So I posted a silly thing yesterday featuring some colloquial Spanish language phrases, possibly offensive/problematic but also, you know, in actual use here and there. Honestly most of the colloquial Spanish I know is highly localized to Arizona and is very much a border culture thing — stuff not included in that Buzzfeed link.
But a comment by Dave Younce reminded me of something that’s tickled my brain for as long as I’ve been gaming: Why do we drop in little bits and bobs of foreign languages when we play and write RPGs?
Cartel is a good example: if you don’t already know them from crime drama shows, the game text drops words like cabrón and pendejo here and there. Makes you feel like Mark Diaz Truman’s text is being written (or read to you) by a street tough, yeah? But like…in a game one assumes is happening entirely in a foreign language within the fiction, aren’t we all speaking that language?
I think pretty much all games are like this. Night Witches drops a few Russian colloquialisms in Russian even though all the action is already happening in Russian. Same with terms and names in The Blossoms are Falling.
That always struck me as weird. Might just be me.
Upside is that it can drive home otherness; downside is that it facilitates otherness. But literal translations make no sense either! It would be jarring to say “hey billy goat!” in your Cartel game just because that’s the literal translation of cabrón.
Something I did very self-consciously in Circle of Hands was to localize the names of people and places. Maybe it sounds growly and macho to call some place Grunstadt, but your characters are calling it “green city.” So we call it Green City (assuming the place names in the setting are not themselves buried under their own linguistic history). The characters are Lars, son of the blacksmith and Rebecca with the unlucky sheep.
Dunno. I think literal translation can lend its own interesting color to a game. And probably sometimes slipping in the foreign colloquialism is good too, especially if it doesn’t translate into a convenient equivalent.
If I’m feeling super sensitive (it happens, don’t laugh), I even worry that dropping dumb little foreign colloquialisms into my game can be appropriative. Is it cool or uncool to call your Cartel gang buddy vato? Then again, the amount of uncool stuff that happens at private tables around the world would probably melt our brains if we ever knew.