Since I speak a tiny amount of Spanish, and a passable amount of English, you would think all my main characters would speak English.
Yet, for some reason, I’ve been drawn to MC’s that speak more than one language, and have found ways to fold that into my stories. In one young adult story, my MC was fluent in Polish as well as English, and was studying Arabic. At first, I stumbled along with Google Translate for the few bits of language that I needed for color. But I quickly found myself getting in trouble when I wanted more than a single word or common phrase, in a language that was, well, foreign.
In a stroke of fantastic luck, it turned out one of my writing group members speaks fluent Polish, and was able to give me the appropriate fixes for my language messes (as well as some tasty tidbits of Polish culture).
In my current middle grade novel, the lingua franca of the Peacedom is Galactic Standard Mandarin. Most of the characters speak English, but in one scene, everyone needed to speak Galactic Standard, because one member of the lunch bunch didn’t know English (although he spoke a dozen dialects from the sub-continent of India). This is how that went:
“Duncan, wo zui hao de peng you! Ni hao?” Walid said, which roughly translated to Duncan, my most good friend! How are you? but which Duncan took to mean Duncan, dude! What’s up?
“Wo Hen Hao,” replied Duncan, indicating he was fine.
The rest of the conversation continues, translated to English although they are still speaking in Mandarin. Along the way a beta reader (thank you Rebecca!) suggested inserting some more color by substituting a common spoken word (alright, okay) with its Galactic Standard Mandarin equivalent. I’m thinking this is an extremely cool idea, ala Firefly, and immediately hop to it. Unfortunately, this is one of those slippery words that depends a lot on context, like “no problem” and “alright” and “okay” are sometimes interchangeable, but sometimes not.
According to Google Translate . . .
hǎo ba = alright
hǎo de = ok
hǎo = good
Then I found this, a website for fans of Firefly who want to speak Mandarin! Who says the web doesn’t have everything? At this point, I realize there was actually a whole lotta cussing on Firefly, most of which is probably not useful for my middle grade novel. Alas, nowhere can I find the translation for the simple “okay.”
So, I will plunge in and pick one that suits me, and hope for no Chinese readers who may be offended.
Do you use snippets of other languages in your writing? Are you fluent in those languages, or do you rely on others (including the interwebs)?
If I was really awesome, I’d create my own language, like Klingon. I would call it Blastulan, or some other insanely strange name reminiscent of multi-celled organisms, for my budding new language for invading aliens from the planet Blast.
But I’m not that cool.
1. “Alright,” she said. “Let’s go.”
“Hǎo ba,” she said. “Let’s go.”
2. “Everyone you can send it to, okay?”
“Everyone you can send it to, hǎo ma?”
3. “Okay.” He hugged her briefly. “It’s late. You should be sleeping.”
“Hǎo la.” He hugged her briefly. “It’s late. You should be sleeping.”
4. “Right away, okay? So I can shut down the engine.”
“Right away, hǎo bu hǎo? So I can shut down the engine.”
It’s a good thing I’m not flying solo on this one . . .