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There's an interesting piece in today's Guardian Review on Anglo-Indian literature: The lost sub-continent. At one point, Dalrymple notes that authors writing about Indian subjects in the English language are under pressure to define any 'foreign' words.

Rushdie vigorously resisted all attempts to constrain the Hindi words in his novels within italics; Roy was also very brave in this respect, making it quite clear that she would not obey her foreign editors' injunctions to explain Indian words: Updike didn't explain baseball for an Indian audience, she said, and she was damned if she was going to explain the ways of Kerala to a Manhattan audience.

Dalrymple goes on to note that giveaways that an author has succumbed to the pressure include passages explaining what a dal is. Setting aside the fact that I cannot believe there is anyone - in the UK at least - who doesn't know what a dal is, the urge to have unusual words explained isn't unique to Anglo-Indian literature.

I have had a few arguments about putting architectural terms into descriptions ("if they don't know what a 'mullioned' window is they can damn well look it up!" being my favourite, although a disagreement regarding 'crenellations' remains in second place). I didn't have an editorial request to have the Chinese words explained, though. After a request from a couple of readers, I have produced a (still incomplete) online glossary but I think the meaning of almost all of them is apparent from context within the book. The sections from a Victorian English woman didn't explain what everyday things were, so why should the sections from a contemporary Chinese woman's perspective? We don't spend out day thinking "I'll just straighten the duvet (a single padded ped-covering) on the futon (a Japanese type of bed) before I go out, otherwise the pussy (slang for - in this context - a cat) will get muddy pawprints on it" so why should 'foreign' characters do so in order to make our Anglocentric reading easier?

Posted @ 2:51 pm on Saturday, August 13, 2005
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