Off topic: Transliteration etiquette in novels
Thread poster: LadyPrufrock
Jul 2, 2011

I am starting work on a fantasy novel, which takes place in an imaginary world. For names of countries, cities, gods, and so forth, I'm using Polish and Czech as a linguistic base. The novel, however, will be written in English. My question is this: do you think I should keep the accents on words that I borrow from other languages?

As an example, I'm naming a goddess "Początek" (Polish for "beginning"). Should I write her name as "Początek" or would it be acceptable to just write it as "Poczatek"?

My initial thought was that since some Polish and Czech accents don't exist in English, and the language of this made-up world is not meant to be Polish/Czech exactly, I could sort of transliterate the words I borrow for the benefit of an English-speaking audience. However, I don't want to seem disrespectful of the Polish and Czech languages, and I don't want to strip the words of all meaning.

I read in another thread on this forum that when communicating in Polish, it is considered unprofessional and sloppy to leave off accents except when writing text messages and things, which is something else for me to take into consideration, I guess.

Thanks very much for taking the time to read this! I would appreciate any input others might have.


Direct link Reply with quote
 

GerSi  Identity Verified
Slovenia
Local time: 13:09
Member (2010)
German to Slovenian
+ ...
some examples for your consideration Jul 4, 2011

Hi,

I would just leave it out, I think it is only important to the readership of the source language.
People just leave the unfamiliar accents out. If the reader can't read it correctly, he/she might get frustrated. But it really depends on how strongly you wish to "burden" your readership with this.

After all, science fiction should be fun to read, not to research the "deep realm of linguistics".


My knowledge regarding the last names for example:

in ski jumping there was a very successful polish ski-jumper named Adam Malysz. Everybody (German, English, Slovenian) wrote his last name like this. With "normal" l that is.

And also the Slovenian names which tend to have the letters č, š, ž and so on, the German and English authors just write them like c, s, z .

And these are real people. With gods it should be easier since they are made up (as far as I understand, in your case they don't even have a mythological background).

See for yourself:

Here is one Slovenian last name: Medvešček
(it should be pronounced as Medveshcheck.) Does it bother you if I write it like Medvescek? Does it make a difference with your understanding? It comes from the word medved (a bear).

And another one: there is a goddess named Živa (literally it means "alive"). Does it bother you if I write it like Ziva?

Since Slovenian and Polish are both Slavic languages it just might be too familiar to you.

How about a Yoruba word ẹlẹrin? Does it make a difference if I write it like elerin? But nevertheless it means either a smile or an elephant (depending on whether it has dots under e or not).


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Egils Turks  Identity Verified
Latvia
Local time: 14:09
Member (2009)
English to Latvian
+ ...
Translating the proper nouns Jul 4, 2011

I would consider translating the proper nouns if they all have special meaning in the original language ( like you mentioned, the goddess Początek or Beginning). I presume these gods and godesses are named so intentionally, they bear some meaning in the text. And, if so, translating into English would be justified, and you would solve also the spelling problem.

Direct link Reply with quote
 

Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 05:09
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Eglis Jul 4, 2011

I don't think English-speaking readers will be happy with the Polish names, which are hard to pronounce and remember (even without the accents). Not a good idea in my opinion. I would suggest either translating the names if they have a certain meaning, or making up new names, in which case you might have to explain it in the text, for example "XXX, the goddess of Beginning".

Direct link Reply with quote
 

Agata Sowinska  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 21:09
Polish to English
+ ...
I say keep the diacritics! Jul 7, 2011

I love your idea LadyPrufrock (and not only because I’m Polish)

I think you should keep the Polish/Czech diacritics, definitely. Made-up languages are common in fantasy writing. Look at Tolkien, look at Avatar, to name just a few, but there are many more like that. I don't think in a fantasy novel the true understanding of each single made up word really matters. Actually, you're not supposed to understand them (that's why they were made up in the first place). You don't see footnotes in fantasy writings, do you?

I think a fantasy reader is a different kind of animal. He doesn't treat words the same way as a lawyer does. It’s more like reading poetry or the works of Jacek Dukaj - you read them with your heart, with an open mind and imagination, not with a dictionary. It's called literary effect, it's creative writing.

If you want the names to sound "foreign" to an English speaking reader, keeping the diacritics is exactly what you should do.

It is a fantasy novel, isn't it? It cannot be linguistically… flat. I say go ahead! Play with words! Move the readers’ imagination. Take them into the unfamiliar territory and make them imagine things they have never known or seen before. After all, fantasy is all about imagination.
Good luck.

Cheers


Direct link Reply with quote
 

Ambrose Li  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 07:09
Chinese to English
+ ...
FWIW Jul 7, 2011

I agree with the viewpoint that it makes absolutely no sense to translate the names into English if we are talking about a fantasy novel. Translating the names would make them look very odd. (“Origin”? Please don’t.)

[Edited at 2011-07-07 05:09 GMT]


Direct link Reply with quote
 
kmtext
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:09
English
+ ...
I agree wtih Agata Jul 7, 2011

Agata Sowinska wrote:

I love your idea LadyPrufrock (and not only because I’m Polish)

I think you should keep the Polish/Czech diacritics, definitely. Made-up languages are common in fantasy writing. Look at Tolkien, look at Avatar, to name just a few, but there are many more like that. I don't think in a fantasy novel the true understanding of each single made up word really matters. Actually, you're not supposed to understand them (that's why they were made up in the first place). You don't see footnotes in fantasy writings, do you?

I think a fantasy reader is a different kind of animal. He doesn't treat words the same way as a lawyer does. It’s more like reading poetry or the works of Jacek Dukaj - you read them with your heart, with an open mind and imagination, not with a dictionary. It's called literary effect, it's creative writing.

If you want the names to sound "foreign" to an English speaking reader, keeping the diacritics is exactly what you should do.

It is a fantasy novel, isn't it? It cannot be linguistically… flat. I say go ahead! Play with words! Move the readers’ imagination. Take them into the unfamiliar territory and make them imagine things they have never known or seen before. After all, fantasy is all about imagination.
Good luck.

Cheers


It gives the text a different flavour, a sense of being foreign or exotic, which most fantasy readers appreciate. After all, you don't read fantasy because you want something ordinary or mundane.


Direct link Reply with quote
 
LadyPrufrock
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks for your input, everyone! Jul 11, 2011

I really appreciate everyone taking the time to reply. GerSi made some good points, but I think I'm leaning toward keeping the accents and such, as Agata Sowinska and kmtext suggested. (And I agree with Ambrose Li; translating the names into English isn't really what I had in mind.) I'll give the first draft to some readers I trust and see how the diacritics affect their enjoyment of the story. Thanks again!

Direct link Reply with quote
 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 08:09
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Quite frankly... Jul 11, 2011

It's a matter of priority from the reader's stance.

What is most important about "Początek"?

If it's her being Polish, leave it as it is, though an occasional "Ł" might seem that someone didn't take the proofreader's marks seriously. You may add some pronunciation cues to the script, e g. adding to the dialogue, "Pat pronounced it [i]paul-tchawn-tek with a #$%-ese/ish accent". If it's the "beginning", you may call her Begynia.

One of the most - if not THE most - charismatic presidents Brazil ever had was in the late 1950s. He had Czech ancestry, his name was Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira. I was in elementary school then, and we took great pains to learn how to write his name correctly. Of course, it would have been much easier to write it the original way, Kubiček, however we'd have to change the "č" into either a simple "c", or use a "^", which our typewriters had, though for use over some of the vowels only. Anyway, if whoever transcribed his ancestors' surname had chosen Kubicek, all Brazilians would pronounce it "coobeessakey" (for an EN-speaking reader.

Write for your readers, and you'll do it right.

This page - http://stevemorse.org/phonetics/bmpm2.htm - might give you ideas for alternate spellings. Daitch-Mokotoff should be useful for Slavic names.


Direct link Reply with quote
 


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:


You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

Transliteration etiquette in novels

Advanced search







Déjà Vu X3
Try it, Love it

Find out why Déjà Vu is today the most flexible, customizable and user-friendly tool on the market. See the brand new features in action: *Completely redesigned user interface *Live Preview *Inline spell checking *Inline

More info »
SDL MultiTerm 2017
Guarantee a unified, consistent and high-quality translation with terminology software by the industry leaders.

SDL MultiTerm 2017 allows translators to create one central location to store and manage multilingual terminology, and with SDL MultiTerm Extract 2017 you can automatically create term lists from your existing documentation to save time.

More info »



Forums
  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search