Languages in Historical Fiction

When I began writing THE CRYSTAL CRUX as a young man, I really didn’t think about the entirety of what it was I was trying to do.  I thought I could simply write what my still immature brain thought was good, and it was good.

I still have that original version and it is scary bad.

I didn’t understand how unprofessional and uneducated I was.

Years of research, as well as life itself, have taught me things I never knew I didn’t know; but that’s what experience does.  Experience should change you.  Help you grow and mature.

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One of the major changes I had to make when developing THE CRYSTAL CRUX into a professional piece of work, was grasp the concept of empires, of cultures, and of languages.  When you’re young, you really don’t think outside of yourself.  You think, arrogantly, everyone sees the world the way you see it – meaning they are also motivated by the same desires, share the same fears, respect the same truths.  In the end, you end up with characters that are shallow and stereotypical.  Good guys are just good and bad guys are just bad.  Good guys are always doing the right thing and bad guys are always doing the wrong things.  But life is far more complicated than that.  People are deeper than that and are motivated by a wider range of stimuli than good and bad.

Culture has a great deal of influence on the way people behave.  And with culture comes language.  Language is the thing that often creates unity and division.  Sometimes there are miscommunications between people who speak different languages because the way it is interpreted is not the way it was intended to be received.

So in an effort to include this diversity of language into my novels, I’ve been brushing up on various languages my characters would have spoken, and the some of the cultural aspects of their society which may have caused them to act, think or speak a certain way in certain circumstances.

I’ve been dealing with French as of late.  There is always Italian and Latin since the story plot occurs in Italy.  Pero de Alava is Spanish, so I have to keep reading up on that.  Perhaps the most difficult language, however, has been Greek. They use various symbols unlike the symbols of the English language which makes transliteration more difficult.

When writing for a chiefly English-reading audience, how to present words that are foreign to them can be difficult.  There are three ways of doing this.

  • Translation
  • Transliteration
  • Transcription

I make no pretenses.  I’m not an English major and it has taken me a long time to grasp the proper etiquette involved in professional writing.  Even to this day I am continually flummoxed by too and to, lie, lay and lain, and so on.  When my sentence structures and use of certain words ring a sour note, I do apologize.  I’m a poor man who can’t afford an editor.  I do the best I can with what I have learned and leave it at that.

So anyways, back to the topic above.

Translation gets right to the point and is not difficult for the reader to understand.

One of the fictional places I created in my second book of The Crystal Crux series – Blue Grotto – is a place in France that translates as “The Living Pool”.  I use this translation for my English readers when I want them to read some information regarding “The Living Pool” in general.

When, however, the French character, Sinibaldus, a pale-faced giant, speaks or thinks of “The Living Pool,” he speaks and thinks it in French.  “La Piscine Vivant.”

La Piscine Vivant” is a transliteration and is written the way a person from France would expect to see it written.  They would have no problem sounding it out and translating it for themselves as “The Living Pool.”

I’m sorry but I’m not even going to try to transcript La Piscine Vivant, but if I did, what you would see is not how the French see it but rather how an English-speaking person would see La Piscine Vivant in a manner in which they could sound it out properly.  I’m sure anyone who read this and doesn’t know French, did what I did, and is making strange shapes with their mouth and putting a terrible accent on their unique pronunciation of La Piscine Vivant.

When writing Historical Fiction or epic fantasy fiction of any type, the characters need depth.  They need a deeper understanding of the language and culture they come from.  That means it is up to the author to research those languages and cultures and make use of this information when fashioning their performer’s personalities.  Without overdoing it, applying it in small doses, injecting a shot of a diverse language into the story can embolden it and give the story a richer texture.

You can purchase THE CRYSTAL CRUX anywhere books are sold.
On Amazon you can find it in Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook.
Click here to purchase The Crystal Crux – Betrayal
There is also a special YA edition available.
Click here to purchase the special YA Edition of The Crystal Crux – Betrayal

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