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This essay/rant is mostly based off of an essay by a friend of mine whose website vanished from the internet because she's moved on. Or died. I have no idea, she's just gone. Farewell Nurvingiel, you were a great writer and your essay on using foreign languages in story-telling was one of my favorites.

Whether you're writing about Middle-earth or the Beika district of Tokyo, you'll be dealing with foreign languages that you may or may not know. You may be tempted to work in some of the native languages to give your readers a greater feeling of immersion in the world. There are several things I'd like you to keep in mind though.

  1. Don't assume that your readers will know as much about the language as you do. Therefore, use the same language you use for the narration for all of the dialogue. Any term not in this language should be clearly defined for the reader. This also applies to honorifics, titles, and terms of address, like Mr./Mrs./Mz./Miss/Lord/Lady. Translate them or leave them out entirely.

Say someone is jumping into a fandom for the first time, and doesn't speak any Elvish or Japanese or Na'vi. They click on a fanfic that looks interesting, but they can't read the dialogue because it's a word-salad of languages they don't know. They give up and go away.

  1. Write the dialogue from the point of view of the characters whose point of view you're using. You can use a different language to reflect the characters' inability to understand what is being said to them, immersing the reader more into the characters' perspective.

So, you've got a Japanese character in a Japanese setting, and you're writing in English. They'll be able to understand everything said to them in Japanese, so write all of the Japanese dialogue in plain English. But, if the character doesn't speak English well, or at all, you could phonetically transcribe the English into the Japanese phonology, so it seems just as foreign and bizarre to your English speaking readers. Here's an example:
“Ah, I didn't see you there; forgive me,” Kogorou said, stepping aside.

The woman with a long nose and carefully fluffed brown hair looked confused a moment, then said, “Aimu sari, ai dina kachi za. Kudju ripii za?”

Kogorou blinked, uncomprehending. What was this strange amalgamation of sounds this woman was spewing?

Conan sighed loudly behind him and answered the woman. Ran tugged him aside and whispered, “It's English; Dad, they're speaking in English.”
As you can see, it is as confusing and incoherent as Kogorou would find it.

For another example, say you're writing in English; your POV character only speaks of Westron in Middle-earth, and they meet an Elf, who only speaks Sindarin.
I stood back, surprised. To me, it'd looked like the tree and sprung to life, but now, I realized I was looking at an Elf. A real, live elf. The elf backed up a step, hands up to show she wasn't holding any weapons. “Goheno nin. Ú-ethilen dhe thostad.”

I blinked. What was this “thostad,” and did it hurt?
Another situation that you may come across is a bilingual character. You need some way to distinguish the fact that they're speaking another language, but it needs to be in plain English. I suggest putting the dialogue in the other language in italics (no more than that though, too many layers of italics, bolding, and underlining can be distracting) or simply mention in the narration that they're speaking this other language now.
Ah, I didn't see you there; forgive me,” Kogorou said, stepping aside.

The woman with a long nose and carefully fluffed brown hair looked confused a moment, then said in English, “I'm sorry; I didn't catch that. Could you repeat that?

Kogorou blinked, uncomprehending. Conan sighed loudly behind him and answered the woman, “He just apologized for bumping into you. He's very sorry.
In scenes such as this, using the foreign language in the dialogue makes sense. Most of the time, just don't.

  1. Make sure that the translations you use are accurate. Bad translations could end up annoying or insulting everyone who does speak the languages in question. Or rather, it's a pet peeve of mine and it drives me up the wall.

This is so bad in Anime fandoms. The Fan-Japanese is so... so... *tears hair out, flails uselessly at the screen for a few minutes, mouth starts frothing* MAKE IT STOP.

  1. Using foreign terms in the narration is the most effective, and could lead to using them in the dialogue.

This is pretty simple to do, actually. You have a character think about or discuss the term. Here are a few examples:
Ran scowled down at Shinichi, hands on her hips. “Stop using my name without honorifics. Little boys should call older girls 'Neesan.' I'm older than you.”

Shinichi looked down, inspecting the floor. He hated being reminded of his condition. “Yes Ran-neesan,” he mumbled to his toes.

“I don't think I heard you. Say it again.”

He glared back up at her. “I wanna go home, Ran-neesan!”
Now the reader will know the significance of Shinichi addressing Ran as Ran-neesan when in his child-form, and they get some insight into Shinichi's situation and personality.

My fingers brushed across the net the Elfwoman had tucked my hair into. I'd never seen such a device before, but it was holding in all of the stray hairs with ease.

The Elf tugged gently on the net. “Cathrae,” she said, clearly pleased with my reaction.

“It's a cathrae.” I said, tasting the word.

“Ma!” she said grinning. “Cathrae.”
In the scene, we get a taste of Elven hair-styles by having the elf character teach our human about Elven hairnets.

Once home, she absentmindedly stuffed her shoes into the kutsubako, a small shelf by the door that they put their shoes away in.
Or, it can be as simple as this.

In conclusion:
Write in whatever language you're writing in.
Don't expect everyone to know as much or as many foreign languages as you do.
Use foreign languages from the perspective of the characters that you're telling the story through.
When introducing foreign terms, define them carefully and creatively in the story.
Make sure the translations are correct, because this little linguist and translator is driven insane by bad translations.

Thank you.

Back to the Rant Index
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Internet was down, so I missed a week. I'll try to be better about this though. I want to keep writing through the semester, no matter how busy it gets.

This article should be read along with The Healing Arts of Middle-earth by Tinw.

In this essay, we shall explore the Elven views on healing versus killing, and learn about Aragorn’s magical wedding gift and namesake.

In fanfiction and Role Play alike, I see many Elven healer-warriors adventuring. They’re all fashioned after Aragorn, Faramir, and Éowyn, who are human, not Eldarin. (Aragorn also had the Elessar, a magic green stone given to him by Galadriel as a wedding present.) This analogy seems to be built on an apparent lack of information. But, since Morgoth’s Ring was published, we have known what the Eldarin views about making and ending life. It was described for us quite clearly in the Laws and Customs of the Eldar.

“For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on care of the body, are among all the Eldar most practiced by the nissi; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the nissi in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defense, the nissi fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need.” (MR 213-4)

Let’s examine the relevant points of this section.

  1. Healers are most often female, but men can be healers too.
  2. Dealing in death weakens the ability to be a healer. (or that is the superstition of the Eldar)
  3. Healers are the very last to go to war. 

So, what does Elven healing entail? It’s spoken of as a “power” as though there is some sort of magic behind it. There likely is, but not the “magical glow for a few seconds and you’re good as new!” sort of magic as seen in Avatar: The Last Airbender or in Charmed or any number of fantasy series. It likely works through singing, and can only help the healing process, not magically reattach limbs or heal wounds with no scarring. An Elven healer at work is most likely singing while they stitch you up, and you’ll be able to remove the stitches a few days earlier. 

Elven healing also likely differs from our healing in that they don’t have treatments for things caused by viruses or bacteria. If you don’t get sick from them, then there’s no need to treat them. So, Elven healers are more like surgeons: trained to set bones, remove slivers/arrows/pieces of daggers from the body, and stitch up wounds. 

By the way, even warriors know at least a little first aid. Glorfindel and Aragorn (pre-Elessar) were able to help keep Frodo alive during the dangerous trek to Imladris. When throwing yourself in dangerous situations – it’s best to know how to get yourself home alive. 

The Elessar

Yes, Aragorn’s Kingly name. Aragorn was named after the Elessar, which is a magic gem. It has an interesting history though. It is detailed in the Unfinished Tales, The History of Galadriel and Celeborn – The Elessar. I will give a basic overview for you here. 

The Elessar was made by a jewel-smith named Enerdhil. He loved green, growing things, especially when looking through leaves at the sun. So, he made the Elessar, (called Edhelharn in Sindarin) which was the captured green light that he loved. This gem had incredible power. 

The jewel was given to Idril, who kept it safe from the destruction of Gondolin. She gave it to Eärendil, who used it to help people in Sirion’s Haven. The Elessar vanished from Middle-earth along with Eärendil. 

Where then, does Aragorn’s Elessar come from? No one knows. Some people in Middle-earth believe that Aragorn’s wedding gift is actually the one that Enerdhil made, returned to Middle-earth by Gandalf. Others think that it is a new gem, made to mimic the original one by Celebrimbor for Galadriel. Either way, Galadriel had an Elessar and she gave it to Aragorn as a wedding present. Thus, the prophecy that Ioreth speaks of in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith came true: the hands of the King are the hands of a Healer. 

Here’s the section describing what the jewel is capable of: 

“For it is said that those who looked through this stone saw things that were withered or burned healed again or as they were in the grace of their youth, and that the hands of one who held it brought to all that they touched healing from hurt.” (UF 249) 

From this description, it’s hard to tell if it works like rose-tinted (leaf-tinted?) glasses, and makes you view the world around you as more healthy than it is, or if it actually heals what you look upon. Again, it doesn’t seem to be a magical complete healing tool. Look on the way it works when Aragorn uses it. He still has to do actual medical work. The Elessar just seems to make sure that the methods that he uses are effective, not make injuries magically disappear in a moment.

To conclude:

If you write about Tolkien-Elves who are warriors and have magick glowing hands that magickly heal all they touch, I will track you down and beat you with my copy of Morgoth's Ring until you gain a magick revelation of your own.

Once I get this edited up, it'll go on my website!

July 2015

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