July 28th, 2015



People keep saying things that have us thinking and soapboxing and it's making me forget all the stuff I was already going to soapbox about! Topics include: anime is not all dark and/or oversexualized, Jeopardy syndrome, and the need to try to understand people before making judgments about them (which is especially tricky because we're getting all judgmental about the previous two topics).

But I had a different topic in mind for today, and that's dialects. I've address the topic of dialects many times before, but now we have a fresh(?) angle, and so I'm going to address it again. It all started when umadoshi posted a link to a blog post about dialects in translations, along with this quote: "Translating from non-regional to regional vocabulary is tricky; going from regional to regional is, if anything, more fraught. In several anime–Azumanga Daioh, for example–a character with a regional accent in Japanese is given a corresponding regional accent in English. Osaka in Azumanga Daioh has a southern accent in the translation I heard; in some apparently she is given a Brooklyn accent. ... the fact that translators couldn’t agree on which of two extremes of American English she should speak seems pretty indicative of how difficult this choice is."

Our first reaction was, "The choice is actually a lot easier than you'd think. It's usually the execution that's the problem." And then we started soapboxing about why the translators of each different version likely chose the dialect they did, because Kansai dialect is a thing we've had to deal with, we've thought long and hard about it, and we've had reviewers disparage the choice we made. The latter of course made us think even harder about it, with the effect of us convincing ourselves even more thoroughly that obviously we're right, duh.

Anyway, it's hard to say why all translators who choose the American southern dialect to represent the Japanese Kansai dialect do it. I like to use Lotta Hart from Ace Attorney as an example of why we do, even though we didn't translate her at all. In the Japanese version of the games, she uses a Kansai dialect, and in the American version she uses a southern dialect. She's constantly talking about how she's from "the heartland", and while I'm not sure exactly where the American heartland is, I'm pretty sure it's not Brooklyn. Of course, to be fair, I don't know what "the heartland" was a translation of, but! I do know that the Kansai region includes Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, three places that feature very strongly in Japanese history and the building of Japanese culture. So there's kind of an emphasis on history and heritage, and that seems to be kind of a Southern thing. I guess you could say something like that about Philadelphia or Boston, too, but it was a long time before I realized those places had their own dialects.

And therein lies the problem. There's a strong possibility that many beginning translators (especially the ones that work for peanuts) don't even realize that there are American dialects other than standard and Southern. And I think this is where proponents of the Kansai=Brooklyn theory get their start. They also know that the Kansai region is not as rural as the American South tends to be portrayed (although I would argue that the South does have big cities; haven't you ever heard of a place called New Orleans?). Osaka and Kyoto are big cities, ergo the characters who speak these dialects should have an accent that reflects that; hence Brooklyn.

But to us, the important thing about a dialect has a lot less to do with the region it comes from and a lot more to do with what it's supposed to say about the character speaking it. That's why we bought this handy guide to Japanese dialects. It has a few pages for each prefecture, and a drawing of a guy who represents the stereotypical person from that prefecture. It also has a profile for each prefecture, including a sentence or two about what the typical native of that region is like. So we take that information and see how it applies to the character, and sometimes how that plus the character apply to the story, and we choose a dialect based on that.

Now for the bigger problem: execution. It's really intimidating to try to write a dialect for which you are not a native. We've been known to have several different tabs open with websites containing regional vocabulary lists that we're constantly skimming to see if we can find a colloquialism that would be appropriate to the situation. But it's tricky, because you have to find just the right balance between too standard and too over-the-top. Usually it's okay to go with the less is more theory, because if you can do just enough to get the reader thinking in that accent, then they'll get the idea without being slowed down by unusual wordings/spellings (I hope). But some people prefer over-the-top, which is something you have to keep in mind when entering translation contests.

Anyway, the point is, all of that might be why the two most recent Kansai characters we've dealt with had us choosing to go with a dialect of our own native Southern California. Even then, we were pretty scared because our own dialects are fairly standard (I think). We may have gone over the top with them, but they're both zany comedy characters, and one of them is going to be adapted anyway, so there you go.

And thanks to our looking up that dialect guide, we've discovered there's a new one out, so it's time for us to make a manga order.

Today I'm thankful for not dying after trying Daily Burn yesterday (we did come close, though; we really are True Beginners), getting to have a delicious Cheesy Bites pizza with salted pretzel cheesy bites (sooooooo good!), CD Japan shipping our Noragami order, making better progress on work today than we expected, and Page helping us catch our little visitor yesterday so we could take it outside.