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Language Barrier

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Mythos, Mar 27, 2012.

  1. Mythos

    Mythos Troubadour

    In one of my world I have a race of spider-like creatures called soulshakers. These soulshakers are one of the more civilized races, and they interact with humans all of the time. Their mouths can't form the same sounds humans can, so they have translators, which are actually soulshaker-possessed humans. This works well, but in many scenes in my novel I have a soulshaker speaking with a human. What would be the best way for the dialogue to be written?

    From the human perspective, I have them hear the soulshaker, but only understand the translator. From the soulshaker perspective, the translator is ignored. Does this work? Should I just get rid of the language barrier?

    And one unrelated question, should "soulshaker" be capitalized?

    Thanks for reading!
  2. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    You do not need to capitalise a common noun. For example, you would not capitalise 'elves' or 'spiders' or 'humans', so 'soulshaker' would also not be capitalised.

    Some people use italics to express a different form of talking, such as mental communication. Others simply use normal methods of dialogue. If well-written, the reader would already know to assume that it is the translator that the human is hearing (or two soulshakers talking to each other in their own language). Just mention that it is a translator beforehand and that is how they are talking to each other.

    Of course, you can be creative (i personally would not do this, but some authors do) and use different markings rather than quotation marks.

    Another thing you can do (and which should be used sparingly) is to give the human-translator an unmistakable accent. Like a hiss, perhaps, or drawn-out words, or even a randomly added vowel in between words or at the front of some words. It still needs to be easily readable.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2012
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    That's true in most cases, but some authors do capitalize things like that. Tolkien often has his various sentient races capitalized -- Elves, Men, Hobbits, Ents, etc. -- but he doesn't seem consistent with it. I believe there's a reason behind that, but I've yet to figure it out.
  4. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    I don't like it. I think it's messy. But you are correct - it is personal preference.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    My two cents on this is mention the translator at the beginning of the exchange and then ignore them for the most part. If the conversation is long, add in a reminder that the translator is there every so often. The reminders could be anything like accidentally talking to the translator rather than the soulshaker or noticing the mismatch of voice to the soulshaker's presence... etc.
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    From what I remember of it, it seems like he capitalized those words when referring to the race as a collective whole - Elves, Men, etc. - and not when referring to a specific member of the race or a small group of individuals. I think a capitalized "Men," for example, was meant to refer to the entire race of humanity.

    That's based on my recollection, though, and it has been a while.
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    When I read your post, I dreaded an accent that would overshadow the content of the interactions. I think the idea of having a mental communication or a sort of magical communication would be very plausible. If they are highly intelligent and have a load of contact with humans, wouldn't one of them have invented an enchantment which made communication possible? or developed a spell or something to allow short bursts of telepathy? Ideas? A pendant they all wear that translates their speech for all humans within ten paces, A tattoo infused with magic that allows them to communicate telepathically with each other and humans, a spell performed upon hatching which allows them to develop a more versatile mouth/vocal organs.

    I am no spider expert, but can they even make noises? If spiders have no ability to make noise I would lean toward telepathy, though I can understand how difficult it is to write throughout a book.

    If they've had contact with humans a long time, maybe some are highly evolved and able to speak..... that would set a certain elite amount apart, or could encompass the whole species. Also, if you do decide to make them speak.... please only mention the accent a few times when it's really important. I like the idea of having them try to speak human, since they are very intelligent, but hearing about the accent too much would detract from what I think is a really neat concept.
  8. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    Hmm...I like the fact that they use humans as translators. I imagine they connect to the human translator mentally and speak through them?
  9. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    I'm quite fond of things like this. In Perdido Street Station for example, there is a self-proclaimed "god" built from scrap machinery and difference engines in a scrap yard who speaks through an old man. The voice comes from the old guy (who isn't even technically alive anymore), but it is the machine talking.

    It worked well in that book so there's no reason it shouldn't work for your soulshakers.

    (By the way, I'm not saying you shouldn't use the above idea. Quite the opposite. Being used successfully once is no reason for you not to try it. Whether you think originality is necessarily possible or not, there No point in being too hung up it.)
  10. Mythos

    Mythos Troubadour

    I actually have some humans, they're the one who would create pendants, wearing magical items that will allow them to understand soulshakers. A few of the humans more dedicated to communicating with soulshakers have also learned the easier pieces of their language.

    This is what I've been doing so far, so I think I'll stick with that for now.

    Well, the translators aren't really humans. They're soulshakers in a human body. Thus they can understand the soulshaker and then speak to the humans.
  11. virtualmayham

    virtualmayham Dreamer

    I believe that's the case. I know that in French for example, if you say, "He is French" (Il est francais), you do not capitalize, but if you are saying, "The French eat cheese" (Le Francais mange un fromage), you do. It is not the same with English, obviously, but I think it looks nicer, and can help avoid confusing the reader.
  12. Rullenzar

    Rullenzar Troubadour

    Some authors like to make different languages like Tolkein for his elf race but that is ridiculously time consuming and difficult.
    The majority of authors just hint at a different language being used by simply saying something like 'Bob hears what he thinks is hissing and sees two soulshakers in the corner of the tent.' A simple mention like 'The soulshakers translator follows him like white on rice' would be enough to let your characters converse without having to keep bringing it up. Or for comic relief have your translators do something out of character every once in a while if the conversation is going on too long.
  13. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    Just mention that the conversation includes a third party interpretor.

    He listens as the translator tells ____what he said.
    He turns to look at the translator as the Soulshaker stops making sounds.

    Its not a major point unless the translator changes something in a conversation*, but drop the reminder in that the translator is there.
    *"Tell him, I welcome him to our humble city." the human leader says
    He says your rude and disrespectful for even being in his presence." Translator says to the soulshaker. (You should always use a trusted translator.)
  14. DiferentFromTheAI

    DiferentFromTheAI Dreamer

    I don't mean to rain on your parade, but I really liked the concept of people understanding other languages and replying in their own.
    I leave near the US/MEX border and its very common of us to use Spanglish, a mix of Spanish and English born from people being too lazy to learn the other laguage
    Have you seen Sector 9, the scenario is really similar, and I personally like it better. It is really simple, as both races can emit sounds (thou different ones) and hear them.
    try simplifying, Perfect is not when you cant add anything else, its when you cant take anything away (or something like that)
  15. Mythos

    Mythos Troubadour

    I actually have some of the humans that interact with the soulshakers more than other understand some of their words, and they create a sort of language from that. But not all of my humans interact with soulshakers a lot, thus they sometimes need translators.

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