In chapter one of Dracula, there’s an odd scene where the count, pretending to be his own driver, picks up Jonathan Harker in his calèche and takes him to the castle. The driver speaks “excellent German.” He addresses Jonathan as “mein Herr.” Remembering that scene, I’ve been having Dracula use German honorifics in Wallachia (”Fräulein Marley”), but I’m starting to think that’s wrong. In chapter two, Jonathan notes that the count speaks “excellent English, but with a strange intonation.” He addresses Jonathan as “Mr.,” though once he puts his names in the wrong order: “my friend Harker Jonathan, nay, pardon me. I fall into my country’s habit of putting your patronymic first.”
Stoker’s Count Dracula refers to himself as a Székely, a group of Hungarians who lived in what’s now Romania:
We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, aye, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the werewolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” He held up his arms. “Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race, that we were proud, that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back?
The count, living in Transylvania, would obviously speak Romanian. By 1893 he’s learned English so that he can go to London in the novel. We know he speaks German from the text, and Transylvania had a sizable population of German settlers so that also makes historical sense. He communicates with various Slavic workers who handle his affairs before he leaves.
As I’ve covered before, the literary Dracula is not the historical Vlad III, but in chapter eighteen Van Helsing does conclude that, “he must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk.” As such, my hunch would be that Dracula’s native language would have been Hungarian, or whatever version of Hungarian 15th century Székelys spoke. Historically he was a prisoner of the Turks so he would have learned their language as well.
In 1816, the setting of Wallachia, a typical peasant would have spoken their regional dialect of Romanian, and would likely have had some level of proficiency in a combination of Hungarian, German, Greek, and Turkish. So I liked the idea of having Dracula mix in a few foreign (to a Wallachian) words to show that he’s a little bit old school. Like, all languages have some number of loanwords. These will be in greater use in some areas than others. So I sort of imagine that if Wallachian Romanian might have had some percentage more Hungarian loanwords than, say, an area farther east that might swap in more Turkish, the count is going to be using all of them (and no Turkish because he’s super racist). Like in English you can say vis-à-vis or you can say “compared to” or whatever. My thinking is the count, to a Wallachian ear, would be speaking perfect Romanian but with an older air to it.
And here’s where the modern Web, for all its wonders, falls down. I can toss “mister” and “missus” into Google Translate and get the Hungarian translations for them, but that’s just the word. I’d want to know how those words are used in actual conversation. Not just talking about Hungarian or Romanian or whatever specifically here, I want to be able to know, for example, how a native speaker of language x would address a man of equal social standing to himself. Or a teenage girl. In English, for example, you’d call the man “Mr. Smith” but the girl by just her first name. Other languages/cultures have totally different rules.
Similarly, I found a handy resource on Omniglot for translating idioms. Here’s the entry for the English expression, “it’s raining cats and dogs,” (meaning, a very hard rain). From there, I learn that the Romanian phrase for that expression translates to “pouring buckets.” Great! Omniglot even has a few other phrases listed, which is helpful, but I guess I just want more.
Anyway, I think I’ll probably go back and change Dracula to have him just use Romanian honorifics (Domnule (Mr), Doamnă (Mrs), maybe domnişoară (miss) for Marley?). (Also I’m only 75% sure I’m use those correctly. The correct answer to all of this would be to find a native speaker who knows grammar pretty well.)