In the time of my story, the common language was Greek (Quasi-Greek, to be precise. See the overview on the language for details). Since this what my characters mostly would have spoken and thought in, unless otherwise noted, English=Greek.
Having studied Ancient Greek and spent endless hours giving myself headaches trying to translate texts, I can tell you that sometimes it’s really hard to turn a Greek thought into an English sentence. Because they arrange things so differently, it’s a challenge to convey the feel as well as the literal meaning.
One of the ways I chose to do this was not to use contractions. Now, I am a big fan of contractions, so this was really a challenge. But here’s why I did it: in Greek, there are elisions, but that’s only when one word ends in a vowel and the following one starts with a vowel. It would be hard to pronounce, so they elide the two words by leaving off the end vowel. Lots of languages do that.
I don’t know of too many others that do like English does and shortens words whenever they please. Greek certainly doesn’t. But we, as English speakers, use contractions versus whole words to convey casual versus formal in a lot of cases. Unlike elisions, contractions are totally a matter of choice. This subjectivity is what makes it hard for those who are not native English-speakers to learn when to contract and when not to.
So, largely for the sake of it, I decided to try to convey these differences as they would in Greek, through word choice. I also use phrases that may seem a little much in English but which are used all the time in Greek, like “to me, at least, it seems . . .” Hopefully it works to create a feel that is truer to the setting than American-isms would be.
I should also note that there are things that I had to do but which bothered me to no end. Right up there is the whole “love” thing. There is no single word in Greek that means what we think of as “love.” Philos probably comes closest, but it’s also used to mean love of things and friends. When you toss romance into the mix, Greeks attribute it to eros (from which we get erotic). Then there’s the unconditional agape version . . . I hated that I felt untrue to the language when I have my characters saying “I love you” and meaning it as we do when we say it to that special someone who has stolen our hearts and gets us all fired up physically. But given that my readers are probably not Ancient Greeks, but rather modern day Americans . . . we’ll just go with it. =)
One more minor note–you’ll notice that in both the book and on this website, I call it “Hebrew,” though many refer to the language as Aramaic. I did this because that’s what they call it in the Gospels.
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