Saturday, November 19, 2016

Translation Gems and Oddities

Until the Full Moon, Broccoli translation
When reading manga, one realizes that translation is an art. That realization is quickly followed by, "It's amazing that anyone can do this!"

How it gets done will be the subject of an upcoming series of posts: An Interview with a Translator, which will run on this blog and on Votaries of Horror.

In this post, I focus on a non-translator's perception of why translation is so difficult and why it produces such wonderful gems and oddities.

Translation is difficult because language is more than denotation. That is, language is more than 1:1 definitions. It involves connotation as well. A particular word defines as "arrogant";  within context, it could be translated as "cocky" or "self-confident" or "proud."

Whatever Roget's Thesaurus tries to tell you, those words are not all the same.

Not only does translation involve connotation, it involves idioms ("easy as pie"), colloquialisms ("what's up?"), slang, and swear words (a particular conundrum for translators of Japanese).

Until the Full Moon, KC translation
For the translator, all of this is compounded by the gap between intent and meaning. I can read Shakespeare's "To be or not to be" speech and come up with an interpretation entirely separate from someone else's interpretation. That's part of the fun! Language is inherently ambiguous.

But a translator must--to a degree--make a decision about meaning.

In Broccoli's translation of Until the Full Moon by Sanami Matoh (above panel), David says, "You're both, Marlo" in response to Marlo's complaints; in KC's translation (to the left), he says, "You're still the same person though."

In the first case, David's response could refer to Marlo's tendency to revert back to being a man after the full moon AND to his current lousy feelings: You're both: a guy right now and you're not feeling good. The response falls into the category of repartee: I'm reacting to all of you in this moment--haven't you noticed?

The KC translation is far less ambiguous. David is reminding Marlo that whether he is a guy or gal, he's still Marlo. The difference between the two translations is subtle but noteworthy. So much can be read into so little.

And then there's all that grammar stuff.

Generally speaking, I find manga translations (straight dialog) more consistently grammatically and syntactically accurate than novel translations (dialog and exposition). Novel translations occasionally bring out the editor in me: "What's up with these vague pronouns and passive voice? Where's my red pencil?"

That is, until I read a novel translation and think, "Wow! What smooth writing. I love the similes. The writer did an amazing job!"

Don't take my word for it. As the upcoming interview will indicate, the work of translation can be a labor of love--labor being the operative word.

Coming soon: Interview with a Translator, Part I