Friday, 30 October 2015

Bad language

Hello there!

What do you think about books that include words, sentences or even more, written in a foreign language?

If it's a language that I don't know - which is pretty likely since I only know English and Italian, I spend a little bit of time trying to decipher what is being said, but that's for no reason other than to have a bit of fun with myself.

When foreign language is written in a book, it's usually dialogue.There are two golden rules that apply when writing foreign dialogue.

Foreign Language Rule #1 is to italicise the foreign words.

Foreign Language Rule #2 is to provide some explanation of what was said so the reader knows what's going on.

I broke one of those rules in my books, Torn and Inviolate, and I had good reason to. You see, these books were written from the point of view of my character Alex. This meant that readers would only know what she knew. Alex did not understand Italian, so when one of the other characters spoke in Italian, she didn't understand what was being said.

My thinking was that if the reader understood Italian, and consequently what I'd written, that was a bonus for them. But most people wouldn't understand, which kept them in Alex's world, if you know what I mean. Therefore, I did not translate any of my Italian dialogue.

That said, I was very careful to ensure that the words, spelling and grammatical syntax I used were correct - even if the majority of my readers wouldn't know the difference.

Let me go on record to say that this should be Foreign Language Rule # 3.

I recently read a book that had quite a bit of Italian dialogue in it. I won't tell you what the book was called because it has received some great reviews and I'm loathe to ruin a good story for those who don't understand Italian.

But for me, it was so bad, that I couldn't continue reading - I actually abandoned the book which I hate doing.

Italian, like most European languages - if not all of them - is gender specific. Where in English we use the word the as an article for any noun, these languages recognise male and female articles. For example, in Italian, a window is considered feminine. The word for the, is la. The male article for male words is il.

Without becoming too complex, if I'm referring to a mother, I say la madre, a father is il padre. This is foreign language 101, I mean this is very basic stuff, yet the writer had this wrong. In another instance the writer used a word that simply doesn't translate. It was a real word but not used by Italians in the context in which the writer had employed it.

Looked to me like the writer had gone straight to GoogleTranslate, which in itself is a brilliant tool, but languages don't usually translate word for word. The writer should have asked an Italian speaker to translate, not a machine.

Another very fundamental point that was incorrect was the fact that the writer had named one of the main characters Jovanni. The Italian alphabet does not contain the letter J. You will never find a true Italian word using J.

While this is a genuinely Italian boy's name, it is spelt Giovanni.

Okay, I know many of you will think I'm nit-picking, but honestly if you're expecting people to pay money for your books, you should at least respect them enough to check your facts!

Right! Rant over - I feel better now. But seriously, what do you think about this? If you're a speaker of a second language, how do you feel when writers don't ensure their work is correct? I'd love to hear from you.

Until next week, smile, sorridere, sourire, lächeln, улыбаться, μειδιώ, somruire ...

(hope I got all that right!)


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