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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Audio and Foreign Languages

Here's something you probably haven't considered when you're writing your book. If you use foreign phrases (even the obvious stuff like "tortilla"), you might discover your narrator coming back and asking you, "How do I pronounce this?"

This was evident when "Missing, Assumed Dead," was in the midst of audio production. I used some Basque words since the Basques were involved in the plot. I did discover when writing how to pronounce txicoli, a Basque wine. I conveniently had the waitress tell my characters how it was pronounced, but it was right there in the written part before the pronunciation. 

Discussing this with the narrator, we decided to leave out the first mention and go more directly to the pronunciations. Here's the original:

Kam scanned the selection of mostly Oregon grown wines and was delighted to see an imported Basque wine called txakoli. “This tixa, um, is this red or white?” she said, pointing at the menu.

“Cha-co-li,” the waitress provided helpfully. “It’s a white but tends to taste bitter to an inexperienced person,” she said. “I’ll fetch the open bottle to give you a sip before you decide.” The waitress bustled away.

To get around that written word, we left out txakoli in the spoken version:

Kam scanned the selection of mostly Oregon grown wines and was delighted to see an imported Basque wine. “This tixa, um, is this red or white?” she said, pointing at the menu.

“Cha-co-li,” the waitress provided helpfully. “It’s a white but tends to taste bitter to an inexperienced person,” she said. “I’ll fetch the open bottle to give you a sip before you decide.” The waitress bustled away.

That was pretty easy, but some other phrases or words were a little harder to work around. 

Here are my rules, then:
  • Don't use the word unless you're prepared to tell your narrator how to pronounce it properly.
  • Check on-line (or if you speak the language, be ready to make a sound bite) to have someplace for your narrator to HEAR how a word or phrase is pronounced.
  • Do not blather on in a language other than the one in which you're writing.

Here's a place where I blathered a bit. In "Scotch Broom," my heroine is in the Scottish Highlands. She meets with an augur named Seonaidh. First, I had to let the reader know how to pronounce the name. I had my characters do that work:

“Who is Show Me?” Kat asked.

“SHOW NEE,” Cait snarled. “Can’t you get any of our names right?” 

That worked out fairly easily, but later Seonaidh gave Kat an augury of what was to come:

“Aan gille, mayhap an brĂ thair. I dunnae ken him. Ye’ll hae ta be sleekit tae win. Dinna pay heed ta da mingy duine dubh.”

That is a tad more difficult for the narrator since this is a mix of Scottish Gaelic and modern Scottish brogue. Fortunately, I had a friend who could figure it out and provided a phonetic translation. 

What would we do without our friends? 

Thank you, big time to Renee Duke and her Scottish grandmother for helping me in my time of need.

Be careful what you say in your books. Somebody might someday ask you how to pronounce something.

Buy "Missing, Assumed Dead" in audio format at audible.com. It's cheaper if you buy through Amazon if you're not an Audible member.



3 comments:

  1. Glad to be of help. I never met my Gaelic-speaking grandmother as she she and my non Gaelic-speaking, but still Scottish, grandfather immigrated to New Zealand long before I was born. (Only a few days after my second brathair was born, actually. He says they took one look at him and left the country.)

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  2. Too funny, Renee. I think you've got an ear for languages. I've struggled through just about everything now thanks to your help. One thing I can't seem to find yet is pronunciation of place names. I though Tongue, Naver, Scourie, and Lairg would be easy. Hearing some of the other Gaelic words, I'm almost certain I don't have any idea at all. Next stop, Travel Scotland sites. Somebody must have a video.

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  3. Well, fortunately, I don't make audio books, since my books are full of conlangs! Ones spoken by termites, and especially the one spoken by birds (the human throat isn't equipped to speak bird language!)

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