October 18th, 2007

twins

Kudo kudo kudo

I confess that when we translate manga, we don't always "translate" the sound effects. This is something we've been getting called on a lot recently, by more than one company, even. Eh heh heh heh.

The problem is this: Japanese onomatopoeia is too perfect. I mean come on, which sounds better: "doki doki" or "badump badump"? Seriously.

And so I've gotten into the habit of transliterating a sound effect instead of "translating" it when I think the Japanese works better. Okay, to be honest, sometimes it's when I have no idea what that would sound like "in English." We've decided that all the Zen meditation has really come in handy and the Japanese really have figured out the sound of one hand clapping (we believe it to be "suh," which, incidentally, is my arch-nemesis sound effect, because it sounds soooooooooooooo unbelievably much better in hiragana than in romaji). So when we get an e-mail from Del Rey asking us to "translate" this list of sound effects we left "in Japanese," we start to rant about, "Dude, it's a sound! It's a freaking sound! It doesn't mean anything, it just sounds that way! It means what it sounds like!! Would you ask us to translate 'ssssssssssss' into Spanish? Come on!"

Come to think of it, I wonder if there is a Spanish translation for "ssssssssssss," because if there is, that would destroy our whole argument.

From what I've heard from manga-reading fans, the reason they want sound effects translated is that they want the whole experience. So sometimes, it is important to point out what something is the sound of. For example, "pita." It sounds like pita, but since the average native English speaker probably (we imagine; we could be wrong) doesn't know that that's the sound of stopping suddenly, then okay, it makes sense to "translate" it as "stop." Also, it's funny that way. In our opinions, anyway.

But other times, "translating" the sound effect alters the experience. For example, when you're inside a train in Japan, normally you hear "gatan goton, gatan goton." We have no idea what the English equivalent of this is, because from our experience riding trains, that's the sound they make in America, too. But from elementary school, we remember learning that they supposedly make a "chugga chugga" sound. Or at least they did, when they were all steam engines. Like Casey, Jr. in Dumbo. But "chugga chugga" just doesn't have the same feel to it as "gatan goton." But then again, it's possible that most native English speakers wouldn't know how to pronounce "gatan goton," so it wouldn't sound much like a train, anyway. Ah well.

Anyway, much as we complain about it, we are working on coming up with better English onomatopoeia for most of these sound effects. But I still like "doki doki" and "gacha" better than any English equivalent we've come across.

And that's my rant on sound effects. Stepping down off the soap box now. Eheh.

Today I'm thankful for Firefox knowing how to spell "onomatopoeia," soap, bubbles, Japanese onomatopoeia, and getting to watch disc 3 of Princess Tutu tonight! Whee!

PS: The subject line sound effect is the sound of lecturing. The Japanese really do have a sound for everything!