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The Fictional Linguistic Dilemma [Jun. 15th, 2007|12:49 am]
So, a question for y'all what read SF:

We have a (human) character from a fairly ordinary background who gets dragged off to strange and interesting places. Logically, the (also human) people in the strange and interesting places would not speak the same language. But these characters need to be able to communicate -- have conversations, even -- because otherwise it's all very boring.

Which of the following solutions to this problem do you find acceptable?

Ignore It: Just avoid the question entirely. Everyone speaks 'English' and language is simply never mentioned.
Gloss Over It: Acknowledge briefly how strange it is that everyone speaks 'English', but provide no explanation.
Translator Microbes: Describe a whatchamajigger that solves the problem, but don't explain how it works.
Babel Fish: The whatchamajigger is explained in a hand-wavy way, then we move on.
Universal Translator: Whatchamajigger with explanation; how it works is sometimes plot-relevant.
Fast Learning: Invoke technobabble to let characters absorb new languages very quickly.
The Low-Tech Way: Characters learn new languages through conveniently-available months of intensive study.
Other: some exciting and clever method I haven't thought of, which is described in a comment.

[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-06-15 01:31 pm (UTC)
I lost my previous response: thbbbt!

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think as a writer it's best to go with your native tongue until you've worked your language issues out as they relate to your world building and plot. What happens in your story, will ultimately determine how you deal with the language problem.

For example, since I've been watching a lot of Westerns lately, I'm thinking about the problem of translation playing an essential role in conflict. Even when there's a good translator present, misunderstandings can lead to tragedy.

Then there's the Bjold model where civilizations have worked out their differences and might have "English" as a trade language, or translators, or whatever. The point of those books is cultural differences that can't be explained by the common language.

Of course, there's always the colonized model where everyone has to speak "English" because it's the language of the evil overlords.

So basically, I'm going with whatever the plot demands, though I have to tell you I am always a little irritated by universal translation devices, even if it does create a convenient out because all of the above conflicts are so interesting.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2007-06-15 06:14 pm (UTC)
I think as a writer it's best to go with your native tongue...

I'm always annoyed by books that blithely throw around chunks of foreign language without any translation or summary for those of us who didn't take French or Spanish in high school. Inconsiderate much, Mr. Author?
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2007-06-15 06:33 pm (UTC)
I'm more annoyed by authors who throw around invented languages without any translation or summary. I've gotten to the point that if a book requires a large pronunciation guide or glossary I usually don't read it. (This is particularly a problem in epic fantasy.)

I think someone else has already commented on this in your post.

I should probably not mention how disgusting and annoying I thought the Babel Fish solution was, but I'm not a big Hitchicker's fan. I'm probably one of the few people in the universe who liked the movie better.
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