Monolingualism Isn't the Rule, but How Do We Make Fiction Do the Thing? | #WritingShenangians

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hello, dear readers. I KNOW, I KNOW. I've been absent for too long and you miss me oh, so dearly. I'm sorry to have deprived you of my magnificent presence. However, here I am and I promise I will try and blog more regularly. Let's just say life got a little too intense for a sec there and my motivation was lost somewhere back in 2013.

Enough of my rambling. You're here because you want good content, dammit! So today to bestow the title of Writing Shenanigans upon this post we shall speak about a favorite topic of mine: language! I'm a linguistics major* in university and that just means I'm crazy about language and the intricate ways our minds work about it.

It's no secret I'm a big advocate for languages other than English being a prominent thing in books. I wrote a post all about this very thing back when I bothered to post regularly (you can check it out here) but it's basically about how most of the world speaks more than one language and how fiction should reflect that. It's all very personal to my excitable and often confused bilingual brain.

actual representation of a conversation with my friends

*this means I sit around with my classmates and make a bunch of weird sounds and write in weird symbols which sounds way cooler than it it.

You say, that is all good and well, Laura, but what the hell does that have to do with writing? Patience, little grasshoppers, all in good time. First, a little background on my magnificent word-weaving, since this is after all the first installment of Writing Shenanigans.

Yours truly is currently trying to write a book. A hopeful endeavor that has consisted mostly of amassing a small fortune of pins over at Pinterest and not much writing. WE ALL START SOMEWHERE, OKAY? However, two of my characters speak languages other than English* and I've found that incorporating that into the story has been a bit of a challenge.

I'm still playing around with POV, but I definitely want one of my bilingual characters as a POV character. Only problem is that she is Korean-American. I know a bit of Korean. Basic stuff, really. My other character speaks Spanish. Perfectly fluent in that, although my parents might beg to differ. They're wrong. Languages grow all the time and my syntax is a bit wonky sometimes, BUT THAT IS CHARMING! That little tirade, however, brings me to my point. How do we make fiction do the thing bilingual (or multilingual) people do in their heads all the time?

actual face my parents make when I say something weird

*they also speak English, but I guess that's pretty self-explanatory.

And at last we have gotten to the very heart of this post. The thing I found while trying to incorporate other languages into my work is that it's freaking hard. Specially when my other MC doesn't really understand either of these languages. Oh, and when I barely know some of the other language my MC logically thinks and speaks in. Not all the time, but some of the time.

So, how do we all go about doing this thing people have no problem doing in their everyday lives and not make it wonky and weird in fiction? I see why so many writers take the easy way out and just brush it over. But, my dudes, language is a big part of who we are as people. Some would argue it's kind of who we are, or at least how we express ourselves.

As such, here we are with a big problem in our hands. JUST HOW DO WE MAKE FICTION DO THE THING WHERE LANGUAGES OTHER THAN THE ONE WE ARE WRITING IN JUST EXIST INSIDE THE MIND AND OUT IN THE WORLD??????? Can you feel the frustration?

My first thought was, just have the character translate. That's lazy and wrong and I'm just not for it because as a bilingual person myself I know that I sometimes think in English and sometimes in Spanish and that I use these two languages interchangeably and it's all as comfortable as slipping into another pair of shoes. I don't really have to think about it much, my brain and my lips just do. Even more so when I'm drunk. * SO HOW DO I MAKE THIS COME ACROSS ON THE PAGE????

My second thought was... well just throw in some words here and there. Some pauses** and lag time for certain complicated words. But I wanted my characters to speak and think in their other languages. Not only randomly say stuff in them. What about when they're with family? They would probably be thinking and speaking in their other language or in a mix of both. It all felt very complicated. Because, well, language is a complicated thing.

Then I figured I would just try and incorporate language like I use it everyday. Keyword being try because sadly enough fiction can do things we don't do everyday, but has a hard time with things we do everyday. Is it going to be hard? Probably. Am I up to the challenge? Definitely. If other authors can incorporate other languages, even made up ones, I can find a way too.

*my friends and I have been known to hold a conversation in at least 3 languages when drunk
**we multilinguals are known to speak slower, even if we're balanced bilinguals or extremely fluent in both languages

What are some ways you can think of to incorporate other languages into your writing? Like seriously, I could use all the help I can get.

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