One of the conceits of Umberto Eco's novel Il nome della rosa
(The name of the rose
) is that it was translated into Italian from a French translation of a Latin manuscript. In the preface elabourating this conceit, the ostensible translator tells us:
Finally, was I to retain in Latin the passages that Abbé Vallet himself did not feel it opportune to translate, perhaps to preserve the ambience of the period? There were no particular reasons to do so, except a perhaps misplaced sense of fidelity to my source. ... I have eliminated excesses, but I have retained a certain amount. And I fear that I have imitated those bad novelists who, introducing a French character, make him exclaim “Parbleu!” and “La femme, ah! la femme!”
Is there a name for this trope? Because I could definitely use one. Eco wrote that paragraph nearly 40 years ago, yet this is still a staple of mediocre novelists. (It's telling that in this passage Eco is lampshading the use of it in his own work, i.e. calling attention to it as something intrusive in order get the reader to forgive him for doing it anyway.)
If it makes some sort of sense when the character is actually an imperfect speaker of the dominant language in the setting, it makes even less when the phrases are from the dominant language itself (when this happens to be different from the original language of the novel itself). Lee does this again and again in Pachinko
and it annoys me. Her main characters are Koreans in Japan, some of whom never learn to speak Japanese or speak it imperfectly at best. So it makes sense at times to interject some Japanese phrases, which will presumably be as unfamiliar to the average reader as they are to these characters.
But other times it makes no sense at all. I just read a scene where a Japanese policeman introduces himself to one of the main characters by saying "Hajimemashite, Totoyama desu." This makes no sense in context
. The character he's speaking to has been living in Japan for decades and is fluent in Japanese. The entire conversation is presumably taking place in Japanese (since there's no reason at all to assume that the policeman knows any Korean). All this tells me is that Lee is capable of doing what all the rest of us are and looking up how to introduce oneself in a Japanese phrasebook. (And even then she gets it wrong sometimes; at another point, a character introduces themself by saying "I'm [name] desu
", effectively saying "I am" twice.)
Am I alone in this peeve or does it annoy some of y'all too?
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons