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June 11th, 2007, 07:34 PM
Hi guys,
I tried to make my subject as specific as possible after having to mine the depth for the answer to this question.

I have a novel in which aliens and Terrans are in the same place. I included some alien POV when the Terrans aren't around. Does the reader get that they're speaking in their own language to each other without being told?

Baraan (the alien) speaks to the Terrans in English through a translating program and on his own as he's pretty fluent. In the next chapter, Baraan's alone with his crewmate. Is it understood that they're speaking in their own language? Do I have to keep saying what language they're speaking in?

The Earthers will later pick up the alien language which will bring up the same question. If both species have people who understand both languages, how do I handle this without narrator intrusion?


James Carmack
June 11th, 2007, 09:49 PM
I think the reader can figure it out. It may not hurt to have a line where Baraan expresses his relief to be speaking in his own language or inwardly complains about the nuisance of the translator, but you don't need to say it over and over again.

When we take on the alien's perspective, its language becomes our language. If you were working in another medium, I might suggest a slightly different approach, but in normal prose, there's no need to jump through any flaming hoops.

June 11th, 2007, 10:54 PM
Thanks for the speedy reply. That's the answer I was hoping for but I'm not objective enough, and, of course, it's the easiest road. :)

June 12th, 2007, 12:03 AM
I've seem alien language indicated by italics, underlines or [brackets]. You can use those if you want it to be obvious that something is different about the speech. And a simple narrative mention early on can show what all of those are indicating. As in--

"Those terrans are up to something," Jarqueek said in the Rahnton language. "They smell different when they are scheming."

"I thought that was the 'peetza' from yesterday," Kampie replied.


James Carmack
June 12th, 2007, 03:26 AM
Take the webcomic Megatokyo, for instance. To represent Japanese dialog, the lines are bracketed. (i.e. "<I didn't eat the chicken.>") That's more in line with what I was hinting at when I referred to tecniques for other media, but there's nothing wrong with using it in prose either.

June 12th, 2007, 11:15 AM
Thanks guys. James, I got the same advice from David Brin. Using brackets or some such. He said that the reader should really get it but I could use that kind of device. I just learned something yesterday about my aliens. :) They don't beat around the bush. They are very forthwright and honest. That much I already established. The new thing is when I started writing dialog in this one scene and caught myself having them be coy and indirect.

So then I came up with a unique phrase for them to use as a staple: Tell all.
It's instead of: "What about the station?"
"What would you like to tell me?"

It comes across as a command but when I use it more, it will be clear it's just the way they speak. Why ask someone to tell you a bit about something if what you really want is the whole story? That's what my characters taught me yesterday. :)


June 12th, 2007, 03:57 PM
Another tactic is to not worry about which language is being spoken unless there is a character around who would know the difference. For instance, a human eavesdropping with physical presense or spyware/spybot of some sort.

Comics use bracket type things because its important for the visual disply.

June 12th, 2007, 06:13 PM
I've seen the italics used many times to denote an alien language. at least in my experience, it has always worked well, and i've never asked myself "i wonder what the italics are for?" , nor known of anyone who couldn't figure it out.

so yes, italics, brackets, bolded, underlined, anything to differentiate what they are saying should do fine.