Thoughts on Translation

This week, I watched an episode of the anime I’m watching now, Hunter x Hunter (ハンターハンター). The ‘x’ is silent, by the way. Yes, so I was watching it, and a character said something that was translated by the subtitlers this way:



“いっぺん” (ippen) is a term that means “at once”. “死ね” (shine) is the command form of the verb “to die”. So… is “You can go to hell!” a good translation?

My friend Jeff said that he would have translated it as something like, “Die at once!” But that sounded too corny, he said, so he would have gone with, “Go off and die!” After all, there is a term that’s closer to “go to hell”: “地獄に落ちろ” (jikoku ni ochiro; literally, “Fall into hell!”)

Perhaps the subbers were trying to go for the feel of the expression? After all, do people (American people; since they’re the translators/target audience in this case) say, “Die!” or would “Go to hell!” be more culturally appropriate in expressing the concept?

Being true to the concept/feel is an important part of translation, I think. Take this excerpt from the late Louise Bennett-Coverly’s poem “Not Even Lickle Twang” for example. In 2012, Youthlink Magazine ran a dedication to her, featuring some of her poetry (in Patois), along with English translations:

Me glad fi see yuh come back, bwoy,    | I’m glad to see you’re back, son
But lawd, yuh let me dung                    | but I feel you’ve let me down.
Me shame a yuh so till all a                  | I am highly disappointed,
Me proudness drop a grung.                 | my pride has hit the ground.

The translation into English captures the general meaning of these lines, but, they do not capture the feel. “I am highly disappointed” turns the poem into a prim and proper expression that does not reflect the familiar mother-son interaction we see in the Patois text.

Why was that change made? Wouldn’t “very” be appropriate there? In fact, wouldn’t it have been fine to say, “I’m so disappointed that / my pride has hit the ground”? Perhaps the concepts people have about the roles and use of specific language had a role in this: For many Jamaicans, English is the language of formality, and Patwa is the language of casual expression. And so, you have a translation that inadvertently changes the register of the poem. Is that acceptable?

Of course, it depends on the kind of translation, and what the client demands, but it’s my opinion that a translator should work to stay as invisible as possible. That means that the reader should just be reading, and it should feel natural, without any strange translations to remind you that there was a translator involved.

But… how easy is that?

There is so much to consider in translating. There’s style, for one. Take a look at this, the title of one episode of Hunter x Hunter:

Screenshot from 2015-01-17 19:50:25

“Gungi of Komugi”… Hmm… Komugi is a character’s name. Gungi is a fictional chess-based board game designed for the franchise. The possession marker の (no) is used in the Japanese title. It’s translated “of” here… But isn’t that structure a bit odd in English? Wouldn’t “Komugi’s Gungi” be more natural? The subbers most likely used “of” to maintain the blahblah x blah x blahblah structure of the Japanese. But… does preserving this style justify that?

And from this example also comes the issue of untranslatability. All episode titles in this show are written in katakana, the writing system mostly reserved for representing foreign loanwords in Japanese. How do you represent that in English, which just has one alphabet that it uses to represent even words of foreign origins?

And, take this Jamaican proverb: “Waanti-waanti no geti-geti, an geti-geti no waant i.”

Sure, you can translate it directly: “Those who want don’t get, and those who get don’t want it.” You can even translate the intended meaning: “Be grateful for what you have, because others take those things for granted.” But you end up losing the rhythm, the rhyme, the reduplication (which English does not have), the pun of having the two parts of speech (“waanti” and “waant i”) having a similar sound…

I had no idea there was so much to translation.

I’ve been considering attempting some translations for fun and posting them up on this blog. It’d be good for me; develop my language skills, and, hopefully, my translation skills, too. I think I’ll try to translate some stuff into Patwa. Not many Patwa texts floating around the internet. Might start with this. We’ll see what happens…

Any ideas?

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous Language Issues, Patwa, 日本語 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts on Translation

  1. Lori says:

    Your mind never ceases to amaze me. Like, seriously!

    Liked by 1 person

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