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Old 01-07-2013, 08:07 AM   #1
Euphony
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Language. Narrowing who "understands" it.

I've wanted to add an "made up language" to a story I have but I've not decided how best to do it.

It would be something along the lines of two childhood friends invented their own sort of pig-latin (w/no basis in anything real. They just started as kids and it grew into what it is) I don't really think I need or want to show the actual sounds they make, I'd like to have it read properly in the story but have it understood by the reader that they have fallen into their own little language as they do from time to time.

What is the proper way to format this, to set it off from just normal dialog without (hopefully) having to have some sort of other character reaction all the time. (Id like to use it as an intimacy device at points, occasionally just between the two of them.)

Am I thinking about this is the right way or does this cat need a different method of skinning?

Also, if it is to be recurring, is setting it up once enough to stick in the readers minds or might they see English later on if I don't touch on the fact they've developed their own language every so often.

I guess this question is as much about the concept as it is the mechanics. I just need to do it right or I think the story becomes a mess.
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Old 01-07-2013, 10:00 AM   #2
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I'm not sure if there's a rule or guideline for this. I might suggest brackets, so that the dialogue would look like this:

"[I was waiting for you]," he said in their shared language.

I want to say I've seen this done, but I couldn't cite a book or other source. I'd also say that whatever device you choose for this, use it consistently. That goes a long way with most things.
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Old 01-07-2013, 10:09 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PennLady View Post
I'm not sure if there's a rule or guideline for this. I might suggest brackets, so that the dialogue would look like this:

"[I was waiting for you]," he said in their shared language.

I want to say I've seen this done, but I couldn't cite a book or other source. I'd also say that whatever device you choose for this, use it consistently. That goes a long way with most things.
Thanks for the help. Yeah, I feel like Ive seen it before in some form or fashion but can't remember where. Its frustrating.

If its brackets, I could manage but Id loath to have to spell out further that they are talking in "code" to each other, especially each and every time. Im hoping the formatting can do that on its own else my story will be a repetitive mess imho.

*edit to add* I guess in non web fiction Ive seen it done as a footnote. Lit formatting won't support that nor do I think would any normal persons reading patience (since I plan on more than just a sentence here or there) .
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:30 PM   #4
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That's a really difficult thing to do in fiction, as fiction isn't supposed to use bracketted (editorial notes) or parenthesis (explanatory) asides as can be used in nonfiction. In fiction, since you need to carry the reader with you in everything, the best thing you can do is to reveal what is meant with explanations in the surrounding narrative and/or dialogue. This can get tedious really fast, so it generally has to be kept to a minimum in fiction.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:50 PM   #5
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one of the stories I'm working on, one character speaks German.

While he doesn't speak it all the time, he throws it out now and then. Like the Amish do when they talk to each other while you're standing there with a dumb look on your face.

I put the German in italic font.

Then had a character explain what he said. Of course this only works if the second character can speak the language, too.

"Ich liebe dich, weil ich dich brauche.," Hans said.

Sally glanced at her friend. "What?"

"He says, 'he loves you because he needs you.'"

The way I did it more than likely won't be in the Chicago Manual of Style, but it seems okay to me. I'm sure someone will say, Ich fürchte, ich bin nicht Ihrer Meinung.

The biggest problem I had is my rather poor ability to speak German. The many translators on the 'web' helped somewhat, but don't trust them. Sometimes 'baby you're hot' turned into 'turn up the thermostat.' A native speaker is always the best way to go.

If you want a total odd, made up, or out of this world language, look up Klingon (really!) someone made up an entire Klingon language including all the necessary syntax.

I don't know why his name escapes me but the director of 'Avatar' (Cameron?) invented a language for his blue critters. That may be on the web someplace.
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Old 01-07-2013, 01:02 PM   #6
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What font it's in really doesn't address the issue of the reader understanding what it means. So, that alone doesn't help much (I do see that you go on to give an example on how to fold an explanation into the text). (and the Chicago Manual of Style would support putting foreign phrases in italics, by the way. [7.49])
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Old 01-07-2013, 01:59 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sr71plt View Post
That's a really difficult thing to do in fiction, as fiction isn't supposed to use bracketted (editorial notes) or parenthesis (explanatory) asides as can be used in nonfiction. In fiction, since you need to carry the reader with you in everything, the best thing you can do is to reveal what is meant with explanations in the surrounding narrative and/or dialogue. This can get tedious really fast, so it generally has to be kept to a minimum in fiction.
SR,
Thanks for the help. Confirms what a part of me knew all along.

I do worry though (by your response) that I failed in my description of my intent. I could be misreading you so forgive me if I am.

Here's an incorrect, nuts and bolts, scratched on a napkin version of what I was suggesting Id do. Ill identify who (in my mind) can understand what.

Scene: All sitting around a dinner table.

Abby to Betsy in regular english

"Pass the rolls."

Abby to Betsy in their own fictional language after the roll passing.

"Boy these rolls taste awful and are hard as rocks." (this is said in the fictional language (lets say said in their language it sounds like "Abbah Babba Boo Boo" or similar nonsense to anyone else

Mom

"What are you two saying?"

Abby aloud in regular english everyone can understand.

"Just how much we love your rolls mom."

At no point do I plan on writing out the Abbah Babba Boo Boos or the like or really any part of the secret language whatsoever. I WANT what is said to be understandable to the reader within the text but it known that just Abby and Betsy can understand/translate it to this.

Im just looking for a way to set it off as being "in their own secret language" (so the reader knows only Abby and Besty know what's being said, to everyone else its gibberish.) without constantly having to tag back to "in their own language" or "so only Abby would understand" etc etc.

The story, to the reader, would always read in English but (hopefully) there would be a way to set off what is "translated" (or in other words, said in their secret language) versus what is simply normal English being spoken between the two (which they will do most of the time)

Sorry if I'm not able to clearly say what Im trying to do. Maybe even it can't be done/there is no standard for doing so.

But I want to try it if its at all possible. It's a key part of the engine of my story.
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Old 01-07-2013, 02:07 PM   #8
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That sounds doable. What had worried me was use of secret language that somehow wasn't ever explained to the reader--or that expected the reader to be learning nuances of the language him/herself as they read along so that later they are being pressed to do the translations themselves. This would work with short phrases (like the secret language's substitutes for "yes" and "no") but should, I think, be kept simple as as not to tax the reader too much.
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Old 01-07-2013, 02:24 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sr71plt View Post
That sounds doable. What had worried me was use of secret language that somehow wasn't ever explained to the reader--or that expected the reader to be learning nuances of the language him/herself as they read along so that later they are being pressed to do the translations themselves. This would work with short phrases (like the secret language's substitutes for "yes" and "no") but should, I think, be kept simple as as not to tax the reader too much.
Far more complexity than I was looking to do. Fascinating discussion though.

No, mine was hopefully simple.

Establish early on the two (Abby and Besty in my example) made up their own language as kids (or maybe even use a rare foreign language/old language (it'll depend on how complex I want to make their interactions later on. More complex = less plausible they went to all the trouble to make up rules/vocab that deep all on their own)

So maybe an early exchange with them speaking only in secret language and setting it off as such (how would I do this best/correctly?)

Then as it drifts back into the story later on, repeat whatever punctuation I used earlier each and every time they "drop into" their own private language.

I wouldnt write the Sanskrit or whatever out, I would just earmark somehow that they are speaking in Sanskrit then so Mom, Dad, etc etc can't understand a word they are saying. The reader, however, gets a full translation.
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Old 01-07-2013, 02:33 PM   #10
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It is said in my family that my mother spoke a language of her own that only the family members understood until she started school and the teacher refused to let her older brother translate for her.

A compromise approach would be to establish what their words were for such simple and often-used words and expressions as "yes" and "no" and "I don't want to" and, after establishing the meanings of those, leave those words in their unspoken language and just somehow provide an explanation or visual connection with longer phrases that were obvious enough for the reader to pick up.
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Old 01-07-2013, 03:04 PM   #11
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I've read that twins often come up with a language that only they understand (or family, I guess) when they are growing up. I suppose kids close in age might do that as well.

Anyway, I think you can do this without a lot of trouble, so long as you set out your rules and follow them.
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Old 01-07-2013, 09:23 PM   #12
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What I do when depicting telepathy is establish it early on in the story/chapter, then use italics with single quotes to indicate mind-speech the rest of the time.

Regular internal dialogue is italics without the single quotes.

Every so often, I throw in a dialogue tag as a refresher.

The readers seem to follow it well enough, so italics and regular quotes should be easy enough to keep up with. You just have to discipline yourself not to use too much of it in large blocks to prevent reader eye strain.
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Old 01-08-2013, 12:34 PM   #13
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John Wyndham, a British SF writer, wrote 'The Midwich Cuckoos' where children different from the norm could communicate telepathically. I can't remember how it was punctuated but it was all in English though the mental communication was unintelligible to the ordinary citizens.

I think this agrees with sr. The writer can have the other characters not understanding but, surely, the dialogue should be comprehensible to the reader without translation. If the reader isn't in the loop, doesn't she/he lose commitment?
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Old 01-08-2013, 03:15 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elfin_odalisque View Post
I think this agrees with sr. The writer can have the other characters not understanding but, surely, the dialogue should be comprehensible to the reader without translation. If the reader isn't in the loop, doesn't she/he lose commitment?
The OP said that the author had no intention of actually writing the made-up language. The author was looking for a method of getting the idea across to readers. I noted I'd seen brackets used (although I can't cite a source unfortunately). Others noted in similar works they'd read the dialogue was written in English and then it was stated in the text that it was the "special" language.

The author always intended to keep readers in the loop. The question was the best way to do that.
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Old 01-08-2013, 06:45 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PennLady View Post
The OP said that the author had no intention of actually writing the made-up language. The author was looking for a method of getting the idea across to readers. I noted I'd seen brackets used (although I can't cite a source unfortunately). Others noted in similar works they'd read the dialogue was written in English and then it was stated in the text that it was the "special" language.

The author always intended to keep readers in the loop. The question was the best way to do that.
Hit the nail on the head as usual PL. Every word on the page would be understandable to the reader as it's all in English.

The twist is how to show the limit of understanding of said phrases/words to only the two friends (in my example Abby and Betsy) AND the reader. (the reader is and always will be "in" on it too)

I'm leaning towards Dark's idea because it seems a little less jarring than brackets would be. Though if I can find some sort of "standard" for this sort of thing, to heck with personal choice, I'll follow it.

I just want to make it as easy for the readers as possible to hum right along with the two girls and be "in" on the jokes/confessions too.

Worst thing is I feel like Ive seen this somewhere before but didn't make note of how it was done as it just flowed properly so my brain never registered it as something worth remembering.

Good writers always make it look too easy.
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Old 01-08-2013, 07:37 PM   #16
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I think it would be more effective and bring the reader in more if you, in fact, did salt it with a few words and phrases in their special language--translated in the text appropriately the first time used, of course.
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Old 01-08-2013, 08:15 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sr71plt View Post
I think it would be more effective and bring the reader in more if you, in fact, did salt it with a few words and phrases in their special language--translated in the text appropriately the first time used, of course.
I think that would be a great idea. Just a few words would be enough to enable the reader to see what it's like and see more of the characters. That's also something I've seen done. In a fantasy novel, for example, it helps give the feeling of being in a new and different world.
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Old 01-11-2013, 12:53 AM   #18
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If you've ever read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess that might be what's tugging at your memory. It goes back a ways - published in the early '60s (and Burgess hated the movie Stanley Kubrick made out of it).

For the book - it is set in a near-future, dystopian Great Britian - Burgess made up many elements of a language that was used by the younger members of the society (teens, post-teens). Mostly those who roamed in gangs creating mayhem. I guess it wouldn't really be a language, more of a dialect - as it only involved particular words and phrases (although there were a lot of them - enough for examples to exist in practically every sentence of the narrator's narration or a young character's dialog) that he mixed in with fairly standard English. He called the dialect Nadsat.

He seems mostly to have created the words and phrases out of a sort of pidgin mixture of English and Russian.

As an example: he used the Russian words 'khorosho' and 'tolchock' together. 'khorosho' means 'good' in the sense of being of great magnitude. 'tolchock' is a blow or to strike someone. Then he altered the phrase by changing the first element into English. So when one of the young gang member characters would viciously strike another character the narrator would say that he gave him a 'horrorshow tolchock'.

But Burgess mostly left it to the reader to piece together what it all meant as the story progressed.
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Old 01-11-2013, 11:55 PM   #19
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What about £337? Here's a leet translator if you're interested.
Italics and, if possible, a line through could also do it... Or a combo of italics, underline and bold... Just put a notice in the intro that this text is the characters' personal language. There's probably a number of different ways to accomplish your goal, like putting an asterik on either side instead of quotation marks, adding italics could be something too.
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Old 01-15-2013, 12:35 PM   #20
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I have a somewhat similar issue in one of my stories - though there it is a fantasy story so it is more the different languages belonging to the world it takes place in ... in that case I decided against using italics or something different, as that would get confusing too, but rather go by sometimes mentioning which language is spoken, and at other times hoping it is clear from context. But I guess if you have them actually switching back and forth all the time in the same conversation it is different... Personally I'd then think italics looks best...
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