July 27th, 2015



We were doing our final read-through of Noragami 8 (so good!) today, and I came across something that made me think. I had actually typed out "......!" This is kind of unusual in Kodansha titles, because if that's what a character said in Japanese, the style guide says (or said, back when we started working for Del Rey) to render it as "[retain ellipses]". So when I come across a set of actual ellipses in the script, I have to stop and remember why I did that. It doesn't take long, because there's only one real reason for that, and it's that the character said either, "......っ" or "......ッ" Maybe with an exclamation point.

But lately it's been on my mind more than usual, because it was suggested that if there is a Japanese character of any kind, it should never be translated as just punctuation, even if it's just a grunt. When I first read the suggestion, I thought, "That's silly; I always type out grunts." In fact, Ken Akamatsu likes to get creative with his characters' grunts, and I admit to feeling a little smug about trying to render them as more than the generic "Aaahh!", especially after we did the Negima! omnibus, when we were constantly comparing our translation with the original version.

Then Athena made a comment that clued me in that this might be a reference to the small-tsu phenomenon. As explained above, we do tend to translate those as exclamation points instead of sounds (there are two up there because one is hiragana and the other is katakana). So let's get all language geeky and explain why!

The small tsu is the character used to make a double consonant in the middle of Japanese words, like Sekki (Yukine's instrument name in Noragami) or Mitty (a nickname of Shizuku's from My Little Monster), or Hakkai (Saiyuki)... See, I'm trying to come up with names characters that people might recognize from anime they've seen, so they can remember hearing the name spoken. Anyway, here, just go to the Google translate page for Hokkaido and click on the speaker on the Japanese side. (The voice is super cute!) If you want to hear it more than once, here are more words:


I think that should get the idea across. So as you listen, you might notice. Okay, I guess first I should explain that when you're learning Japanese, or at least when we were learning Japanese, we were taught that you pronounce these words by pronouncing the consonant twice: Hok-kaido, yokat-ta, sep-puku, etc. But as you listen, you might notice that that's not exactly what's happening. What's really happening is more like a glottal stop, which is when you stop making vocal noises very briefly, for example in the interjection "uh-oh". Athena thinks of it like when you're doing embroidery and you have a little knot in the thread, and it's not big enough that it really prevents you from pulling the thread through the fabric, and it's too small to try to untie anyway, so you pull it through the fabric and there's a little pause before it pops through to the other side (use of onomatopoeia not accidental).

But the point is, the small tsu represents to sound of stopping yourself from making any vocal sounds. You can kind of hear what that sounds like at the Google translate page. And how are we supposed to spell that, I ask you? So we spell it like this, "!" (As a side note, our sister Aurora once did a script reading for Camelot, in which one of Guinevere's lines is "!!" She told us about it later, and repeated how she read it, making a sound kind of like what you might expect a small tsu to sound like.) I will admit that, if it works in the context, I will sometimes render it as "ts!" or "gh!", like if someone's in pain or something. With shock, that doesn't always work.

But as we were doing our very brief research for this post, we discovered that there's actually a letter that represents glottal stops. It looks like this: ʔ, which is interesting because it looks kind of like a hiragana tsu, AND there's a smaller version of it. The similarities between languages sure are fascinating.

Today I'm thankful for learning new trivia, the listen feature on Google Translate, finishing our Noragami 8 (so good! ...wait, now I'm worried that I'm overhyping it; keep in mind, this is just a personal opinion, but our personal opinion is that it's SO GOOD!) translation, having plans to order a Cheesy Bites pizza with salted pretzel flavored cheesy bites, and drinking water.