Friday 13 April 2018

#AtoZChallenge: Language, and the politics of it

One problem I am facing with the whole Absolution series is language. See, the thing is, I’m trying very much to write local, even whilst retaining an international feel. Which is a very, very difficult thing to do. I want to use local Malay words and expressions. But how much is too much? Do I need to italicise everything? How much can I get away with?

I figured I can get away with a lot, as long as I don’t explicitly state “this word is in/from a foreign language”. After all, millions of science fiction and fantasy books get away with created words and concepts that are easily accepted (and sometimes hungered after) with no trouble at all. But bring in the fact that it’s a foreign language, and the outrage starts. I mean like, using Elvish and Klingon is so cool, right? But OMG WHY ARE YOU USING SO MANY SPANISH (or Chinese or Malay) WORDS. It’s all about perception of worth, you know what I mean? (So so so very political, sigh.)

I also struggled with this when writing Dongeng, but since that was very much a Malaysian fairy tale set in Malaysia, it didn’t feel so hard. In Absolution, it’s very much a created world based on a mishmash of parts and cultures of Malaysia. The religion is obviously very much based on Christian tenets, but the names, especially of those in Impian, are very much based on local Malay-ish names, which sometimes have an Arabic background. I also used the word “Temple” instead of “Church”, because temple is a much more generic word for a place of worship and church is very Christian-specific, which I wanted to avoid. Unfortunately, this threw off a few Malaysian beta readers who, when reading a Malay name (Tulen) had trouble matching that with going to a Temple (presumed Chinese-Buddhist) instead of a mosque and a religion that conformed more with the shape of Christianity than Islam.

Our use of language is so very much more coded than we realise—and the codes are very different depending on the culture you grew up in. Over here, everything Malay = Muslim, Indian = Hindu, Chinese = Buddhist and everything White = Christian. And I am a pure-bred banana* who falls in between the cracks so sometimes I know the codes but sometimes I don’t, and I’m trying very hard to break them.

What do you think of using foreign or made up words in fantasy?

* yellow on the outside, white on the inside, geddit?


Also, I apparently skipped K by accident and I'm too lazy to go and fix it. Cos I dunno what to write about it either.

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