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Alethea & Athena
The icon says it all 
14th-Mar-2016 05:52 pm
objection
Okay, so we just got back from re-reading that article we said we'd post about, and we read all the comments, and now we're just resurfacing and thinking, "Where am I?" I do think that some of the commenters covered what we want to say, which is good, because I don't want to comment on the article directly, so I feel like it's more okay for me to come over here and talk about it here (behind the author's back...), since people have already said most of what we want to say...except for the fact that we just don't think it was written very well (take for example the paragraph on sound effects and how hard they are, followed directly by, "Fortunately, I can ask my wife for help anytime." Help with what? How something is supposed to sound in English?), but it's a blog post, and I think we all have lower standards for blog posts...at least, for my sake, I hope so.

Anyway, I should start by saying we absolutely 100% agree that different translators are going to translate things differently, and that translating isn't just a one-to-one affair. Those were the main points that he was getting at, and we agree with those, but I thought we've been telling people that for years, so it's like, "Why does everybody suddenly care now that he said it?" "Is it because we're women?" we ask facetiously. (We know that's not the case; we just haven't talked about it in a while, so people weren't thinking about it until now.)

Second, I should say that yes, our attitude toward the article may have been (probably was) colored by our previous encounters with the author. Much as I would love to let you in on all the juicy, gossipy details about those (there might be like three?), that's not the point of this post, so just suffice it to say we've had our disagreements.

And for those of you not following along on other people's LiveJournals, I should probably let you know that the blog post in question can be found here.

Okay, so now that we've established that we agree with the overall point he seemed to be trying to make, we took issue with this article, and here's why: the whole introduction was just arrogant. The author admitted in the comments that he used the introduction as a sensationalist hook, but honestly, that doesn't help his case much, because we're about as big fans of sensationalistic writing as we are of people who take credit they don't deserve. (Not that we haven't been known to be more dramatic than is necessarily called for, but I think there's a difference between melodrama and sensationalism.)

The author starts out by saying 95% of translated text is the translator's doing, and no one else's. If anything in the text made you laugh, or made you think, or touched you emotionally, it was all the translator. And we are here to say no. That is not true. And saying it that way gives translators and localizers license to stray farther from the author's original intent than we think they should (because we are the grand dictators of translation, and our word is law, she said facetiously).

As a side note, we were ranting about this to Gaston last week, and he said, "95% is you? I'm pretty sure that's not something to be proud of. You should be ashamed. It sounds like what you're saying is, 'I have no idea what was going on here, but the pictures helped!'"

Of course, ultimately, the final wording choices come from...the editor, but if the translator is doing his or her job right, the editor will go with the translator's word choices most of the time. But 95% is waaaaaaaaay too much. For example, something that really touched us in Fruits Basket is when Shigure explains to Tohru that she doesn't have to worry about the whole mountain of laundry--just start with the laundry at your feet. That can be worded a few different ways, but the main point of it (just take everything one step at a time) and the analogy (laundry) came straight from Natsuki Takaya. Taking 95% of the credit for that is beyond arrogant, and it's ungrateful, too. The authors of the works being translated had a lot of good ideas, and a lot of great personalities, and frankly, we wouldn't have a job if not for them.

Then there was his talk about his approach, and his boasting about how it takes so much work that he convinced a publisher that they should really stay out of the manga business. WHY WOULD YOU BRAG ABOUT THAT!? First of all, manga's not necessarily any harder than any other kind of literature, and in fact it's been our experience that prose is exponentially more difficult to translate. And second of all, why would you want to limit the availability of manga to more readers? And why would you want to limit the number of publishers that manga translators can go to for work, including yourself? You could get on the ground floor and be their top manga guy!

...Okay, that got more passionate than I was trying to get for this post, but I want to say it too badly to delete it.

Incidentally, the paragraph about the hard work of the process came after another paragraph that starts with "My process is simple." (Fair point: Simple and easy are not the same thing.) And that's just the paragraph I wanted to address next. This is another example of where my reading of the blog post was colored by past experience--this time by a fairly recent experience where our job was to "review" other translators' work, which meant reading their translations and checking them against the Japanese for accuracy, and against normal English for readability. One of the translators in our most recent experience doing this seemed to use a similar method to that of the article's author--the important thing was to feel. And this is where it really gets to be unfair to the author of the article, because we don't know how good his translations are (despite all his talk of using different styles for different authors, he only gave one example...), but anyway, this other translator's approach seemed to be to feel...and not bother looking up words. So when we read this article which seemed to be endorsing "feeling" over anything else, it just rubbed me the wrong way, through no fault of the author's.

I will say, though, that even just this last week working on Noragami, there was a line we had to translate, and based on the keywords in the sentence and how we "felt" about it, we got it wrong. After looking up more words and thinking harder about what was actually happening, we realized that oooohhh, it actually means this. (You can ask us about that after Noragami 15 hits the bookstores.)

Of course, that's not to say that feeling isn't important. It absolutely is. You do want to get the same reaction from the English-speaking readers that you'd want to get from the Japanese speaking readers. But the tricky thing about that is that, not only do the translators get the (almost) final say on English word choices, but their reaction to the text is ultimately going to belong only to that individual (which is one of the things that sometimes causes arguments when we're translating). And that brings us to the quote that we think represents the translation process much more accurately than the stupid "Rule of Rubin", which I think is a fitting conclusion for this post:

"A translator is essentially a reader and we all read differently, except that a translator's reading remains in unchanging print." -Gregory Rabassa

Today I'm thankful for finishing our first draft of Devil Survivor, all the awesome manga artists who have created the works we've so enjoyed over the years, the Devil Survivor script being much shorter than the last one that had an extra chapter (why the extra chapters!? don't you know we're busy!?, she asks, facetiously), internet cookies reminding us of our weaving ambitions, and finally cooking and eating the cookie dough we'd had in the fridge since...um, never mind.
Comments 
15th-Mar-2016 02:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

On sfx: shiiin is hard? Make it silence, hush, shhh... I think any of those are fine (the commenter who wrote that it should be translated as "tinnn" weirded me out though. they may be right about the etymology of the japanese sfx but i don't think i'd make that connection if i came across tinnn in english) Anyway, I've seen a few translators and adapters point to sfx in general as one of the difficult things about manga and it makes me wonder what's so hard... My response to myself is, "you're just a letterer, what do you know?" followed by, "actually, as a letterer you have an advantage, because you've seen up-close dozens of different translators' approach to the same sfx, so you know first-hand what works and what the different publishers tend to favour." So my advice to anyone who has a hard time with sfx is read more published manga translations :) (but you two seem to have sfx translation down, so this isn't aimed at you!)

I appreciated you and other commenters calling out the over-statment of the translator's role. I don't think I took it to mean that much when I read it, but I can see how it could come across. My perception was also filtered through what I already know about translation, from the experiences you've shared in the past and from my own experience in working with translations/translators. (by which I just mean, I wasn't reading every word of the post as a new and gleaming revelation to my ignorant peasant mind.)

I also appreciated the writer bringing up "feel" as a part of his process but can see your point about the danger of relying too much on it and not enough on accuracy.

I think one of the more intriguing comments was the one from Ján, who (along with stressing humility) put forward the idea of translators critiquing and discussing fellow translators' choices, since most of us non-translators aren't really equipped to comment on much other than readability in the target language. Not that I want all the translators out there to start picking fights with each other, but it does seem like there could be some interesting discussion if more of the writing about translation used actual examples (whether published examples, or just "here's a page of something, and here's how these different translators approach it"). If you ever have the urge to submit such an article proposal to The Comics Journal, no need to credit me :)

(the latest Manga Translation Battle wrapped up recently and I read the judges' comments, but was a little bummed that since the contest was already over I could only read the winning entries myself and not make my own comparisons—I wasn't paying attention back when the voting was happening. also, again, two of the judges point to sfx as especially difficult in their comments on the grand-prize winner...)

Lastly-on-topic, your concluding quote is a good one! (if a little scary when I don't know whether to trust the translator.) Certainly representative of the work of translation, though.

Ohh, don't you even worry about the cookie dough you've had in your fridge since never-mind-when. This girl here just cut a few moldy spots off some roasted beets and made the clean part into soup for dinner tonight... (sorry, that probably totally grosses you out. really sorry.)
15th-Mar-2016 05:42 am (UTC)
You're very welcome! We're always happy to discuss translation on an easily accessible forum (by which I mean our LiveJournal, where we're always going to be posting anyway; not because I'm afraid to post elsewhere, but because it's such a hassle).

The "tinnnn" thing was an interesting point, and I wouldn't necessarily rule it out, but it certainly is unconventional. But yeah, "shin" is not hard to translate--of all the sound effects that have given us trouble, "shin" is not one of them, like ever. We used to always make it "silence" and then when we wrote a Manga Life column about SFX, William Flanagan directed us to his post about it, where he suggested using "hush", and we've stolen it shamelessly ever since. Because a "hush" will fall over the crowd, and it's onomatopoeic and everything.

We actually used to agree that sound effects were hard, but I guess at one point in our career we just got the knack for it, and it's usually pretty simple, though sometimes we'll get thrown off. Sound effects actually are something that you usually have to go purely by feel, but you have to build a solid foundation of knowledge before you can rely only on feelings. I feel like the whole "feel" versus "accuracy" thing could cover volumes, but I have to sort out our feelings, and who's got time for that? (Actually, I was thinking of doing a followup post on that subject tomorrow, but I'm not sure if my thoughts are really applicable. We'll see when I write the post! (Probably tomorrow, but it always depends on our schedule.))

It's good that you didn't take the author's opening comments too seriously, because it's good not to think everyone is a jerk! We're just bitter and jaded (and we like to defend our reaction by saying as translators, it's our job to take things literally, and as a translator, it's his job to know how words work). It's also important that nobody ever think that that 95% thing is true.

Ján was one of my favorite commenters! I do think it would be fascinating to discuss translation choices, but it seems like a dangerous topic, because you don't want to start any flame wars. We have come up with the idea of critiquing our old work, which I think could be helpful, but once again it comes down to finding the time. Keep reminding us and maybe it will actually happen one day!

(There WAS another Translation Battle!? We would Google it occasionally and find nothing, so eventually we just gave up. But if it's just wrapping up, I guess that means they started it late.)

We like that quote, too! It is pretty scary, but hopefully if all translators are truly fans (as the author of the article suggests), then it will remind them to be better translators.

Ha ha, we're not worried! We just really couldn't remember when we bought it, so we brushed it off as a joke. We decided it was probably sometime in November, because we remember when we bought it, we were like, "It's not really time for peppermint cookies yet, but it probably will be by the time we bake them." (No worries on grossing us out about moldy roasted beets! As long as we don't have to look at the mold, we don't mind talking about it. We've had a lot of lessons at church on worthy entertainment choices, and they always use this object lesson that's like, "Would you eat this delicious-looking ice cream if you knew there was a bug in it?" And I was always like, "YES! You just take the bug and the ice cream that was around it out, and eat the rest. How dare you suggest wasting perfectly good ice cream like that!" I understand the point of the analogy, and the importance of choosing good entertainment, but man.)
15th-Mar-2016 07:05 am (UTC)
His "sensationalist hook" backfired on at least one person. I tried to read the original blog post, but I got disgusted with the arrogance and clicked away. I never would have known he made any good points if you guys hadn't taken time to talk about it.
15th-Mar-2016 03:01 pm (UTC)
Right? I finally remembered after I wrote this post that I think the word is "hubris".
15th-Mar-2016 08:57 pm (UTC)
Yes! That's the perfect word.
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