Dealing with multiple languages in fiction

In my many space travels as a legospaceman, I never ran into a civilization that didn't speak lego

In my many space travels as a legospaceman, I never ran into a civilization that didn’t speak lego

I came across one of those little struggles that I didn’t anticipate while writing A Season of Kings. For those who have been following the story line of the first book of the epic, The Tales of Reagul, it involves several villages from Roman times that are transplanted onto the planet Reagul. A part of the story line is that previous civilizations have been transplanted to this planet earlier than Rome, so there are hints of people from Sumer, Egypt and many other civilizations of earlier history.

One of the first encounters involves Sarbonn, as the young man Spurias, who comes across some of these people. But it dawned on me that someone from Sumer would be speaking Sumerian, not Latin or some derivation of local Roman languages. So, I’m stuck with that old Star Trek problem of “how do people who have never met in their history actually communicate with each other?” Unlike Star Trek, there’s no actual “universal communicator” that everyone is carrying around with them, which means I either have to establish some communication process created by the original aliens (and some back story as to why they’d use something like that any way), or I have to figure out some way to develop a class of people in their societies that would actually be able to translate. Of course, I could go with the old Star Trek method of just assuming everyone speaks English and figure no one will care either way, but that just seems like such an easy cop out (even Star Trek had to eventually explain this situation to its viewers because people don’t allow “yeah, just let it happen” to provide them with justification.

So, I’m analyzing the different ways I can deal with this situation.

duaneDealing with multiple languages in fiction

2 Comments on “Dealing with multiple languages in fiction”

  1. Jason

    What about doing it the old-fashioned way — by giving people time to learn the language? Can you give a year-long pause in the plot, early on, for people to get their bearings and to learn the common tongue? Such a convention also gives you, early on in the storyline, the chance for a bit of comedic relief from misinterpreted statements.

  2. duane

    That’s an interesting idea. My problem has more to do with the fact that the people already on the planet need to immediately offer information, and the translation thing gets in the way of the story rather than contributes to it. Part of that problem is that comedic relief slows down the story, as much fun as it might be to play with it.

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