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Thread: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

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    Registered User 初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner
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    How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    I was wondering how fellow translators get around the issue of speech elements that are distinctly Japanese.

    For example, what do you guys do about dialects (e.g. Kansai-dialect)? I think the dialect a character speaks in can play a big part in how you'd interpret him/her.

    Another example is when characters have distinct speech patterns even when they say the same thing:

    Character 1: 君は本当にバカですね
    Character 2: おまえホントにバカだな
    Character 3: 君は本当に馬鹿なのだよ (Not making this up. A character from a manga I translate actually talks like this .)

    In English, I would translate all of them to "You are such an idiot" or the like, despite the different nuances they have in Japanese.

    Along the same vein, pronoun choices matter in Japanese (e.g. 俺,お前 vs 僕,君) but become irrelevant after translation into English (I, you).

    I started manga translations not too long ago, and so far I've been ignoring these subtleties. I'd like to know if experienced translators have developed their own ways of incorporating these things in their English translations. Thanks!

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    Registered User 中級員 / Chuukyuuin / Member mote's Avatar
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    One of the tough things about translating from Japanese is accepting the fact that there's a whole lot of stuff that doesn't have a proper English equivalent, and when you try to shoe-horn one in it just ends up sounding forced and unnatural. Your examples are pretty much the three biggest culprits - dialects, pronouns, and idiosyncratic sentence-final particles/phrases.

    It sounds kinda pretentious, but don't make the mistake of assuming the readers actually know what they want. Devoted manga/anime fans generally want to have their cake and eat it to: they want an "authentic" and "faithful" translation, but still want it to be perfectly readable in English - and in reality, those are two conflicting ideas.

    Even official translations make that mistake. There's that character in Fushigi Yuugi (can't remember his name, sorry) who has the same なのだ tic as your Character 3. The dub translated that as him saying "ya know?" after basically every sentence, which annoyed pretty much everyone, and they just dropped it completely after a while. And the Naruto dub replaces his -ってばよ with "Believe it!" which fans seem to find pretty obnoxious, even though it's an attempt to be "faithful" to the original text.

    Make it sound natural in English first, and don't concern yourself too much with expressing all the minutiae of the Japanese lines in English. People will appreciate the former way more than the latter, even though it doesn't always seem that way from listening to certain readers' complaints. If there's some tough-to-translate element that you really think the readers should know about, you can always leave a note.

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    Registered User 下級員 / Kakyuuin / Jr. Member Syphilias's Avatar
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    Treat it like you're writing a completely original English script first. Read the entire series, get a strong sense of who the characters are, where the story goes, and keep note of how the author "made the reader feel" then write a complete outline of how you're going to flow the English, then write it. After that, you go in line by line, not before, but after you've already done the original translation.

    When you go line-by-line first, make sure to make lots of notes, and have a general "direct translation" first, then go back to your outline and see what needs to be changed in order for it to go with the rest of the "feeling" of the series.


    Translation is hard, I really think you guys and gals are magical. I am pursuing a career in interpreting and translation but where I am at with my language at the moment would not be sufficient.

    I tend to get into the "line-by-line" translation rather than just letting it go and continuing to read the entire book. I mean, really, you COULD translate something directly, but I think that is unfinished. In the end, you may have a finished product where each panel doesn't match up to the original, but it will match the FEELING and FLOW that the original had.

    That, I think, is the goal of a translator.

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    MH's Socialworker 伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member eni's Avatar
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    I'm not a translator myself, but I always love it when dialects are translated into dialects. There's e.g. a bunch of manga with the Yakuza topic using dialect in the original but translating it to something you'd see as socially equivalent in English. I'm no native and haven't had such a manga in my hands for a while, so I can't give a spontaneous example on what is commonly used for that. I do remember a translator explaining once why one of the characters spoke so weird, though. Same goes for slang and historic speech (into Old English, verrrry nice <3). I find it especially interesting as a non-native of English since it opens the language for me.

    I think that keeping the nuances is important, it's part of the character and I greatly enjoy it. Some characters are famous for the way of speaking, even if it's just a difference of 1-2 specific words or a slight pattern. The characters were designed with that, so it should be transferred somewhat correctly. I partly study bilingualistic slang, sociolect and dialect transfer, meaning that I actually look why certain grammar mistakes and similiar being made due to the local origin and subculture of the speaker. I have to transfer such things myself into German and find it extremely exciting and interesting.

    ♥ Sorry, I'm Late. But I Got Lost On The Road Of Life. ♥

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    Registered User 初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    This be an a$$ pull on my part since I am also feeling my way on this, but think politeness levels and formality. While both 君 ”きみ” and おまえ are both informal forms of you among equals, omae has the edge on being informal. You might want to emphasize a rougher tone in the second sentence.

    The third sentence is slightly easier. Given the speaker's speech uses the kanji form of バカ ( as opposed to ばか ) think poly-syllabic. Try 'Simpleton' instead of 'Idiot'.

    I hope this helps.
    Last edited by OldManLinnen; January 16, 2012 at 09:00 AM. Reason: used 'kana' when 'kanji' was meant

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    MangaHelper 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member Utsune's Avatar
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    Confused Balancing Accuracy and Emotion/Feel of a dialogue

    I translate bits only from time to time so I'm still quite the novice when it comes to translating for manga and the likes. The languages aren't a problem for me at all, but my biggest obstacle is in balancing between the accuracy of a phrase, and the emotions carried across by the speaker (specifically dialogues.) I do both Japanese and Chinese.

    Do you guys have any tips or experience that you can share? Namely solutions to difficult situations (like choosing what words to use in a particular scene, while knowingly sacrificing accuracy or feel in a phrase.)

    Please feel free to go off-topic, I'm sure I can figure a way of relating it back one way or another.

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    Intl Translator 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member Ju-da-su's Avatar
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    Re: Balancing Accuracy and Emotion/Feel of a dialogue

    Seeing how no one replies at all, guess I'm not the only one who go "Huh?" at this thread. ._."

    My big question is...why do you EVEN NEED to balance those two? I've been a translator for 8 years, and I've never work out to balance those though, since those two actually go hand-in-hand, NOT opposing to each other. To correctly be able to convey the emotion and feeling behind each line is also a criteria for good accuracy in a translation, IMO. So...yeah, I seriously don't get why would you even need to sacrifice one of them to get another. Rather, I can't even think of any situation where you'll need to sacrifice either one of them providing that your language is OK at least. *shrug*

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    Translator/Moderator 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member
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    Re: Balancing Accuracy and Emotion/Feel of a dialogue

    @Utsune

    Maybe you could post some of your examples. That way, it maybe easier for other members to share their experience with you.

    Generally I prefer translations without translator's subjective interpretations.

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    MangaHelper 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member Utsune's Avatar
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    Re: Balancing Accuracy and Emotion/Feel of a dialogue

    Sorry I completely missed the replies, I wasn't expecting any since it had been a while. Yes, I'll try to give some examples so I could explain better what I'm trying to get at.

    Coincidentally, a conversation with a friend (let's call him Yamamoto) a couple of days ago serves pretty well as an example:
    Quote Quote:
    Yamamoto: 完全に出待ちじゃねーか
    こいつちょっと
    どんだけ俺のこと好きなんだよ
    Yamamoto was talking about a persistent somebody who was waiting to make an appearance in front of him (to talk to him etc.)
    If I were translating this into English, it would be something like this:

    Quote Quote:
    Yamamoto: He's totally waiting for me ain't he?
    Com'on dude...
    He's so in love with me (man)
    Ok, here's my query:
    1) 出待ち generally refers to fans waiting by the exit for their celebrity to come out. I admit my lack of vocab so I couldn't think of the equivalent in English. I translated it into "waiting for me" in the above, though the true implication of the original phrase has the fan-celeb reference. A possible related term could be "stalk," so it will be: "He's totally stalking me isn't he?" However, "stalk" is too much in the negative compared to the original phrase.

    2) こいつちょっと Simply "That dude" could also work:
    "He's totally waiting for me ain't he? that dude..."
    Here, "that dude" serves to expressively conclude the previous phrase, at the same time adding more detail to it (dude/こいつ.) However, I also thought about "Com'on dude" as ちょっと suggests a reluctant and/or resentful tone.

    3) I prefer the English equivalent of どんだけ isn't really a literally parallel phrase, but rather an emphasis on the point that is about to be made. Therefore, it becomes "so." I stuck the emphasis from どんだけ along with なんだよ, and turned the whole thing into "man" at the end of the translated sentence. Because I thought, if it were simply "He's in love with me so much!" then it doesn't carry any of the suggested negativity from どんだけ and the likes.

    And then I thought, what if it ended in なのか, then would the translation be: "How much is he in love with me man?" Having translated this, I'm not satisfied with the flow of the sentence. Should it be something like お前どんだけ馬鹿なの? Then it would be something like, "How much of an idiot are you?" which flows perfectly. But not the other sentence, which involves the "he," who is committing an action towards "me." Please suggest to me a better translation ><; (Sorry if I sounded very confusing, I know that lol.)




    A second example to further my query is as follows:
    Quote Quote:
    つ・・・つえーな・・・ コホッコホッ
    まさかっ・・・ここで死ぬとは・・・
    残・・・念・・・っ
    ...which I randomly cooked up. (Pardon my case of chu2 lol.)

    Now, if I were to imagine different characters speaking these lines, my translation would vary:

    Eg.1 Edward Elric from FMA (cool, intelligent, confident character, 16 male):
    Quote Quote:
    "D...Damn strong... cough cough
    Can't believe... I'm gonna die here...
    How... regrettable..."
    "St... Strong"could do, but it's exactly these slangs which make me decide otherwise.

    Eg.2 Any Chinpira from Worst (gangster type more than anything else, 18 male), or Revy from Black Lagoon (badass killer, grew up killing, ~25 female):
    Quote Quote:
    "Fucking... strong... cough cough
    Can't believe... Imma die here...
    Shame..."
    "Shame," "What a shame," or something along these lines. "Yankees don't use big words" is my basis. Ignorant of me, but for the sake of grabbing the feel. For the same reason, I added the F word at the beginning, not only to be consistent with their swearing habit, but also attempt to reproduce the slang element in つえぇ.

    Eg.3 Kushieda Minori from Toradora, or Yamanaka Ino from Naruto (out-going character, good natured more than anything else, ~16 female)
    Quote Quote:
    "So... so strong... cough cough
    Can't believe... I'm going to die here...
    How... sad..."
    Above are the approximate translations for each of the examples. I have included a description of the character just in case you haven't come across of them, going as far as including multiple characters for the examples so you would at least be familiar with one of them. Sorry if I've still failed at attempting such.

    I do notice certain translations are not as transliteral as they could have been. For example, "So strong" could be translated back to 強すぎ, though if it were originally 強すぎ, "Too strong" would have been my choice.



    Sorry for being such a mouthful. I hope this would tidy up the point I'm trying to make. I typed this up over night (weekend yaay) so please be patient with me if certain ideas aren't clear enough ^^;

    ---------- Post added March 15, 2013 at 09:39 PM ---------- Previous post was March 02, 2013 at 05:47 AM ----------

    EDIT:



    Haha ahh I do know nothing beats a real example and it's pretty difficult to come by a clear, good one. Sorry for the confusion, please ignore the previous post if that was too messy to read.

    Recently I watched an episode of an episodic anime in which I thought the sub group did a good job getting around of the wording.

    Basically, this female student's been living off a male's student's bento at lunchtimes. The bento are usually tasty and colourful, except for the last two lunches which were nothing but purely veg and sausages respectively.

    After getting a sausage-ful bento shoved in her face, the girl said in a (ー口ー;;) kinda face,

    "一品物はやめてぇ~!"

    which was subsequently translated to:

    "What happened to variety?!"

    This dialogue also makes up the final scene in the episode, if this information is of any use.

    This is what I mean by compromising accuracy with expressiveness, if this is (finally) a lot clearer!
    Last edited by Utsune; March 03, 2013 at 02:19 PM. Reason: Too sleepy that even my English is messed up.

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    Translator 中級員 / Chuukyuuin / Member Kyouria's Avatar
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    Re: Balancing Accuracy and Emotion/Feel of a dialogue

    I think I get what you mean, but I'm not 100% sure (3:31 AM in the morning, "insomniac" speaking). When I translate from Korean to English, I get worried about things that get lost in translation. It's like - there's the emotions ("degree" of emotions), figurative speech, word-for-word translations (i.e. dictionary translations), etc. If I really get paranoid and exhibit "perfectionism" tendencies, I'll spend forever on trying to understand and translate something. I think this is due to how I'm not 100% fluent in the Korean language (there is a lot of vocabulary I don't know. I find myself referencing dictionaries online..).

    In difficult situations, it depends. If it's one of those "I have NO IDEA what this means!" moment, I'll skip it and hope another translator or editor can help me out. If I'm feeling up for the challenge, I'll delve deep into what the sentence means - whipping out dictionaries (multiple dictionaries, mind you - for accuracy). I read a forum article that was posted on a subbing site (all contributions are made by volunteers, I think..) and s/he suggested to sub fast and let editors and other members of the team do their work. When we're working as a solo, I think it's that much harder but also rewarding.

    td;lr
    - Dictionary use is very helpful
    - Go with your gut feeling / instinct
    - Ask for help (editors, proofreaders, fellow translators..)
    - Don't think too hard xD;

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    Translator/Moderator 英雄メンバー / Eiyuu Menbaa / Hero Member
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    Cursing:
    Quote Originally Posted by utsune
    つ・・・つえーな・・・ コホッコホッ
    まさかっ・・・ここで死ぬとは・・・
    残・・・念・・・っ
    I would not curse in English when a character does not in Japanese. For the example above, I would not curse there in English. He might be a tough guy who curses often in other scenes, but at lease he did not right before he died. That is the word choice by the manga artist. There may be a good reason for it. It sounds like character is accepting the reality without aggression and being truly satisfied. つえーな sounds more sincere than つえーじゃねーか which may be accompanied by チクショウ.

    - Other issues responding to previous posts -

    Japanese Dialect:
    I tend to use standard (US)English style. I DO NOT translate Japanese dialects into existing English dialects or grammatically incorrect words (such as ain't). Southern (US) dialects could add rural and possibly unsophisticated image, while the language in Kyoto, for example, were the old standard of the Capital.

    Improper English words:
    I avoid using words such as "ain't." Such words limit the socio-demographics of the speaker/character. For example, the speech by Gin in Bleach pattern is quite polite, which makes him mysterious and odd, but I have seen Gin using "ain't" quite often which delivers a wrong image of the character to readers.

    To me, adding too much flavor in English translations often risks distorting the original works, though it may make the English version more exciting and enjoyable for readers. I personally prefer using neutral words over being too creative.
    Last edited by mikkih; May 21, 2013 at 10:39 AM. Reason: monor, got rid of s

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    Intl Translator 下級員 / Kakyuuin / Jr. Member Sohma Riku's Avatar
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    I took translation studies course about two years ago (as part of my minor) and this was probably one of the main issue we all had to deal with: How do you translate nuances. I honestly can't remember all that much anymore, because most theories on "what is the perfect way to translate" were bit too far-fetched in my opinion, but I learned one really important thing during those classes and that's what I stick to when I translate.

    It doesn't matter how you translate (quite literal or more free, with or without nuances), as long as you can argue why you translated a sentence like that it's alright. A 100% perfect translation doesn't exist and there'll always be someone who dislikes your choice.

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    Translator 上級員 / Jyoukuuin / Sr. Member cmertb's Avatar
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    Re: How do you translate subtle nuances in Japanese?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sohma Riku View Post
    It doesn't matter how you translate (quite literal or more free, with or without nuances), as long as you can argue why you translated a sentence like that it's alright.
    It's hard to disagree with this approach. I.e., it's all fine as long as you have a good reason, and the rest is subjective. Which you can say to anyone who challenges you to end any useless argument.
    我は怠惰そのものである。

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