Author Topic: Untranslated foreign dialogue  (Read 508 times)

Offline TheOtherAdrian

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Untranslated foreign dialogue
« on: December 27, 2017, 05:47:46 AM »
I've been doing this for quite some time now, but it only just occurred to me that it might be problematic. My novel has an all-British cast with a single German protagonist, and I include the occasional line of German dialogue without offering a translation since the other characters only pick up a smattering of German over the course of the story. The exact meaning of the words is never important to the story for example, she usually swears in German.

In your opinion, is this incredibly annoying to a reader who doesn't speak German?

Offline Gyppo

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Re: Untranslated foreign dialogue
« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2017, 06:32:08 AM »
It probably depends on how 'occasional' your idea of occasional is.

If you say it's not important to the story, then why do it?  I'll make an assumption here that it's to remind the readers she is German.  Character reinforcement rather than a plot point.  In which case it seems reasonable enough as long as you don't overdo it.

Also, if you stick to the more well known German expletives, such as Scheisse, which is variously translated by the English as either shit or fuck, but always as an exclamation of disgust, most people will recognise it.

Likewise ficker, it's so close to the English that everyone will recognise it.

English schoolchildren have a deep curiosity about swearing in other languages, so even if they rarely use their second or third 'school' language in adult life it will be familiar enough to be understood in context.

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Offline Simple Things

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Re: Untranslated foreign dialogue
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2017, 04:23:31 PM »
You worry overly about nothing.

An example:

"#@%&!!"  Chad screamed out.

Though the dialogue isn't a word, it is known by association, that it is a curse. What curse, I have no idea, I can just insert whatever I want.

An example:

Your  foreign character is on the phone speaking german, when another character walks in. You can type the dialogue in german, using the characters' actions to let the reader fill in any blanks needed.

Maybe the german upon seeing the other character, cuts his conversation quick, and hangs up quickly, switching to english. His actions would give indications, not of what they were saying, but that he considered it private for some reason.

I guess what I'm fishing around, is that one sentence, phrase, cliche, does not rely on itself to tell its story. Words aren't independent in a story, they are a family.

So in summary, I believe as long as it is part of the story, and not just a part in itself, you shouldn't have to worry.

Best writing to you.

Oh, the above text is only my opinion, not some rule.

Offline TheOtherAdrian

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Re: Untranslated foreign dialogue
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2017, 05:07:54 PM »
Thanks, both of you. It just suddenly occurred to me that apart from Umberto Eco, I've never seen anyone do that. (Of course, he does it to an extent that can become annoying even when you do know Latin.) I think it's a nice piece of characterization for this character, who feels out of place in the UK, but I just wanted a second opinion on that.

Quote
#@%&!!
Should we tag this as "adult content"?