Feb 8, 2009

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Set 3000 years after the end of Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead is the story of Lusitania, a colonised planet where humans live along with an alien sentient species, the Pequeninos. After what happened at the end of the Bugger Wars, humankind is weary of unintentionally harming the Pequeninos. So contact between them and the scientists who study them is restricted by several rules, and no one besides those scientists is allowed to have any contact with them at all. The town of Milagre is encircled by a fence to assure this doesn’t happen accidentally. I don’t want to give much more of the plot away, so I’ll finish by saying that at the beginning of the story we follow those who study the Pequeninos, and that eventually Ender Wiggin comes to Lusitania because someone calls for a Speaker for the dead.

As some of you might remember, I enjoyed Ender’s Game a lot. But I have to say that Speaker for the Dead is in a whole other level. It’s by far my favourite of the Orson Scott Card books I’ve read so far.

I absolutely loved Ender Wiggin in this book. And strange though this might sound, I’m glad that I read it shortly after Paper Towns. I think both books approach some of the same issues from different angles. The Ender we see here imagines other people, and the reason why he’s so good at it is because he’s the first to acknowledge that he could be wrong. He asks questions, and he truly listens. And he’s ready to set even the most basic assumptions aside.

I also loved the Pequeninos. We are human, so any alien species we imagine and invent will be inevirably human (which is why hearing people say they dislike sci-fi because it's not about people puzzles me, but nevermind). Orson Scott Card, however, did a great job creating a species that is both unlike us and very easy to relate to. There are certain things about the Pequeninos that are only revealed near the end of the book, and I liked the fact that when we learn them, we are forced to see that certain things that humans do, whose harmlessness we’d never think to question, are no less painful or puzzling for them than their strangest behaviour is for us.

Speaker for the Dead is so full of compassion. This kind of compassion, of understanding, is not something that comes easily. It's hard to achieve not only between humankind and the Pequeninos, but also among members of the same family, of the same community. When it does come, though, it’s a beautiful and powerful thing. And that’s what I liked the most about this book.

Finally, I loved that the solution they reach at the end of the book involves enlarging everyone’s concept of “us”, as well as questioning why “them” should remain “them”. And yes, I realize that this too doesn't always come easily. But just trying could help so much with so many things.

But. Here comes the long “but” rant. And believe me, it pains me to say this, but it wouldn’t feel right not to say it. As I mentioned before, Speaker for the Dead is set in a colony called Lusitania. Lusitania is mainly inhabited by people of Brazilian descent. So there’s a lot of Portuguese in the book—not only in the names of characters and places, but also in a lot of dialogue between the characters. And unfortunately, the Portuguese is very, very bad. It’s full of spelling and grammatical mistakes, of sentences that sound like computer generated translations (technically correct, but actually absurd and/or hilarious because nobody would ever say that), of incredibly awkward dialogue.

This bothered me for several reasons. Let me start by clarifying that I don’t mean any of what I’m saying as a defensive he’s-butchering-my-language reaction. The idea of an author using a foreign language in their book and not even bothering to spell-check upsets me no matter what the language in question is. But of course, with most languages I would never find out. (I still remember being a little heartbroken when Joanna pointed out the Polish mistakes in Briar Rose, though.)

The first reason why this bothers me is because it makes the author and/or their editor look lazy and careless. The second is because, regardless of the author’s intentions, it seems a bit…dismissive? Like they’re thinking “oh, I won’t bother writing correctly in this obscure language that only has 240 million speakers worldwide…nobody who matters will notice the mistakes anyway.” And finally, it bothers me because it kept distracting me, pulling me out of the story. I wanted to believe in this community. I wanted to believe in these characters. But this made it very hard at times.

Let me give you a few examples. There’s a scene in which Ender and Novinha meet for the first time. Novinha’s daughter had just made some coffee, and Ender asks if he may serve Novinha some. Except the verb he uses is “derramar”. I suppose this could be translated as “pour”, but in reality the meaning is much closer to “spill”. I actually laughed out loud, because what Ender is doing is asking Novinha if he may spill coffee on her. I guess it could be argued that this is a natural mistake for Ender to make, since he’s only just started learning the language himself. But I don’t think it was intentional, because a) none of the characters react like he’s said anything remotely unusual and b) the other characters, who are supposed to be native Portuguese speakers, say things that are just as absurd. This was an important scene in the book, and I didn’t want to burst laughing in the middle of it. But I just couldn’t help it.

Another example: we are told at one point that “cão” is a “crude term” for dog. That’s not true at all. It’s the word for dog, period. However, “cão” is repeatedly used as a strong insult term. There’s a scene where a group of children are having a fight, and they exchange insults. Some of the things they say are pretty bad (as bad as it gets, actually, which was funny because I have the feeling Orson Scott Card would never use language that strong in English), yet nobody makes a big deal out of them. Then one of the children says “cão” and everyone falls silent. Needless to say, I couldn’t bring myself to believe in this scene.

There were many, many other situations like these. Words being given a connotation they don’t actually have, or having important connotations ignored, awkward dialogue (especially among the children, who’d say things that are so formal no child ever says them), little cultural details that just feel wrong. I know that Speaker for the Dead is a work of science fiction, and it could perhaps be said that, being a colony in another planet, Lusitania developed its own culture and language patterns. But in the introduction and pronunciation guide (which I won’t even get started on), Orson Scott Card repeatedly says that he based it on a real language and culture. I take it he means Brazilian culture, but he actually says Portuguese at one point. This is a bit odd, because the two countries aren’t much alike at all. In fact, it’s strange that a group of immigrants from Brazil would name their new home world “Lusitania”. It’s like having a group of people from modern American name their new home world “Anglia”. Would that happen?

I don’t even want to get started on the whole issue of cultural appropriation, because I actually have nothing against authors writing about or drawing from cultures that is not their own. As long as they research them well and do it respectfully, that is. I don’t think Orson Scott Card meant to be disrespectful, but like I said, so many sloppy mistakes seem a bit dismissive. And any fluent speaker could have spotted them and fixed them for him so easily.

It’s really too bad. I wanted to believe in this story. And a lot of the time I did, but I kept being reminded that it wasn’t real. It makes me sad, because Speaker for the Dead is an excellent book in so many ways. If I could have kept this from distracting me, I would have. But there was nothing I could do. (And yes, I know my English is full of mistakes too, but I’m not writing a book.)

Now I worry that because I went on and on about the "but", you'll all think that's all I'll remember about this book. Not at all. I really did still enjoy it a lot. And I care enough about the characters to want to read Xenocide. Some questions remain unanswered at the end of Speaker for the Dead, and I want to see what happens next.

Other blog reviews:
Framed and Booked
Dog Ear Diary
An Adventure in Reading
Stainless Steel Dropping
Booky Ooky
Becky's Book Reviews
Honeyed Words

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. I completely missed out on Ender's Game and Orson Scott Card when I was younger but I keep hearing the absolute best about the author and his books.

    Definitely need more scifi! I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

  2. It is sad to hear about these "mistakes" and I totally agree with you. You'd think he would be much more worried about getting things right.

  3. Interesting rant. Personally, I avoid Orson Scott Card just because his politics make me want to scream, but your rant really hit home. My cousin and I are working on writing a book right now, and the three characters in it travel through Mexico and Central America. Now, their Spanish is supposed to be rough, and I expect them to make mistakes, but Jen and I are a bit nervous anyway. I don't speak a word of Spanish, and she's about intermediate with it. Her level is about where these women are at, so I'm hoping the mistakes will come out well. In any case, we plan to run any spanish in the book by someone who speaks Spanish fluently, preferably as their first language. In San Antonio, it's not difficult to find someone who speaks Spanish first, English second. I'm hoping we don't make the same mistakes you point out.

  4. I keep meaning to read this, but I was not a huge fan of Ender's Game... I'll probably still give it at try eventually.

    Oh, and I gave you the letter 'N'. Just in case you didn't notice. :)

  5. I loved your rant, Nymeth. Because I think it was truly important. To be so unconscientious is just plain disrespectful, if you ask me. While I certainly try to keep in mind that fiction is fiction, I do have to admit that I often take it for granted that authors do their research. I'm certainly not claiming that I don't make mistakes, in fact, I probably make far more than my share. But as you said, I'm not writing a book. (And by the way, I don't think I have ever seen you using the English language incorrectly. In fact, I can't tell you how many times I have found myself in awe at how incredibly well you use the language. You write far better in my native language than I do!)

    I've been putting off this book, I admit. So many people seem to think this is far better than Ender's Game, but bottom line, I don't want Ender to grow up. I worry that I'll lose this whole maternal connection I feel towards Ender, and it will just goof everything up for me. I know, how stupid can I be, huh?

  6. I love Speaker for the Dead--and love Andrew Wiggin. It was interesting to read your perspective--both the things you liked, loved, and hated about the book. Very fascinating. It makes me wonder if he's aware of the mistakes. You would think that if it had been pointed out to him that he'd try to fix it.

  7. Saveophelia: It's never too late! I only read Ender's Game for the first time last year. I hope you enjoy them.

    Suey: Yeah, it's surprising...and disappointing too. I still loved the story, but I know I'd have loved it a lot more if it weren't for that.

    Amanda: I confess I avoided him at first because of that horrid homophobic essay, but you know, those attitudes don't show in his books at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. Speaker for the Dead, in particular, is so full of empathy and acceptance that it's hard to believe it was written by the person who wrote that essay. I think that running the Spanish by a fluent or native speaker is definitely a good idea. I don't mind mistakes if the characters themselves are meant to be struggling with the language, but in this case the people from Lusitania were supposed to be native speakers. But in any case, it's always good to check.

    Kailana: This one is so different from Ender's Game that I think it's completely possible that people could love on and hate the other. And thanks for my letter! I'll think about some good "n" things :P

    Debi: You're too nice to me :P I often notice horrible mistakes in my posts after they've been been up for weeks, lol. Anyway, I think it's important too. I also tend to take research for granted, and it's so disappointing to find mistakes like this. I mean, obviously he did do some research...but not enough. Also, no, NOT stupid. I completely understand your attachment to the child Ender. But I think you'll be able to keep him separate from this Ender in your mind and love this book for what it is.

    Becky: I wondered about that too. My edition is the Tor "Author's Definitive Edition", but I wonder if the mistakes have been corrected in more recent ones. The mistakes are impossible not to spot if you speak Portuguese, so you'd think someone would tell him. Anyway, I can see why you and Chris and others love this book. It's such a great story.

  8. I enjoyd your inside perspective on the language. Just one of the benefits of the worldwideweb, getting to hear different cultures and languages view on books.
    Thanks Nymeth

  9. I've only read Ender's Game and have not ventured any further into the series but I have a 7th grader who is love with these books and when I don't have the next one in the library I check it out for him from my public library.

    Maybe you should send Orson a copy of this post? Maybe he's not aware of the issues you've pointed out?

    Can I just say though that you write beautifully. I always enjoy reading your thoughts about books!!

  10. What an interesting review. I am glad I waited a year between reading Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. I loved Ender in both, but it might have been hard for me to make the transition from Ender the child to Ender the adult so abruptly. As I remember I didn't like the ending of Ender's Game for that reason. I was annoyed with the whole Brazilian glossary at the start of Speaker but had no idea it was so incorrect. The language thing seemed odd to me and detracted from the book. I didn't see the pertinence to the story. The Catholic culture made sense as to how people perceived Ender but not the language. I just assumed Card had served a religious mission in Brazil and wanted to incorporate it into his book for some unclear reason. I certainly appreciate your rant. It should have been edited better or just left out.

  11. OK, I've not read anything by this author yet but I'm intrigued with his books now because it seems a lot of readers are enjoying his works. Are they mostly sci-fi books, Nymeth?

  12. You do know how I feel about Ender's Game, right? Hahaha!

    While I started on this awhile ago I stopped after that part on your plot outline and I somehow never picked it up again. Though I really want to at least read this and see whether or not I'd like to read more of OSC, it wasn't pulling me at all. I still chalk it up to timing and I think I'm being pretty generous at that. Maybe sometime in the future I can sit down and read this.

    I do love your rant though and I think it was an objective assessment coming from someone who speaks the language fluently. Those of us who can't speak Portuguese won't notice it at all!

  13. Huh. Well that sounds slightly different!

  14. Excuse me, did you just say your English is full of mistakes? I love the way you write and even envy it! I'm not sure I've noticed any mistakes, but I sure make a bunch.

    Bummer about the language issues. I think that would really bother me. It does seem it should be possible to get something like that checked, but I do think that sometimes they are dismissive and lazy when it comes to these things, which is really too bad.

  15. I'm going to rant now too :p First of all, I LOVE that you enjoyed the story itself. Made my day. But...I was waiting for your take on the Portuguese and I'm so upset to hear that!! It really, really aggravates me. What bugs me even more is the fact that you know this had to have been pointed out to him by now. Like you said, millions of people around the world speak your language and I'm sure he must know...yet it's not corrected in the book. The Portuguese seems to be so important to the book too. I'm really upset by that. It really is a slap in the face that it was never researched.

    Second...I saw in the comments that someone commented on his recent homophobic rant and that has really been bugging me. I find it hard to believe that this is the same man who writes such amazing characters both gay and straight. If you ever read the Homecoming series by him you'll meet one of the most amazing gay characters I've ever read in a book. He's such an amazing character. And his novel Songmaster is written entirely about a gay character. Yet he says those horrible things. It really takes a good bit of his credentials away and it's been upsetting me lately. It's hard for me to support someone with morals like that, but he writes such great books and seems like such a great guy in other areas. I know that each person is entitled to their own opinions, I respect that....but he just seemed to go a bit far with that.

    Phew! Ok, as you can see, I'm having an OSC crisis :p One last thing I wanted to ask you...Is Novinha a Portuguese name? I've loved that name since I first read this book and always thought of naming my daughter that if I ever had one.

    Ok...long comment ended :p

  16. Oh, and I agree with Staci! It may actually be a good idea to send OSC a link to this. He's very accepting of fan emails regardless of the topic! And one last thing and I promise I'll leave you alone :p Your English is immaculate Nymeth! You need never worry about that. I had no idea for the longest time that you weren't a native speaker to be honest with you. It amazes me that you can speak two languages so well.

  17. 1) I'm glad you liked the book so much, since I promised Chris I'd read it if he'd read P&P. ;)

    2) I so sympathise with your rant. Even though I'm not a native Russian speaker, and lived there less than a year, my hackles get raised in movies and books that misuse Russian!

    3) I was so excited to see that there was Portugese in this one (we've already established my odd fascination with the language-I really want to study it one day!), so like Chris I'm sad it was horribly researched. I definitely won't use any of the Portugese I pick up in the book! ;)

  18. Well other than the language issues, I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Nymeth, especially as you mooched out from right under my nose! :P

  19. Amazing review! I have this on my 'awards' challenge list and will now read it in a different light entirely. And then come back and read what you said. :-)

  20. I had the same thought as Framed, that Card had served a mission in Brazil and wanted to put the language in the book. I'm moderately fluent in spanish, and so the language felt similar enough I could gather what the characters were supposed to be saying, I thought the flaws were from my lack of understanding. I didn't realize it was so inaccurate! I don't think I'd be able to read the book again without this glaring at me, now.

    I didn't know English was your second language, Nymeth. Your writing has always appeared flawless to me!

  21. Oh no!! I still want to read this beacause I too loved Ender's Game, but misusing the Portuguese language makes me feel sad! And the slight confusion with Brazil too actually... I totally agree with your analysis - I think they just don't bother with 'obscure' languages like ours!!

  22. Hi Nymeth - first, I have to thank you for writing so eloquently about the "misuse" of Portuguese in "Speaker for the Dead". In the book that follows the series, "Xenocide" - there are several Chinese characters whose names are taken a little too conveniently from Chinese legends and Chinese philosophers. Han Fei-Tzu in the first place, is not an actual person's name. It's a respectful title, like Confucius is not his actual name - it's a title. It's like somebody naming their son, "Richard the Lionheart" is going to get strange looks.

    I am ethnically Chinese, I do read and speak Chinese - and I was a little annoyed at how the Chinese characters are so two-dimensional and stereotypical - feudal even. But for a reader who is unaware of the cultural context of Chinese culture, the Chinese characters and their similarly "alien" culture are "normal".

    The Ender series put make a very good point about the need to communicate and empathise with alien cultures - and I do enjoy the first 3~4 books in the Ender series. This is perhaps why I wished Orson Scott Card had made more effort to understand and research on other human cultures for his writing. It just feels "lazy" to me.

    But that aside, Speaker for the Dead has its merits. In some way, I actually thought Speaker was a better book than Ender's Game. It's good that you recognise the obvious flaws in the book - yet you also acknowledge its merits and is willing to continue with the series.

    One day when you have time, maybe you would like to pick up Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. At least the first 3 books in the series.

    It's about magic. :)

  23. I loved this book and your review. I have absolutely no knowledge of the Portuguese language, so all of the mistakes went over my head. Is it possible that because Brazil is such a large country, the same words and phrases are used differently in different areas, and the choices he used were based on his experience in a certain area?

  24. That's an interesting discussion you've sparked, Nymeth. I'm not quite sure whether I want to try reading these books or not - haven't read any OSC for quite a while - but maybe I'll give Ender's Game a try, I think it's in the library.

  25. raidergirl3: I'm glad you enjoyed my "rant". The internet is indeed useful for things like this.

    Staci: I kind of want to check a more recent edition of the book first, just to see if at least some of the mistakes (the most obvious spelling and grammar ones, in particular) have been corrected. This book has been around for 23 years, so it seems incredible that no one has mentioned them to him before. And thank you so much!

    Framed: I know what you mean about the transition. I'm glad I waited too. And you make a good point about it not adding that much to the story. The small Catholic town culture felt absolutely right to me, but the language and all the mistakes actually detracted from it. I think he did live in Brazil for some time, and he must have learned some Portuguese (he DID get some things right, after all). But not enough to make it believable.

    Melody: He's written both sci-fi and fantasy. One I think you'd really enjoy is Enchantment - a beautiful fairy tale retelling, time travel adventure and love story, full of Russian folklore.

    Lightheaded: I actually can't complain about not being sucked in by the story. I was captured right away, mistakes and all. Like I was telling Kailana I think it's possible to hate Ender's Game and love this, so you never know :P

    Ladytink: Despite everything, it's a very good book!

    Amy: I never notice any mistakes of yours either! Thank you for your kind words. As they say, we are our own worst critics :P And it is too bad. Any fluent speaker could have helped him get things right.

    Chris: I wouldn't say he did no research because some things are correct...but not enough. And it's really disappointing. I completely understand your mixed feelings about OSC. He's a difficult man to figure out. Like you said, it seems unbelievable that the same man would right a book like this and also things like that horrible essay. There are other things I disagree with him about, namely politics, but that doesn't really bother, because to which their own. Homophobia does bother me, though. It bothers me that, unlike racism, it's still more or less socially acceptable. And I feel that the only way to change that is not to let things like that pass. On the other hand, though, I definitely enjoy his books enough to continue to read him. And I like the person I perceive through the books. As for writing him about this, I think I should check a more recent edition first :P The book's been around for so long that it's unbelievable that he's never been told. As for Novinha, Ivanova is unheard of in Portugal...they have different names in Brazil, so I checked with my boyfriend, and he said it sounds like a Slavic name to him :P Novinha is a Portuguese word, but it seems a bit of a weird nickname to me, because it means "little new one" :P And thank you for your kind words, Chris!

    Eva: After writing my post I remembered what you'd said about the Slavic names in Enchantment, and it made me feel better :P Not all of the Portuguese in the book is wrong, but I'd definitely not recommend using it :P And how cool that you want to study it someday! If you ever begin and need someone to practice with, you can count on me!

    Bart: lol :P It was still a good book, no doubt about that.

    Cath: I hope I didn't "spoil" it for any of you. It's still a great story!

    Jeane: He did serve a mission in Brazil, and he did learn some things...but I kind of suspect be thought he'd learned more than he actually had. So many things should have been double-checked. And thank you, you are too kind!

    Joanna: It's definitely still worth reading, yes. It's too bad that authors aren't more careful with these things. Don't they know that somebody will always notice?

    Dark Orpheus: Thank you too for your thoughts on Xenocide. Portraying characters from a certain ethnic background stereotypically actually bothers me even more than language misuse. I still want to read the book, but I'll keep what you said in mind. The fact that the book is so good in so many ways, and that it makes such an important point, definitely makes me wish he'd been more careful even. In a way, being careless undermines what the book is about. And thanks for recommending Alvin Maker. Chris has told me I'd enjoy those too. I definitely want to get them at some point.

    Shelley: You make a very good point about Brazilian versus European Portuguese. They're indeed different, even more so than American and British English, for example. I noticed from the start that the Portuguese he was using was meant to be Brazilian. My boyfriend is Brazilian (from the same state the people of Lusitania are supposed to come from, actually), so I made sure to ask him if the things that sounded odd or just plain wrong to me were also strange for him. Sadly, 90% of the time they were.

    GeraniumCat: Despite everything, I still think the series is well worth checking out!

  26. Nymeth, I should have known you'd recognize good ole' Rufus! There is something magical about finding someone as in to your music as you are, and I'm glad to see you have such wonderful taste! Also, thanks for the great review of the Orson Scott Card!

  27. Oooo ... kinda makes me glad I don't speak Portuguese; that way I won't be distracted when reading the book. His handling of the language would bother me too if I was aware of it.

    I appreciate your mention of the "humanity" found in science fiction. This is precisely why I read in this genre. The authors who write science fiction are generally trying to mingle some fantastic imagination with greater statements about what makes us human, etc. Love it! I started reading a series called "Founding of the Commonwealth" (book one is called Phylogenesis) by Alan Dean Foster, and this is one of the things I love about the series -- the very human issues.

    Great review of "Speaker of the Dead," Nymeth!

  28. this sounds interesting.
    I do agree, if an author uses a foreign language in the book, they need to spell check it. Its good that you know Portuguese and caught the mistakes. I would have had no idea!
    glad you enjoyed it anyway.


  29. That's the kind of thing that would drive me nuts! That's sad that it wasn't properly checked during the editing process. I've never felt any real desire to read Orson Scott Card, but it was interesting to read your thoughts on it, and that you were able to enjoy it despite the language problems.

  30. I'm only starting on "Ender's Game" now, and am enjoying it so far. Now I can't wait to read the next one already! (Despite your "but..") It's really too bad about the language. I have never read a book that used Malay, but I have read several that butchered Japanese, and they were painful to read. :/

  31. That must have been so annoying! I really wanted to start this series (and I'm sure I will), but I hope it will be corrected. I hate when it happens in Italian.

  32. Chelsea: It's rare to find people who love both music and books as much as I do, so I'm very glad to have "met" you :D

    Terri: lol yeah...if I could have shut down my speaking ability for the duration of the book and spared myself the annoyance I really would have. And you said it perfectly about sci-fi!

    Naida: Yeah...and it's not like they can't find help easily! It's disappointing.

    tanabata: The story itself was very good. Which makes the mistakes even more frustrating in a way.

    Marineko: It is painful to read when you know the language and notice all the mistakes :/ The book is definitely still worth reading, though. I hope you enjoy both this and Ender's Game!

    Valentina: It's like they don't realize that there are people out there who actually speak the languages...it's a bit puzzling, really :P Anyway, I hope you enjoy the series!

  33. I'm really glad you mentioned all of that in your review because not being a speaker of Portuguese, I had no idea that he had made those kind of errors. I mean, I think he was famous enough by then to have a good editor!

    I'm glad that you liked it despite the sloppiness. I think it was a well-done novel over all, and the Pequeninos were especially interesting. I had no clue how everything was going to end up, but I started to suspect partway through that the scientific reports that they kept including were a little arrogant and not completely accurate.

    I haven't read Xenocide either yet, but I definitely have it on my list.

  34. I admit that I read the first few paragraphs and the last several paragraphs of your review because one day I might pick this up. I had actually started to read it to hubby after we finished Ender's Game, but it was exhausting to read the foreign terms (I've taken a little French and a little Spanish but I've never been good at reading either aloud or even speaking).

    But in all honesty, you put a lot of native English speakers to shame...your writing is absolutely beautiful and I'm not sure I've ever seen a mistake other than a small typo. :P I wish learning a second/third language was more emphasized here in the states. Especially with so many of our population speaking Spanish as a first language. It's so hard to learn a second language when you're an adult and don't have anyone to communicate with, though. I'm ranting a little...sorry.

  35. I don't recall Lusitania or its people ever being described as "Brazilian immigrants." They were always Portuguese, so stop acting like it's an insult to your culture. This is also an old book, so maybe the way people from Portugal talked in the 80s is different from how you Brazilians speak it now? And the rest of you, please remove your lips from this worthless cao's butthole.

  36. Anon...I'm not sure you even read the post. And Nymeth is worth a million of you.

  37. LOL--I was just thinking that it is a bad week so far for anonymous comments! :P

  38. My first trollish anonymous comment ever! I FEEL SPECIAL.

    Amy: I wonder if they read the book itself, even :P

    Trish: lol! So it seams. All this made me realize I never replied to your comment here originally (nor Kim's). I'm so sorry! Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm terrible with typos....no matter how many times I re-read what I wrote, I don't see them until I click "submit". It's especially bad with comments, which can't be edited :P You wouldn't believe how many times I go back to check for a reply to a comment I left and see a typo that makes me want to dig a hole and hid in it, lol.

    Kim (sorry!): Yeah, it's really surprising he didn't get someone who speaks the language to go through it. I bet he easily could have. But it as definitely a very good novel regardless.

  39. I was reading through your blog and I liked what you had to say about the book. The only problem I have with your blog is the rant you give about the portuegese language. Orson Scott Card did not mean any offense and if there were any mistakes in spelling or grammar they were probably on purpose. In fact, Orson Scott Card served a two year mission in Brazil and is completely fluent in the language. The way he wrote it was problem stylistic to the language he encountered while in Brazil for two years. You should also take into account that there are different dialects to portuegese and Orson Scott Card may be referring to one that you may not be as familiar with. You might want to rethink your entire rant and keep in mind Orson Scott Card knew exaclty what he was doing.

  40. Anonymous: First of all, thank you for expressing yourself respectfully. Believe me, I know OSC wasn't out to offend anyone. In fact, I was not offended, and I'm sorry if I sounded like I was. My only complaint was that the mistakes kept pulling me out of the story, and for that reason I enjoyed the book less than I would have otherwise.

    Secondly, though I'm usually not a fan of bringing qualifications into a discussion, I think this is relevant in this case: I actually work in linguistics, so trust me, I'm well aware of different varieties of both European and Brazilian Portuguese. My supervisor is Brazilian, and so is my boyfriend (who also has a degree in linguistics). Trust me, I double-checked things before I wrote this post.

    Also, the majority of them are really grammatical mistakes that clearly don't belong to any variety. For example, words in Portuguese have gender, like in French, and you need the article before a word to be the same gender as the word that follows it. This didn't always happen in the book. It was things like that, you know?

    OSC is a talented writer and I enjoy his work. But in this case, no, I don't think he knew what he was doing. Maybe overconfidence was the problem? Living for two years in a country does not automatically make you an expert in a language. I'm sure he can hold a conversation just fine, but when it comes to writing for publication, it's always a good idea to have a native speaker double-check things for you. I've been learning English since I was in second grade, and I still ask friends to proofread important documents for me.

  41. Damn, Nymeth! I'm reading Speaker For The Dead and I completely agree with you. Reading those spelling and grammatical mistakes makes me not believe in the story, characters or whatever.
    Bem que ele podia ter consultado um brasileiro antes de publicar o livro. Era tao simples. :)

    PS: I didn't read the whole review because I didn't finish the book yet, so I don't know if it contains spoilers or not. Does it? :P

  42. Diogo: YES! Someone agrees! As you can see, I got a few anonymous commenters who don't. Funnily enough, unlike us they don't speak the language in question :P Mas sim, podia mesmo!

    I always make sure to make my posts spoilers-free, or if I HAVE to include a spoiler, I always put up a warning. So worry not! And happy reading - despite these problems, it's a great story.

  43. Yeah, I know. I'm enjoying reading it despite of the mistakes.
    But I was wondering if there is a translated version to portuguese. If there is, did they fix the language mistakes?
    It would be weird anyway.

  44. Hey Nymeth, I just stumbled upon this article by chance, and I wanted to say: thank you! I'm a reader for a publishing house here in France, and I rage and rage everytime I read an (american) book where french is butchered. Really, how hard is it to find a native speaker to proof read for you???

    What I usually do when I read one of these books is to find the author's website and send them an email. As I am one of the persons deciding wether or not to buy a book's rights, I'm hoping that will jolt them into paying more respect to the languages they use in their next book... If all international readers started complaining, maybe it would evolve?

    Anyway, thanks for your rant! ;)

    1. Proof read... is not that hard!
      With OSC i would even have done it for free.

  45. Just read the book and felt like I had to search for someone else ranting about the babelfishness of Card's dialogue. "Filho de puta" and "cão" were particularly hilarious. I'm actually tempted to look for a portuguese edition to see if mistakes such as these have been corrected.

    I think I may have an explanation regarding the whole "cão" debacle. Having learned that OSC is a devout mormon (and a horrible person) and that he came to Brazil in a mission, I can only conjecture that the "strong" use of the word "cão" may actually refer to the devil. As he was probably surrounded by religious people, I can see how that would present itself as a loaded word at times - particularly at a sacrament meeting - eliciting a response from the audience. And, oblivious to any other meaning of the word other than the one he already knew, OSC incorrectly deduced that it was a crude term. It's a sketchy theory, but it's the only way I can conceive his mistake, as, barring that, deriving crudeness from the word "dog" would be extremely unlikely. Perhaps it was, after all, coisa do cão.

    1. Whoa! That shed another light on the matter.
      We really use cão for "devil"

  46. That's very disappointing to hear that the Portugese is bad in Speaker for the Dead, because I absolutely love the book. I found your blog when I Googled looking for a pronunciation guide for the names. I'm writing about the book from a multicultural perspective for a multicultural counseling class.

  47. Or, you know, it could be that the book takes place over 3000 years in the future. In my copy, the foreword clearly mentions that Stark evolved from English and Nordic evolved from Swedish. It stands to reason that Portuguese would have drifted as well. That being said, I can sympathize that this could be distracting to a native speaker.

  48. I'm as a brazilian, couldnt agree more with your review.
    Its such an awesome book... it could have skipped the portuguese words!
    Just leave them in english.
    It was so unnecessary and wrong!
    But nonetheless, the book is awesome!


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