Using non-English words in a story

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Using non-English words in a story

Postby crit34670 » Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:19 pm


I'm revisiting a draft of a creepy fantasy story I started a few years back, set in Austria in the late 1500s. I think it has good bones and plan to finish it. However, I am stumbling over whether, and how much, to use German words in the narrative.

My instinct is that the occasional German word will add to the flavor of the story. It would likely be limited to the first reference to something -- for example, a character would refer to "the Weissbienen," and thereafter they'd be called "the white bees."

Does anyone have strong opinions, one way or the other, about the inclusion of non-English words in a story? Does it help or detract? I appreciate any and all feedback. Thanks!

Name: Eric J. Francis
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Re: Using non-English words in a story

Postby crit19292 » Wed Jul 18, 2018 10:44 am

I would say that your work would be poorer without them. You should never dumb down your writing. If you have a certain setting, or character with a strong background, to not use the spice of that setting or background is a fault.

Let me however suggest that you do not provide translations only once. People do forget. As new characters or other data is accumulated you should work in the translation again just to assure your readers what the word is.
I will not deny myself having my opinions.
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Name: Roby Ward
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Re: Using non-English words in a story

Postby crit34814 » Tue Aug 07, 2018 1:11 am

*waves* First time posting here, so hi!

Okay. With regard to your question, I don't really have a strong opinion on including non-English words. My personal feeling is that if the character you're writing would use them, then go for it.

I have mixed thoughts on translation and italics. If you're familiar with Daniel Jose Older's work, he does not believe that italicizing is necessary and briefly outlines his position in a really cute Youtube video. Honestly I'm not even sure that translation is really necessary. For example, the first Hebrew phrase in Mary Robinette Kowal's new book, The Calculating stars, is not translated. (I'm not sure it she ever translates, actually, because I just started reading the book.) But the context is such that one can at least infer the emotion behind the phrase even if they do not know the cultural or literal meaning.

Obviously, it's up to you. But I think there are loads of cool ways to handle non-English words, and personally I really like seeing them pop up, even without translation or italicization. :)
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Re: Using non-English words in a story

Postby crit33524 » Mon Nov 19, 2018 12:17 am

You need to get enough of the meaning across to do the job. That isn't necessarily much - it's generally sufficient, for example, to know that a character is swearing, and perhaps whether they are swearing at someone or something in particular or just a general oath ("damn you" versus "oh ****"); only rarely does one need a literal translation of the swearing.

In the case of things like your Weissbiennen, you also may have the option of treating the foreign-language word as if it were a name - in this case the name of a species, perhaps.
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