Lost In Translation

Okay, so this is supposed to be a small post, but those usually end up at 2,000 words or more, so I don’t know why I bother to let myself fool myself. I am a bad person to me. I should be analysing and writing and cataloguing and more writing, but first I gotta get this one out of my head. The subject is Eric speaking Swedish in fanfic – and why it’s a really bad idea for Alan Ball to do it, why it shouldn’t carry over to fanfic, no matter how much you want to learn the native tongue of the Askars, and go hunting him in his native land.

We’ve been discussing it here, and on behalf of Thyra, one of our resident ice giants, she wants to read less gibberish Swedish. That’s right – most of the Swedish sounds like the Swedish chef is writing it once you put it through Google translator. Considerably less funny when you can understand Swedish I’m sure. But, let’s be honest, most people who do it aren’t doing it for the reader’s benefit. Or they’d think about whether it was just something they find sexy about Show Eric (really Askars because Eric is more likely not to be Swedish than not) or if it fits at all. Perhaps more revealing than the author had intended, not to my taste and rather clichéd now, but not really a cause for ranting.

But I think in the case of declarations of love – beyond the odd  “jag älskar dig min älskling” – which I sadly know off by heart from having read it heaps – becomes indecipherable to the reader who doesn’t speak Swedish. It would be like if I ran part of my post through Google translate and then asked you to scroll down to figure out what I’m writing. Se hur den bryter upp flödet av vad jag pratar om, och eftersom du var tvungen att bläddra till slutet för att räkna ut vad jag säger, och sedan rulla tillbaka till där du var i texten, har du brutit ditt läsupplevelse. Använd inte parenteser heller – det är inte bättre. Ledsen för den svenska kocken behandling.**. That is totally no fun, now you’ve hassled a reader, and they’ve lost their place.

You’ve broken the moment too – or the reader has skimmed it, and is starting to tune out – not good for retaining readers who actually read, rather than skip to the sex scene and write “Update soon!”. Now, as we discussed in the thread, having a reason to use another language is fine. But it should have a purpose and be authentic. For example, I often use schadenfreude – merely because it’s a useful word even though it’s not English. It has a specific purpose though – to encapsulate the idea of pleasure from the misery of others. The closest words we have are that long spiel or sadism – neither of which are quite as eloquent as schadenfreude. And if you have a Swedish Eric who can’t speak English very well, well, then would be the time to insert the Swedish words where he can’t think of the English equivalent – like here:

“He had the chains arranged for throwing…Your word is almost the same. Lazo.
“Lasso,” Sam said.

From Dead to Worse, p. 269

No flipping to the back of the book necessary. So too if Eric is part of a culture where they use different languages, that would be fine. For example, here in Australia, Kooris use some of their own words on a regular basis, as do Maoris from New Zealand. But here, at least, Kooris do not tend to translate for everyone, so you don’t really know what they’re saying.

As a funny side story, I had a Koori woman sit down at a cafe with a friend and I, and she asked him if he had a junu (I’m not sure of the spelling here as it’s a spoken language for the most part). He didn’t know any Koori. I did. I answered for him. She had asked him if he had a vagina. She laughed that I knew, and I made a new friend, while keeping another from embarrassing himself. 😀 So if you have a reason for not providing translation, you can do that. But most people wouldn’t know what the word actually is, so transcribing it would be impossible in first person narrative. It’d probably be more effective to do this:

I made a little pain sound, and Eric cursed in another language.
Club Dead, p. 186

This is pretty effective for keeping it grounded in first person, as well as not causing problems that will have some readers confused. After all, if Eric says “jag älskar dig” – it’s inevitable that some readers forgot they have the ability to scroll down, whereas Sookie does not. Eric has just Swedish cheffed at her, and she’s oblivious. That won’t stop them giving her a hard time in reviews for not knowing it. So keep it to Sookie’s perception, and don’t create a problem for yourself – which will also keep things more sympathetic for Sookie, because the readers can’t leap frog her and then condemn her for inability to know what is said in any foreign language when she hears it. You know they’re that reasonable. 😛

Third, the problem that Alan Ball created in Sookie and Eric’s relationship when he has Pam and Eric use their own language around Sookie. According to those that heard the scene, there’s no hope for the Sookie and Eric in future seasons – or at least not next season. Sookie will be with Alcide. But that’s because unlike CH, AB built huge problems to keep Sookie and Eric apart, and so Pam could grovel for Eric’s attention. He probably doesn’t intend a HEA between Sookie and Eric. Abandon hope, all ye who enter there – because AB has given them too many roadblocks.

According to an owner of the Season 2 blu-rays, the jealous vibe one gets off Pam is sadly intentional. Thanks to Emma for telling me what Kristin Bauer Van Straten says is completely her motivation for playing Pam – she’s in love with Eric. So there’s going to be no friendship with Sookie and Pam, unless AB forgets this motivation, like half of all True Blood storylines. Sookie has stolen Pam’s place with Master – this is no wholesome father/daughter relationship. Pam will actively stand in the way and tantrum the shit out of quiet moments, like she’s already done. The other roadblock is the fact that they speak in another language to each other. It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s a big problem for a Sookie and Eric relationship.

That’s because as long as Pam is around, she’ll always have a special relationship with Eric. So what? you say – she already does have a special relationship with him. And so she does. But most importantly, it’s not impressed on Sookie all the time because they start talking in another language. For a start, for polite Sookie, this is actually a huge rebuff conversationally – it says “You are not welcome to participate in this part of my life”. Like in the funny anecdote I put up above, it’s used to rude effect – calling someone a vagina and getting them to agree or just stand there. It makes people feel bad for the most part, because they feel excluded and made fun of. And so they are being excluded. Whether they’re being made fun of is up for their own personal guessing game in “The quickest way to make someone feel like shit”. Otherwise it’d be in English, and not private conversation rudely done.

If you wonder how that would feel – turn on a foreign language movie, and sit there and watch – and then imagine you’re in the same room. You’d feel excluded right? I mean, there’s no subtitles for real life. So how would you feel if one of those people was doing that, and also trying to convince you to have something special with them. How could you, when you’re shut out and made to feel half informed and not welcome? I mean, Pam can understand all of Sookie’s conversation with Eric, and can even hear it when she’s far away, due to vampire hearing. But Sookie doesn’t have that same kind of intimacy with Eric – shifting the power dynamic further towards the Pam and Eric relationship.

Book Sookie doesn’t like the silent communication that shuts her out and makes her feel excluded:

This Pam-and-Eric secret quarrel was both upsetting and frustrating.
Dead Reckoning, p. 89

In this case, Pam wants Eric to tell Sookie something, but it gives you an idea of how well it would go down if Pam and Eric had constant casual secrets between them that Sookie wasn’t welcome to know, because it’s in another language. It would alienate Sookie, make her feel unwelcome, see an obvious closer connection between Eric and Pam – and thus hesitant to enter into a love relationship with Eric by virtue of not wanting to come between them. And if they did that to Sookie, they’d know that’s the message they’d be sending – “Keep out of this, you are not welcome to know us that well.”

Quickest way to keep a relationship short term is to make sure there’s no intimacy, or the intimacy is not between the couple. Relationships are defined by special intimacy – and having said intimacy with someone else. It’s not about sex, but rather private areas that are just for the people involved. Every single long term marriage I’ve seen, the couple has intimacy – places where no one else is welcome. For example, I’m happy to share details about fish killing, but there’s a whole heap I don’t share with anyone but Mr. Minty. That keeps the boundaries firm, and the intimacy thriving. Without intimacy and privacy, the marriage dies. So does trust in the other partner, because Mr. Minty relies on me to keep those boundaries on his behalf.

When Pam and Eric have their own conversations in Swedish, they have far more intimacy before Eric and Sookie are even together. Message is loud and clear that Sookie is not welcome – which would make a normal person back off, not decide to date Eric in the hopes she could come second in his consideration. It’s the way Alan Ball tipped his hand that he wouldn’t have an Eric/Sookie HEA – or at least, would have to fuck up and forget. Which could happen, and does regularly on True Blood.

CH has a Pam who has an intimate relationship with Eric – but Pam doesn’t shove it in Sookie’s face every five minutes by excluding Sookie while she’s in the room via Swedish cheffing at each other. That’s what made Sookie feel like an intimate relationship with Eric was possible along with a friendship with Pam – because she didn’t have their history shoved down her gullet every five minutes. Sookie even manages some intimacy with Pam to feel that they have a special relationship too, as well as preserves the boundaries of intimacy like a good friend who actually wants you with her ex would do:

“Did Eric find out any more about that Jonathan guy” I asked.
“I don’t know. Why don’t you call him yourself?” Pam said with a complete lack of concern.

From Dead to Worse, p. 151

Pam would obviously know – but she didn’t try to break the boundaries, and tried to encourage connection and intimacy, rather than just bulldoze through it. That’s what speaking Swedish in front of Sookie would do – give the impression that the intimacy is gone – elsewhere. That’s why CH doesn’t do it, even though she could.

So even though Google translator is really cool, there are better things to play with that show you how bad the translations can be, and why you shouldn’t use it to learn or paste in Swedish. Keeping foreign languages to judicious use will keep your readers with Sookie, and keep the intimacy in the Sookie and Eric relationship that AB has lost in translation.

**See how it breaks up the flow of what I’m talking about, and because you had to scroll to the end to figure out what I’m saying, and then scroll back to where you were in the text, you’ve broken your reading experience. Don’t use brackets either – that’s no better. Sorry for the Swedish chef treatment.