Bilingual novels

The other day, someone mentioned that large chunks of French dialogue appear in War and Peace without any translation into Russian. In the 19th century, when the novel was written, knowledge of French was widespread among the Russian aristocracy and they tended to speak French to each other. So they would have been able to follow the French in the book without difficulty.

This got me thinking whether there are many other bilingual novels. In regions where two or more languages are a part of everyday live, you’d think that some writers might use a mixture of those languages in their stories. However, apart from a few Welsh and Irish novels which include bits of English dialogue, I haven’t come across any bilingual novels. Have you?

This entry was posted in Language, Literature.

15 Responses to Bilingual novels

  1. Daniel says:

    Yawar Fiesta, Agua and Comuneros by Arguedas use a great mixture of Quechua along with the Spanish. In the version I read, the Quechua was explained, but I believe in the original text it was let be!

  2. joey kunin says:

    Aura by Carlos Fuentes is in both spanish, with some parts of french

  3. Chibi says:

    I remember in 4th grade reading a book called “The Fighting Ground” by Avi that was about the Revolutionary War (US), and focused specifically on the Hessians; the Americans’ dialogues were in English, and the Germans’ were in German (although there was a sort of glossary in the back of the book that had translations for everything). This is the only book I know of (at the moment) so far in English.

  4. James says:

    I seem to remember that Jane Eyre has bits of French dialogue, but it´s hardly a bilingual novel. I suspect market forces would stop too much bilingualism in novels:the more foreign stuff there is the less wide the market. However, I want to read Giannina Braschi´s YO-YO BOING! which is in English, Spanish and Spanglish

  5. BG says:

    Chibi’s comment reminded me of an abridged version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in my 8th grade literature book that included a little bit of German. The original was probably all German, though. This reminds me of another book from 8th grade “Lupita Mañana” about the personal accounts of a family of illegal immigrants, which mixes in a bit of Spanish throughout the book. This was mostly just “sí” and “por favor”. In “The Diary of Anne Frank” there were definitions of German words at the bottom (and maybe pronunciations, I don’t remember), in “Lupita Mañana” everything was obvious from context.

  6. bunnygirl says:

    The books of Rolando Hinojosa are in a “border” genre, written in a mix of English and Spanish, as spoken on the Texas/Mexico border. Check out “Mi Querido Rafa,” if you’re interested.

  7. Miro says:

    Many Slovak and Czech novels use the other language in dialogues in its original form. This originates from the times of the Czechoslovak federation (1918-92), when both languages were used in the medias and everybody was used to listen/read to them.

    Not a book, but a film: there is one Polish film from 1970 called “Jak rozpietalem druga wojne swiatowa” (How I unleashed the World War II), a story of a Polish soldier traveling across the Europe and Northern Africa during the war. There are people speaking Polish, German, Croatian, Greek, Arabian, French, English and Italian (although almost all with a slight Polish accent). No subtitles, no dubbing, great fun.

  8. Podolsky says:

    “The Diary of Anne Frank” was written in Dutch, not German.
    There are quite a few Yiddish folk songs which include passages in Ukrainian without translation, since Jews in the Ukraine understood the language.

  9. Joseph Staleknight says:

    I know that the TC Boyle novel ‘The Tortilla Curtain’ has passages in Spanish, since it talks about the problem of illegal immigration in the southern US.

  10. David says:

    @Podolsky & BG, the Diary did include some phrases of German, including “…du spatst schon…” and Donnerwetter-noch-einmal, amongst other phrases, and yes the diary was originally in Dutch, like Podolsky said.

  11. James says:

    It´s interesting how the sociolinguistic aspect is what allows these novels to work. I am looking forward to the Spanish-Enlgish ones when i finally allow myself to read another novel in English (next Jan when I am in the states I will read a few I think)

  12. James K says:

    Following on Miro’s comments about multi-lingual film, one of my favorites is a little gem called Cuckoo (from 2002). It basically has three characters, two soldiers — one Finnish, another Russian — and a Sami woman. None of the them can speak the others’ languages, but they speak AT one another, making their own interpretations. The audience gets the subtitles, so are able to follow what each actor is saying — unlike the characters!

    This would be difficult at best to translate into print.

  13. Colm says:

    On movies, perhaps the one I most remember for being multilingual was the European production L’Auberge Espagnole about ERASMUS students in Barcelona which had dialogue in French, Spanish, Catalan, English, Danish and German.

  14. BG says:

    @Podolsky & David: It was a while ago and it slipped my mind that it was in the Netherlands and I didn’t bother to look it up, but now that you mention it I remember it taking place there. I think they translated the Dutch to English and left the German. I remember a lot of it being during the Jewish holiday(s) they celebrated so I wonder if there could have been Yiddish as well. Thanks for the corrections.

  15. RN says:

    Little late to reply, but many Chicano authors mix Spanish and English without translating the two.

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