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French Culture....I Guess....

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Alain DeLaCendres
since 07-02-99
Posts 121

0 posted 07-07-99 01:35 AM       View Profile for Alain DeLaCendres   Email Alain DeLaCendres   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Alain DeLaCendres

I would like to ask for you honest opinions on something. I don't know if this one is exactly "philosophy", but..and if you have no opinion, that's totally understandable..
But on to the question..
What is your view on the French language in modern American literature? I am writing a "novel", for want of a better term, which takes place in a suburb near New Orleans. And, as I'm sure you know, the French culuture and language has had a great influence on New Orleans. In my story, I use small french phrases that most people with a minimal education in french would understand. But the problem is that I know that not eveyone knows french. Some have no clue what any french words mean.
And this is my question. Would any of you read a story (a realistic fiction about a teenage boy and girl, with slightly disfunctional families, that must deal with having an unexpected child) that has french phrases used by serveral characters in normal speech?
Just for conversation's sake, let's say that you have no knowledge of the french language at all. If a "glossary" of sorts were to be included in the book to define the french phrases used, would you buy the book; or would you buy it, then lost your interest when you stumbled on the frnch phrases; or would you not even be interested in the book at all?
Let me list some of the phrases used to help you:
bonjour (Hello)
au reviour (Good bye)
honnete (honest)
mon ami (my friend)
mon Dieu (my God)
tu es mysterieux (you are mysterious)
tu es trop rapid (you are too fast)
je besoin de repas (i need to rest)
la masion blue la bas (the blue house over there)
nous sommes en advance (we are early)
je crois que oui (I guess so) if only I can get anyone to read through all of my rambling to get an answer...well, either way, those are the types of phrases used. I may use slightly larger ones as I progress onto the story, but I try to keep them small and similar in apperance to their English meaning so that one might at least guess at the meaning of the phrase...
Thank you for you opinion.

Tout s'en va, tout passe, l'eau coule, et le couer oublie.
since 07-06-99
Posts 120

1 posted 07-07-99 08:14 AM       View Profile for mia   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for mia

Dear Alain DeLaCendres...
I know that I am simply a new member, and no one here is familiar with me but your question has hit a cord and I would like to offer my opinion in this matter. So here I go. Maybe my opinion is a bit bias because I am builingual. (actually, my first language is french) For this reason, yes I would defenitely buy the book. But looking at the big picture I am not certain that the majority of english readers would buy it. I am not discriminating anyone, I am simply considering my own experience. The small community that I come from is french. When I decided to leave my nest and make my entrance in the real world... I noticed that there are less english people that have interrest in learning french t6han vice versa. The french almost have to learn english because, like it or not...we live in an english based society. I work with english people and they are surrounded by french and bulingual people and still they do not eaven have interest in learning the language. I am not saying that everyone is the same and please don't get mad at me. I am just saying that there is a possibility that english readers would lose interest if there are some key phrases that they can not understand. And since reading is to relax, the glossary at the end may not be the best solution because there would be a necessity to jump at the end of the book everytime that there would be a phrase they would not understand. There are other solutions to your dilemna. Usually in books that have another language, there is a little star at the end of the french phrase and at the bottom of the page the english signification is there. Just a suggestion...
Anyways... I hope that no one was offended or anything. Being a minority sometimes gets me on the defensive.
Bonne chance avec ton livre... I have decendents from New Orleans... and your book would certainly interest me. I hope I have helped a little... Let me know when it comes out.


PS-the signature that you have at the end of all your messages and poems is very beautiful...
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Member Rara Avis
since 06-07-99
Posts 7296
America the beautiful

2 posted 07-07-99 12:13 PM       View Profile for Elizabeth   Email Elizabeth   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Elizabeth's Home Page   View IP for Elizabeth

I would like to read it, especially now that I know what some of the phrases mean...sounds good to me!

[This message has been edited by Elizabeth (edited 07-07-99).]
Alain DeLaCendres
since 07-02-99
Posts 121

3 posted 07-08-99 12:42 AM       View Profile for Alain DeLaCendres   Email Alain DeLaCendres   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Alain DeLaCendres

Thank you for the encouragement Elizabeth.
Mia, your opinions mirror mine. I like the idea about the footnotes, but I'm still not sure if that would completely solve the problem. It's a good idea, but that still might not satisfy everyone..but then it's next to impossible to satisfy everyone..
I've considered completely eliminating the french phrases all together, but I just don't like that idea. it might be the best solution, but I don't like it, but then no one gets everything they want so...
And no, I didn't find your comments offending. I found them to be honest, and that's what I was hoping for. Your bilingual talents give you a step above many others, and it's the "many others" that I'm afraid won't read the story..but thank you for the opinions, I enjoyed it, and it answered a large part of my question..the only part left is how to make the french comfortably understandable, or to even include it at all (if all else fails). Thank you again.

P.S. the signature is from a frenchman (I assume)named Flaubert. I found it in the Stephen King book "Different Seasons".

Tout s'en va, tout passe, l'eau coule, et le couer oublie.
since 07-06-99
Posts 120

4 posted 07-08-99 01:48 PM       View Profile for mia   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for mia

The only thing I know is that you are a passionate poet and you are living one of my dreams by writing a novel. Maybe someday... I am guessing that you can speak french but eaven this I can not confirm... Please don't eleminate the french in your book if you hold it so dear in your heart. I am watching my french culture evaporate in front of my eyes leaving but a faint fog of what was... It breaks my heart and still we all succomb in a way to survive. I like my poems in french, in english, I struggle.
To get back to your novel... I think that to make the french understandable, you will almost need those footnotes. It does'nt make for a bad read... It gives it mystery. Any intelligent person would be intriged (is that how that word is spelled???) by the diversity in your book. I read books with footnotes for the spanish words... It gives the book romance. And the french language is one of romance and mystery...
There is no way to make the french language comfortably understandable if one has no clue as to what it means. But in a book where the author puts you into contexte... a simple phrase in french with a footnote is harmless. It all depends on how much french you plan on inserting in your book... but please, please do. Maybe this book will pave the way for other writers to do the same and then my language and my heritage is saved... I can't wait to read it.


ps- Gustave Flaubert was born in Rouen. (1821-1880). He is the author of the book Madame Bovary. I looked it up!

ps- am quite enjoying your poetry.
Member Rara Avis
since 05-19-99
Posts 9708
Michigan, US

5 posted 07-08-99 08:11 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Alain, I think it depends a great deal on the type of book and target audience. For example, historical novels and (to some extent) romance novels often include such materials for both depth and ambiance. The readers expect it, and want it. Writing fiction is not a great deal different than writing poetry in at least one respect - every single thing the author puts there has to accomplish a goal. It can't be there just to fulfill the author. It has to further the story-line.

Your job as a writer is to suck the reader into the story. Total absorption! That's what the reader has paid you for, to vicariously live the life of another for the length of the story. Okay, so here sits the reader, completely caught up in the story, for the moment becoming the characters you have brought to life - and you sharply jab them in the arm and say, "Hey, it's only a story. See, look at this footnote down here. That proves it. Oh, okay, you can go back to the story now."

In other words, if the French phrases are integral to the story-line and you decide to use them - then just use them. You can "try" to make them understandable from within the context, but I don't think you should try to explain them. Not in footnotes, which are almost certain to jar the reader right out of the story. IMHO.

Now, having said all that, one of my favorite authors of all time was a professional linguist. He wrote a whole book, quickly followed by a trilogy of books, with the sole purpose of developing a brand new language. His books did that very successfully, and obviously he did a LOT of explaining in the process. But he made the language and explanations a part of the story, rather than allowing it to detract from the story. And he was more than moderately successful at that, too. You might have even heard of him - J.R.R. Tolkien?
Alain DeLaCendres
since 07-02-99
Posts 121

6 posted 07-10-99 12:50 AM       View Profile for Alain DeLaCendres   Email Alain DeLaCendres   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Alain DeLaCendres

Thank you for looking up Flaubert, mia.

I see that in Ron and mia we have the two different sides of the problem. And Ron, I do try to explain the french phrases in the context, but I'm not sure that that would be the most satisfactory method. It would depend on the comprehension level of the reader. If the reader is already lost (which could be my fault for not making myself clear enough, or the reader's for not having enough comprehension; either way..) then when I try to use context clues to make it understood what was said in french, then the reader might miss it. But then I see your point about being crashed back to reality by the footnotes. The only literature that I've ever read that I remember having footnotes was Shakespear. I will agree that the footnotes did distact from the story a little for me, but I needed them to understand most of the time. After I understood what was meant, I always went back and read it again, and I enjoyed it even more. And I like your reference to Tolkien, he was a very skilled writter. He lost me ever once and again..but I enjoyed his books.

mia makes a good point about the "intelligent reader being intriged" by the french, but then again, that almost requires at least some knowledge of the french language. The intended aim of my "novel" will be mature teenagers, so I think I have to tread carefully. Teenagers are a very diversified group, and the added inconvience of the foriegn language might turn them off. But then, if they understand a little french and have a hungery mind, it might interest them.

I guess I'll have to totally finish the novel, and see what happens..(by the way, the story is alreadt completely planned out, I just have to get it all down and iron out any kinks along the way..)

Thank you both for your opinions.

P.S. thanks for the comment on my poetry mia. I hope you keep enjoying them.

Tout s'en va, tout passe, l'eau coule, et le couer oublie.
Poet deVine
Member Empyrean
since 05-26-99
Posts 25869
Hurricane Alley

7 posted 07-10-99 12:57 AM       View Profile for Poet deVine   Email Poet deVine   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Poet deVine

I'm an average person..I read mysteries..Stephen King..some romance.. if I'm reading a book and come across a phrase in another language, I try to determine from the context, what it means..if not and the book is interesting, it doesn't matter... it's the plot and the way it's written that get me....
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