Thursday, January 19, 2006

An Antique Tongue


As a result of our discussions yesterday about time travel and language problems, here's how I have dealt with one problem.
My intrepid heroine has been dumped in the past for the second time. She has no idea "when" and even less "why."
Draft:

A few flakes of snow drifted insolently past her nose. She had been headed up a path; she decided to continue in the same direction with extreme caution. She didn't want to burst unawares upon a bunch of Danish raiders, or mutinous Saxons, or a Roman in the gloaming.

She had trudged no more than fifty feet when she heard voices. She hesitated, then leaped to scuttle around the torn roots of a large windfall. She crouched. Not low enough. Whipping the tail of the plastic poncho under her, she plunked down sideways and hunched forward, resting one arm on the trunk. She buried her nose in her sleeve. Her breath would make a noticible cloud otherwise.

The voices came closer and evolved into forms. Men, stumbling and berating each other in loud surly tones. Two of them, bearded and dreadlocked, dressed in ragged tunics, trews and pelt leggings. One wore an animal skin around his shoulders like a shawl, the other coarse sacking.
The taller male carried an axe in one hand and a lumpy leather bag over one shoulder. He led an objecting goat by a choke tether. Over the goat's back hung a pair of black birds, limp necks dangling.

Be still, she told herself.

They halted just beyond Damie's blind when the shorter male bent over wheezing. He coughed and heaved and spewed in the snow. Finally he plucked a strip of cloth from inside his tunic and wrapped and knotted it around his bloody leg just above the knee.

Be very still, she told herself.

The other man continued to complain. Loudly. Intent, Damie recognized a few emphatic words of Anglo-Saxon - Old English - though spoken in what she assumed was a broad and very vile accent.

Listening in a kind of sick horror, she heard that one had beswican ( deceived, she guessed) the other to geliefan (believe) that an eald ( elder, old one... old man?) behydan ( hidden, concealed) gold hoard ( gold, treasure - that was plain enough) in a hof ( roof? dwelling?) There had been feotan (fighting) and beatan (beatings)...death daed ( death deed, killing) and hearm ( harm, damage) The other waes recceleas (was reckless, careless) and would forth bringan rethe ( bring forth wrath) of gast on dredan (ghost, dread or dreadful...a dreadful ghost?) of domsdaeg ( doomsday...mortal sin?) because ofslean ( slain, slaying?) awiergan ( didn't get that one...beware? weird? weirding? curse?) befallen (befall) unless they arfaran( far, distance) the horsweg ( horse way, bridle path?... Got the hell out of here?)

Fonixs werks 4 mee, thought Damie. Though she had the idea that much of the conversation dealt with detailed commentary on each other's pedigree.

These two are brigands. Thieves. They've beaten up some old man to force him to tell them where he had hidden his money. He fought back and he's dying or dead. Dead, I think. They've stolen his animals and stuff. They've fallen out because one killed him before he could be made to talk, and that's really why the other one is angry.

They're afraid, too. Both of them. Wonder if he was a holy man or a monk or an acolyte or something. Otherwise they wouldn't be so edgy. Superstitious fear. I hope that cut on your knee turns septic and you get blood poisoning , you scum.

She watched something drip from beak of one of the birds and stain the snow.

21 comments:

M. G. Tarquini said...

Fonixs werks 4 mee

That's very funny. This sounds interesting, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, M.G.
Didn't want to go the route of long dialogue and I hope this condensed form satisfies the necessities.

Rick said...

Bernita - Fonix werks 4 mee, too. :)

But I'm gonna venture a suggestion. The numerous individual words and their parenthetical translations break the flow, as if these blackguards (oops, French root there!) were speaking slooowly, on a language-instruction tape. The parentheses themselves give the impression that you're translating, not Damie.

I think she'd registering and recognizing phrases:

feotan and beatan - fighting and beating? ... behydan a gold hoard - hiding? Gold hoard, that was plain enough ... recceleas ... forth bringan rethe - reckless something, bring forth wrath?

Not relating directly to this passage, but now I'm curious. (I know, wait for the book!) How does Damie first realize she's been time-jumped? Oh, this is the second time!

It strikes me that some things we could see would give away the era right away: say, marching centurions or riding Norman-era knights. Other things - like brigands in their brigandizing clothes - would look much the same over a long period, at least to the non-specialist eye.

Carla said...

The parenthetical translations worked fine for me, by the way. I assumed there were lots of other words in between that she wasn't getting, and these were the odd words that she did recognise. I read the parentheses as representing Damie's thought process in working out the gist of a conversation in a language she isn't fluent in - she catches a word, thinks she recognises it, and tries out possible meanings to see if they make sense. I muddle through French that way. So it worked fine for me.

Dennie McDonald said...

I enjoyed the piece - 1 suggestion: maybe have what they say, how they say it - then just have her internal dialogue think over the ramifications of it. Then you don't have to outright translate it but the reader knows what's going on - just a thought

Bernita said...

Thank you both.
That's encouraging, Carla.I muddle much the same way.
Combining a couple might work better though. Thank you, Rick!
Just didn't want to add too many ....'s to a passage already loaded with symbols, in deference to reader visuals. She does have some knowledge of Old English. That was established back in Chapter 1 of the first book.
No, she's still not sure just "when" she is, for the very reasons you list.The clothing and the language tells her squat.
Back in late November, you'll find in the archives a post called "Time Twists" that describe her first experience.

Bernita said...

Didn't want to inflict a full passage in A-S, Dennie, but wanted to "show" just a little.

Rick said...

Bernita - In place of the ellipses you might have "something something" - words she isn't catching.


I went back and read "Time Twists." A few inches and that arrow would have ended your book awfully prematurely. :)

LOL on "you whore mongering idiots!" Damie does a fascinating bit of code-switching there. She has presence of mind to do a bit of period swearing, but then adds the distinctly modern "idiots." (Though my OED abridgment shows that idiot was used in the sense of "simple, uneducated" as early as 1722.)

Bernita said...

Rick, thank you for taking the time and trouble.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, Fonixs werks 4 mee cracked me up.

But else I agree with Rick' suggestion to get rid of the parantheses. You have the italics to distinguish the Saxon words, so you don't need the parentheses too. imho.

Bernita said...

Saw it on a T-shirt once, Gabriele, and shamelessly stole it.
Now I'm thinking of variants like >>> and :::, as well as ...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

That was cool. I'm back into
Damie's character now....that means you can't stop with just this one tidbit...LOL

I read everyone' suggestions.

The parenthesis were a little distracting. My suggestion would be to take out the paragraph with all the parenthesis.

Just let the two men have their conversation. That makes it action rather than narrative. And right after that move to the "Phonixs werks 4 mee." She basically restates everything she said with the parenthesis, but in full sentences.

This way people know your translating phonetically and they can go back and compare words for themselves if they want to.

Okay...you can't stop here! More! More!

Bernita said...

I'm wax. Bonnie.
O.K., how about I finish off the chapter tomorrow? For you?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Have you heard of Marie Jakober? She writes historical books - http://www.mlive.com/books/stories/index.ssf?/base/features-0/112886581575780.xml&coll=5 - I booked her to speak to my writer's group a few months ago on character and I specifically asked her how she handled things like dialogue in historical fiction. She said she worried more that it sounded believable but also understandable to the reader than that she was actually using specific and correct lingo to the time.

Just thought that was interesting.

Bernita said...

I certainly hope this bit sounds believable, Sandra...because there is no way I could get it absolutely correct in any event. I simply cannot conjugate verbs properly in A-S.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Bernita! I have enough trouble with verbs in plain old English!

But I thought it was interesting because I thought historical writers would worry about it more. So I had this preconceived idea of a potential problem with writing historical fiction that doesn't even exist!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Ohhh....LOL...I'll be here as soon as I get to work!! Can't wait!

nessili said...

Bernita--
Wow! A character and writing style that capture the reader's attention instantly (I love your phrasing--I've never thought of snow as insolent before, but it's such an accurate description). I'm with Bonnie--don't leave us hanging too long. I am itching to know how Damie's adventures turn out (I've been following your little snippets faithfully). I know, wait for the book...but that's too long. I want to know NOW! ;)

Bernita said...

It's up, Bonnie.

Nessili, thank you. What a NICE compliment!
If I don't get off my butt and query, it will be a long wait.
Glad you liked that. She is feeling bewildered/put upon by whatever force/fate dumped here there, again.

Bernita said...

I think it's a question of balance, Sandra, between absolute accuracy( purists, which see) and the readers' perceptions.

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