Happy Sunday to you!
Language is a touchy subject for a lot of writers. When creating a world it’s easy to get lost in the cadence and flow of your words. Likewise, it’s easy to be pulled by the siren song of making your world unique. So unique, in fact, that you start using or making up foreign words. Especially if you are writing in the genres of science fiction or fantasy where there may be characters who are not human.
However, very few writers can actually pull off using made up words, or phrases in another language. The proper way to do it is to reveal the English equivalent immediately after the foreign word or phrase:
“It’s the Diablo Furca,” he explained, “the Devil’s Fork.”
Providing the English translation allows your reader to understand what’s being said without an interruption in their reading flow.
That being said, if there is a concept or item that has no English equivalent, it’s ok and expected almost that you would create a word or phrase to convey the meaning to your readers. However, you need to explain the meaning, not just use the phrase and expect your reader to know what it means or get the gist of what you’re trying to get across.
It also bears mentioning that if you use a foreign language that is a real language, make sure to use it correctly and accurately so you do not alienate your readers who speak and read that language. even worse than confusing your readers with words they don’t know is using their native language wrong or unknowingly insulting their culture.
Another important thing to remember in regards to language is to use names and words that can easily be pronounced by the average English speaker, If you use words made up of a strange combination of letters and punctuation (i.e. Lotz’zun, P’orgen’to, DeS’alvzentch, etc.) you will cause the reader to take a step back and remember they are reading words on a page, not witnessing a story unfold before them. It is jarring and disruptive to the reader and their experience with your work.
All this leaves the discussion of jargon and dialect. Some writers make up or use existing location or cultural slang dialect or phrases in their writing. Few authors can really pull this off without sounding trite or insulting or both. If you’re not really good at writing dialect or jargon and think it would really add to your story, read some books that do dialect well such as Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. You can also study some techniques for using dialect and good dialogue in books like James Scott Bell’s How to Write Dazzling Dialogue. If you’re ever in doubt whether you should use jargon or dialect in your work, you probably shouldn’t.
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