August 27th, 2020


Quality or quality?

So we were talking with some other translators via the internets today, and someone brought up the topic of quality of writing. Specifically, the question was how do you approach the translation of something that is poorly written. Our opinion has always been that if it made it past all the Japanese editors and had a big enough following to make it into our hands, who are we to judge? I mean, we're not native Japanese speakers, so how do we know if a sentence is clunky or if that's just how Japanese works? If we don't understand it, it could be bad writing, or it could be our unfamiliarity with the language. So we treat it like any other thing to translate, we do our best to understand it and come up with an English version that reflects that understanding.

Another translator in the discussion, however, was of the opinion that if you're translating Japanese text, you should have the ability to discern the quality of the writing. The implication, whether intended or not, was that you can't be a good translator if you don't know the difference between good and bad Japanese writing. We felt our honor was besmirched, and I spent a good deal of the afternoon thinking about how our cred has likely gone down among the translators in that forum...or rather, thinking about what I could say to prove the other translator wrong and restore our honor.

...But then we played a bunch of Animal Crossing, and I realized it was silly and we know we're good translators and hopefully our editors know we're good translators, and that's what's important.

I will point out a metaphor that Athena came up with that I thought was pretty good. We may have already compared translating to acting here...and whether or not I've written about it, Athena and I have been comparing translation to acting for years. In both, you have to get into the characters' heads and "talk" the way they would. Now, we're not actors, so we couldn't say for sure, but we think that an actor can still do a good job without having to judge whether or not the script is any good. They're job is not to judge the writing--it's to understand the meaning and the tone of their dialogue and deliver the lines accordingly. Similarly, a translator's job is to understand the meaning and the tone of the text and write target-language versions accordingly. ...At least, that's our thinking on the matter.

Today I'm thankful for catching a golden stag (still no giraffe stag), Gulliver visiting our island today, reminders that I'm good at what I do regardless of other people's philosophies, getting an email about the new SuperGroupies products, and sleep.