Author Topic: Foreign language expressions  (Read 415 times)

Offline MJ

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Foreign language expressions
« on: May 06, 2021, 08:44:55 AM »
Just looking for opinions, not a definitive guide (unless one exists somewhere, in which case, carry on.) If I insert foreign language expressions in a novel, should I write them phonetically (so the reader can 'hear' them as spoken) or as they are written in the foreign language? For example, the Cajun phrase often used in place of an English language greeting: "Comment sont les haricots?", which is actually spoken "Cuhmahn sohn lay zar ee coh?" Cajun is not a written language, per se, but when Cajun song lyrics are written out, they are sometimes in French and sometimes in phonetics and sometimes even a mix of English, French, and "Cajun/phonetic." I've gone all ways and am now paralyzed with indecision. Thanks, all. MJ :)
MJ

Offline richardclin

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Re: Foreign language expressions
« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2021, 09:46:59 AM »
Hi MJ,

I have an easier quandary as I use Roman Pinyin, which is the most widespread standard for conveying Chinese words in English. It also happens to be the most intuitive system for English-speakers phonetically, so I lucked out.

Just based on the one example you provided, I would go with the first (Comment sont les haricots) as it looks so much more elegant. The reader doesn't always have to know how to pronounce the words, I believe. The more important aspect is the authenticity and feeling that it conveys to the reader.

Sincerely,
RCL

Offline MKWrites_318

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Re: Foreign language expressions
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2021, 04:40:56 PM »
I'm reading a book currently that contains quite a bit of Brazilian Portuguese. I don't know how to pronounce it, but if I get curious, I can just google. If she was spelling it phonetically, I wouldn't be able to google it and learn anything useful. So as a reader, I'd say write it in French.

Offline Munley

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Re: Foreign language expressions
« Reply #3 on: May 06, 2021, 06:30:13 PM »
I agree with Richard and MKWrites..

I've recently completed a novel set here in Nova Scotia (Acadie) where the Cajuns (originally pronounced Acadians)  until Le grand dérangement carried out by the British in 1755 scattered them to places like Louisiana, which you probably know. Some of the descendants here speak Chiac, a blend of English and French.

Since the novel is 99% English, I italicize the French words. It's interesting to come across this speech. On one occasion we told the clerk at a hotel desk that we prefer to use our own bed linens, which we laundered in fragrance-free detergent. She calls housekeeping and says, "Ils ont leurs own sheets."

Offline fr0sting

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Re: Foreign language expressions
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2021, 11:58:28 AM »
Hi, MJ!

I love this question because I grew up in Cajun Country and even have a Cajun maiden name. With that being said, I don't speak Cajun French; although, I have some relatives who do. I agree with writing it in French. I especially like MKWrites' point about readers being able to google those phrases. My recommendation, which I have a feeling you already plan to do but just in case, is to indicate that the speaker has a Cajun accent or to maybe describe it because as I'm sure you know, Cajun French differs from the French language considerably.

For example, and I use this because you mentioned that Cajun is not a written language, friends I grew up with will use the word "sha" on social media, a common term of endearment (or sometimes an insult), but in French it would be spelled "cher." Would any of my Cajun friends recognize it spelled the French way? I think most of them wouldn't, so some clarifications may be needed. Hope that helps!

Offline MJ

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Re: Foreign language expressions
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2021, 02:33:00 PM »
These are wonderful replies to my query! I wrote a book with a great deal of Spanish and Italian in it (it was set in Tampa, Florida in 1910) and a professional editor said he thought I really needed to translate, somehow, the foreign expressions, even though he felt they added a lot to the 'local flavor' of the book. It feels awkward, doing that, but there is a trick to it and I found over additional edits that I could translate foreign expressions without the whole thing seeming to run on steam.
MJ

Offline richardclin

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Re: Foreign language expressions
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2021, 11:26:21 PM »
These are wonderful replies to my query! I wrote a book with a great deal of Spanish and Italian in it (it was set in Tampa, Florida in 1910) and a professional editor said he thought I really needed to translate, somehow, the foreign expressions, even though he felt they added a lot to the 'local flavor' of the book. It feels awkward, doing that, but there is a trick to it and I found over additional edits that I could translate foreign expressions without the whole thing seeming to run on steam.


Indeed, I find there are ways to add in translations that make them seem seamless and organic. I used to insert the translations within parenthesis but found these too obtrusive. Now I typically translate them near the foreign word either literally or meaning-wise in the same sentence or nearby. Or if it's part of a dialogue, I use the response of the other to provide the translation in context.


Good luck to you!