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Waving goodbye to the wave dash ( 〜 ) in VN translations


Darbury

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Another day, another deep dive into the esoterica of visual novel punctuation. Next on our chopping block: the wave dash ( ), which looks an awful lot like the Western tilde (~) but functions nothing like it. Our refrain here is a familiar one: the wave dash has no place in well-localized English VNs and should be removed or replaced wherever possible. No ifs, no ands, but one very small but.

How  functions in Japanese
The wave dash has several fairly pedestrian functions in written Japanese, including separating ranges of values, which is handled by the en-dash () in English; denoting geographic origins; and separating title from subtitle, which is handled by the colon in English (e.g., Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo). These are all fairly boring, however, and if you’re an editor, your translator should already have converted such wave dashes to their Western equivalents.

Where things get interesting, and by “interesting” I mean “annoying,” is when we start looking at some more colloquial uses that pop up in translated VNs with alarming frequency.

  • The wave dash can be used to elongate and modulate a vowel sound, much like the long vowel mark (ー) in katakana. You’ll sometimes find  applied to the end of a word, and it’s implied that this longer sound is audibly “brighter.” Terms like “uptalk,” “vibrato/tremolo,” “kawaii” and “girlish” get thrown around a lot. (Think of the stereotypically perky “Ohayooooo” morning greeting you often hear in VNs or anime.) It’s usually a deliberate choice by the character, done to sound cute, funny, etc..
  • The wave dash can also be added to the end of a sentence to suggest the entire line should be read with that same brighter inflection – a happy sing-song of sorts. Or sometimes, it can signify literal musicality, as in the line should actually be sung. “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day
  • Less frequently, and usually in the context of digital communications, the wave dash can be used to suggest that a word or sentence should be read as being ironic/sarcastic. “Oh great. What a beautiful morning

As you can see, there are a bunch of possible readings of any given wave dash, and the correct interpretation depends largely on textual and cultural context. Add in the fact that is non-standard English punctuation that your average non-otaku isn't familiar with (never mind its various nuances), and it seems like a no-brainer to dump it and convey the intended meaning in clean, clear English instead.

But no. For some fecking reason, VNs are littered with these fecking squigglers. They’re fecking everywhere, like that scene in The Lost Boys where one of the Coreys, I don’t know which goddamn one, starts eating a takeout container of lo mein but Kiefer Sutherland or some other vampire guy gets all vampirey and is like, “Nuh-uh, Corey” and that selfsame Corey suddenly looks down and his delicious noodles have turned into thousands of these wriggling, white maggots and he can’t vom fast enough.

It’s literally like that. Literally.

The answer? Get rid of them.
Do your readers a kindness and remove wave dashes wherever you encounter them. If your translator has done their job right, you’ll have all the context you need to turn those dashes into well-formed English that anyone can understand. That doesn’t always mean stretching out the last letters preceding the wave dash, mind you. That ways lies disasteeeeeer. All you need to do is ask yourself one simple question: How would it sound natural if a native English-speaker rephrased this line? That’s it!

Let’s look at some examples. The easiest is where the English usage matches the Japanese, such as stretching out a vowel. So imagine a character walks into a dark and spooky house, then calls out to see if anyone’s home.

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JP: Hello
EN: Helloooooo!

What about cute inflections? Well, English is a rich language; there are plenty of ways to make a sentence sound perkier:

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JP: This maggot rice is delicious
EN: This maggot rice is dee-lish!

JP: I like that shirt on you~
EN: That shirt is so cute on you!

JP: Good morning, sleepyhead 
EN: Rise and shine, sleepyhead!

There’s no magic formula, and it's not rocket science. It's just sitting down and rewriting. And if you’re doing your job as an editor, you should pretty much be rewriting every single line anyway, so it’s no added hardship.

The one, small exception
If you remember, I mentioned digital communications a little earlier. This is the one place where I’d recommend you let a sleeping wave dash lie. Typographical oddities (such as emoticons) are part and parcel of the electronic vernacular, so it feels much more natural to let them stay in a text or an IM that’s being quoted verbatim. You want your reader to feel like they’re seeing exactly what the character has on their screen. Just make sure you’ve edited these lines so the English meaning will still be clear if the wave dashes were removed.

After all, there’s a world of difference between “Great advice, Darbury ” and “Great advice, Darbury

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You haven't convinced me yet. I'll see what I think in a few months~

The tilde is actually used in English in casual textual conversation. https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/19moay/eli5_what_is_a_tilde_used_for_and_why_have_people/c8pewhq

It's not an otaku-stemming punctuation, I think a lot of younger people would recognize it, the people who are familiar with msging/posting on the internet.

You wouldn't put it in a literary novel, but in a light-hearted visual novel, sure.

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1 hour ago, Chronopolis said:

It's a mathematical symbol for approximation that lazy people on the internet have coined because it involves less typing, or maybe the character limitation in twitter encourages it. People recognise it as such, but I don't think this aligns with the Japanese use of the tilde. Which means the tilde, as Japan uses it, is completely meaningless for Western audiences ... unless they use it to mean 'approximation'. While translations targeted at the otaku audience might want to keep them, it's completely reasonable to expect them to be deleted from translations targeting an audience not familiar with Japanese culture.

EDIT: Scroll down to the 'Algebra' section, and it's the 5th symbol from the top - http://www.rapidtables.com/math/symbols/Basic_Math_Symbols.htm 

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Continuing:

I honestly wouldn’t use it in prose anyway. It doesn’t modify English prose in any way, it’s just a short cut for a word, which comes across as lazy. You may as well start typing sections in shorthand. Also, sticking a math symbol in the middle of a piece of fiction tends to jolt readers out of the story. You don’t have space limitations in a novel, so you're better off just typing the word.

Similarly I wouldn’t use it in dialogue. It doesn’t modify the tone of what was said in any way (in English) and again it’s a short cut for a word. The above criticisms still apply.

Like Darbury said, the only place I’d use it is when you’re replicating the appearance of something which was written. Otherwise I don’t see the purpose of it, TBH.

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13 hours ago, Chronopolis said:

The tilde is actually used in English in casual textual conversation. https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/19moay/eli5_what_is_a_tilde_used_for_and_why_have_people/c8pewhq

It's not an otaku-stemming punctuation, I think a lot of younger people would recognize it, the people who are familiar with msging/posting on the internet.

If we take our idea of what's acceptable in professional English writing from Internet usage, we'll be falling down a deep, deep hole for a very long time. To Rooke's point, that tilde is a linguistic cheat, shorthand for emotion in situations where brevity and typing speed matter more than precision. Think of it as a one-character emoticon. And if we say this particular emoticon cheat is fair game, why not all the other emoticons? Rather than make thoughtful use of language to convey whether a person's dialogue is happy or sad or teasing, we could just stick :-) or :-( or :-P at the end of every other line. So much easier, right?

I'll be blunt: it makes for lazy writing. And worse yet, it makes for uninteresting writing.

Besides, you're kind of making my case for me. Your example shows the tilde (which looks a lot like the wave dash, but isn't) being used to indicate casual sarcasm. Then we have the wave dash (which looks a lot like the tilde, but isn't) being used to indicate bubbly joy. Oh, and also sometimes sarcasm. Oh, and also sometimes singing. So when a reader sees something squiggly at the end of a line, how are they supposed to interpret it? Is it uplift or put-down? Or pop hit? You might say the reader should figure it out from context, but in a translated VN, cultural context is an ocean away and linguistic context sits at the end of a long game of TL telephone. It's an iffy proposition at best.

I'll be blunt again: to leave squiggles at the end of a line is to leave a work partially untranslated. And in this case, the burden gets shifted onto the shoulders of an unprepared reader.

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Oh, and also sometimes sarcasm. Oh, and also sometimes singing. So when a reader sees something squiggly at the end of a line, how are they supposed to interpret it? Is it uplift or put-down? Or pop hit?

I'm saying that the tilde ~ is an english term that's used in pretty similiar ways as the japanese 'wave-dash' ~. And the tilde isn't the only context-sensitive lexical unit in the English language by far. The reader can tell something like this:

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For example, if I were to say "Oh, that's so nice~" it wouldn't be sarcastic, just sing-songy. But if I were to say "Oh, that's ~so nice", it would be. I actually don't see it in front like that that often, usually just at the end of a sentence.

 

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Besides, you're kind of making my case for me. Your example shows the tilde (which looks a lot like the wave dash, but isn't) being used to indicate casual sarcasm. Then we have the wave dash (which looks a lot like the tilde, but isn't) being used to indicate bubbly joy. Oh, and also sometimes sarcasm. Oh, and also sometimes singing.

AFAIK, the tilde can be used in all of those situations.

I can understand if you don't think it should be used in story text because it's a colloquial slang punctuation, but it is an actually used in English, for some time now.

Random Source: https://forum.blockland.us/index.php?topic=165572.0

The OP doesn't know what's going on, but the other members seem to be aware of the term. I've also used it as far back as high school in msg'ing (don't know how I picked it up though...), before I even started learning Japanese. Yes, fight me.

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22 hours ago, Chronopolis said:

Yes, fight me.

Dammit! Where's my "You're already dead" GIF when I need it. :D

Let's gather what we know.

The Japanese wave dash:
- is most often used to apply audible brightness to a word or phrase. It appears both in electronic communications (IM, texts, emails, message board postings, etc.) and light writing, but not in formal circumstances.
- is much less frequently used to impart irony/sarcasm to a word or phrase. As far as I know, this usage is largely limited to e-communications. I'd welcome the input of a native speaker, though
- typically appears at the end of a word/phrase/sentence.
- has long since hit critical mass in Japanese pop culture. If you use a wave dash in Japan, your reader will likely know what it means.

The English tilde:
- is most often used to impart irony/sarcasm to a word or phrase. (I also quite like this BuzzFeed article's take, which suggests the tilde indicates ambiguity, working to destabilize language.) This is almost entirely limited to casual e-communications. To the best of my knowledge, I have never seen this usage in a book, magazine article, handwritten note, etc.
- is much less frequently used to brighten a word or phrase. Again, this is almost entirely limited to casual e-communications, and appears to be copying Japanese wave dash usage. (Similarly, I'd suggest the ironic use of the wave dash is on loan from the Western tilde.) Arguably limited to the halo of those with an affinity for Japanese media.
- typically appears at the beginning and end of the inflected phrase.
- is far from hitting critical mass in Western pop media. A quick google will show lots of threads like the one you linked, with people wondering what the hell that squiggly thing does. Worse yet, the answers are inconsistent. Some people mention only the kawaii inflection. Some people mention only the ironic inflection. Some people mention both, but aren't sure when one applies instead of the other. And some get it right. It's a crap shoot.

So we have two different characters that look a lot alike but, in their most common casual usage, have two very different functions. The wave dash is joyful, the tilde is ironic. Not helping matters any is that, when you least expect it, one mark may decide to appropriate the other's meaning just for fun. This is a goddamned minefield for any VN translation. It's introducing additional ambiguity into a process (JP->EN translation) that is already fraught with unintentional ambiguity. This is not a good thing for writers or readers.

Just because you, or even your friends, can navigate this minefield, that doesn't mean the larger community of English readers can do so reliably. Nor does it justify why those mines even need to be there in the first place. :D

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TBH, I didn't realize that tilde was used as sarcasm, and not so chaotically. For the double tilde ~sarcasm~, you can just use asterisks, or italics if possible. People use tilde's probably because they stand out even more.

Honesty, I would just use the tilde at the end of words and lines.

Thinking about it, the cutesy sing-song version of ~ may have come from Japan, but the use of ~ to playfully/casually extend a word and soften a phrase "You coming today~?" may have well originated in western messaging. The reason why I think that is that in messaging, there is a real need for that function, and the tilde does that pretty naturally.

Anyways, I see the point you're making, and I agree that ambiguity should be avoided (within reason).

My stance is that in TL's~ is that the used as an extender. What is precisely does as an extender depends on the sentence and the word it follows (almost always the last word in the sentence), but it's useful and fairly expressive, which is why I prefer it. Finding a substitute for it takes more brainpower and extending words are ugly. Also, it's not like the likely substitutions aren't ever ambiguous either.

Quote

JP: This maggot rice is delicious
EN: This maggot rice is dee-lish!

Eww... No comment, otherwise.

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JP: I like that shirt on you~
EN: That shirt is so cute on you!

Here, in the first version, you can imagine the speaker with a grin/smile as they blissfully hold out the end of the sentence. For the exclamation point, it seems like the speaker is gushing (ie. Wow!). If the speaker is a cutesy energetic character all the time, the exclamation actually might convey it perfectly, since you'll read it out in that tone.

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JP: Good morning, sleepyhead 
EN: Rise and shine, sleepyhead!

The exclamation mark can be read as the person snapping at/scolding the other person. Now, the seperating comma and the fact that 'sleepyhead' is a gentle word helps the remark sound playful. In this case, it's easier if you sub-vocalized.

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How would it sound natural if a native English-speaker rephrased this line?

That question contains the very essence of what editing is about. Not just about 〜, but in general. It goes for everything. Perhaps a bit more precise: "how would this line be written if it was originally written from scratch by a native English speaker and not based on a translation?".

 

Reading the bullet lines I conclude it's one of those signs/words I don't like. The issue is that the meaning depends on context and sometimes the context doesn't provide the answer. This mean two people can read the same text and they end up not having read the same contents. Text should be clear and strait forward to deliver the meaning. Sure a VN could be intentionally vague to postpone revealing what really goes on until later, but that's not what I'm talking about here. It's about wanting to be clear and then write it in a way where people can read it in multiple ways. Considering that 〜 comes with such an issue, it can only be too slow to get rid of it and replaced with something, which can't be read in multiple ways.

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18 hours ago, tymmur said:

It goes for everything. Perhaps a bit more precise: "how would this line be written if it was originally written from scratch by a native English speaker and not based on a translation?"

Yup! Moogy has said much the same thing, and I consider it to be his best piece of advice by far. In fact, I'll quote it below in its entirety:

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The Rewrite Rule. This is my “secret weapon,” as it were, and I think it’s probably the most important part of my approach to editing. Basically, The Rewrite Rule states that you must rewrite every sentence you come across from scratch, so as to ensure that you are dealing with sentences constructed from an English standpoint, as opposed to a Japanese one. It’s okay if you end up typing the same thing as the translator originally put – that just means that you have confirmed that it was fine to begin with. If you end up with something considerably different, then congratulations, you’ve just turned Engrish into English. Gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

 

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