Language – crossing boundaries

With the increase in cross-boundary and cross-cultural writing, it’s important that the writer gets the language of the protagonists right but also to ensure that the reader knows what is meant.

The importance of this was brought home to me quite early on in my stay in England – in South Africa what we call pants are called trousers in England, while pants in England refer to underwear. There are different definitions/understandings of the term now which I won’t even venture to explain in text – if you’re curious, find a South African and ask them to explain the difference between now, just now, and now now. Engaging with a Caribbean colleague enlightened me to a different meaning behind the verb to cane. In South Africa and it appears British school slang this was to get a hiding whilst in Jamaica it meant to get high on drugs. An article in the Harrow Times brought introduced another meaning of the verb to ride. But sometimes, it’s more straightforward than double (or triple) meanings. Sometimes, terms are used from another language.

So how do authors convey these different interpretations of words to ensure their readers get the point?
Anna Ryland’s A Second Chance has a glossary at the end of the book for those who want to double check they’ve understood the Polish terms used. John Samson’s Shaka are Dead and Maya Alexandri’s The Celebration Husband make the meaning explicit through the context in which the slang is used, while Pamela Howarth explains the slang and accronyms as part of the story she’s telling.

Thanks Pablo for the image

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