March 14th, 2016


The icon says it all

Okay, so we just got back from re-reading that article we said we'd post about, and we read all the comments, and now we're just resurfacing and thinking, "Where am I?" I do think that some of the commenters covered what we want to say, which is good, because I don't want to comment on the article directly, so I feel like it's more okay for me to come over here and talk about it here (behind the author's back...), since people have already said most of what we want to say...except for the fact that we just don't think it was written very well (take for example the paragraph on sound effects and how hard they are, followed directly by, "Fortunately, I can ask my wife for help anytime." Help with what? How something is supposed to sound in English?), but it's a blog post, and I think we all have lower standards for blog least, for my sake, I hope so.

Anyway, I should start by saying we absolutely 100% agree that different translators are going to translate things differently, and that translating isn't just a one-to-one affair. Those were the main points that he was getting at, and we agree with those, but I thought we've been telling people that for years, so it's like, "Why does everybody suddenly care now that he said it?" "Is it because we're women?" we ask facetiously. (We know that's not the case; we just haven't talked about it in a while, so people weren't thinking about it until now.)

Second, I should say that yes, our attitude toward the article may have been (probably was) colored by our previous encounters with the author. Much as I would love to let you in on all the juicy, gossipy details about those (there might be like three?), that's not the point of this post, so just suffice it to say we've had our disagreements.

And for those of you not following along on other people's LiveJournals, I should probably let you know that the blog post in question can be found here.

Okay, so now that we've established that we agree with the overall point he seemed to be trying to make, we took issue with this article, and here's why: the whole introduction was just arrogant. The author admitted in the comments that he used the introduction as a sensationalist hook, but honestly, that doesn't help his case much, because we're about as big fans of sensationalistic writing as we are of people who take credit they don't deserve. (Not that we haven't been known to be more dramatic than is necessarily called for, but I think there's a difference between melodrama and sensationalism.)

The author starts out by saying 95% of translated text is the translator's doing, and no one else's. If anything in the text made you laugh, or made you think, or touched you emotionally, it was all the translator. And we are here to say no. That is not true. And saying it that way gives translators and localizers license to stray farther from the author's original intent than we think they should (because we are the grand dictators of translation, and our word is law, she said facetiously).

As a side note, we were ranting about this to Gaston last week, and he said, "95% is you? I'm pretty sure that's not something to be proud of. You should be ashamed. It sounds like what you're saying is, 'I have no idea what was going on here, but the pictures helped!'"

Of course, ultimately, the final wording choices come from...the editor, but if the translator is doing his or her job right, the editor will go with the translator's word choices most of the time. But 95% is waaaaaaaaay too much. For example, something that really touched us in Fruits Basket is when Shigure explains to Tohru that she doesn't have to worry about the whole mountain of laundry--just start with the laundry at your feet. That can be worded a few different ways, but the main point of it (just take everything one step at a time) and the analogy (laundry) came straight from Natsuki Takaya. Taking 95% of the credit for that is beyond arrogant, and it's ungrateful, too. The authors of the works being translated had a lot of good ideas, and a lot of great personalities, and frankly, we wouldn't have a job if not for them.

Then there was his talk about his approach, and his boasting about how it takes so much work that he convinced a publisher that they should really stay out of the manga business. WHY WOULD YOU BRAG ABOUT THAT!? First of all, manga's not necessarily any harder than any other kind of literature, and in fact it's been our experience that prose is exponentially more difficult to translate. And second of all, why would you want to limit the availability of manga to more readers? And why would you want to limit the number of publishers that manga translators can go to for work, including yourself? You could get on the ground floor and be their top manga guy!

...Okay, that got more passionate than I was trying to get for this post, but I want to say it too badly to delete it.

Incidentally, the paragraph about the hard work of the process came after another paragraph that starts with "My process is simple." (Fair point: Simple and easy are not the same thing.) And that's just the paragraph I wanted to address next. This is another example of where my reading of the blog post was colored by past experience--this time by a fairly recent experience where our job was to "review" other translators' work, which meant reading their translations and checking them against the Japanese for accuracy, and against normal English for readability. One of the translators in our most recent experience doing this seemed to use a similar method to that of the article's author--the important thing was to feel. And this is where it really gets to be unfair to the author of the article, because we don't know how good his translations are (despite all his talk of using different styles for different authors, he only gave one example...), but anyway, this other translator's approach seemed to be to feel...and not bother looking up words. So when we read this article which seemed to be endorsing "feeling" over anything else, it just rubbed me the wrong way, through no fault of the author's.

I will say, though, that even just this last week working on Noragami, there was a line we had to translate, and based on the keywords in the sentence and how we "felt" about it, we got it wrong. After looking up more words and thinking harder about what was actually happening, we realized that oooohhh, it actually means this. (You can ask us about that after Noragami 15 hits the bookstores.)

Of course, that's not to say that feeling isn't important. It absolutely is. You do want to get the same reaction from the English-speaking readers that you'd want to get from the Japanese speaking readers. But the tricky thing about that is that, not only do the translators get the (almost) final say on English word choices, but their reaction to the text is ultimately going to belong only to that individual (which is one of the things that sometimes causes arguments when we're translating). And that brings us to the quote that we think represents the translation process much more accurately than the stupid "Rule of Rubin", which I think is a fitting conclusion for this post:

"A translator is essentially a reader and we all read differently, except that a translator's reading remains in unchanging print." -Gregory Rabassa

Today I'm thankful for finishing our first draft of Devil Survivor, all the awesome manga artists who have created the works we've so enjoyed over the years, the Devil Survivor script being much shorter than the last one that had an extra chapter (why the extra chapters!? don't you know we're busy!?, she asks, facetiously), internet cookies reminding us of our weaving ambitions, and finally cooking and eating the cookie dough we'd had in the fridge, never mind.