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Alethea & Athena
Following up 
15th-Mar-2016 05:51 pm
After snacktime, the plan was to put in one more CD and work until it was done, and then we could call it a day. The plan was violently(?) thwarted by the arrival of cable salesmen. I heard a knock at the door, and I thought it must be the UPS guy with some unexpected comp copies (we never expect comp copies, because we never pay attention to release dates). I looked through the peephole and discovered it was not the UPS guy, and I would have gone back to work and ignored it (maybe), but the door didn't close properly after Page's most recent excursion, so it had already been opened and I felt like there was no going back. So now we're signed up for super high-speed internet (fiber optic) and cable TV, which we haven't had in years, and I'm not sure this is a good thing. But on the bright side, we'll have BYUtv just in time for General Conference! Also, the cable representatives were manga fans, so that was nice, except neither of them had read Noragami. Clearly Viz still has a corner on the market.

By the time they left, we had been blown too far off course, and there was no going back. Work was done. But we made it through most of the expositiony bits, so we think we should be able to finish tomorrow regardless.

In the meantime, I was thinking of doing a followup on the post I did yesterday. One thing I forgot to address was the idea of Japanese being such a highly contextual language that they only say one out of every three words, while in English they say what they mean. I'm pretty sure both counts are untrue. Well, exaggerated, anyway. It's true that Japanese does tend to leave out the subject, and often the object, of a sentence, but there are conventions for it, just like there are in English. For example, I could ask, "Want to?" That's a perfectly legitimate English sentence that means absolutely nothing without context. ...Okay, not nothing. It indicates some sort of desire. So let's try this one instead, "I will." Will what? Although in this case, we at least know who will. We can't think of any way to translate that into Japanese without context, anyway, except maybe as "hai", but again, context could change that.

We actually had two instances today, when editing our Devil Survivor translation, where we removed some words because they were more strongly implied in the English (but had to be stated clearly in the Japanese) and would have made the sentence too clunky. We also had an instance where we added a modifier to the English translation because it was implied in the Japanese but not clear in English.

Of course, there's not really any competition about which language can be more vague. The problem (and this is just an assumption after editing other people's translations without talking to them about their reasoning so it's pure speculation) is that it seems to me that people tell themselves that, "Oh, Japanese is just a vague language," and thus excuse themselves from learning how to figure out the linguistic techniques that really do exist in Japanese, that can help you figure out who is doing what to whom (or what). Things like when they use the passive voice, or auxiliary verbs like kureru and morau. It might take some practice to get the hang of those things, but it's kind of super important to know how they work. (I would give examples, but I don't remember any from that editing and I'm tired.)

So there's that. And then I had a little more to say on accuracy versus feeling. I definitely think that it's important to feel the Japanese dialogue, and translate with those feelings in mind, but before you can ever talk about translating by feel, you have to make sure you know the language. Like how kureru and morau work, for example. And you have to be a good "listener". If you've already "felt" what the characters are going to say before you really read the dialogue, odds are higher that you're going to misread it.

I don't know if this is related or not, but something we tend to see a lot of is a failure to grasp character voice, by which I mean the translator either assumes that a character is a certain way, or decides that a character is a certain way, regardless of how the character actually speaks. For example, one time we were told by an editor that we didn't have a character swearing powerfully enough, because she "was marked as" one of the more vulgar characters in the character descriptions. It seemed odd that the editor told us that she was marked as a vulgar character--why not just say she is one? If you know Japanese well enough, you can tell that the character is using vulgar language. (In the editor's defense, maybe he wasn't sure if we would be able to tell.)

Maybe I just wanted to talk about this because we're working on Devil Survivor, and that's reminding me of the emails that are exchanged between characters in the game. One of the girls is kind of the normal girl, the one that hangs out with the main character the most, and they have her using chatspeak. Meanwhile, the hyperactive internet idol writes in normal English. We haven't read the Japanese versions of the emails (they don't email each other in the manga), so this presents an interesting question. Did the translators decide how the characters write arbitrarily, or did the game developers deliberately use unexpected writing styles for each of them? It's something on my mind sometimes.

Today I'm thankful for making fairly good progress on Devil Survivor despite thwarted plans, the delicious Reese's Snacksters we indulged on at lunch, getting to eat pie on Pi Day, still having pie leftover, and Livingstone 2 coming out today so we'll have something to review tomorrow.
16th-Mar-2016 02:46 am (UTC)
He had a more specific example of high/low-context... hmm, it's not in the post or comments. Twitter? Yes, here. So that's probably a somewhat extreme example, and also more what's-the-word, vernacular? than how the conversation might be written in manga. Still, I can think of a couple pretty recent examples of lines I came across while lettering that I knew had to be wrong because of context (and there is some grumbling when i can figure things out from context that the translator apparently ignored) but that weren't technically "wrong" going by just what was written. I'm sure the unspecified subjects are something you're used to accounting for, but for anyone not so used to it, it can lead to all kinds of mix-ups. So I think it's a valid danger to point out. Of course, you're also totally right that "it's vague" should mean "so pay MORE attention," not "just fudge it."

Oh, character voice! I had a thought related to that yesterday but it felt just a little too unrelated, but now it's right on, in regards to assuming a character will talk a certain way. So, another thing I lettered recently, the script has most of the lines labeled for who's speaking, but occasionally the lines are mis-labeled as the wrong character (and at least a couple of those times there are REALLY OBVIOUS clues as to who should be speaking, like an icon or a bubble tail pointing to the speaker... (sorry, i am kind of in a "what is the world coming to?" mood lately but i'm sure it's just a couple bad experiences colouring my perception)). This shouldn't be a huge deal, except a couple of the characters have a more distinct voice, and then those misattributed lines are written in their voice rather than how the one actually speaking would say them. So I assume the translator (there's no adapter) couldn't have been looking too closely at the Japanese for their cues on how to write the voice for that line. (as I imagine it, they do a rough translation first, and then add voices during a later pass?) Is it a valid approach to write character voice without basing it line-by-line on the original? (like, even a character with a certain voice may adjust their word choice some depending on the situation, right?) I don't know how closely you refer to the Japanese book after your first script passes (gonna guess you're more careful than this), but it seems a little sketchy to me...

Anyway, sorry. Thank you for giving me a place to vent about some things I've been running into recently. (and lest i shake people's confidence in official translations, i should also say that i'm thankful for my careful editors who will double-check these sorts of things when i bring them up, so that hopefully most of the mistakes are caught before going to print.)
16th-Mar-2016 04:55 am (UTC)
Speaking of context, that tweet doesn't specify whether they were speaking in English, Japanese, or both. We can guess that it's Japanese from what little context there is, but we have conversations almost exactly like that in English. "Dinner?" "You hungry?" "Yeah. Mexican?" "No...it's winter. Maybe soup?" "Do we have any?" "Uh-huh." It only takes a little tweaking.

But that wasn't my point, and you are right in pointing out that I did not make that clear. My point is that it's not really accurate to say that Japanese relies more heavily on context, because all languages do. They just have different conventions where the words can be left out because context makes it clear. And yeah, definitely pay more attention.

Ha ha, we're always happy to rant about translation quality! ...Okay, maybe "happy" isn't the right word, but we do like to talk about it. We actually had an experience recently (with Noragami) where there were a bunch of new characters whose character voice got added in the second pass. With characters we're familiar with, we try to do it as we go, but with new characters, and especially characters who use nonstandard speech, we can't finalize it until the second pass because we're not always sure what we want to do with it. But you're right, we make sure to base it on the Japanese, and we're a lot more careful to check the Japanese lines when we do heavy revisions like adding a dialect.

I wouldn't say it's valid to write character voice without basing it on the Japanese dialogue, but we know for a fact translators do it. One time we had an editor (who also works as a translator) say something like, "Yes, this work could use some comic relief, so definitely make that guy funny." Fortunately, that character already was comic relief, so it wouldn't have been too far off, but man. Then there was the time we got notes for translating characters in a manga that was based on a video game, and they seemed to always say, "This character needs more personality; try making him/her sarcastic." I'm pretty sure we're paraphrasing, but that's what it seemed to boil down to.

We're very sorry you have to deal with that kind of thing, and not just for your sake, but for the manga's sake, too. We're glad the editors will double-check.
16th-Mar-2016 05:50 am (UTC)
Oops, yeah, sorry I pulled that tweet out of its context: it was meant to reflect an exchange in Japanese. There was also a link to wikipedia here about high/low-context languages and cultures. I see your point, that all languages have different conventions for conveying info with more or fewer words, but I guess the point I didn't realize until now I was trying to get at (heh) was that this isn't something this particular translator came up with (and therefore I assume, without having studied it at all myself, that there must be some validity to the idea :) ). Now that I'm actually reading the wikipedia article, it seems like part of the distinction of the labels is that some languages tend to communicate a lot through outside-cues, which I'm thinking could be independent of how many or how specific the words are?, and which also goes back to my "[Some] translators need to pay more attention to the artwork" rant. (I kept thinking about this after my last comment because I worried about being too critical of people I know are more skilled at translation than I am, and I concluded that the issues I keep seeing don't necessarily mean the translators are lacking in language skill, but rather that they have sloppy observation skills and/or lack familiarity with manga's visual-language, and that is something I feel I am qualified to critique.)

Haha, I wasn't sure if "valid approach" was quite the wording I wanted, but the only other thing I could think of was "good idea" and I was like "Is it a good idea? Um, no, I think I can say that much." (be honest, lys, you were looking for validation that it was a bad choice all along...)

Aaagh, editorial decisions to change characters' personalities!! If the mangaka wrote boring characters, that's on them, and I don't think the translation needs to "fix" it... mostly because I'm skeptical that the "improvement" would actually be one. (also, as I'm thinking about it more, I feel like the personality that comes through a character's dialogue should/will also be conveyed in their actions, expressions, relationships—so just adding a veneer of "personality" to their dialogue doesn't ultimately add interest. maybe it can be got away with in games, but I don't think it'd work as well in manga.)
16th-Mar-2016 04:10 pm (UTC)
Thus this whole thread becomes a great example of how English relies on context, too! In my own personal world, the idea of Japanese as a high-context language is all over the place, so I didn't feel the need to say that I knew it's not a new concept. That's why I suspect it's the culprit (or part of the culprit) in some of these mistranslations where the translator seemed to be trying to guess who the subject was--according to my speculation, he just assumed that, since Japanese is such a high-context language, there was no way to confirm without being a native speaker.

But recognized on Wikipedia or not, we think the concept is bogus, especially if you look at the lists of high-context and low-context languages. It looks like it could very easily be a list of "cultures that are similar to the one that I grew up in" and "cultures that are not". We thought it was especially interesting that Irish and Southern US were on the list, because they seem to be the nonstandard versions of US and UK. Also, German was on the list of low-context languages, but Gaston would probably tell you (unless this article was cited first) that it's a high-context language. So our theory is that the whole concept was invented either to make scholars of other languages feel extra smart, or to assuage their egos when they're having trouble understanding their second language of choice.

The article also mentions humor. This reminded Athena of a translation we did one time for a friend of a friend who was writing a thesis and wanted to use an interview with the leader of a Japanese theater troupe for a source. The interviewee talks about how impossible it is to translate humor into Japanese. He specifically cites Fiddler on the Roof where one character tells another (you may know this exchange, but we don't remember it well enough to know who was talking) that they'll be neighbors because he'll be moving to Chicago. The Japanese troupe leader thought that it was the word Chicago that got such a big laugh from American audiences, when really it was the word neighbor, because the other character was moving to New York or somewhere not close to Chicago. But the point is, every language has jokes that are going to be difficult to translate without more context, and people of all languages will think that other languages are impossible.

That's just the thing! The mangaka did NOT write boring characters! Well, actually, the characters already existed in a video game, and they had very rich personalities, which didn't really rely on sarcasm. But the point is, we've encountered too many translators that don't seem to understand that character voice exists just as much in Japanese as it does in English, which is why they seem to feel the need to invent their own for each character.

ETA: Another important bit of context that got left out of this: the notes from that editor seemed to be responding to a different translator who had already translated a different volume of the series. So it's possible that the previous translation missed all the personality (which, in all fairness, may not have been on display in that particular volume of manga).

Edited at 2016-03-16 04:24 pm (UTC)
16th-Mar-2016 04:38 pm (UTC)
Okay, I concede to you on this!

Oh, and I didn't assume that any specific characters were boring! I was speaking hypothetically, but I'd readily believe that an editor suggesting they needed "more personality" was just missing what was already there.

Veering right off the topic into my latest excitement, I finally had time to start lettering Noragami last night. (it seemed to bring on a thunder storm that lasted all night here too...) I'm in the middle of the third chapter now and I was not expecting to laugh as much as I have been!! Great work, Adachitoka♥ (and you too!! the rabbit puns kill me :D (the ema names are terrible-hilarious as well.))
16th-Mar-2016 06:58 pm (UTC)
Yay, Noragami!!! I guess Adachitoka and/or the editor decided that the seriousness had gone on long enough and it was time to lighten the mood. That chapter is too much fun...and I mean that literally and figuratively. Oh man, the special popularity award...
16th-Mar-2016 07:24 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that sounds about right. Noragami never fails to be Noragami. Oh, the special award! So tragic... but I was entertained to see current events in Noragami :D
16th-Mar-2016 08:54 pm (UTC)
I know, right? It was kind of surreal and kind of awesome. Of course that leads into a discussion (brought up in the comments of that other article) about whether or not it's okay to date a series. We say, if it takes place in modern-day wherever, it's fine.
17th-Mar-2016 01:25 am (UTC)
Yeah, I think dating in a series itself is kind of unavoidable in a "modern-day" setting, with changing cellphone technology and fashion trends and such. And I think that adapting the original datable elements for English-language readers (like "nau" twitterspeak becoming #whatever) is all good too—the author surely knew when they were writing it that it was very much of-its-time. It's just awkward when the slang or datable elements don't match up to the actual setting. If I were reading a translation of a "modern-day" series originally written in the 80s-90s, I think it'd be weird to see 2010s-era slang.
17th-Mar-2016 05:20 am (UTC)
Ooh, that's a good point about if you're translating it decades after it was written. Now I'm hoping we didn't mess up with Kamakura Monogatari. Most of the characters in that aren't the slangy types, though, so we should be okay.
17th-Mar-2016 04:41 pm (UTC)
I'm very interested in your points of view on this topic, but I haven't to read this post and the previous one.
Today, I have a question regarding what Izana said in the anime.
I only have the French version, Lys gave me the Japanese text: "ならば / 俺を お前と白雪の 辿る道の 味方につけてみろ."
When you have time, what does he say? Thank so much in advance.
17th-Mar-2016 06:50 pm (UTC)
We just posted an explanation on your LJ, but if you want to continue it here (because there's more space since it's a newer thread), you're welcome to do so.
17th-Mar-2016 07:50 pm (UTC)
Thanks again. I wish I had more to add to the discussion. I'm glad to know what Izana truly said. It is such an important difference that I'm a bit sad that the French translator gets it wrong, now I'm wondering what else they got wrong.
18th-Mar-2016 12:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, it is kind of a bummer, but I'm pretty sure the French translator is at least more reliable than Google Translate.
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