Category Archives: Cultural Appropriation

Linguistics and SFF: Appropriation and Dialect

Last time on Linguistics and SFF: Orthography and Etymology

An oft-debated topic in all fiction is the subject of using dialect as dialogue.  Many famous writers have done it, and many not-so-famous writers have tried it, to varying degrees of success.  Since dialects are a very linguisticky topic, I thought I’d take a look at why and how writers use them, some of the effect of using them, and how it all relates to the whole debate on cultural appropriation.

First, a few thoughts on dialect:


1. A dialect is a unique language system characteristic of a group of speakers.

2. A dialect is a variety of a major language carrying connotations of social, cultural, or economic subordination to the culture which speaks the dominant language.

These two definitions exist simultaneously.  For our purposes, the second one is the most relevant.

Dialects under the second definition are culturally, socially, and economically stigmatized by the dominant culture.  Speaking a dialect is often portrayed by dominant cultural institutions as just “bad [Dominant Language]”.  For example, “bad English”. (We’ll keep this example, since I’m discussing literature from primarily English-speaking countries.)  Many children are taught in school to speak “proper English” in school, and punished for using their native dialect.  “Proper English” actually takes a few forms:  In America, it is a dialect known as “Standard American English(SAE)”, which is most similar to Midwestern dialects of American English.  In England, there is Received Pronunciation(RP).

Most other countries with official “languages”, have a similar pattern of official and unofficial dialects.  What is considered a language is often up to whichever dialects can get state support, and it has been said that “A language is merely a dialect with an army and a navy.”  Or, in the case of France, “a dialect with a national Academy.”

Almost all other dialects are usually considered inferior or degraded versions of the official dialect.

So, onto the use of dialect in fiction.

For the most part, dialogue in English-language novels is written in the standard form of written English, which reflects more or less the standard form of spoken English in the country in which it is printed.  Although, depending on the orthography used, this reflection could be rather cloudy or warped.  Dialect, then, is represented in an attempt at “phonetic” spelling and non-standard vocabulary and grammar.

Most commonly, because the author does not often speak the dialect natively that they are attempting to represent, dialect in fiction falls back on stereotypes of usage related to the cultural perception of the spoken dialect.  This can lead to a continuation of prejudice and stereotypes, and is also a form of linguistic and cultural appropriation, as a member of the dominant culture makes use of minority culture for their own ends.  Rarely in the cases we’re examining are these ends malicious.  But they are often still quite problematic.

There are many English dialects that have been popularized in mass culture, with varying degrees of difference presented.  For example: Italian American English, Chinese American English, African American English, Cockney English, Appalachian English, and Southern English.  In fact, they are so parodied, mocked, and appropriated that they have “accents” associated with them.  The cheesy Italian accent a la Mario, the “Oy Guvnah” of Cockney, and “tree dorra” of Chinese American English.

Some of these “dialects” are actually accents or inter-languages, rather than stable dialects.  However, they are all commonly referred to as “dialect” (or occasionally “accent”) in regards to their representation in fiction.  And for the most part, rather than actual depictions of the stated dialect, what is really present is the set of stereotypical markers associated with the dialect by mainstream culture.

Next time, I’ll look at some examples, both made-up and used in novels, of dialect appropriation.

Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Artemis Fowl and the Eternity Code

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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


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Linguistics and SFF: Signs and Signals and Story-telling

In my past few posts, I have been using the words “signal”, “sign”, and “signifier”, and rather haphazardly at that.  But these are real linguistic concepts, and that have concrete meanings.  And, perhaps more relevant to this post, these concepts can be useful tools in constructing not only your speculative world, but the character arcs and themes underlying your narrative.

So, first some definitions:

Language is made up of a set of signs and the rules that govern their interactions.  You can, for most purposes, consider a sign to be a word in context.

Every sign has three(1) parts:

The signifier is the group of sounds (or letters, for written words) that make up the word.

The signified is what we think of when we hear or see the word.

The referent is what the word refers to in the context in which we encounter it.

For example:  we have a sign with the signifier “president”.  It’s signified is the head of the executive branch of the US government. (Strictly speaking, that’s just its denotation.  You can include the connotation, as well.)  And the referent currently would be Barack Obama.  In 1992, the signifier and signified would have been the same, but the word would have a different referent when used in the US in the absence of any modifiers.

Now, when working in speculative fiction, you can use these aspects of a word (or sign) to decide what English word to use, or if you might like to use a foreign word.

For example, what do you want to call your political units?  We have many choices for this, many possible signs.  We have empires.  An empire is a political unit consisting of many smaller states brought together by forces–most commonly conquest.  An empire can have connotations of bureaucracy, soaring capitals and primitive backwaters.  There are many real-world referents, such as sophisticated Rome, far-flung Alexandria, brutal Azteca, and powerful Britain.

And you can capitalize on aspects of those various referents, much as you could capitalize on the various connotations.  Or, you could pick a kingdom, and capitalize on the myriad kingdoms throughout history.  The same is true for anything, from religion, to clothing, to character.

In the next post, I’ll look at how you can make use of the written form of a sign in your world-building, and I’ll give some examples of foreign signs and how these concepts can influence their use.

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Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


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Linguistics and SFF: Language and Exoticism

Last time on Linguistics and SFF: Why Non-English Words?

One of the most powerful abilities of language in fiction–and this is true in general, although we’re going to be talking about dialogue and foreign language in particular–is the ability to signify the unfamiliar.  Going back to our previous posts, I can say the word “samurai”, and immediately we know that we’re no longer in our own personal culture.  Unless of course, we’re Japanese.

To make a quick distinction, the unfamiliar is not the same as the exotic.  There’s a perspective and an attitude in exoticism that the merely unfamiliar doesn’t have.  With the unfamiliar, we lose our bearings and don’t really know where we are.  The danger of the exotic is that we think we do know where we are, even though we don’t.

Now, when I said “samurai”, many people who are not Japanese may have believed they knew the world I was invoking.  And that could have been true, if I was looking for the exotic Japanese ideal that informs Western stereotypes.  But what if I said “Heian-era Japan”?  You know we’re in Japan because I’ve said so, and you might even know if I just said “the Heian era”.  “Heian” after all sounds like a Japanese word.  But either way, you probably wouldn’t feel on as firm of ground as when I was just talking about samurai.

The fact that I can use words that are equally Japanese, and yet which conjure such competing feelings in the person reading them should suggest a bit about the power of words as signifiers.  And as humans have amply demonstrated, for better or worse, if we can do something, it’s hard to keep us from doing it.

Humans will always use language to signal things, so the question to consider is not ho to get them to stop, but how to get them to do it better, more respectfully.  There’s nothing inherently wrong in using words to signal the approach of unfamiliarity.  It only becomes exoticization when it’s approached from the wrong angle and for the wrong reasons.

So, the prime use foreign words by a story-teller is to signal unfamiliarity.  But how can we do that without falling into the trap of exoticizing?

1.  Figure out why you want to invoke this specific unfamiliarity.  Is it to explore a culture that interests you?  Is it to speculate on the consequences of events in a specific context?  Or might it be because you’re tired of the “same-old medieval pseud-Europe”.  Or maybe an escapist fantasy?  The first two reasons can be legitimate, but the other two are taken you dangerously close to the territory of exoticism, if not over the line completely.

2.  Figure out whether the culture you’re invoking is really the culture you think you’re invoking. This is mostly for real-world cultures or cultures transparently inspired by them.  But all of these steps can apply to a constructed culture, as well.  This is the point where you start doing preliminary research.  You don’t have to learn everything about the culture or the language.  But you should be able to spot most of the big holes in your perception of that culture.  If the two images don’t agree, seriously consider not trying to invoke your false idea of this culture.

3.  Figure out whether the invocator you’re using really invokes the culture you intend it to.  Does it signal what you want it to signal?  Does that word really mean what you think it means?  Are there connotations, or folklore relating to that word that makes it unsuitable for the use you intend?  Do you really need to resort to such a problematic signal?  Do you need a linguistic signal at all?  Is there any reason you can’t just use English?  Does your desire for an unfamiliar “atmosphere” really outweigh the danger of engaging in linguistic (or cultural) appropriation?

4.  No one is a representative of their entire culture.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t run your signals and the work in general by someone who has a bit more experience with the language/culture than you.  Make sure that your signifiers match up with what you want to signify.  That possible disconnect is what’s going to get you in trouble. (I’m assuming a good-faith desire to respect the other culture here.)

Now, if you’ve passed all of those tests, then you have a chance of having done this right.  It’s simply impossible for someone who isn’t a native speaker(liver) to never make a mistake.  But if you follow those steps, you should have weeded out the big errors.

Now, a final piece of advice:  It can be reasonable in some cases, especially the case of “inspiration” to move away from historical/linguistic/cultural accuracy.  But the farther away you move, the more careful you want to be about what signals you use.  Signals, linguistic or otherwise, are all about manipulating expectations.  That’s why the four steps are focused so firmly on your own expectations.  It’s hard to know how to signal others if you don’t know how you perceive those signals yourself.  But because the expectations of your use of foreign words are so firmly rooted in the real world where those signals were developed, moving away from reality not only weakens the effectiveness of the signals, but makes it possible for them to betray you.

Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Orthography and Exoticism


Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


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Linguistics and SFF: Why Non-English Words?

Last time on Linguistics and SFF: Connotations and the Failures of Dictionary Definitions

One of the issues that often gets brought up in cases of linguistic appropriation is why the author wanted to use non-English words.  There are a few possible reasons for using non-English words in an English language novel:

1. To create a sense of exoticism, or an atmosphere associated with a certain real-world culture

2. To create a sense of otherness compared to the perspective culture (the protag’s culture)

3. To express concepts not expressible in English without a wordy paraphrase

4. To signal to the reader that the culture being presented differs from their own

5. To distinguish when a character is speaking a language that is not the perspective character’s native language

In this post, I will address the first reason, since it’s arguable that it is the most common, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Each of these reasons have positive and negative ideas underlying them.  Many people have argued, and often convincingly, that exoticism is never an acceptable reason to appropriate someone else’s culture–or in our case, language.  Nisi Shawl quotes a beautiful if uncomfortable poem by Hiromi Goto in her article Appropriate Cultural Appropriation:

Removed.  Please see the full version at the link above.

The problem with exoticism is that it doesn’t truly relfect the culture in question, but only those attributes that the exoticizer finds attractive.  Of course, SFF is not necessarily about accurately depicting real-world cultures.

However, what exoticism does is perpetuate (sometimes harmful, often disrespectful) stereotypes of real-world cultures.  And even if they may not think in those terms, that’s exactly what the story-teller making use of it wants.  Because the goal of invoking that culture, with language or otherwise, is to bring the reader in mind of the cultural stereotypes that society has instilled in them towards the target culture.

To make an analogy to my previous discussion of words, what the exoticizer is invoking are the connotations associated with the target culture, instead of the denotation.  And language is a powerful invocation of culture, because words signify the cultural perceptions.  To use Japanese and Japan as an example, “samurai” is a symbol of the culture, especially in the West.  The Western concept of samurai, based on beliefs of which many have proven to be erroneous, is a strong invocator of Japanese culture.

But samurai has been established in its position as an English loan-word.  It by itself is not enough to call forth the stereotypes of Japan to complete the atmosphere and the appropriation.  But then we have the concept of respect/honor/humility, part of the Western perception of Bushido–the way of the warrior.  And so Kristoff, for example, makes use of honorifics in his dialogue.  This appropriation–and an incorrect one, at that–calls forth stereotypes of Japan that fit Kritsoff’s character arc, in this case, the conflict between duty and righteousness.

As an example of exoticizing, I’d like to do some linguistic and anthropological analysis of the concept of Bushido.  Bushido is a concept invented at the end of the 19th century to reflect the warrior ethos in Japan.  As with many such concepts or supposed ethical systems–such as the Western code of chivalry–Bushido represents and over-simplification of a myriad of personal and local philosophies/codes of ethics present in Japan during the various historical periods during which the samurai were a prominent aspect of Japanese culture, society, and politics.

Inazo Nitobe wrote and published Bushido: The Soul of Japan in 1900, as an original english language(OEL) text.  It was eventually translated into Japanese after achieving popularity in the English-speaking world, influencing such people and organizations as Robert Baden-Powell, found of the Boy Scouts.  Many people don’t even realize that one of the most iconic aspects of Japanese culture was not even an originally Japanese invention.  Although the concepts espoused in the book were rooted in some historically accurate ideals of Japanese culture, thus the enormous popularity of the book with Japanese citizens of the time, it is not an accurate depiction of the way in which so-called “feudal” Japanese culture worked.  Primary sources, such as letters, diaries, and even books of ethics written by many Japanese lords and warriors, do show that there were ideas of ethical behavior that reflect many of the concepts of bushido.  But rather than a universal code of ethics, they were the results of many people with a shared history and culture based in Shinto, Buddhism, and a certain political and social climate.

The construction of the word Bushido is interesting in its etymology.  “Do” has the meaning of “way” or “path”.  It comes from the morpheme /to/ in Japanese, as seen in Shinto, “the way of the gods”, and other similar belief systems.  “Bushi”, a Japanese word for “warrior” comes from the Chinese “bu” and “shi”, which originally was a compound meaning not “warrior”, but translating roughly as “to stop the spear”.  And “samurai” itself actually referred to servants or retainers, rather than warriors in its original conception, and it was used by the aristocratic Kuge class, rather than the warriors who preferred bushi.

Getting back to our main topic, the desire of the story-teller to romanticize the connotations of a foreign culture rather than explore and appreciate its denotation is one of the main factors that marks something as appropriation.  Goto’s poem touches on this idea in the stanza quoted about (#5), and the other stanzas quoted in Shawl’s article, pointing out the idea of the appropriation as art, the shared love of the romanticism inherent in most appropriation, and the lifelessness of the metaphorical girl in the kimono.  What the appropriator loves so much is no the culture itself, but what they can get out of it, and when that culture crumbles to dust as Goto describes, it’s okay, because the appropriator can merely build it up again.  It is, after all, merely their own creation, and not a living, breathing thing which matters to others because they live it.

In the next post, I will address reason number four, since it serves as a powerful set-up for the remaining reasons, and ties in so strongly with what I had to say in this one.  In order to understand the use of language in fiction, it is necessary to understand why it has such a powerful effect on us.

Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Language and Exoticism


Posted by on July 17, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


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Linguistics and SFF: Connotations and the Failures of Dictionary Definitions

Last time on Linguistics and SFF: Shadow and Bone and the Russian Language

If you’ve been reading my posts on linguistic appropriation and foreign languages in SFF, you might have noticed that a great deal of the problem comes from the misuse or misunderstanding of foreign words and their meanings.  There’s a fairly simple reason for this, and it’s something that online machine translation efforts have greatly contributed to:

Words have a denotation, the literal meaning of the word: “cat” is a four-legged animal of the genus Felis.  Further, words have a set of connotations, the set of cultural or emotional associations that are connected to the word.  Cats are often considered solitary, imperious, curious, etc.  Connotations are what lend words to the various metaphors (and more generally, all forms of analogy) found in human language.  Then, many words have cultural or historical baggage.  Finally, there is idiomatic language, which provides another layer of meaning to word.

How does this relate to linguistic appropriation and translation failure?  Dictionaries, the most commonly available resource for learning the meaning of foreign words most often include only the denotation of a word, and very occasionally limited historical, idiomatic, or connotational information: ethnic slurs in a dictionary may contain a note that the word is a pejorative.

And, if that isn’t enough, there’s etymology.  This could be construed as a historical association,but I think it has enough relevance to be treated as its own category.  Etymology is the linguistic history of a word: when it first entered the language, the language it came from, changes it has undergone even while part of the current language.  All of these things are relevant.  Consider English.  Words of a Latin or Greek source are often considered more sophisticated than words of Germanic origin.  People who speak mostly in Latin or Greek roots are often considered elitist or snobbish as opposed to those who speak with Germanic roots and grammar, who can be considered un-intelligent, or homey.  This is an association that all native speakers of the language make.  But it may not be immediately obvious to a non-native speaker.

Similarly, Japanese has a strong Chinese influence, especially in literature or religion, for example.  Japanese words with Chinese origins are used and perceived differently, than those of native Japanese origin.  Many languages have similar dichotomies.  Loan words are perceived differently, and a non-native speaker may not know which words are loan words, and whether their source language gives them negative or positive associations.

In order to use a language that is not your own effectively and respectfully, you have to be aware of all of these things.  What may seem like a perfectly reasonable translation may shock or offend a native speaker.  One of the things a writer has to accept when using a language that is not their own is that they will mess up.  They’ll miss something.  It’s inevitable when you consider everything that goes into choosing even a single word in the mind of a native speaker.  But you can do things to lessen the chance of such an occurrence, even before you consult a native speaker.

What you cannot do is attempt to include a real foreign language in your story just by consulting an online bilingual dictionary.

And of course the same issues apply with any historical figure, or pop culture icon, or myth, setting.

Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Why Non-English Words?


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Linguistics and SFF: Shadow and Bone and the Russian Language

Last time on Linguistics and SFF: Stormdancer and the Japanese Language

In today’s post, I’m going to analyze the linguistics involved in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and BoneThis post is going to be a little different than the last few posts, because the differences between Ravka and Russia are more exaggerated.  However, it’s ingenuous to suggest that this separation is an excuse for ignorance of the Russian language and culture, or linguistics itself.  Bardugo uses actual Russian in the book alongside her faux-Russian, and that leaves us an opening to analyze not only the linguistics of the book itself, but the linguistic appropriation present here, and the stereotypes that exemplify it.

(Disclaimer:  I am not a fluent speaker of Russian or any Slavic language, nor am I an expert in Russian linguistics.)

First, I would like to direct you to a previous post on the topic by another blogger:

1. Rose Lemberg posts on the historical linguistics of Indo-European and its relevance to the Ravka discussion.  This takes a slightly different approach to mine, but the linguistics is spot-on, and it’s a great perspective on the issue.

2. About Friday posts on some of the mis-use of Russian in the book.

I’ll be addressing some things that overlap with these posts, because they make note of some of the most egregious issues.  I hope that for those overlaps, I will have something useful to add.  I am also writing this post with the book right on my lap, going through page by page looking for non-English language to analyze.

Now, let us begin:

We begin on the two pages containing the map:

The first non-English word/name we see is “Djerholm.”   Now, I don’t know the origin of “djer”, and I can’t find any references to it as a word or name.  However, the word “holm” is of Old Norse extraction from “holmr”, meaning a small island or flood area near a river.  Now, Djerholm is on the sea, and we are given little information about it.  It appears to be the capital of a large nation of Swedish inspiration to the north of Ravka.  It’s hard to say whether the author was aware of the meaning, or chose the word for its Swedish/Norse “flavor”.  Djerholm is on the coast of “Fjerda”.  It just so happens that “Fjerda” is a Norwegian word meaning “fourth”.  Hard to say if this was intentional, although there’s nothing in the book to say it is.

Another word that stands out is “Novokribirsk”.  That looks a bit familiar… Could it be that it sounds a lot like Novosibirsk, Russia’s third most popular city?  And not only that, but across the Unsea, we have Kribirsk, making it clear that the “novo-” is the Russian morpheme meaning “new”.  This lends quite a bit of credence to the claim that the language spoken in Ravka is in fact Russian.

We also have the country of Shu Han in the south.  It’s hard to be more obvious about a pseudo-China than to call it “Han”, the name for one of China’s major ethnic groups and also a historical dynasty.

Now we arrive at the first page, and already some Russian, or whatever.

“malenchki” is said to mean “little ghost”.  Well, the word “malen(j)kij” in Russian does mean “small”, but I’m wondering where the “ghost” fits in here.  Perhaps my Russian just isn’t good enough?  I’d love for someone to help me out with this one.

The next word is “troika”, which means a triplet.  I don’t have the grasp of idiomatic Russian that Lemberg and Friday do, so I’ll have to assume that the issues they mention with the use of the word are correct.

Then we have “kvas”, which is a drink made from fermented grain.  It is weakly alcoholic, but not liquor as Bardugo apparently thinks.

Next we come across a “kefta”, which is apparently a robe of some kind.  According to Bardugo herself, it’s based off the Russian kaftan.  A bit of a linguistic digression: the term “kaftan” comes from Persian and described a form of robe.  Either way, I would classify this as actually the right way to use inspiration.  The word is similar but not the same because the garment s not the same.

Finallly, we have the word “Grisha”, which is appropriately Russian sounding, but a rather odd thing to call a group of soldiers or mages.  As Friday mentions, it’s the diminutive of Grigori, the Russian form of Gregory.

That’s from the first three pages of the novel.  Since we’ve mentioned, Grisha, I’m going to go over the name issues present in the book in the next post.  And then hopefully after that, we’ll move through a few more pages of the novel.

Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Connotations and the Failures of the Dictionary Definitions


Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


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Linguistics and SFF: Stormdancer and the Translation Convention

Back for Part 2 of my linguistic analysis of Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.  Last time, I talked about Stormdancer and the Japanese Language.  In this post, I”m going to address the issues Kristoff had with something called the translation convention.  The translation convention is an idea in SFF that when a story is set somewhere else than Earth in an English speaking country, the characters in their own reality are not speaking English, and the story is merely being “translated” into English from whatever language it’s really written in.

There are two main versions of the convention:

1.  The book itself is just an English translation of the original.

2.  The dialogue in the book and the characters’ thoughts are in translation; the general prose is not.

For the purposes of this post, we will make the second assumption, since the use of scattered Japanese makes a strong argument that the characters in the novel have Japanese as a native language.

Now, in order to adhere to this convention, the author must treat dialogue and interior monologue as if it were written in the language.  For example, if a character thinks about the words they are speaking–or would like to speak, in many cases–the description of those words must treat them as they exist in the native language of the characters, not in English or whatever language the novel is actually written in.  No language is a complete word for word cypher for any other, so things such as syllable counts or word counts are going to be different, as is the shaping of the sounds of the word in the mouth.

Kristoff provides us with several examples–or mistakes–of this type to analyze:

1.  Goodreads user Cyna points out several of these mistakes.  First, the word “impure” in this sentence:

“‘Impure.’ Yukiko whispered the word […] It was such a simple thing; two syllables, the press of her lips together, one on another, tongue rolling over her teeth.”

As Cyna notes, the Japanese for “impure” is “fuketsu”.  Now, that’s almost irrelevant here, since in neither word is there any sort of “tongue rolling”.  But if we do consider it, then we realize that the Japanese word would have three syllables, not two, and there is no “press of her lips together”.  Such a sound is called a “bilabial”.  In the English we have both the nasal bilabial stop /m/, and the oral bilabial stop /p/.  Neither of these are in Japanese.  The closest we come is /f/, which in English is a labiodental fricative, meaning that the bottom teeth approach the upper lip.

The prime reason I’m citing this is because it violates our translation convention in that it discusses (and inaccurately) the English word “impure” which is not what Yukiko would be using, which should be Japanese.

2.  The second example citied by Cyna is “arashi no ko”, literally translatable as “storm child” or “child of storm(s)”.  The griffin “Buruu” asks her what it means.  Now, since it’s pure Japanese, he ought to know, or how else have they been understanding each other all this time?  It’s nice of Kristoff to give use a translation, but it could have been done much more simply, and without violating the translation convention.

3.  Cyna’s thrd example is this passage:

‘”I lo-”
She kissed him, stood on her tiptoes and threw her arms around his neck and crushed her lips to his before he could finish the sentence. She didn’t want to listen to those three awful words, feel them open her up to the bone and see what the lies had done to her insides.’

The words obviously being “I love you.”  However, that’s English, not Japanese as she should be speaking.  Japanese has several ways to say “I love you.”  “Aishiteru”, which is considered very strong and rarely used.  “Suki desu”, or more commonly “suki”, which literally translates to “Like [something].”  Or, if you want to push it to three words, “Kimi ga suki [desu].”  Kristoff gets lucky here, since you could argue he meant the last example, although his use of Japanese previous suggests it was un-intentional.  Here we consider something interesting: a set-phrase.  This is a phrase with a culturally legislated and rigidly formed phrase, generally with a ritual meaning.  They’re generally used for greetings or apologies or any other very common act of speech.  IN English, the culturally weighted phrase is the three-word “I love you.”   You can see it in the extremely common mention of “those three little words”, which even Kristoff references in the scene.  In Japanese, especially the anime-style register that Kristoff is drawing his material from, the set phrase is not “kimi ga suki”, or “anata ga suki”.  Kristoff is clearly referring to the English set phrase.  So again, he breaks the convention.

There are some other examples, I’m sure.

The reason I wrote a whole post focusing on the translation convention of SFF is that it highlights the mindset behind this mis-use of language.  It’s not intentional, or aimed at helping readers.  It’s just ignorance, and it makes you wonder what’s the point of the other language.  Is it just for cheap exoticism?  Is the author just ignorant?  They’re certainly not achieving the goal of immersing the reader in another culture, or another mindset.  There are so many wonderful ways we can use language in fiction, and I include the ever popular entertainment in this.  When you write a book about another culture and another language, there needs to be more there than just making things seem foreign, especially considering anyone with a basic idea of how Japanese language and culture works (and the number of those people is growing, due to the spread of Japanese soft power propagated by manga and JDramas and all of that) isn’t going to find this book foreign but rather fake.

Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Shadow and Bone and the Russian Language


Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Cultural Appropriation, Linguistics


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