Friday fun with French

Since I’ve had some cycles free up now that Bone Walker and Victory of the Hawk are done, I’ve turned my attention to playing with translating my own prose. Specifically, I’m amusing myself writing that story I threatened to write some time ago, “The Dragonslayer of Chimay”, based on Le Vent du Nord’s song “Le dragon de Chimay”–and hey, I figure if it’s based on a song in French, I should try to write the prose in French!

Playing around with this yesterday, though, finally let me figure out the answer to a question I had come up doing the Trilingual Hobbit Reread: i.e., how quoting dialogue in French prose actually works.

I’d noticed in Bilbo le hobbit that some dialogue was bracketed by the familiar angle quotes, « and ». Some dialogue also involved m-dashes, and some actually mixed them in ways that didn’t seem obvious to me. To further complicate the matter, I noticed as well that within the same paragraph, dialogue was not separated from dialogue tags by closing quotes the same way an English sentence would do it.

So for example, an English sentence might look like this:

“I love that band,” she said. “Their tunes are awesome!”

But in French you’d get this:

« J’aime ce groupe, dit-elle. Leurs tounes sont fantastique! »

See how there’s no closing quote after “dit-elle”–which is “she said” here, what gets called a dialogue tag in writing–and no quote to reopen the spoken words after it?

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. The m-dash comes into play, it seems, to signify if there’s a change in speaker. And furthermore, the angle quotes are used less to signify “here is something a person says”, and more “a general area of conversation that can involve one or more people”–and so the starting and closing quotes bracket an entire section of dialogue, as large as possible in the context of the narrative.

Which suddenly makes large bits of Bilbo le hobbit make more sense to me!

Here’s an example:

« J’aime ce groupe, dit-elle. Leurs tounes sont fantastique! 

— Qu’est-que tu penses de leur violoneux? demande son ami. Il joue bien, oui?

— Absolument! Il est merveilleux! Je veux apprendre toutes ses chansons! »

So that’s fun, and something I look forward to practicing as I slowly work my way through not only writing “The Dragonslayer of Chimay”, but also translating it as I go!

Relatedly: I have also discovered that if you’re dealing with those angle quotes in French prose, you’re going to want to make non-breaking spaces to go between them and the words they’re surrounding–otherwise the text will wrap weirdly and that’s no fun. And there’s an easy way to do this on the Mac: Option + Space.

Not as easy to do if I’m on one of my iOS devices, but this is a problem that can be solved by my Bluetooth keyboard!

What fun things do you all know about in non-English prose? What tricks do you know to make non-English characters when you’re typing?

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like