Thursday, 10 August 2017

Reading Other Languages

We read novels written in our own language but have to remember that not all the characters speak it. Maybe, if a novel is set in contemporary Europe, then the text should show dialogue in French, German, Swedish etc, translated in footnotes? Even better, each of us would be well educated enough to read and understand other languages! I argued here that, in any screen adaptations of Poul Anderson's works, we should hear characters speaking Temporal, Anglic, Eriau, Planha etc. In the first edition of James Blish's Doctor Mirabilis, an entire philosophical discussion was presented in medieval Latin. CS Lewis presents interesting Latin dialogue with footnotes in That Hideous Strength:

"'Magister Merline...Sapientissime Britonum, secreti secretorum possessor...'
"'Master Merlin...wisest of the Britons, possessor of the secret of secrets...'"
-CS Lewis, The Hideous Strength IN Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy (London, 1990), pp. 349-753 AT p. 626.Chapter 12 -

- but Lewis tells us very few words of the Great Tongue, the Solar language:

"...the language spoken before the Fall and beyond the Moon...Language herself, as she first sprang at Maleldil's bidding out of the molten quicksilver of the star called Mercury on Earth, but Viritrilbia in Deep Heaven." (Chapter 10, p. 587)

Lewis adds that, in Solar, the meanings of sounds are not arbitrary but inherent. Impossible. Lewis was a Platonist. Allow me to comment that there is no such "Language."

Back down to Earth, in more ways than one, Ian Fleming gives us a few sentences in European languages -

Corsican dialect:

"'Ecco u Capu. Avette nuttizie di Blofeld, Ernst Stavro? Duve sta?...Site sigura? Ma no ezzatu indirizzu?...Buon. Sara tutto.'"
-Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (London, 1965), Chapter 5, p. 53.


"Wir bitten hoflichst um Entschuldigung!" (Chapter 6, p. 56)

"'Alles in Ordnung?'
"'Also hor zu! Wir kommen fur den Englander in zehn Minute. Verstanden?'
"'Is' recht.'
"'Also, auf passen. Ja?'
"'Zu Befehl!'" (Chapter 16, p. 148)

Turning back from Blish, Lewis and Fleming to Anderson, I wish now that we had comparable information about the languages spoken in the Time Patrol and Technic History timelines.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I agree with the principle that it would be good if a lot more of us were familiar with other languages. There was a time when Anglo/American schools COMMONLY taught Latin and French, the international languages at one time of scholarship and diplomacy. I myself still remember enough Latin to make out the gist of the Latin you quoted.

I have sometimes thought of experimenting with writing a few paragraphs attempting to approximate the Anglic used in the Terran Empire. It would feature many changes in the written language in the spelling of names and words. "Georgios," for example, plainly replaced "George." And "Joseph" was changed into "Josip."


David Birr said...

I have to disagree with you here: "Georgios" and "Josip" are extant names already — they're just not ENGLISH names. The Terran Empire may speak and write Anglic, but it's multi-ethnic, so it includes names drawn from other languages. I'm sure the Empire still has plenty of people named simply "George," or "Georges," or "Georg," or "Jorge."

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

I have to admit you made very good points, points which are very likely to be true. In, fact, we see Flandry using "George" as part of the Spanish Prisoner scam he pulled on Sumu the Fat in THE PLAGUE OF MASTERS.

So, yes, many common names from different languages with different spellings passed into standard Anglic usage.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul and DAVID!

I should have remembered that Poul Anderson DID try writing an article into another language: "Uncleftish Beholding." He gave an explanation of some basic science in Old English or Anglo-Saxon, on the assumption there had been no Norman Conquest of England.


S.M. Stirling said...

You can overdo accents and dialect -- I did in some of my early books.

It's important to get the -flavor- of what you're using "translation convention" on.

Sometimes literal translation can do this -- for example, have a French speaker say "the Good God willing" rather than "God willing". Or a bit of untranslated text mixed in.

Poul was extremely good at getting the -flavor- of Old Norse.

In a SFnal context, it's important to remember that all languages of any size have dialects (usually geographical, sometimes social, sometimes both). Just as you shouldn't have things like planets with only one landscape, you shouldn't have languages with only one form.

Even very "new" ones (like Israeli Hebrew, for example) have multiple forms.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Hmmm, perhaps you were thinking of how you may have over done the dialect of English used by the Draka in some of your early books?

Yes, Poul Anderson was very good at giving us the "flavor" of other languages in his works, and not just with Old Norse!

Your comment about French using "the Good God willing" reminded me of how Merseians commonly referred to God as "the God."

I agree with what you said about how SF writers should give hints of different languages and their uses (as well as landsapes). I think that's one reason why I became dissatisfied with Asimov's SF in general and his Foundation books in particular. They seemed so flat and colorless in both the descriptions of planets and the implausible use of only ONE language thru out the the Galaxy.


S.M. Stirling said...

True about Asimov's books. He was a smart man, but very urbanized -- New York was more or less his world.

Even if you -started- with only one language, given enough time and spread it would diverge into different tongues.

You can date the expansion of a language that way. Eg., when it first came into contact with literate observers (around 300 BCE) Celtic was still one language; personal names and tribal names and names of deities were very similar all the way across the Celtic range, and as late as the 300's CE an observer from Roman Gaul mentioned that he could understand the "Gaulish" spoken in Anatolian Galatia, at the other end of the Empire.

That means Celtic must have emerged and spread quite recently, historically speaking -- certainly no more than a thousand years before its contact with the Graeco-Roman world, probably less. Otherwise there would have been more regional differentiation.

The very earliest stage of Irish, as written in the Ogham language, is strikingly similar to Latin in its grammar, and shows none of the later peculiarities of Gaelic; it's a fairly standard early Indo-European daughter language.

So at one stage in the late Iron Age you could probably have walked from Ireland to the Black Sea (with an occasional short hop in a boat) and spoken the same language all the way.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Thanks for giving us a very interesting short essay. Yes, Asimov was so urbanized that he would feel very much at home in either the "caves of steel" or Trantor!

Interesting, that early written Irish Gaelic was so strikingly similar to Latin. No surprise, of course, they were both Indo/European tongues.

Gaelic might have become the root of the language we speak and write if Latin and the Germanic languages had not displaced it.


S.M. Stirling said...

The Celts expanded fast, and then got shoved out of most of their range; when Caesar got to Gaul, the Germanics were pushing over the Rhine, and they'd already shoved the Celts out of southern Germany -- the Helvetii decided to migrate because the Germans were pressing on them from the north.

I suspect that if the Romans hadn't intervened, the Continental Celts would have been replaced by the Germanics throughout their range, and possibly in the British Isles too.

Mainland Britain spoke a single Celtic dialect in Roman times, ancestral to Welsh (and Breton). At that time it wasn't very different from Old Irish, though.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I agree, absent the rise of Rome, the Germanics might well have totally displaced the Celts and Gaelic, even in Ireland. It raises the question of why the Celts failed to develop political and military institutions capable of resisting conquest.


Anonymous said...

Kaor, Sean!

"Uncleftish Beholding" is a delight, but it's written in what modern English might have been if there had been no Norman Conquest, not in actual Old English.

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Nicholas!

Yes, that does more clearly and accurately express what I was trying to say. Thanks!

Regards! Sean