I’ve mentioned earlier that I think one of the reasons there haven’t been a lot of translation blogs on Fuwanovel is that a lot of advice the editing blogs are peddling could equally well be applied when translating. But how would that look? In this blog (and maybe series, but me and regular effort don’t tend to get along), I’ll try to show you the process of translating with an eye to using the structure of English writing rather than following the Japanese.
The great thing about being the translator rather than the editor (or editing while knowing Japanese, but that’s a luxury) is that you don’t have to go ask the translator if the structure of the Japanese prose, when copied, looks weird. You can just make the adjustment yourself, without worrying that you’re distorting the original meaning too much.
This post is primarily aimed at translators, but should hopefully be useful for editors as well. It is probable that some of the patterns shown here could just as well have been picked up by an editing blog; the main difference will be that I can also show how it looks in Japanese.
I am by no means perfect, and any comments or suggestions are appreciated.
In the spirit of leading by example, I’ll be quoting my in-occasional-progress translation of 私は今日ここで死にます (Watashi wa Kyou Koko de Shinimasu; ‘This is where I die today’). Me and Asonn have settled on the shorthand “shinimasu”, but the author’s comments actually use わた死 (“Watashi” with the last syllable using the kanji for ‘death’ that appears in “Shinimasu”). Thus the title.
Let’s start with three lines from the very beginning of the novel. Our protagonist 京介 (Kyousuke) has just seen a girl jump off a bridge, gone after her by jumping himself, and managed to get her out of the river and onto land. The reader doesn’t know this yet, however – the start just talks about what you’d do if you saw someone about to kill themselves.
|Japanese||Literalish translation||Adapted translation|
|「入水自殺、か」||“Suicide by drowning, huh.”||“Tried to drown yourself, huh…”|
|ぽつりと呟きつつ、腕の中でぐったりとしている“それ”を見る。||While mumbling a few words in a staccato manner, I look at “that” resting limply in my arms.||I look at the girl resting limply in my arms.|
|まだあどけない顔をした少女だ。||It is a girl with a face that is yet cherubic*.||Face innocent as a newborn babe’s.|
The adaptated first line is based on trying to get nuance right. While I mostly did it on instinct, we can motivate it more logically. In English, the literal version feels like something you’d say when starting to talk about a topic – I’d expect Kyou-boi to expound on the subject of suicide by drowning afterward. But in context he’s commenting on the specific act the girl in his arms has attempted. Another consideration is brought by the second line, which shows that Kyousuke is looking at said girl while saying this. So we’re looking for a line that sounds reasonable spoken to a person that can’t hear it. Which is a weird category now that I think of it, but not entirely uncommon. The ellipsis is questionable, especially when cutting ellipses is something editors do all the time in j>e translation, but I have a reason; it’ll be in the next line analysis.
The second line features a thing frequently found in Japanese visual novel writing that doesn’t really agree with English style conventions at all: describing speech after it’s already been said. Frequently this is entirely redundant information in a visual novel due to speaker tags, but in some cases it will contain some kind of judgement or opinion of the viewpoint character that you might want to preserve. These kinds of redundant lines is a good reason to ask whoever’s doing technical work on your translation if you can just plain remove lines (for example, they might be able to program something that detects the translated line being exactly “SKIP” and cuts those lines.) However, it should be noted that cutting these redundant lines will change the flow of a text. If it’s frequently used in a passage, you may end up with a very different feel than the Japanese ― perhaps this is worth it, but it’s something to take into consideration. わた死 doesn’t do this that frequently, however, so we probably don’t need to worry.
This gives a bit of motivation for adding the ellipsis in line #1; it makes the line more mutter-y in a way that doesn’t make it look weird. This is one strategy for dealing with structural incompatibility: move the piece of information where it does fit.
There’s more. The line doesn’t mention “that” being a girl, revealing this in the next line. I’m not sure why the author did this －maybe the lines read better in Japanese that way, and Japanese lines in succession often depend on each other － but the technique just looks weird in English. Thus, we move the information from line 3 to line 2 in our adaptation.
The third line is annoying because while we technically do have a word that fits あどけない fairly well, cherubic － angelic, innocent, and youthful － few people are likely to know it and it doesn’t really fit the register the Japanese word uses. As such I’ve tried to reword it, though honestly I’m not really satisfied. I’m also not entirely sure if I’m missing a nuance of まだ (yet in the literalish translation) I should be getting; it’s probably just consonant with あどけない as “still looking young”, but it could also be referring to her state of unconsciousness causing it or something. The next line that I’m not showing talks about her looking young for her age though, so we can at least use that. The other thing of structural interest is that we’ve moved the “girl” piece of information to the second line, as mentioned.
…Man this took a while and I only did three lines. I think I’m just going to post. Like, comment, watch the Shinimasu translation progress here, design a double-sided daki with both Yukas on it for me if you’re feeling generous.
As a bonus, have a few other examples of describing things after-the-fact and how I’ve currently handled them:
As you can see the pattern isn’t limited to just speech. Here I decide to go IN and use context to write a line half new.
Another thinking version.
And here’s one with 返す. Also this has mixed speech and narration, which I’ve tried to work into the English as well. Though I’m going to go change this to present tense now since I picked that later, fuck.