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POLL: To San or Not to San (Honorifics in VNs)


Darbury

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Should Japanese honorifics be kept in VN translations?  

40 members have voted

  1. 1. Should Japanese honorifics be kept in VN translations?

    • All honorifics all the time, Darbury-san.
      11
    • Prefer honorifics, but okay with them being dropped for some VNs.
      20
    • No preference. Don't care. Playing Fallout 4. Go away.
      4
    • Prefer no honorifics, but okay with them being kept for some VNs.
      4
    • Keep your damn dirty honorifics out of my VNs.
      1

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I just had an extra big breakfast, so I thought I'd pull up a chair and solve one of the most hotly debated issues facing the English-speaking VN community today. No, no need for thanks. Just name a stadium or sandwich after me at some point. Or both.

Ready? Here we go. Honorifics or no honorifics? Should translated visual novels maintain the traditional Japanese cavalcade of name suffixes — san, kun, chan, sama, and so forth? Or should they adopt a more familiar Western approach, dropping honorifics entirely and/or replacing them with English titles — Mr., Mrs., Sir, etc. — only where situationally appropriate?

San? Or sans san?

I've thought long and hard on the matter and I think I've finally figured it out. Here's the answer you've all been waiting for.

ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE?

Haven't you been reading this blog? Did you really think a self-professed amateur VN editor would suddenly crack the code wide open and save the day? I’m quite literally an idiot. My wife will back me up on that one. And besides, this isn't some question with an obvious answer, like "Should I put ketchup on my steak?" (Answer: No. And if you do, you're an awful person who probably pushes elderly nuns in front of buses when you think no one's looking, then steals their mangled nun panties.)

In fact, that question doesn't even have an answer, per se; it has a decision tree. Imagine your friend asks you, "Should I get a tattoo?" There are a lot of considerations to run through before you can give an answer. What kind of job do they have? Bankers and bartenders each have different leeway when it comes to full-sleeve tats. What's the context of their question? Is your friend asking you this over coffee? Or looking up at you from a vomit-filled toilet bowl in a way off-Strip Vegas casino? And what's the tattoo of? If it's Tweety Bird, then it's off to prison with them, along with all the steak-on-ketchup panty sniffers.

Same for honorifics. There's no one-size-fits-all answer — only questions and considerations. And the first big branch of that decision tree: Who are your readers and why do they read VNs?

The Battle Lines Are Drawn
By and large, we can break VN readers down into two camps: story-seekers and culture-seekers. It’s an overgeneralization, of course — there’s some drift and overlap between these two groups — but it will give us a useful starting point for our discussion.

Story-seekers tend to read visual novels for the plot, for the romance, for the giant mechs, for the faps, and for THE FEELS, MAN, THE FEELS. The fact that these stories are Japanese in origin is kinda cool, but secondary to the overall experience. As a group, they value readability over verisimilitude. They don’t get their stolen nun panties in a bunch because Ixrec’s translation of Rewrite doesn’t capture every last nuance of the Japanese, or even gets a few lines wrong at times. They just sit back and enjoy the ride. And for them, honorifics are often just weeaboo speedbumps that interfere with said ride.

Culture-seekers, on the other hand, tend to read VNs not only for the story, but to indulge their passion for Japanese culture. They might speak Japanese, or they might be in the process of learning to do so. Visual novels are often a means to an end: they read VNs in part to practice their Japanese. (And they practice Japanese to read VNs. Loopity-loopity-loop.) Culture-seekers enjoy the inherent Japanese-ness of the medium — seeing the subtle social interplay of honorifics at work, for example — so for them, stripping away “san” to please some Naruto-watching noobs is like throwing away part of the story.

As a translator or editor, you will inevitably piss off one of these camps. Sorry, that’s just how it is. You’re dealing with two groups of people who have inherently different motivations for reading the same work. And you can only translate/edit one way. Sucks, right? To extend my steak metaphor, it’s like owning a restaurant that, for logistical reasons, can only cook its steaks to one temperature — rare or well-done. And it’s up to you to pick which. If you go with rare, all the well-done lovers will give your little bistro one-star reviews on Yelp. And if you choose well-done, the folks who like their steaks blue and bloody will come at you with knives drawn.

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In a way, this becomes sort of liberating. No matter what you do, you will annoy a good chunk of your audience. This is fait accompli. So you’re now free to do what you actually think is right for the work, knowing it won’t really affect the outcome much.

Of course, you’re also probably in one of those two camps yourself. (I know I am.) As such, you probably have an clear bias toward a particular approach — san or sans san. And you know what? That’s fine. Recognize your bias. Embrace it. Make friends with the fact that you prefer to translate/edit one way or the other. Then remember the advice I gave a few blog entries back: You are not your audience. Your close friends are not your audience. The message boards you follow are not your audience.

Your audience is your audience; its needs may differ from yours. And the novel is the novel; its needs may also differ from yours.

So here’s what I propose: Rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach to every VN, just accept that, all things being equal, you will probably prefer one approach to editing/translation over the other. And then leave yourself open to the possibility of changing that approach based on the specific needs of the VN and the audience for that VN. Handle it the same way you would that friend asking about the tattoo. Is getting inked right for them right now? And is including honorifics right for the audience and right for the novel?

Let’s walk through some questions you might ask yourself while making that decision:

Who’s the primary audience for the VN?
Are your readers primarily story-seekers or culture-seekers? Is your VN some niche title that appeals only to otakus, or is it a game with broad crossover appeal? A stronger case could be made for honorifics in the former situation; less so in the latter

What's the setting of the visual novel?
If your characters are all alien catgirls on a spaceship 23,000,000 light years from Earth, it's harder to justify keeping in honorifics than if you’ve got a cast of high school students in modern-day Japan.

Are the honorifics plot-relevant?
Is there any good story-related reason for all the sans and kuns to be there? Is the central conflict of the VN about whether the protagonist and his best girl are ready to go first name-only? If so, you have a better case for keeping honorifics than if they're just there as subtle social shading.

Is the visual novel voiced?
This one's common sense. You’ll have an easier time not including honorifics if the reader isn’t hearing them in VO. And vice versa.

How annoying are the honorifics?
This one is totally subjective, but it needs to be asked. Some writers tend to favor narration over dialogue, so their scripts will have fewer honorifics to deal with. Other writers love the rhythms of slice-of-life dialogue, so their prose might be a minefield of sans and chans. Read the script aloud. How jarring is it to the ear?

Is this an OELVN?
Stop it. Just stop it already. You don’t need honorifics. You’re writing a novel in English for an English-speaking audience, for crissakes. Don’t make me come back there.

Run down the decision tree. Be honest with yourself. Is there enough evidence to make you reconsider your approach to this novel? Are you an anti-honorific type editing a VN set in feudal Japan, where one missing “sama” could mean the difference between life or death for the characters? Consider keeping them in. Are you a pro-honorific person translating a VN about competitive bread baking in Paris? Consider ditching them.

Full Disclosure
I’m a story-seeker. Given my druthers, I will choose to omit honorifics from a VN for the sake of more readable English prose. I’m fairly certain that if it’s possible to translate Murakami and Kurosawa into English without honorifics, it should be more than possible to do the same for some random high school moege.

I admit you might be losing a certain amount content by omitting those honorifics — clues about the social standing of various characters in relation to one another, not to mention their personalities — but as far as I'm concerned, it’s content that can either be (a) baked into the script via other contextual clues, or (b) written off as redundant — that is to say, most of what those honorifics are communicating will already be apparent through the rest of the dialogue and on-screen action.

I also admit that my sans-san approach won’t be the right one in every situation. Same goes for the opposite approach. Every work and every audience demands its own solution. Your job is to stop for a moment and ask yourself what that solution is.

And then be willing to listen to the answer.

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I think that honorifics are very important and that they can say a lot about how one character views another one as well as sometimes give you a better picture of characters personality and that they should practically never be drooped out of translation.

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The only reason to leave them in is because taking them out makes certain situations an absolute pain in the ass. For example, when characters specifically mention the honorific, or go from calling someone A-san to just A, or A-kun/A-chan. For example, one scene in the game I'm editing has the main character meet a heroine for the first time, and the dialogue goes something like,

"Okay, Mizunose." 

"...No honorific?"

"Ah, sorry. I'm not really good with these things."

If you were to take out honorifics, you'd basically be forced to rewrite the entire dialogue here.

I'm sure people that translate literature more than likely just cut things like that out, as they probably do with every "Itadakimasu.", because they can. Though translations of things like VNs and anime are less at liberty with what they can and can't do, so it's more easier to just leave them in and expect the reader to understand them decently enough (which the vast majority of these people do). 

 

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Leaving 'san' in is a perfectly fine translation philosophy only when the term and the cultural significance is explained in footnotes (or explained in the game.) If you'll note, more literal translations in literature are accompanied by hundreds of footnotes at the end, and more liberal translations in genre fiction usually aren't. This is because assuming the audience has prior knowledge of another culture while translating is an incredibly flawed translation philosophy. The idea that 'these words are incredibly common, the audience will know what they mean', which is an idea commonly floated, is weird logic that I don't subscribe to -> you translate for those who don't know the language, and thus during that process you don't assume that they already do, in fact, know the language.

If footnotes are incorporated, or explanations, sure, feel free to keep honorifics in. But if not, then under no situation is keeping honorifics a satisfactory translation philosophy and I really don't give a toss what culture seekers think on the matter. Because you're translating for ALL non-Japanese speakers, not just a select portion of them.

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I think that honorifics are very important and that they can say a lot about how one character views another one as well as sometimes give you a better picture of characters personality and that they should practically never be drooped out of translation.

You’re a culture-seeker who would like VNs to be translated with other culture-seekers in mind. That’s perfectly okay. Wear your otaku team jacket with pride. :)

Honorifics contain content. I think we can all agree on that. The question we then need to ask ourselves is: How much of that content is both relevant and non-redundant? If 99.9% of honorific use in a VN is exactly what one would expect of society — people being generally polite to one another, people being deferential to their superiors, people treating little kids like little kids, etc. — then it’s not adding content; it’s repeating and reinforcing it.

Same goes for the .1% of exceptions where honorific use becomes important. Let’s say a low-level employee decides to mouth off to his boss and, as part of that, drops all honorifics. Is that omission the only thing showing us that the employee is being a jackass, or are there a dozen other tells signifying the same thing — e.g., has he just ripped off his tie, swept the contents of his desk on the floor, and called his boss a dumb jerkface? If so, then the honorifics are just reinforcing what we already know. 

To me, a story-seeker, if something in a translation ends up being both redundant and linguistically awkward, it’s a good candidate for the chopping block. Or I'll ask myself if there's a more natural way of capturing that same content in English. Perhaps most employees address the boss with a polite "Mr. Tanaka, sir..." But our employee marches right up and says, "Yo! Tanaka!"

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Because you're translating for ALL non-Japanese speakers, not just a select portion of them.

Most forms of media are targeted towards specific people. A translation of a media is the same. Most otaku-related media retain honorifics, and as a result the vast majority of anyone who consumes any otaku material knows what they mean due to experience. It's not like otaku stuff is even that friendly towards newcomers in the first place, since so many of the common tropes involve actual Japan cultural events and practices. 

If I were translating something for a general audience who knew nothing culturally about Japan, I'd take out honorifics and probably more than just that. Most mainstream game translations replace cultural things too. 

Though if I'm translating something for an audience that already is familiar with their usage, I'm not going to go through the extra hassle of figuring out elaborate ways to work around eliminating honorifics for the benefit of a tiny, tiny number of potential readers.  

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Most forms of media are targeted towards specific people. A translation of a media is the same. Most otaku-related media retain honorifics, and as a result the vast majority of anyone who consumes any otaku material knows what they mean due to experience.

While that makes sense on one level, it also becomes a self-perpetuating cycle:

  1. VNs are read mostly by otakus. As a result, we won't translate things that otakus already know.
  2. We didn't translate things that otakus already know. As a result, our VN tended to be read only by otakus. 

Or to use a more absurd example:

  1. Very few women come to our sports bar. As a result, we didn't bother to add a women's bathroom.
  2. We didn't bother to add a women's bathroom. As a result, very few women come to our sports bar.

As someone who hopes to see VNs grow and flourish in the West, I prefer translations that keep the largest possible receptive audience for that title in mind. And you know what? Sometimes that's still otakus. But more often than not, it's much broader.

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I think that honorifics are very important and that they can say a lot about how one character views another one as well as sometimes give you a better picture of characters personality and that they should practically never be drooped out of translation.

You’re a culture-seeker who would like VNs to be translated with other culture-seekers in mind. That’s perfectly okay. Wear your otaku team jacket with pride. :)

Honorifics contain content. I think we can all agree on that. The question we then need to ask ourselves is: How much of that content is both relevant and non-redundant? If 99.9% of honorific use in a VN is exactly what one would expect of society — people being generally polite to one another, people being deferential to their superiors, people treating little kids like little kids, etc. — then it’s not adding content; it’s repeating and reinforcing it.

Same goes for the .1% of exceptions where honorific use becomes important. Let’s say a low-level employee decides to mouth off to his boss and, as part of that, drops all honorifics. Is that omission the only thing showing us that the employee is being a jackass, or are there a dozen other tells signifying the same thing — e.g., has he just ripped off his tie, swept the contents of his desk on the floor, and called his boss a dumb jerkface? If so, then the honorifics are just reinforcing what we already know. 

To me, a story-seeker, if something in a translation ends up being both redundant and linguistically awkward, it’s a good candidate for the chopping block. Or I'll ask myself if there's a more natural way of capturing that same content in English. Perhaps most employees address the boss with a polite "Mr. Tanaka, sir..." But our employee marches right up and says, "Yo! Tanaka!"

I think that you are forgetting one important thing, you here speak only about cases when it is obvious that one would use honorific and witch he would use, what I am speaking is about honorific that friends use between themselves, it is not that rare in anime, Manga and VNs for one character to refer to another with chan while the other one calls him back with san even true there is no clear reason for it other then their personalities and the way they see each other and for that there is no way for a reader to assume so and to know about it unless honorifics are there unless you ware to completely rewrite the way characters talk. Not always is there a way to correctly capture the content in English without loosing or changing even more of original content in a process and most of the time when you try to do so that is exactly what is going to happen, Translation of games like Hyper Dimension Neptunia are proof for that. Also majority of people who are into Otakuism prefer for those things like honorifics, and for people who don't understand those they are probably not going to understand many other things anyway regardless of translation.

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I think that you are forgetting one important thing

 Only one? I usually forget at least a baker’s dozen. :)

it is not that rare in anime, Manga and VNs for one character to refer to another with chan while the other one calls him back with san even true there is no clear reason for it other then their personalities and the way they see each other

The same questions would apply. Is the information contained in these honorifics redundant? Is “chan” vs. “san” the only sign there’s a slight formality imbalance between these two? Or does one character consistently act more informally/intimately around the other? If yes, then the information contained in the honorifics might be redundant. If not, we ask ourselves if something so subtle is worth sacrificing some of the readability of our English prose. Culture-seekers will say yes; story-seekers will say no. And that’s my point — there’s no one clear answer. Only questions.

I mean, let’s face it — translation is an inherently lossy process. Let’s look at another example, shamelessly swiped from this paper on Chinese translation:

If we translate the sentence “早上好,表姐!”into “Good morning, my female-cousin-on-maternal-or-paternal-aunt’s-side-elder-than-myself”, Western readers would find it too absurd and ridiculous to accept, though the translation is exact in meaning. So, in the translating activity, we have to remove the exact kinship and only translate it into “Good morning, my cousin”. 

Data — in this case, pretty specific and detailed data — is lost in translation all the time for the sake of readability. It’s up to the translator and editor to decide where to draw the line of what’s acceptable compromise and what isn’t. And that decision isn’t always black or white.

Also majority of people who are into Otakuism prefer for those things like honorifics, and for people who don't understand those they are probably not going to understand many other things anyway regardless of translation.

See my earlier note about self-perpetuating cycles. :) 

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Haven't read everything but I'll partialy agree with Rooke's and Okami's first posts. Keep the honorifics but add translation notes, thousands of them if needed. However, games without voice acting don't really need them unless they're relevant somehow. OELVNs with honorifics are usually made by bad/unexperienced writers, a -san or a -senpai here and there are likely the last thing you'll cringe about when reading such work. Seriously, translation notes are your friends, you can keep part of the moon runes while also presenting newcomers with what they'll face should they choose to look for more stuff in japanese.

I like having the honorifics but unless they're needed somehow or the game has voice acting, I'd probably take them out. As an example of a game where the honorifics are kinda needed, let's take F/SN. If you already read it, chances are the word "Senpai" will remind you of Sakura and Shirou, mostly for the repetition I'll admit, but if you consider the cultural aspect of such thing (her calling him "Senpai" all the time), then maybe it's good that they didn't changed it to just "Shirou". In this case, we can feel that Sakura is a polite girl, it also tells us that Shirou is someone who's "more experienced" than her at something or simply that he's an year or more above her at school. Talking about that, the school setting is so frequent that leaving the honorifics is simply more practical. >.>

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I'd say honorifics should be always dropped, when they bare no significance to the context of the story. It's a japanese thing and it should be left for japanese; there's literally no valid reason to keep them, aside from translator's whim, when all they add is nothing more than another layer of flavor to your moe.

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I'd say honorifics should be always dropped, when they bare no significance to the context of the story. It's a japanese thing and it should be left for japanese; there's literally no valid reason to keep them, aside from translator's whim, when all they add is nothing more than another layer of flavor to your moe.

You are saying that there is no valid reason to keep them completely ignoring all the reasons people stayed above. Also otakuism being created by Japan has many Japanese things in it that are part of otakuism and shouldn't be changed.

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I believe a few fan patches have a readme with a short gothrough of the various honorifics, so that's a possibility. Whether anyone except me actually reads them is anyone's guess.

Personally? I don't really care - but if I had to make a polarized choice either way I'd go the no-honorific way (naturally I chose the Fallout 4 option, though personally I'll be watching Psycho-Pass and reading Amairo instead.) I also think that your poll doesn't quite capture a potential "prefer it in only if it's somewhat plot relevant" position, which is more where I'd end up at. Keeping it is also less important in voiced dialogue, because I can probably pick it up from the Japanese anyway.

For an opinion less based on personal preference, I think it's best to leave them out so we can open up the medium to non-weebs. Leaving them in is generally the lazy choice, but given how lazy I am, I can't blame any translator for being the same.

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Sometimes not using honorifics can screw up a dialog much later on in the story, for example there was a vn that almost by the end the characters were having a discussion on why the MC wasn't adding honorific to the heroine when he was addressing her, there is no way to fix that other than changing that entire dialog and making something up. Also honorifics are part of the culture in Japan so if you want to keep that intact and stay true to the meaning of what you are reading and translating then you should keep them.
Yes you are translating a vn for a western public that they might or might not understand or know everything about the Japan culture but if they are reading a vn (which is a Japanese creation) then they probably know about it and if they don't they should, why else would they be reading it?
 

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The blog post makes some great points that I hadn't considered before, especially the importance of setting for this decision. And the presence or lack of voice acting is also clearly important - when I can hear the honorifics, it's probably going to bother me a little bit if they're not there (though just a very little bit). If it's not voiced, I really won't care at all.

However, one thought: you can, in theory, avoid the choice altogether by providing both options and a configuration switch. If I recall correctly, the US MariMite DVD release subtitles actually have exactly this choice (subtitles with honorifics, or without). You're still left choosing a default, but there is an obvious answer there: optimize for the people who don't even understand the concept by stripping honorifics out, and to satisfy the people who will know and be upset if honorifics aren't there, tell them they can enable it.

That said, I'm well aware that this idea is likely to be laughed out of the room due to the high costs it incurs (I expect, to some extent, you'd end up editing and QAing two scripts, which would obviously suck), but nonetheless, you do have the option to make both sides happy by providing a choice. This is somewhat of a false dilemma.

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I had no clue what Korean honorifics meant when I started reading scanlated Korean manhwa. I figured them out quickly enough without footnotes. I'd like to think I can assume the same of other readers.

Personally, I'd probably go insane if I tried to read something translated from Japanese without honorifics where they are appropriate, but I'm obviously biased here.

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Sometimes not using honorifics can screw up a dialog much later on in the story, for example there was a vn that almost by the end the characters were having a discussion on why the MC wasn't adding honorific to the heroine when he was addressing her, there is no way to fix that other than changing that entire dialog and making something up. 

That's a very good point. Chuee brought up a similar scenario earlier in the comments. In situations like that, it all comes down to a few factors — e.g., how critical is the discussion in question to the plot, how skilled are the translator and editor, etc? Sometimes, the content might be so deeply embedded that it's impossible to find a workaround, which would be a good argument for keeping honorifics in that particular VN. Other times, it might just be a three-line throwway, like in Chuee's example, which could easily be recontextualized in English.

I guess what it comes down to for me is avoiding absolutism. It MUST be this way, or it MUST be that way. No exceptions! Rubbish. There will be times when honorifics are clearly needed. And there will be times when honorifics are clearly not needed. And then there's this whole gray area in between that will probably require weighing a bunch of factors, including your own personal bias as a reader/editor/translator.

All I suggest is that we weigh those factors mindfully, rather than taking a knee-jerk stance.

but if they are reading a vn (which is a Japanese creation) then they probably know about it and if they don't they should, why else would they be reading it?

Because they like good stories? See my earlier note about self-perpetuating cycles. :) 

 

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Out of curiousity, what would be your solution to characters referring to another character as senpai?  Let's say it's your standard moege that has one senpai route, and that is how the main character always refers to her.  Other characters generally refer to her as A-senpai or just senpai.  If you are removing honorifics, how would you deal with this situation?

Also, on another note - though I suppose it technically falls under the culture group - as someone who has a good listening comprehension of Japanese I find reading something with a lack of honorifics while I am still hearing them in the spoken Japanese dialogue a bit jarring.  But then again, that's one of the casualties of playing in the original Japanese and then going back and playing something in English - you're almost always going to find something that bugs you with the translation.

But all in all I agree with this article - there are absolutely some VNs I've played that just have absolutely no need for translated honorifics, especially if the VN is removed from the usual high school setting.

Also, on the subject of honorifics as plot points... the 'stock standard' routes of most high school based charage/moege is usually one kohai, one senpai, and two girls of the same age.  Obviously this changes if they are deliberately catering to guys liking older girls, in which case you might get ALL the routes being senpai characters.  But assuming it's a standard high school romcom, that's the usual setup you see.  Generally speaking, everyone knows why everyone is addressing someone by specific honorifics, but occasionally you do get into situations where honorifics become a plot point.  Ironically, honorifics tend to become a plot point when they are not there.  A character refusing to call someone senpai, or a senpai asking another character to call them just by their name, for a few examples.  Generally honorifics tend to become plot important when they're not being followed, more so than they are.  So that might also be a consideration as well.

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Out of curiousity, what would be your solution to characters referring to another character as senpai?  Let's say it's your standard moege that has one senpai route, and that is how the main character always refers to her.  Other characters generally refer to her as A-senpai or just senpai.  If you are removing honorifics, how would you deal with this situation?

Good question. And yeah, “senpai” is one of those gray areas where I’d end up judging each VN on its own merits.

  • If the use of “senpai” isn’t a plot point, I’d probably drop it, opting to use deferential language in character dialogue instead.
  • If the use of “senpai” is an essential plot point, I’d probably keep it in the script exclusive of the other honorifics. That is to say, in the world of our VN, there is a rule that younger students must refer to older students as “senpai.” Simple as that, and fairly intuitive. (Much more so than dumping the entire rats’ nest of Japanese honorifics on peoples' heads, at any rate.)
  • If overall use of honorifics (or lack thereof) is an essential plot point, I’d retain all honorifics. Within reason, of course.
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Out of curiousity, what would be your solution to characters referring to another character as senpai?  Let's say it's your standard moege that has one senpai route, and that is how the main character always refers to her.  Other characters generally refer to her as A-senpai or just senpai.  If you are removing honorifics, how would you deal with this situation?

There isn't a magical ‘one-word’ solution that can be applied to all situations. Context would have to be taken into account in each instance, and one of the myriad tools available in the English language applied. Everything from ‘sir’ to full use of name, to use of only a surname, to a more respectful/formal/polite wording of the sentence, to nothing at all.

You will on occasion find words which don’t translate into another language, this is due to languages being different from one another. That being said, different techniques in each language produce similar effects, in this instance the job of a translator would be to find the effect most fitting in the language they're translating into and applying that. But this takes good knowledge of both the languages in question, not just one. 

Also, on another note - though I suppose it technically falls under the culture group - as someone who has a good listening comprehension of Japanese I find reading something with a lack of honorifics while I am still hearing them in the spoken Japanese dialogue a bit jarring.  But then again, that's one of the casualties of playing in the original Japanese and then going back and playing something in English - you're almost always going to find something that bugs you with the translation.

To be honest, if you understand Japanese then the translation isn’t meant to be pleasing on your ears. Japanese and English are incredibly different languages, so of course there’s going to be jarring moments in most translations. The idea of a  translation is to get the audience to understand the relationship of those characters, not to keep ‘senpai’ solely for notions of cultural or linguistic purity. 

 

Also, on the subject of honorifics as plot points... the 'stock standard' routes of most high school based charage/moege is usually one kohai, one senpai, and two girls of the same age.  Obviously this changes if they are deliberately catering to guys liking older girls, in which case you might get ALL the routes being senpai characters.  

Bloody cliches.

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Yeah, about what I thought then - that was more or less my take on it as well. 

Personally, with regards to Japanese-English translations, in my opinion it really shouldn't be about being in 'ALL THE HONORIFICS' or 'NO HONORIFICS' camp.  It should really just be more 'what lets me best tell this story to an English audience?'

There's also a question of how... Japanese, the work is, if that makes sense.  There are some VNs I'd hesitate to even start translating at all because of how reliant they are on knowledge of Japanese culture.

And on the note of cliches, VNs are some of the most troped pieces of work I encounter.  I have an entire rant I could go on about that subject, but I don't want to derail this blog since it's useful for others. Suffice to say after playing quite literally hundreds of Japanese VNs it is always pleasant to see one's expectations overturned (because it rarely happens).  Thankfully the game I'm currently playing is one of those rare cases where they actually are doing something somewhat different - 恋×シンアイ彼女, a release from this last month.

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competitive bread baking in Paris?

It's a thing!

Thank you for another excellent post, with a balanced point of view that gave me food for thought. I find honorifics very inelegant in a translation, but I understand a case can be made for them.

One thing I always wonder is how proficient in Japanese those who defend honorifics as very important are. Yes, those little words are omnipresent and carry information... But in everyday life, their use is mostly automatic (you could draw a simple flowchart to accurately determine which honorific to use in most cases), so whether they are really all that meaningful is debatable, and Japanese people don't seem to care that much about them.

What's more interesting is when someone uses the wrong (or no) honorific for effect, e.g. jokingly calling a friend -sama, or defiantly dropping the -san when talking to your boss. Even then, though, there are ways to convey those nuances in English. All the languages in the world that aren't Japanese have made do without honorifics just fine.

Edited by Garlstadt
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