Thursday, 15 December 2011

Three Ways of Dealing with Necessary Foreign Words


I’ve used quite a few German words in Potatoes in Spring. I haven’t translated them because I consider that they don’t translate exactly.
Interestingly, I’ve read two other books recently that are also set during World War II. Robert Mucahmore in The Escape has chosen to use footnotes. His stories are always extremely exciting and fast-paced.  Possibly showing the meaning of the words would have slowed the pace down too much.
Emma Craigie in Chocolate Cake with Hitler has chosen to translate her words literally into English, including all titles and place names. She says on page 202 that she does this “to give a sense of their meaning to Helga”.
I’ve chosen a different method in my novel. I’m influenced here by Caroline Lawrence and the way she introduces Latin words’ meanings by contextualising them the first time the reader meets them, providing a glossary in case the reader has forgotten the meaning when they meet the words subsequently and expanding even further on a web site.
I spent considerable time deciding which to do. As a fluent speaker of German, I find retaining the original German intensifies the atmosphere. As this a story of emotions, that seems appropriate.
Readers may find the German words a little more exotic. That in turn may give them a sharper sense of the conflict that Renate feels. Also, my protagonist is slightly older than Craigie’s so it’s possible the readers will be and may also have a little German. One of Muchamore’s main characters does speak German well, so understands much of what the German officials say to him.
I’m certain I’ve made the right decision this time. It will be interesting to see what the editors think.                          

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