When the student is ready, the teacher appears. –Buddhist proverb
A Google search for the definition of a new term to me, ‘heritage speaker’, led me to a blog series by Lisa Bradley who writes at Cafe Nowhere. Lisa’s blog is a gold mine of information and I was happy to land in her’ Cafe’. I especially enjoyed her series, Writing Latin@ Characters Well, where I found the answers to questions about the complicated business of using Spanish words and phrases in novels.
My novel, A Decent Woman, debuts this autumn with Spanish words sprinkled throughout the story. I’m a native Spanish speaker, so it was natural for me to include them as I wrote the story.
The questions rattling in my brain this week,( besides the questions of when the City Public Works will collect the debris from my neighbor’s downed tree branches now littering my sidewalk), were:
1. Should I italicize the Spanish words and phrases in A Decent Woman? What about my character’s thoughts? Should they be italicized?
2. Is it best to offer the meaning of Spanish words and phrases within the text, or place a comma after the Spanish word and use the English word in the same sentence?
3. Should I include a glossary at the end of the novel for non-Spanish speaking readers?
4. Am I missing important differences between 1900 Cuban and Puerto Rican slang, words, and phrases? Important to know as A Decent Woman is historical fiction. I wouldn’t want to get caught making a faux pas. See right there? I automatically italicized the French word.
5. What were Puerto Rican Spanish curse words used in 1900-1930? Yes, I need to know this!
Thoughts and light bulb moments I gleaned today from a few of Lisa Bradley’s blog posts, and from her reader’s comments as they pertain to my novel:
1. Me – Do not use names for characters that require accents marks. I used the names, Raúl, Agustín, Isabél, and Vicénte in A Decent Woman. Great names, but what a pain when it came time to edit! I kept finding names with missing accent marks during editing. I have since replaced Raúl with Isidro because it’s an older name, and learned about the ‘find’ and ‘replace’ feature on Microsoft Word. I’m no longer hesitant to use great names with accents. I learn every day.
2. Do not italicize Spanish phrases or words in a book. Potential readers and buyers will (hopefully) have read the book cover blurb and/or the synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads. If the author has written a good description, synopsis or blurb, the reader will know to expect some Spanish words.
3. Readers will rise to the challenge; don’t dumb down text with translations of Spanish words. I’ve read books with French and German words in the story; a talented writer will offer the meaning of the word or phrase within the text. A very talented author will make you think you haven’t missed a beat as you read along.
4. No glossary. Same reason as #3.
5. I’m still searching for the answer to my question about whether thoughts should be italicized in a novel. I’m sure my editor extraordinaire, Ally Bishop, will know the answer to that, so I’m leaving that one alone for now!
What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments!
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Definition of a Heritage Speaker: “a person who is raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speaks or merely understands the heritage language, and who is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language” (Valdés, 2000)
Link to Cafe Nowhere: