A twitter conversation I had yesterday got me thinking about how hard it is to wrangle certain details of your world building over a long series. I’m not talking about the broad strokes that make your world what it is, but rather, the tiny little details that might only come up once or twice and are not extremely important to the story.
@dpeterfreund does Poe speak French?
1) Why do you ask? 2) What do you think? @KenoshaChick10
@dpeterfreund 1) I ask based on the minuscule detail in RoSB when Poe sits down with Amy & Malcolm on the beach, she notices the book he’s reading has a french title. 2) And while the book may not have been written in French nor do I know why a lawyer would be fluent in it, I like to imagine that, yes, Poe does speak French and reads French literature. And when he and Amy went to England they took a trip on the chunnel to Paris where he politely ordered her dinner perfectly. My imagination may have run away with me.
Well, of course that sent me scurrying back to books I wrote three and four years ago to try to make sure I had all my ducks in a row. What languages does Poe speak. What languages did he take in school? What languages does he utilize over the course of the series?
I had a conversation with Sailor Boy about this:
Me: Does Poe speak French?
SB: Did he take it in high school? Instead of Spanish? That doesn’t seem likely.
Me: Well, he could have taken it in college.
SB: You think?
(Note: Yale, and therefore Eli, has a language requirement.)
As I’ve written before, I like writing characters who are polyglots. What I know for sure about Poe is that he speaks German to Amy in Secret Society Girl and he is reading a French book in Rites of Spring (Break). However, since the German’s during initiation, he could be speaking from a script. I speculate that he in fact does know some French, and that French was the language he took in school. Is he fluent? Unlikely, but he’s got a working grasp and if he had the opportunity for intensive practice (like a chance to travel to Paris) he could get around. I also believes he knows Spanish, and that he learned it from his father and from his father’s coworkers in his landscaping business.
But someone without baby brain and who is paying a lot more recent attention than me to hints in the text might come back and tell me about how I claim at one point that Poe speaks Mandarin.
Sailor Boy and I have a running joke about Ted Mosby, the main character on the TV show How I Met Your Mother, and his many, MANY languages. For a long time, we speculated that his apparent fluency in ASL was because his sister was deaf. Then we met the (hearing) sister. So where did Ted learn ASL? At Wesleyan? In Cleveland?
Apparently, in addition to studying architecture (which, I have no idea what that program was like at Wesleyan, but at Yale, it was pretty intensive), he also had time to master ASL, Italian (as seen in “Robots vs. Wrestlers” where he recites Dante), French (“Ten Sessions” in which he and Stella speak entirely in French), and German (In “The Stinsons” Ted tells Barney’s “wife” that he saw her in Die Heilige Johanna der Schlachthöfe by Bertolt Brecht). Of course, Sailor Boy and I disagree on whether Ted saw her act in the original German, or was just using hte German title for the play in the same way that he uses a pretentious pronunciation of encyclopaedia. But, at the very least, dude knows four languages. Go, Ted.
And, unlike Poe, Ted does not aspire to be a spy. So the chances are that Poe does, in fact, know French. And Spanish. And probably Arabic or Farsi, too. But you didn’t hear that from me.
And I wonder if you asked the folks at How I Met Your Mother about Ted, what they’d say. Do they realize that they’ve made him a very impressive polyglot, or, for continuity’s sake, are they sticking with ASL only? (In passing, anyone remember how Veronica Mars knew Spanish in the pilot and then forgot it by the end of season one?)
See, I notice these things, and I know that TV is written by dozens of folks, whereas my novels are written only by me and I can’t tell you with absolute certainty, a few years later, how many languages Poe speaks. I might have been able to tell you then.
Compare that to Rampant, in which the languages characters can speak and when they can do so is very important to the plot. Astrid’s Italian gets steadily better over the course of the first book, and she even picks up a little German because so many of her fellow hunters speak it. In Ascendant, she studies French. I’d wager that Phil is nearly fluent in Italian by the end of Ascendant, and characters whose English was poor to middling (like Valerija, Rosamund, and Mellissende) are way better at it by dint of living with so many native English speakers like Neil, Cory, Phil, Astrid, and Grace.
When I first heard the audiobook version of “Errant” I was amused by the voice actress’s rendition of the characters — Elise and the other French characters had French accents, while Gitta’s was German. It was interesting because except for a few commands from Gitta to Enyo that appear in (untranslated) German in the text, all the characters are speaking to each other “in French.” (It even states at some point in the text that Gitta speaks French with a German accent.) Still, the accents added a lot to the French “flavor” of the dialogue, so I enjoyed it. To my ears, it made Elise sound even prissier, and Gitta tougher, which worked well for me. But again, that’s another case where the languages the characters speak and how well they speak them (Elise yells at Gitta that she can read “some Latin” and Gitta boasts about all the languages she speaks) are more important to the story than whether or not Poe was reading a French book.
Because the purpose of that French book is to illustrate to Amy and to us how little she/we know about Poe.
And, if I know Poe, he could have easily picked an English book to bring to the beach. He chose a French one to show off. Probably to show off to Amy.
Looks like it worked.