Character Voice of Locals in Foreign Locations

AlexH

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I've written a story set in Morocco, and all three characters are Moroccan. Does anyone have tips for getting not only the dialogue right, but the character voice? These particular characters would be speaking Arabic, but all of my story (including the dialogue) is English. I've used the Romanised version of some more well known Arabic words like adhan and kaftan in the narration. I'm not going for anything like accents e.g. if the characters were actually speaking English.

I guess a couple of Moroccan beta readers would be helpful. :)
 

L.L.Lotte

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I think you have the right idea bout using their words to add flavour and voice to the writing. Do that as much as possible, even if it is the translated english equilivants.

I'm glad you're not using accents in dialogue. Some is fine but you can end up going overboard which would result in it being hard to read. There are several authors I've read in the past who have done this, like Steven Erikson, and when that character's dialogue comes up i cant understand a thing the character says.

Having said that, using broken english is fine.

But yes, best to find somebody of that nationality to beta for you. Unfortunately i can't help you there.
 
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-K2-

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So, they speak in English (or more we hear/read the translation) like we're reading subtitles, yes?

In that case... if this was my project (which I can only answer in that regard), I would do the following:
1. Any person, place, thing, action that has a universally accepted Arabic word (like your kaftan example), I would use that word.
2. Any religious, societal, political, etc. term that either is universally accepted (like mosque), or does not have a single word translation (like adhan/call to prayer), I would use that Arabic word.
3. I would not use a broken English (as in missing words, showing confusion for the right English word, and so on) or pidgin English.
4. I WOULD use dialogue that is as fluid as if they were primary English speakers, inserting No.1 & 2 where appropriate.
5. I would be cautious of customs, things that should be said (typical greetings and responses), things that should not be said (as I imagine in all cultures some things are taboo to speak of), and do my best to say things in the same manner an Arabic speaking Moroccan would. That does NOT mean, if a direct translation is "said Bob no" you use that... in such a case you would say, "Bob said no." But, there may be cultural specific orders of proper or polite conversation. IOW, it might be typical to always address the person you're speaking with first, "Tom, Bob said no."
6. I would use Arabic/Moroccan names for people.
7. I would make sure to use certain political, religious and hierarchical terms correctly.
8. I would not worry about the reader knowing the few specific Arabic words you may use. They'll either get it from the action, or, they can look it up.

But... that's just what "I" would do.

K2
 

sknox

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How important is it that the reader believe the dialog sounds "Moroccan?" It may be you are trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist.

When I read Thomas Mann, to pick someone more or less at random, I am not aware of him making his characters sound "German." They're just characters. It's more important that they sound like themselves. Also, most readers aren't going to know that the characters in, say Buddenbrooks, are north German and speak Plattedeutsch and are certainly not Bavarian.

For myself, I wouldn't attempt such a localized portrayal unless I'd lived there for some time. Hemingway gives us a convincing portrait of rural Spain in For Whom the Bell Tolls because he was there. He heard them speak. So he gives memorable dialogue not because of accents or specific words, but in what the French call mentalité. Example: the MC asks a peasant how it's going. "Less bad," is the reply. What a great response, and almost certainly something Hemingway heard. In that peasant's world, nothing ever goes great, it only goes less bad. But I don't know how I'd ever come up with such a thing without close and extended exposure to another culture.
 

Jo Zebedee

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FWIW as someone who writes in regional dialect - sometimes - I think it’s hard to do unless you know the accent very very well. I wouldn’t attempt an Irish one, even.
 

tegeus-Cromis

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I once wrote a character who is French, though speaking in English. I did not want to go the route of trying to write out the accent ( "zee donteest shecked my teet") so I wrote her dialogue in a syntax closer to French syntax. It was pretty subtle, but I think it worked. (Fortunately, I have several friends and relatives who are French, so I had some experience with this. Even though the above is a pretty close approximation of my uncle's accent. :))
 

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