[LMB] Vernacular

Howard Brazee howard at brazee.net
Mon Feb 17 13:43:55 GMT 2020

Writers are often told to show us, not tell us.

However, when the language that the characters are speaking isn’t really English, the author can’t write in the character’s vernacular.

Which means, I can understand it!

I was just reading a novel set in Victorian England where some characters were talking with poor people’s accents, and I gave up trying to figure out what they were saying.   I don’t have that skill and it was a lot of work trying to translate.


There are other aspects of language that need translating, when the language is mostly *my* language.   Rhyming slang and Australian abbreviations can be hard to Google to translate, or I can *think* I understand and not know enough to look them up.    I have looked up candy names, or “digestive biscuit”.

These days it is much easier to look up to see what a “barouche” is, if I don’t know.   I wonder how that word is translated into Chinese where their history has different carriages.   Does the translator pick a similar carriage type?   

When we leave our world, carriages would have slightly different designs.   Writers may have to simplify into descriptions such as “open carriage”, or leave out the description altogether.    Or they can say “a Sigma class spaceship”, and imply its competitive advantage.

Lois has based some of her fantasy worlds on parts of our world.    I imagine her river boats being similar to river boats used in the Mississippi instead of on the Nile.   I have imagined clothing that wouldn’t be out of place in Cervantes’ writings.   But I don’t imagine those very clearly, leaving room to not be surprised by further observations.

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