As many of you know, I’m a bit of a language geek. I’m not sure if I actually speak any language well these days, or if all the composite parts of the many languages slip through in my grammar and syntax. I know my vocabulary is fouled up as a result of my years as a translator and student.
This was brought home to me very clearly over the last few days. I’m doing a massive paring/edit of the book and I was revising a few pages where the Arab characters were speaking to each other. I have tried very hard not to impose Arabic on my readers. It has always been my contention that you do an injustice to people if you give them accents when writing about them speaking in their own language. It makes me really nuts to find that in a book or movie. Germans with German accents speaking English to each other at Wehrmacht Headquarters in 1943 – that sort of thing.
So in the whole book there is exactly one sentence in Arabic. English wouldn’t do for the dramatic impact I wanted to make. The Arabic had to be there. But I found something else happening in writing those scenes: the Arabs were taking on a unique cadence and voice, each different from the next. They were true characters with lives of their own. Each of them was just a bit off from the next, some way off base compared the the central character. And that was just fine. It was exactly how they would speak to each other and how their thoughts would/should appear to flow in the context. I had broken the language barrier and gone to the process that revealed their inner voice.
At least that’s my hope. Eventually the audience will decide if I made it or failed in that aspect of the book.
The title of this piece is a window into how my brain is working right now. It is a swirl of Arabic, German, Spanish, French (Creole to be precise), Russian, and English. I have had distinct moments in all of those languages in the last 24 hours with working on the book and dealing with other items in my little life. And the worst brain fryer is a television show called “Prisoners of War.” This is the show that “Homeland” is based on.
Why is it the mix-master in my head? Because it’s in Hebrew with English subtitles. And some of the characters speak in Arabic. And Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages with many common triliteral-root words (Don’t click that link unless you’re ready for your own head to explode. It’s got about 10 weeks of Arabic lessons on one page), and modern Israeli Hebrew has components of Russian, German, English, Arabic, Hebrew and other languages mixed in as well. Linguists spot that stuff. And my head is liable to detonate if I watch too many more episodes before I finish the book.
So if you run into me out and about and I appear to be babbling, I probably am. Literally.
Are you a linguist? Do you nerd out with languages and become even harder to understand to your peers? What languages do you speak.
Luego! Ciao, Badain Gebain… etc.
I speak an ever-smaller smattering of German, but if I see a language in print, the odds are high that I can pinpoint the geographic area it’s from. I occasionally joke that if I were dropped from a helicopter, I could probably make my way home, once I’d seen something in print.