words i assume the author thought her readers would understand (i didn't, but it didn't detract too much). Together with French names for locations it gave the feel of being French while still being in English. Might be worth you reading just to see how it was done.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by AdrianBraysy View Post
    Yes, the novel is primarily in swedish, but includes english-speaking characters. I guess the reason I dislike that particular method, is because I instantly notice it. I especially dislike it in films, where the have the nazi (or ze nazi) speak english with a german accent.

    I guess I thought keeping the different languages would be a good way to easily distinguish between the characters, but I see your point.

    One could also add a distracting, comedic touch by being totally self-aware, and have a character make a bad joke about this issue
    Okay. But isnít the point to instantly notice it (the presence of a separate language)? It sounds like you donít like it from purely a view of personal preference, because it feels like a Hollywood movie or whatever and you think for some reason that cheapens your work, rather than because itís a less satisfying or effective way to tell your story.

    This is ultimately a style issue not a substance issue so ďdo what thou wiltĒ. I doubt many readers will care, however the minority who canít read any English at all will suffer from a choice to write significant parts in English just like I would suffer if you presented me a story with significant parts in Swedish. I wouldnít like it...because I donít understand it.

    Ultimately as a writer your job is to tell me your story in a way that makes it easier not harder. Novels that are difficult to read donít usually get read.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by AdrianBraysy View Post
    My current novel has a swedish protagonist, traveling to visit his relatives in the US. The novel is primarily in swedish, but big chunks of dialogue are in english. There are several approaches I could take to this:

    1. Just do what many WW2 movies do, and write all dialogue in swedish, while pretending it's english. I hate this method.

    2. Write what a character says in english, and use parantheses to include translations.

    3. Most swedes know enough english to get through it, so maybe just write the english language parts in english, the swedish dialogue in swedish, and leave it at that.

    What do you think? Do you have experience with this?
    I'm leaning toward number two. The print version, if there is one, could use footnotes for the translations. I think parens would be best for the e version.

    It sounds intriguing! Good luck with it!

  8. #8
    Mentor Dluuni's Avatar
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    There's also the comic book method, where you write all the dialog in the base language, and tag everything that is foreign in some way. <Like how my grandmother used to do to the trash birds that would give her a hard time.> Hmm? Sorry, just honoring you. It's a compliment.

  9. #9
    In my books I use the actual language they are speaking, but make sure that I do it in such a way that the reader can figure it out either by context or by the reactions/replies of the other characters. While I realize that many people speak Korean or Spanish, I also realize that statistically speaking, very few of them will read my book. So I use the actual language to be authentic, but make sure the reader will know what they are saying when they do say it.

    Also, another way to handle the language barrier is to get into the character's head and talk about their thoughts and feelings so when they say something in Swedish, readers will know what they were saying even if they do not speak Swedish.

    In my last book I had a character who rants in Portuguese. That was fun. Luckily it mattered not what he said, only that he was ranting in Portuguese.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    In my last book I had a character who rants in Portuguese. That was fun. Luckily it mattered not what he said, only that he was ranting in Portuguese.
    This may not be relevant to the OP but it will likely be to anybody who reads the thread - do you actually speak Portuguese? If not, how do you recommend writing in that language (or any language) if you don't know it?
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

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