Language and translation in Insiders - Shannon Knight

28 Oct 2023

A major theme in my space opera Insiders is how humanity separates ourselves into groups of us and them (and how we need to move past that to overcome major obstacles.) One of the differences I selected was language, which created some interesting choices as the writer since my book is in English. My far-future technology includes both implanted and external translation devices. Some characters know multiple languages from personal study, while others use the internal or external tech. The finesse with which they express themselves depends on their tech or personal skills.
Sachi Inside is a young teen who smuggles herself onboard with the primary ship’s crew. Sachi speaks Japanese. One of the benefits of Japanese was the ease with which I could include honorifics to show how Sachi’s relationships with the crew members evolve over time. Due to the popularity of Japanese culture, many readers would already be familiar with the common honorifics. For those who are unfamiliar, a few context clues clarify them. In both cases, the mix of languages, signaled with the honorifics, reminds the readers of the communication and cultural divide between characters.
Initially, I used the Japanese word for Sachi’s surname, but I didn’t want to create too much distance between her name and the central thematic concept that the name connected with, so I used English. Similarly, I incorporated various Earth-based myths in the story, including references to the Japanese underworld, Yomi, and goddess of death and creation, Izanami. An editing decision I made was to translate the name of Izanami’s spear to English, as more readers might be familiar with the myth in English than in Japanese and therefore notice the reference. Ultimately, my goal in this element of storytelling, language and translation, is to show how people connect and relate despite our differences.

Like what you are reading? You can order Insiders from Amazon / Kobo (including Kobo Plus) / Smashwords.

Cover of Insiders, by Shannon Knight (Art by Isa Backhaus)

About the author

Shannon Knight

Shannon Knight lives in the Pacific Northwest with her faithful feline, the best cat on this planet, and a spectacular night view of the galaxy and beyond. In the spring of 2020, Shannon fell ill with the novel COVID-19 virus and became primarily bedbound for about two and a half years. The first thing she did upon regaining the ability to sit up all day was complete the publication of Wish Givers, Insiders, and Grave Cold.