Alethea & Athena (double_dear) wrote,
Alethea & Athena

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Here we go again

I feel like we've beaten this subject thoroughly into the ground already, but since it keeps popping up on the internet, it keeps popping up in our heads. See, lyschan pointed out a survey someone was conducting about the translation of honorifics/titles in manga, so we had to go check it out. We're done talking about titles for now, but the survey brought up a point that got us thinking because it treated the topic as an either/or situation.

The question asked was do you think it's more important to have literal translations, preserving the meaning of the Japanese text regardless of whether or not it sounds awkward or stilted, or do you think it's more important to translate more liberally, so as to get naturally sounding English. Despite there being so many other questions where they offered an option of "both" and "other, please specify," this one only gave A and B. It's follow up did the same: do you think all Japanese cultural references should be maintained and annotated, or do you think they should be localized so as not to slow up the reader. (All of the wording here is our own paraphrasing, as a side note.)

We are firmly of the opinion that the right answer to both questions is a little of both. But since they didn't give those as options, we gave up on the survey entirely, because we feel too strongly about our own answer to feel comfortable choosing A or B for either question without an opportunity to explain ourselves.

Let's focus on the first question: literal vs. liberal. This is the thing we've been over so many thousands of times. Unfortunately, we don't have time today to write up another hyper-literal translation, but those of you who have seen them already know what we're getting at. Japanese is so different from English linguistically that just about any translation you get is not going to be purely literal.

You have to read it as if you are, like, a reader or something, and then write the English dialogue that matches not each individual word, but all the information provided in the Japanese text. And by information, I don't just mean the dictionary definitions of each word. I mean all the nuance, attitude, emotion, etc.

When we were learning Japanese, our friend from high school, who was learning it before us, gave a good example of this: the sentence "Raion ni taberarete shimaimashita." If you just want to go with the definitions you'd find looking it up in a Japanese to English dictionary, you would end up with "I was eaten by a lion," where the "shimaimashita" isn't translated, because there isn't really a good, direct English equivalent for it, though I guess you could try, "I was completely eaten by a lion." Anyway, the point is, the way the Japanese is conjugated, it also implies that the act was against my will, and I'm not happy about it.

...In that case, the emotion would most likely be conveyed by the voice actor's performance, but there are ways to deal with it in text only. For example, "Ugh, I was eaten by a lion," or, "Aw man, I was eaten by a lion." Nothing in the sentence can literally be translated to "ugh" or "aw man," but if you include them, then the nuance that was in the Japanese is, to a degree, restored in English. Of course, you also have to consider the character who's talking, and what kind of personality they have, as well as who they're speaking to and their attitude toward that person, so you can choose the right interjection.

In other words, our answer to the survey's question is, "We like to use our imaginations to stay as true to the Japanese as possible." Of course, "true to the Japanese" then becomes subjective, based on the translator's individual interpretation of the dialogue.

As for the second question...we prefer to do as much as we can to make the experience easy on the reader, without, for example, changing onigiri to donuts. (Though we might change onigiri to rice balls, depending.) But we have had experience, when something pops up that would require explanation for an American reader, giving a brief explanation in the dialogue, with a more detailed note later, as necessary. (Of course, we don't know if the editors kept those, but unless they spoke Japanese, too, they might not have realized the short explanations weren't already there.) As for pop culture references...fortunately, we haven't had to deal with too many of those, but when we do, we like to think that the readers, like us, will figure out, "That must be some famous Japanese thing," keep reading until they're done, and then check the back for notes when they have more time to focus on extra information. (Or if they'd rather focus on the extra information first, they can flip to the back sooner.)

This has been another ramble on translation.

Today I'm thankful for having a little more free time today than expected, having a ride to the temple tonight, having plans to go to the temple tonight, finally finding time to finish that episode of Legend of the Seeker (yesterday), and Page deciding she'd rather spend time inside today (being super cute).
Tags: translating

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