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Using two languages in a novel (1 Viewer)

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fabric_letters

Senior Member
I am writing about two characters one English and one Italian, at the beginning of the story they only speak their native language before being able to communicate fully. The idea behind the story is the language barrier is preventing them from forming a relationship.

I have been writing in 3rd person to get a full narrative of the story and what each character is feeling/doing but when it comes to dialogue I'm struggling. If the Italian is having an Italian conversation with a friend I am writing in English for the reader to understand but does this defeat the point?
 

Lydia14

Senior Member
I don't think that writing the conversation in English would defeat the purpose of having a language barrier. The point is that your characters can't understand each other -- if you put another language in the actual text, it might confuse the reader. I'm doing something similar in a novel I'm writing -- the two main characters have different native languages, but have become fluent in each other's languages over time, and depending on which language they converse in at a given time, not everyone around them can understand what they're saying. I just start off by saying that one of them said something in Language A, so the other responded in kind, and then later on, when they switched back, say something like, "For the benefit of the group, they decided to speak in Language B." But, both Language A and Language B are given to the reader as English.
 

Bishop

WF Veterans
I use italics. Many of my aliens speak to one another in languages other than English, so it goes like this.

"What do you think?" Jack asked.

"Should we trust him?" Tela asked her sister.

"Yes... we don't have any choice." Oela switched back to English. "All right. But be warned..."

With some creative attribution, it's easy to distinguish and clear to the reader which language is being spoken.
 

Lydia14

Senior Member
I've considered using italics in the past, but found that it might be confusing to the reader, because internal thoughts tend to also be in italics. As a rule, I tend to put everything in quotation marks, be they thoughts or actual spoken word, to indicate that they're some form of dialogue, and then use proper attribution where necessary. That might just be a stylistic thing on my part, I suppose -- maybe there's a de facto standard out there I'm not aware of?
 

Bishop

WF Veterans
I've considered using italics in the past, but found that it might be confusing to the reader, because internal thoughts tend to also be in italics. As a rule, I tend to put everything in quotation marks, be they thoughts or actual spoken word, to indicate that they're some form of dialogue, and then use proper attribution where necessary. That might just be a stylistic thing on my part, I suppose -- maybe there's a de facto standard out there I'm not aware of?

I don't really use internal thoughts, myself. But in those instances, I just wouldn't use quotation marks. As for a de-facto? I'm not really sure. I've seen languages done different ways in books.
 

Morkonan

WF Veterans
...I have been writing in 3rd person to get a full narrative of the story and what each character is feeling/doing but when it comes to dialogue I'm struggling. If the Italian is having an Italian conversation with a friend I am writing in English for the reader to understand but does this defeat the point?

A very interesting dilemma! And, a very good question!

I think it would defeat "the point", but only if you did not explore the internal thoughts of the participants. In order to get across the frustration and difficulty of not having a mutually understood language, you're going to have to go "somewhere else" to demonstrate that. At least, if you want both speakers to always be understood by the Reader.

Wow, a conundrum. :) The only place you can go is inside their heads. You'll have to use an omniscient narrator in order to give voice to the internal frustrations of the participants instead of giving that "experience" to the Reader by partially writing in a possibly incomprehensible language.

But, does that best serve the sort of story or theme you're trying to present? Would it be better to let the Reader "experience" that frustration in a more direct manner by staying only within the perspective of one of the participants?

Is there a truly worthy reason that you can think of why you must allow the Reader to know what it is that both people are trying to communicate? Does this reason add significantly to the story experience more than a restricted viewpoint/narrator would?
 

Seedy M.

Senior Member
I had that problem with the Clint Faraday books. Clint is in Panamá. Many of his closer friends are Ngobe Indios.
I've used parenthesis to translate. "Oye, Clint! Co coin dega!" (Hi. Clint! Beautiful day!) or "Ola, Clint! Muy bueno dia!" ("Hello. Clint. Very nice day!")
I met a reader in David who said she really liked that. She came to Panamá on vacation and sat next to an Indio woman on the bus. She tried it. "Oye! Co coin dega!" The woman spoke English and said she was delighted that a tourist would consider it important to learn the language in a place she was visiting. She learned a new word! "Dega" is morning. Coin "dere" is good afternoon. She became friends with the woman and they communicate regularly on the net, now that the reader has returned to Oklahoma.
I think the use of translation in parenthesis serves quite well.
 
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