August 11th, 2015


Making nonsense

Yesterday we were doing our workout (which turned out not to be scary at all) when there was a knock at the door. It was the UPS guy! We were expecting him anyway, but we were only expecting one package (flea treatment for Page), and he had two! The other package was big, and it was from Kodansha! It was comp copies! For not one, but three series! So we now have Say I Love You 9, Your Lie in April 3, and Let's Dance a Waltz 3. If Kodansha is going to be serious about sending us comp copies regularly, we really might have to ask for some volume ones.

Speaking of volume ones, the volume of My Little Monster we're working on made a reference to that volume one, so we had to pull up the English version of it (we have a digital version for reference, since we started at volume four) for consistency, and it turned into a really good example of one of the things I think about about translation. I keep trying to explain to people that one of the reasons comedy is hard to translate is that a translator's job is to make foreign languages sound like normal, comprehensible English. Jokes often rely on things that make a little less sense than usual, so making it make sense means you lose the comedy element. On the other hand, another thing we do as translators is assume that everything makes sense to a Japanese reader, so we try to interpret it in a way that makes sense to us.

Anyway, the point is, Robico said in her volume one comment that she doesn't think of the characters as her children. According to volume eleven, she said she thinks of them as "zenzen tanin," which basically means "total strangers." So we checked the volume one translation, and it translated that to "not related at all." That translation works, until Robico comes along again and says that now she's gotten to the point where she can think of them as "rinjin" or "neighbors." And actually that translation still works, but it doesn't have as much contrast, because most of your neighbors aren't related to you at all these days, either. On the other hand, neighbor does seem like a step or two up from "total strangers."

And so, as we are wont to do, we started analyzing why the other translator would have chosen the translation he did. (Disclaimer: The translation for the first three volumes of My Little Monster was pretty good overall from what we've read of it. We mostly just get picky in public because sometimes the earlier translation affects our translations later on. Also, this is not to say the translation was wrong, just that different translators do things differently.) It seemed to me that the main reason for going with "not related" instead of "total strangers" is that "total strangers" doesn't really make sense. If you're a translator, and you see an author calling her own characters total strangers, you might think, "But they can't be total strangers! You're writing their life stories!" So instead you think, "Maybe she just means she doesn't feel like their her relatives in any sense."

On the other hand, it's possible that he thought the "zenzen" part was more important than the "tanin" part, and since "zenzen" usually translates to "(not) at all" (it's almost always used with a negative), he wanted to go with something that could use "at all."

But the point is, if the former analysis is correct, it can be used as an example of how sometimes people say things that don't make sense, and sometimes you need to let it not make sense, or you'll come across a reference to it later and the translation won't sound as good. (Of course, there are also any number of other reasons that a translation might not sound as good when brought up again later, and believe me, we have made our fair share of those translations. ...But of course I don't have any examples, because I block them from my memory (but often not before venting about it here on LJ, so there are probably written records of some of them...).)

Today I'm thankful for finally getting a package tracking email for our Kinokuniya order (Kinokuniya gave us the shipping confirmation like a week ago, but FedEx kept saying it's not on record, so we were starting to get concerned), the next level of True Beginner not being too scary (so far), our Jamberry consultant starting a loyalty program (like those stamp things; buy nine wrap sheets and get a tenth one free!), already having earned a free sheet of nail wraps, and miraculously managing to get halfway through our edit today (oh my goodness, today has not been a good day for productivity).