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Hereford Eye
October 14th, 2004, 09:44 PM
Suppose a story has characters from different linguistic backgrounds and the author inserts lines in their native languages as he goes. It might read:

"Dammit, Li, if I told you once, I told you a thousand times....."
"Buyau nemma schwo; shr hen bukechi!"
"And I told you before I don't unnerstan' no Chinese so you want to say to something to me, say it so I can unnerstan' it."
Sitting at the bar but unable to not hear the exchange, Elda drops in an appropriate something here in Cajun French.
Then Dawnstorm drops in with a pithy comment from the North.

Now, I think the author owes the reader a translation. But I have recently been told that this is a US idiosyncracy - the expectation the author will translate languages other than the one in which the story is written - and the more sophisticated cultures do not demand anything so informative.
Is this true? Is it my culture that makes me think this pose by an author is rude and short changes the readers?

October 14th, 2004, 10:01 PM
Well... I think it depends on how the story AROUND that unknown statement is written. In your example, the main character doesn't understand (and since I am assuming this is third-person limited) so we don't either.
Then we have... StarWars (my favorite example for ALMOST everything) where we have R2D2. We can't understand what he says but we KNOW because of the manner in which characters respond to him... If they answer a statement with one that makes reference to the unknown statement then there is no problem to me (assuming the character understands).

October 14th, 2004, 10:16 PM
"George Malley! You learned the Portuguese language in 20 minutes?"
"Not all of it."

I think its how you're using it. If the conversation is entirely in another language and you don't translate it for the reader, the reader's going to watch TV instead. But if its one character and its important that they're not speaking the same language, like in that passage you quoted, I don't see its a problem. Just adds to the character of the bar and makes the place seem more real.

Or like in Phenomenon, makes George Malley stand out a little more.

October 15th, 2004, 05:59 AM
I think that somehow they need to translate it.
Like TheEarCollector said, R2-D2 is a perfect example of this.
Though you cant understand it, people around it answer it making the watcher understand what R2-D2 said.
So as long as they have a type of translation, I am fine.

October 15th, 2004, 10:28 AM
[QUOTE=TheEarCollector]In your example, the main character doesn't understand (and since I am assuming this is third-person limited) so we don't either.QUOTE]

As far as story goes, we see what the narrator sees. If the narrator is first-person, we only know what he knows. This means if the character doesn't know a language being spoken there is no feasible way that we can, therefore, no translation.
If we have a third-person limited, we will only see what one person sees, so translating is a no go unless that character should understand.
Third-person omniscent, we can know it all and the character still doesn't do so you can translate everything (but make sure you let us know the main character doesn't know).
(I just wanted to restate and clarify that point since people tend to focus on the other means of pulling this off).

Otherwise, like I said before:
If you have characters respond to a question in such a way that the question is made clear like, "No, I won't take you to the zoo," then we can infer what the sentence before was... I see no problem with that (some people understand a language but can't speak it... so they communicate in their own language as a response to yours... just another layer of depth to the character)