Monday, March 11, 2013

Writing in Tongues

Post by Jenny

Every so often, I’ll make a foray into my other blog’s spam comments folder. Thanks to stuff like this, I never come away disappointed:

Post writing is also a fun, if you be acquainted with then you can write otherwise it is complicated to write.

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Apparently, my friend Anonymous is not a native English speaker. And/or is a robot. Hey, I don’t blame him/her/it. Learning another language is hard, especially, I think, for English-centric Americans. I will never forget how in college French class, a slight (to my ear) mispronunciation accidentally resulted in my telling the professor he had a nice (insert common word for anal sphincter here).

But does that mean that, as writers, we should play it safe and use only characters who share our linguistic backgrounds? I hope not. If my protagonist is a woman from Lichtenstein, I don’t want her to sound as though she was raised in Colorado. I want her to speak like a true…Lichtensteinian? (Which means, apparently, that she would speak German.)

I could accomplish that by going there, riding around on the Lichtenstein Bus (it’s a real thing), and listening to the natives. But that requires more time and money than I have at my disposal these days. Instead, I might take a language class—my library offers a free one online. Or find a Lichtenstein Club and wrangle an invitation to their annual potluck, where I would hopefully learn how to pronounce the local delicacies hafalaaban and kasknopfl. When all else fails, there's always online translation.

Have you written a character who spoke a language different from yours? How did you make it ring true?

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