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Erastes [userpic]

Foreign words in Dialogue/health

August 26th, 2012 (12:48 pm)

Someone asked me on twitter about an antiquated French word and there was a short discussion (after all it is Twitter) about whether people liked foreign words inserted into a book to “give a flavour” and remind people that the people are actually speaking a foreign language, even though the book is written in English.

What do you think about that?

Personally it irritates the hell out of me. The only way I think it works is when the object described is alien to western eyes, and there’s no translation for it. Like “obi” for example (traditional sash) or other Japanese words. As long as the explanation is given gently in context, then that word becomes the staple word for that thing.

However, what I CAN’T STAND to the extent I want to stabbity stabbity is when a person’s speech is peppered with the words of the language he’s speaking. E.g (not from anything) “Ah, bien, Louis, you are here, we must hurry to save La Reine, vite!”

I mean, the book is set in France. We are reading them in English because it’s a novel. They are speaking French. So why are they speaking double-French? Or double Spanish, or double whatever language they are “really” speaking…

The only exception to this, to my mind would be if all the characters were speaking another language apart from their own and they interspersed their sentences with words from their language. Poirot is a good example of this: “Tiens, Hastings! I have been stupid! Je suis un imbecile! Nom de Nom!”

But what do you think? Do tell!

In other news - I’m pretty anaemic, despite scarfing down iron pills—prescription strength—for a couple of days. I wish there was some way to tell in advance when this was going to happen so I could get ironed up in advance. I do take normal iron pills every day, but the super-strength ones help me get back to normal. I’m tired, gasping for air—even talking—and want to go to bed. I think that I’ll do dad’s lunch and then go home. It just makes me completely “meh” about everything. I open a word file and I just get tired looking at it. Can’t concentrate on a tv programme, can’t concentrate to read a book. I hate it.

I’ve just discovered that there’s a fucking TREATMENT for Menorrhagia: It’s called Endometrial Oblation (which sounds like something out of Philip Pulman) and it involves burning away the lining of the womb, permanently. Can’t be done at childbearing age, for obvious reasons, but why the fuck hasn’t my doctor suggested it? It can be done in outpatients for Christ's sake. Oh, I know why. Because he’s a MAN and he can’t BELIEVE that my periods are anywhere near as ghastly as I make them out to be. Yeah, that’s right. We treat our periods in the same way that men treat fishing stories.

I’ll be having a word with my doctor next week…


Posted by: eglantine_br (eglantine_br)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 01:29 pm (UTC)

I know what you mean about the words in other languages. Dorothy Sayers did that a lot and it made me crazy! In her case, I think it was a sort of snobbery. If you did not have an education in the classics, you really had no place knowing what Lord Peter was saying! I believe Busman's Honeymoon had a whole page written in French.

The oblation sounds like something I may want to check into too. I am anemic the same way. It makes me so tired...

Posted by: Rikibeth (rikibeth)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC)

Oh, that was the letter from Uncle Paul, and I think if she'd put it in English it would have been awfully racy for the time! And Uncle Paul was established as writing to his nephew in French. Didn't bother me nearly as much, but then I've got enough French to puzzle it out... the thing that made me unable to cope was all her phonetic Scottish accents in Five Red Herrings! Only one I didn't finish.

The oblation sounds like a very good idea.

Posted by: Plutonian #2 (moreteadk)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 01:37 pm (UTC)

I dislike it, period. If I read a book in, say, English, I want all the words in it to be English words (excluding of course when it's not possible, like you pointed out). I can understand that they're trying to make the text look more interesting and spice it up a bit and what not, but for me it rather takes something away from the story telling if I can't understand what they're saying. I speak Danish and English with a smattering of German. No French, no Spanish, no Japanese and no Arab. And even when they do use words from a language that I actually understand to some degree, it's still annoying.

As for your periods, bring your doctor a collection of the pads used during a period and explain to him that it's an abnormally high number. If that doesn't get his attention through sheer shock value...

Edited at 2012-08-26 01:39 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 08:13 am (UTC)

Glad it's not just me! Thanks, dear!

Posted by: ali_wilde (ali_wilde)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)
black rose - rainbowgraphics

I don't mind foreign words/phrases in dialogue, as long as I know what they mean. I'm not fluent in any language other than English, so I don't want to be hit by a barrage of Spanish or Russian. French, German and Italian are usually okay because a lot of the time you can work out what is being said.
That being said, I agree with your examples. If a character's dialogue is in English even though he's speaking French, why put French words in there? But if he's from France, speaking English, I'm sure he would intereperse his dialogue with French words as there may not be an English equivalent.

If I may be so bold as to ask why don't you have a hysterectomy? My periods were lasting for about 3 1/2 weeks and I am anaemic. After a lot of dithering and removal of an ovary and more tests to see why and blah blah blah, the doctor finally asked if I'd considered it. Well, at least the periods are gone...

Posted by: Anderyn Gabriel (anderyn)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 04:21 pm (UTC)

Sometimes they just won't DO a hysterectomy. I wanted one in the worst way (I had HAD my two children, I had fibroids that were causing me to flood seven to eight days out of every twenty-one, and I just wanted the damn thing OUT) but my doctors would not do it. No way. Apparently if you are fat enough, they hate doing the operation. So I ended up having the endometrial ablation, which worked very well (after two tries at it) and which has made my life a zillion times better. But I still wish I could've had the hysterectomy a long time ago.

Posted by: ali_wilde (ali_wilde)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 12:48 am (UTC)

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 08:14 am (UTC)

Posted by: lee_rowan (lee_rowan)
Posted at: September 8th, 2012 11:53 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: September 9th, 2012 10:53 am (UTC)

Posted by: Becky Black (becky_black)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 02:04 pm (UTC)

I can't stand the insertion of words in the language they are supposed to be speaking anyway. How does that make sense? It just makes me think "wait, I thought they were speaking in X language all the time." The exception as you say is words with no equivalent.

I did a big long series about a couple of Arab characters and of course was writing in English, but most of the time they were speaking in Arabic. Now and again I'd run up against a difficulty. I fretted for ages when one of my guys had the army rank that in English we'd call "Lieutenant Colonel", and would address someone holding that rank as "Colonel". But in Arabic the Lt Col equivalent rank is just one word not two like in English. And the rank of full colonel is another unrelated word entirely. So having people call him "Colonel" in dialogue that was supposed to be them speaking in Arabic didn't really sit right. But having them address him as "Lieutenant Colonel" all the time would just have been weird.

I had to promote the guy to full bird colonel as soon as seemed reasonable, just to stop me fretting about it. :D

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 08:28 am (UTC)

*laughs* it's amusing when other people fret about stuff as much as I do!!

Posted by: Rikibeth (rikibeth)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC)

One of the ways I saw around it was in Delia Sherman's The Porcelain Dove. She wrote all the words in English, except for the ones, as you said, with no English equivalent -- but all the syntax and grammatical structure (first-person narrator and all the dialogue) was patterned after French. In less skilled hands it would have been DREADFUL, but the way she did it? Gorgeous.

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 08:31 am (UTC)

someone - can't remember who - did that with Middle English I believe and everyone was raving about it, but I have to say it made my brain angry...

Posted by: Gehayi (gehayi)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
granny weatherwax (mothwing)

I hated it even when Christie used foreign words in Poirot. I remember one book that had Poirot speaking in French for an entire paragraph at the end of the story--and it was obvious that the French was supposed to be an explanation. This made me give up Poirot for years out of sheer frustration; maybe the author knew the foreign language, but I didn't!

I can only think of two writers who really NEEDED to use foreign words in their writing, and both did it right--Robert Ludlum (international espionage, often centered on Germany and Russia) and Tony Hillerman (mysteries set in and around the Navajo and Hopi reservations). In those cases, yes, words that don't translate to concepts in English would be understandable. In Ludlum's case, he tended to have a speaker of a foreign language who had been speaking English until now revert, under stress, to the foreign language. The person being spoken to would respond with an English sentence that ensured that the reader got the gist of what was being said. In Hillerman's case, he would toss in a Navajo (well, occasionally Hopi, but usually Navajo) word in an English or mostly English conversation and then show, through narration, thought and dialogue, why the word really couldn't be translated and why the concept was important in this world and with these characters.

I can't really say that one was better than the other. Both styles stuck in my head, because both writers wanted me to understand what was being said.

I never had that impression with Christie's Poirot, who was inclined to lapse into French whenever he got excited, or with Sayers' aristocrats, who could yammer on for pages in French and Latin. (Sayers was particularly bad--one of her short stories, "The Entertaining Episode Of The Article In Question," hangs on a grammatical error in French. Not only are you supposed to be able to read the French passage, but you're supposed to see, in retrospect, the importance of the error.) I never felt that salting a story with foreign words and then NOT saying or showing what the word meant added to the story; I just felt that Christie and Sayers had either forgotten that many of their readers not only didn't speak French but couldn't make out one word of what was being said...or were simply showing off. Either way, the foreign languages without context or translation distracted me from the story. In fact, they just about drove me crazy.

As for the menorrhagia--yes, bring a large number of soaked pads to your doctor...and then tell him that you only brought a quarter of the total. He might realize then that endometrial oblation would be an excellent idea.

And you're right. It DOES sound like something out of Philip Pullman.

Edited at 2012-08-26 03:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 08:31 am (UTC)

And Henry V! I blame him! There's a whole bloody scene in it in French! I can't believe that the average guy in the pit would have understood a bloody word!

Posted by: Anderyn Gabriel (anderyn)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)

Do talk to your doctor. Actually, an ablation can be done at any age (as long as you don't want more children/any children) and I had mine done about ten or so years ago, because, as my doctor said, "you are bleeding to death every month". When they tested my blood, they were surprised that I had the energy to actually walk around. I have felt so much less constrained since I had it done, you can't imagine. (I had floods -- literal redden the whole bathroom floor/whole bed/my lower half floods -- for six to seven days every twenty days -- stupid fibroid tumors.) I'll warn you that, for me, it took two tries to get every bit of the lining gone, but that was no issue, since they did do it outpatient.

Best of luck getting it taken care of -- I remember how horrible I felt while I was trying everything to get this under control.

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 08:33 am (UTC)

Although it's not pleasant to write about, I feel much reassured to hear of someone who had the same problem. The "not wanting to go out" in case I embarrass myself is a constant worry. As is sneezing, coughing, standing up... Thanks dear, I'll definitely ask about it, and will be asking with a stern face why it hasn't been suggested!

Posted by: Muridae (muridae_x)
Posted at: August 26th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)

Sometimes, rather than peppering the character's dialogue with words from another language it can be just as effective to use english translations of their native idioms, or likely grammar gaffes, giving them a speech pattern that subtly suggests this isn't their first language. Of course, this means the writer has to know their language well enough to be able to translate those, which is a bit more challenging.

A few years back my periods increased to the point where I was bleeding for three weeks out of four, with heavy bleeding for 2 1/2 of them. When all the tests reported back that I didn't have fibroids, didn't have anything alarming going on, but that was just my new normal, the eventual solution suggested by my doctor was to fit a Mirena. It's been a godsend. Within a month my monthly periods reduced to half a day of very light spotting at worst, and I've not had to wear a tampon or a sanitary towel for six years, apart from on the day the replacement was fitted. Mind you my doctor is female and specialises in that area, which probably helped.

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 10:28 am (UTC)

Yes, exactly so. I did that (although he speaks English...) with Mordecai in Frost Fair, because I didn't want to use phonetic spelling - which I suppose is exactly the same thing as a foreign language - I simply tried to use his speech patterns as clues for the accent and the way he spoke.

Hmm - ANOTHER solution - and another solution my dick dastardly doctor hasn't suggested. You wait till I see him.... Thank you!

Posted by: Muridae (muridae_x)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)

Posted by: mylodon (mylodon)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 11:38 am (UTC)

I have to say that the male doctor I went to at the emergency clinic when I had my first attack of ridiculously heavy bleeding was brilliant. And he used grown up words like exsanguinated!

*hugs and sympathy*

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 12:21 pm (UTC)

exsanguinated is about right. you don't appreciate blood until you haven't got any!

Posted by: charliecochrane (charliecochrane)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Stevie Carroll (stevie_carroll)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
Brig -- Not Best Pleased by sallymn

The overuse of other languages is the main thing that annoys me with Sayers, and mostly I just tune it out with the audiobooks. My current WiP has a multi-lingual protagonist interacting with persons whose first language isn't necessarily English. I just make reference to what language they're speaking at any given moment and have them occasionally pause to search for a word that everyone will understand.

Much sympathy on the bleeding and anaemia. I hope you get it dealt with soon.

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: September 9th, 2012 11:03 am (UTC)

That sounds like a very sensible way to manage it! Another way of course is to do like 'Allo 'Allo and have every speak in their respective accents.

LOL. Now I really have to write that. Badfic city!

Posted by: YM (belluthien)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 01:53 pm (UTC)

Someone suggested I do this. I played with it for a while, and thought it was ridiculous for just the reason you name here: double French? Who wants to see that?

The only things I'm keeping are place names and modes of address.

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: September 9th, 2012 11:02 am (UTC)

Good idea (sorry for delay in replying) some editors will say they like it because it adds a flavour of the setting, but that's just lazy - if you can't do that through your actual WRITING then perhaps you should be thinking again about your career choice!!

Posted by: asphodeline (asphodeline)
Posted at: August 27th, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)

I'm not a huge fan of lots of foreign language stuck in a book even though I can understand bits of several. i still laugh thinking of Mum's comments when she read The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco). She was convinced all the really good sex parts were written in Latin!!

Oblation was something I was offered but I wasn't keen - it sounds a horrible process. On the other hand, if it's all that can be offered then it's worth trying. Have you been offered Mirena? It was a disaster for me but it's hailed as an amazing cure for many women. Regarding hysterectomy, it can be done under eipdural if docs aren't keen for you to have a general anaesthetic. I remember the anaemia and sympathise, horrible.

Posted by: Erastes (erastes)
Posted at: September 9th, 2012 11:04 am (UTC)

I'm going for the Mirena - and we'll see how it pans out - I had a coil bfore for years with little effects, so it might be the best!

Posted by: lee_rowan (lee_rowan)
Posted at: September 8th, 2012 11:57 pm (UTC)

I tried to avoid the pain-in-ass Frenchification in Eye of the Storm, but one of the characters was French whose English wasn't perfect, so occasionally (him speaking English) I'd throw in a French word that was clear in context. When the characters were speaking french, I tried to use a slightly non-English speech pattern. Not sure if it worked but nobody's complained, so that's something.

Sayers was a snob, and I blame her publishers for not including a translation in an appendix. Would not have interfered with the Oxford clique and might've made the thing less opaque to us lesser mortals.

If male doctors aren't willing to admit that they just do not comprehend female menstrual malfunctions, they ought to just give up gynecology and become proctologists. Everybody has an .. well.. you know.

Edited at 2012-09-08 11:58 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Chris (crawling_angel)
Posted at: September 12th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
keep the faith

Do you know what your haemoglobin's running at? If your gasping for air...sounds pretty low. Can your GP not refer you for top-up transfusions??? There might be a reason why he hasn't done this but that's just me as a nurse querying it. Also if things are that bad...hysterectomy?? I haven't used mine and doubt I ever will not at 47...saying that I havent had a period for ... cant think...last year some time.

That said...have you any advice on how best not to take revenge on a dentist who needs a good slapping? Got Gabapentin today. Will see how that works out. Could be weeks before I know. At least Dave can pinch my meds if he runs out. LOL

*sends you, Dad, Sasha and kitties loves*

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