Interesting Twitter thread on accessibility and translations

The replies and the quote retweets are all very interesting. I’m inclined to think this is a very simplified narrative, and one that makes me wonder if she were specifically wronged by some reviewers and now has an ax to grind. I agree people are not entitled to translations, but I dislike the framing of this as an act of defiance. Thoughts?

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In all fairness I feel like this should be dependent on what your market is; if your market is the typical Western reader then it’d make sense to make it culturally available to them, otherwise whatever. Never made sense to me to make these decisions without the audience in mind imo.

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Do you want people to understand your work? Yes? Then add footnotes.

I think there are instances where translations may be needed, but that is up to the author. If the author doesn’t provide translations, then they aren’t part of the text and the reader needs to accept that. I would trust an author enough to not hide crucial information in segments that the reader wouldn’t understand.

In general, I think there is an obsession often (especially from people who are monolingual) with understanding exactly what a word means instead of using context clues to decipher the intent (there isn’t always a literal translation of a certain word or phrase anyway).

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I don’t necessarily mind there not being translations in books somewhere. Although, I do prefer it especially since I’m moving back to somewhere where cell service is spotty and it takes awhile to acquire Wi-Fi.

But, the whole white readers thing definitely was only added for attention.

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This is why I love Wattpad’s comments section. You can use that to add translations and footnotes without disturbing the overall story. I did that with Lio and it helps a lot.

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As usual, though, this thread is just some shit stirrer looking clout. I don’t really give a crap.

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  1. The attitude is absolutely crap.

  2. No one is entitled to a free translation from you.

So, really, I see 2 wrongs and no right.

As far as me and what I do, I don’t always translate. I find that if I’m going to repeat a word or thought in close succession, that there is no need for a footnote when I make one of them into a foreign language or into some insane similie/metaphor. The explanation is right there, in context.

Also, while I don’t cater to anyone for shit, the whole point to a word based medium is communication. Books are meant to disperse ideas.

As crappy as I find some books I was forced to read in College (can’t remember the name in this one), the whole point to the young black man accidentally killing a young white woman and burning her in the central heating while outright killing his black girlfriend was to contrast the manhunt for the white woman’s killer, and the lack of respect for the black woman’s life, even by her man . It was a ball-pean hammer to the question of whose life has merit. I couldn’t hang because by the second death, he was clearly a murderer, just had no sympathy for that. The first wasn’t with intent, but hiding evidence wasn’t kosher.

But I wasn’t the target audience. It was meant to shake those who thought race has merit on who should be punished and a call for people to not allow this to continue. If language has been a barrier to comprehending the message…well, I wouldn’t have been forced to read it, but more importantly, it wouldn’t have made an impact.

So, there is a trade-off. If translation is needed to make sure your message is clear, you swallow your pride and do the work necessary to make your work shine. If it’s just flavor and isn’t really important, then the word wasn’t necessary and can be chalked up more to window-dressing and not real substance needed for the character or plot.

But it’s still your work. It’s really a “you do you”.

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So who puts translations in their books? And who asked her to? If a reader’s too lazy to google something they don’t understand, that’s on them. Writers can’t anticipate what readers don’t know. When you include translations, definitions, etc. to readers who already know what those words mean, it sounds condescending and insulting, so why would any writer include those things? The only time translations and glossaries should be included in a work is when you made up the language yourself, like Elvish or something. ¯\_(ﭢ)_/¯

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Are you thinking of Native Son by Richard Wright? If so, that character’s name was Bigger Thomas, who I think was based on a real life criminal iirc.

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I think so. Titles just don’t stick with me, and Native Tongue takes up my brain space anyway.

I just couldn’t stand that book–but the course required it, along with excerpts from things like The Bluest Eye.

Frankly, I’d rather have covered the actual case notes than sit through that novel again.

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I never read it myself, but it keeps coming up as a kindle daily deal every so often, but by then I’ve forgotten what it’s about, so I have to read the Wikipedia page on it yet again. And every time I read that, I say, “Nope! Not for me!” ☜(ˆ▿ˆc)

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It’s rage inducing. I’d probably have enjoyed it more from the angle of the Rodney King Riots and Joe Biden’s laws that inspired things like 3 strikes and how that inadvertently affects the demographics of people jailed. You know, something a bit closer to what was current, then. Telling me about what my grandfather’s peers might have been dealing with instead of the current system of militarization was just this huge level of disconnect.

And yeah, an English teacher missed grounding it in that concrete a discussion.

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There are times I feel like adding a reference / recommended reading list to my stories for those who lack the background knowledge to understand why my characters act in a certain way.

Recently I posted two short stories on Critique Circle, and most of the queries are about the frequent affectionate touching and dialogue between characters. My response, after a brief chuckle, is ‘they’re Israelis (with a perpetual siege mentality)’. Oh, and one of my University teachers commented on a YA chapter draft, ‘these are very mature topics for adolescent characters’. Nope, they’re just Israelis.

Anyway. I loathe 4th Wall breaches and dreaded info dumps. So one of my favourite solutions to clueless readers is to include a relatively uneducated character that gradually learns, along with the reader, about their new setting and culture. I’ve noticed this is a common tactic in stories, movies, TV series, etc.

Some relevant paraphrased quotes…
Write for your reader, not for yourself.
The more precise your writing, the more diverse your audience.
If a writer cannot be trusted with the small details, they will not be trusted with the big ones.
The most accurate information in the world is worthless if the intended audience cannot understand or utilise it.
You do not decide your value to the market, the Market does.
Words should express an intended meaning and not draw attention to themselves.
Meet your clients where they are.
One ought to know a lot about reality if One is to write realistic fiction.

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I am not BIPOC, but I write with Russian stuff in at least 2 books. I try to provide a glossary, and I find that ‘in text’ italic translations make immersion better. The only thing that I don’t like and makes me want to give people a finger is when they:

—tell me the names are too complicated after I went out of my way to show in text how they are pronounced and added a chapter on Russian names
—obtuse comments like not knowing what KGB is…
—after I explained patronymics, people still saying that it’s weird that a character suddenly is addressed to with first and last name. I’m sorry, that’s like me criticizing an English book for a student addressing their teacher Miss Hudson, not Emma. If my MC refers to his teacher by first name… it’s just not done.

Overall, I find that Nick’s recommendation to keep words for food and clothes but put in English everything that has an easy English equivalent solid.

The thing is, I am not writing this for Russians, because why would they want to read stuff in English to catch an odd Russian word out? My whole point in writing books with Russian characters is bridging the gulf of hatred and misunderstanding of the culture and years upon years of portraying Russians as the worst villains out there. Not helped by the present politics either.

So, yes, I don’t feel I am in the position at all to say Pfft, no, I am not obliged to translate. I seek understanding, not confrontation. Russian regime took care of the confrontation…

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Surely the reader should be able to contextualise the words, phrases, situations without a translation. Providing translations and footnotes is unnecessary.

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Any one of those would smack at arrogance in writers, really.

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Honestly, I like Terry Pratchett’s method of footnotes.

Yes, he does it to educate people and immerse them in-world, but it’s usually to explain something so friggen odd all and funny that I find myself laughing. It’s a reward for reading it.

For example, this footnote

from Witches abroad:

Bad spelling can be lethal. For example, the greedy seraph of Al-Ybi was once cursed by a badly-educated deity and for some days everything he touched turned to Glod, which happened to be the name of a small dwarf from a mountain community hundreds of miles away who found himself magically dragged to the kingdom and relentlessly duplicated. Some two thousand Glods later the spell wore off. These days, the people of Al-Ybi are renowned for being unusually short and bad-tempered.

or this

The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles – kingons, or possibly queons – that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.

Honestly, neither one of these were absolutely necessary, but they catch you off-guard.

But the premise is sound: make footnotes rewarding, and they’re worth your time.

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Even when you read a book completely in your first/best language, you can run across words you don’t know. So you use context clues to figure out what they mean. It’s not that hard. Why’s it different if the word you don’t understand is in another language?

I’m a French immersion student—have been since kindergarten. So I’ve been taking classes entirely in French for over a decade. And French immersion is basically dropping the kid in another language—literally immersing them—until they understand. A huge portion of learning another language, for me, at least, was using context cues to grasp the language as a whole. So long as massive chunks of the story aren’t in another language with no translation, it’s fine to include bits and pieces in another language without providing a translation. Trust your readers. They can figure it out.

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Alright, let me test you on this:

Figure this out