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hippokrene
June 14th, 2007, 01:08 AM
I've constructed a language for a group in my world and am currently wondering to what extent it should appear in the work itself.

The main character's language is represented, naturally enough, as English. One of the sacondary characters speaks a different language. The two initially meet in the wilderness and have to work together to survive while fleeing Bad People despite being unable to speak one another's language. The language barrier adds tension during those scenes, but afterwards when they return to the main character's culture, I'm worried the reader will start to be annoyed at the foreign words.

My questions:
Given that they meet at the beginning, how long should I draw out the language barrier? 1/3 of the book? 2/3s? As soon as possible? The amount of time the novel takes is currently variable as I have time sinks like boat travel (and after three days/weeks/months of travel we were attacked by bloodthirsty pirates/mermaids/sea elephants).

To what extent are readers of fantasy interested in a world's language?

Would chapters or sections told from the secondary character's POV in which they're in a city and hardly understand the language (and culture) be interesting? Or would the reader be frustrated with characters talking in front of them and events happening but not knowing exactly what's going on?

Any thoughts on how best to handle a second language?

Hereford Eye
June 14th, 2007, 09:21 AM
Wouldn't both sides start working on the language problem immediately?
Consider a visit to Japan. How long do you think it will take you to try to make yourself understood? Wander into any ethnic neighborhood in any city in the U.S., same thing applies. Everyone wants to communicate and they will work at doing so, particularly when - as in the case you describe - their survival depends on it. For a gloss on the topic, consider the movie Enemy Mine.
How long will it take? Some things quickly, others a very long time. Think of the cultural differences expressed by the sight of two men walking down the street holding hands. I have been in countries where friends do this all the time with nothing more than friendship indicated. Picture the same friends walking down the street in the U.S.

Bethelamon
June 14th, 2007, 11:44 AM
I would definately be interested in having certain passages from the foreigner's point of view, describing what its like to be visiting this foreign city. I think it would be great to keep switching between the two character's point of view (though not too much - keep the main character as the focus, but have some passages from the other character's POV), one who is trying to look after this foreigner who doesn't understand a word he says, and one who is lost in a strange land where he doesnt understand anything, and just has this one companion to hold his hand. That would be great!

hippokrene
June 14th, 2007, 08:43 PM
Wouldn't both sides start working on the language problem immediately?
Consider a visit to Japan. How long do you think it will take you to try to make yourself understood? Wander into any ethnic neighborhood in any city in the U.S., same thing applies. Everyone wants to communicate and they will work at doing so, particularly when - as in the case you describe - their survival depends on it. For a gloss on the topic, consider the movie Enemy Mine.
How long will it take? Some things quickly, others a very long time. Think of the cultural differences expressed by the sight of two men walking down the street holding hands. I have been in countries where friends do this all the time with nothing more than friendship indicated. Picture the same friends walking down the street in the U.S.

As I said, I was more interested in what percentage of the novel should be spent with this language barrier intact. The number of days it takes a person to pick up a language wasn't really my question.

Thank you for reminding me of Enemy Mine. I saw it years ago and agree it would be a great example of how the language exploration might work. I'll have to pick it up again and actually 'study' how they show the interaction.

hippokrene
June 14th, 2007, 08:43 PM
I would definately be interested in having certain passages from the foreigner's point of view, describing what its like to be visiting this foreign city. I think it would be great to keep switching between the two character's point of view (though not too much - keep the main character as the focus, but have some passages from the other character's POV), one who is trying to look after this foreigner who doesn't understand a word he says, and one who is lost in a strange land where he doesnt understand anything, and just has this one companion to hold his hand. That would be great!

Neat! Thank you.

James Carmack
June 14th, 2007, 08:44 PM
Enemy Mine is definitely a good option. Another one is Hell in the Pacific, a '68 film starring Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. I only saw a bit of it, but the premise of a Japanese and American working together to survive on a desert island definitely catches the spirit of what you're wanting to portray.

I love this one scene where they're investigating this bombed-out building. They go in separate directions. Naturally, they're a bit skittish. Mifune's chara pops up from another side, spooking Marvin. Recognizing his comrade of necessity, he says, "I thought you were Japanese." ^o^

You don't have to have a perfect recreation of the alien's every line of dialog. Most of it won't register with our protagonist anyway, at least not at first. You know where the term "barbarian" comes from? Supposedly, to the Greeks all foreigners sounded like they were just saying "bar-bar-bar". Same deal. Naturally, there'll be emphasis on terms that are purposely committed to memory. As our protagonist starts to get an ear for the alien language, you might start transcribing whole lines of dialog. If the accommodation comes more on his end, you might even start rendering the alien language in English as it's been taken in by the protagonist, thereby becoming his own. You'd just need some sort of disclaimer or other visual clue to let the reader know what's what.

As for the percentage of the novel you want to devote to the language barrier, that entirely depends on how much you want to make that the focus of the story. The more important alienation is to you and the story, the greater the part of the novel to working with the language barrier.


To what extent are readers of fantasy interested in a world's language?

You're asking us to paint with awfully broad strokes. Who knows? I'm a linguist, so I'd find it rather interesting, but I can't speak for anyone else.

hippokrene
June 14th, 2007, 11:33 PM
James Carmack:
"Enemy Mine is definitely a good option. "

Yes, it is. I've never heard of Hell in the Pacific but I'll look that one up.

"You know where the term "barbarian" comes from? Supposedly, to the Greeks all foreigners sounded like they were just saying "bar-bar-bar". Same deal. Naturally, there'll be emphasis on terms that are purposely committed to memory. As our protagonist starts to get an ear for the alien language, you might start transcribing whole lines of dialog. If the accommodation comes more on his end, you might even start rendering the alien language in English as it's been taken in by the protagonist, thereby becoming his own. You'd just need some sort of disclaimer or other visual clue to let the reader know what's what."

Good points.

I've assumed that the protagonist would grasp nouns first, then 'doing' verbs, and then actual grammar, but that things like adjective or adverbs would be beyond the scope of the book. Words like food, sleep, sky, fire, sneak/hunt, or follow are much easier to convey than beautiful, tasty, lush, or intricate.

"You're asking us to paint with awfully broad strokes. Who knows? I'm a linguist, so I'd find it rather interesting, but I can't speak for anyone else."

You mean you can't tap the collective consciousness of fantasy readers? I'm... disappointed.

Dawnstorm
June 15th, 2007, 02:59 AM
Here's a reader who thought the only interesting thing about Lord of the Rings was the etymology of Hobbit in the appendix. ;) If you can pull it off, I'd read a story where the language problem makes up 3/3 of the novel.


Would chapters or sections told from the secondary character's POV in which they're in a city and hardly understand the language (and culture) be interesting? Or would the reader be frustrated with characters talking in front of them and events happening but not knowing exactly what's going on?

I'd say the PoV is essential for balance. The question lies in the "how", though. I wonder whether you could render both languages as English, depending on who's the PoV-character? That way you'd get insight into two fictional languages.

Is cultural elitism involved? It's been a while since I saw Enemy Mine, but the impression I get from memory is that they always speak English (perhaps with the exception of a few token words), and that the feel is rather like a "noble savage" story.

May I suggest the beginning of 13th Warrior as another model? I found this a lot more mutually respectful (and none of the languages involved is English). At the beginning English is equated with Arab, then there's a transition of "learning" the language, until - for the main part of the film - English is equated with whatever Norse lnaguage the Vikings were speaking). This worked partly, though, because the PoV-character was an outsider (Arab among Vikings).


I've assumed that the protagonist would grasp nouns first, then 'doing' verbs, and then actual grammar, but that things like adjective or adverbs would be beyond the scope of the book.

Adjectives are essential. They'll be grasped way before pronouns or auxiliary verbs, I wager. Adjectives are pretty common in evaluations, so I think words like "good" and "bad" should come rather early.

If you've been walking for hours, and you're tired, you'd probably feel the lack of the adjective before you resort to the verb "rest" or "sleep" (probably accompanied with gestures). Especially with attributes of the speaker/interaction partner adjectives will become relevant, say: "Hungry?" for "Are you hungry?" or "Hungry!" for "I am hungry!"

I don't suggest ditching adjectives. It doesn't sound plausible.

James Carmack
June 15th, 2007, 06:51 AM
You mean you can't tap the collective consciousness of fantasy readers? I'm... disappointed.

Warukatta. I put my skill points into Seiyuu Recognition instead of Mind Reading. I may not be able to tap into any collective consciousnesses, but I can spot Takehito Koyasu a mile away. It works for me.

Michael B
June 17th, 2007, 02:11 AM
I've assumed that the protagonist would grasp nouns first, then 'doing' verbs, and then actual grammar, but that things like adjective or adverbs would be beyond the scope of the book. Words like food, sleep, sky, fire, sneak/hunt, or follow are much easier to convey than beautiful, tasty, lush, or intricate..
Interesting. I am working on a novel at the moment where one of the characters is being crammed in a new language. In the few first sections they don't speak "proper English" and so drop words (only to be corrected by their teacher.)