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What is wrong with reading a bad translation?


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Here is a good example of the difference between a bad localization, and a good one:

Basically, when you are getting a text-heavy work in translation, your work is as much a product of the translator's writing skills as the original creator's.  This is unavoidable.  So I'll describe it with a bit of an analogy:

Think of a book or a movie you really liked, and then think of one you didn't really like.  Now imagine that the writer of the book (or director of the movie) you didn't really like was hired to rework the one you did.  Every part of the thing you liked is technically there in some recognizable form, but it's all been changed to be kind of crappy.

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A bad translation is often noticeable by internal inconsistency or inconsistency with the actual events that are going on.  For people who are actually reading a VN or playing a game for its story, it is definitely noticeable, even when they don't know Japanese.  Otherwise there wouldn't have been so many complaints about the localizations for the old FF games, lol.

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2 hours ago, Clephas said:

A bad translation is often noticeable by internal inconsistency or inconsistency with the actual events that are going on.

Sounds like something like this:

latest?cb=20100621120749&format=original

It kind of ditch the entire translation because apparently quality control didn't exist.

 

There is also the story of one of the first fansubs. I think it was GunDam, but I'm not sure. A subbed version came out on VHS and people copied it quite a bit. It turned out that the first "translation" was done by people who didn't know Japanese and they just watched it over and over and wrote their own dialogue. They did it so well that people generally didn't notice until the second season came out and the Japanese had taken the storyline in a completely different direction, which made no sense for the subbed version.

 

Professionals have goofed too. Back when technology had progressed enough to add subtitles (I think it was early 60s), one TV station started showing foreign movies and it went well. They then decided to show something completely different and got hold of a movie from Japan. They had a professor do the translation and then everything was fine right until the movie was supposed to start. The way to display subtitles at the time was having a camera recording a sign and then they broadcasted two images on top of each other. It dimmed the entire screen, but it was the best they could do at the time. The problem was that it requires somebody to switch signs as the dialogue progresses and they actually switched between two cameras to avoid people seeing the physical switch. Works ok if the people doing that knows the spoken language, but nobody present had a clue to what was said in Japanese. They did the best they could and swapped signs once in a while whenever somebody was speaking. By the end of the movie they still had around 1/3 of the subtitles left and they were like "let's not do that again".

 

I actually do not view the obviously bad translations as a huge problem. It's a much bigger problem when it ruins a good story, but in a way where most viewers/readers think there aren't any quality issues.

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Everything that could be said has already been said, but anyway. 

I think there are two types of "bad translations". The first kind is that that you immediately realise it's bad because of things like:

-Lack of translation "memory", that is, they don't keep a consistency or a record over time. If something has been translated before in a certain way, unless there is a good reason to change it,  it must remain that way. 

-Lack of context awareness. Very similar to the previous one, but in a short span of time. This tends to happen when the translator hasn't even taken a comprehensive read of the source material. In extreme cases, they don't even know the gender of the characters they are translating. In less aggravating ones, you might find a line that was supposed to be, say, sarcastic, but it doesn't sound like it at all in the target language. 

-Lack of understanding of the linguistic differencies of both languages. Every language is different in which semantic and pragmatic features they express grammaticaly, even though the essence of the message they convey is the same. A good translator will be able to grasp that essence and express it in the target language in a way it sounds natural for any native speaker. Even if you don't know anything about the original language, this is something anyone can notice. 

Then there's the second "kind" of bad translation. This looks good, and doesn't apparently fall in any of the errors described above. What happened here is that the translator just altered that essence of the message I talked about before. A translation should be natural and at the same time impartial. It's your window to the work of the author, which should be transparent,  and you have no right to change it. Obviously in many cases you can only notice this if you know the original language and read the original work. This is the reason this kind of bad translation is the most dangerous. 

As for the OP original question... Well, it answers itself when you mull over what a bad translation is, doesn't it? 

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17 hours ago, Thyndd said:

What happened here is that the translator just altered that essence of the message I talked about before. A translation should be natural and at the same time impartial. It's your window to the work of the author, which should be transparent,  and you have no right to change it.

I'm glad you specifically mentioned "essence", as in some cases, the author is simply not very good (at least by Western standards) and you do need to make quite some changes to get an enjoyable result. The visual novel I'm currently translating suffers from, among others, the following deficiencies:

  • Repetition of random words like "city" up to six consecutive times.
  • Narration that's redundant with preceding dialogue (e.g. a character saying "I don't know" followed by narration saying "Apparently she doesn't know").
  • Narration that's redundant with itself (two consecutive lines that say the exact same thing in a different way).
  • Thoughts and dialogue that jump back and forth between topics without any sort of transition.
  • Overly vague lines ("All of this happened because he's like that." Like what?)
  • Overly detailed lines ("I hug her from the front").
  • Lacking vocabulary, especially in H scenes (everything is "happy" and "feels good").

It's problems like these that make you realize the source text is not holy and can - no, should - be rearranged, rephrased, and yes, rewritten to a certain extent. Clarify those vague parts. Cut those redundancies. Reuse space taken up by pointless filler to insert a badly needed topic transition.

Even some actual events in the story may need to be patched. Imagine the following: you're nearing the end of the route. A huge crowd has assembled on the central square to celebrate the MC and his girlfriend. In the middle of thunderous cheering, they draw closer and... she kisses him they kiss each other. Seriously, you can't have such a scene end on a one-sided kiss, especially not if the whole point of the route is that the characters become equals.

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On 3/19/2018 at 10:16 PM, Happiness+ said:

As someone with zero Japanese experience, I have to ask what is the harm in reading a bad translation?

I mean what are the characteristics of a great translation.

How would I know that I am reading a bad translation of a VN? 

1)  It doesn't have to be harmful, actually. It can be hilarious. As in, take-this-sentence-wildly-out-of-context hilarious.

For me, the horror of a bad translation isn't really the inaccuracy or the stilted use of the output language's vocabulary or even the sentence structure, but the unedited and direct translation of run-on sentences that the Japanese are habitually prone to, and these are incredibly long-winded and confusing. Stop the train I wanna get off destination where ahhhh :pyaa:

2) Time devoted to making it a very nice read. It's hard work, but some professional pride still goes a long way

3) I wouldn't look for telltale signs despite everyone's say in it, but if you don't understand the basic premise of the VN, it's usually the translator you must blame for that. It's just bad to not understand how Japanese works (or to have never watched anime or J-dramas your whole life) yet be the translator.

(As an aside, cokesakto is a primitive example of bad translation in general)

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The sad thing is that a lot of native speaker here talk about "bad translation" just because the writing style doesn't match their taste (some even said that they want more make up words and slangs, which for me literally destroy the original meaning)  in other word it's only a matter of taste since most of the time, people just complain about the writing (so the editing would be to blame here, not the translation) and we can't really trust someone talking about "bad translation" because nowadays, the term "bad translation" is used of almost anything and nothing... If you want to show that the game was badly translated, you have to put the japanese sentence with the right translation, but no one ever do that lol.

 

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On 20/03/2018 at 11:29 AM, Thyndd said:

Then there's the second "kind" of bad translation. This looks good, and doesn't apparently fall in any of the errors described above. What happened here is that the translator just altered that essence of the message I talked about before. A translation should be natural and at the same time impartial. It's your window to the work of the author, which should be transparent,  and you have no right to change it. Obviously in many cases you can only notice this if you know the original language and read the original work. This is the reason this kind of bad translation is the most dangerous.

I only have this text in portuguese, but if you're interested, I could send it to you. Basically it is about the role of the translator, and how we usually don't have our identity as part of the work, which is not true. The translator has, as long as reason allows, an active role on the writing of a work. There is no such thing as "what the writer thought", because Language is never the same as thought. The author may have an intention when writing, but many factors come along with it, and it is the right of the translator to not simply "change words" to another language, but to make it available in the best way they can, even if it means changing some aspects from the original. As you start wondering about how languages differ and how are culturally spread, you cannot expect translations to be the passage from one to another.

One of the many examples I can think is the portuguese translation of Lolita (I believe in other languages as well), where the sentences in the first chapter have an emphasis on the same sound. If you read it alloud, you can notice the "intention" of the writer to make it happen. However, that was too specific to the wording the author used, so when it was translated, adaptations were necessary and this aspect was in some ways lost. There are MANY different ways, however, to go around this issue, and I'd recommend you (and all people) to read about some translations techniques and how many "problems" can be worked on. 

Btw, this is a request to everybody: start treating traslation as a science; many are spreading here and in other threads very opiniated views on translation, and most of them are innacurate. Translation is not a part-time job, it is not something anyone can do from nothing. It is being studied for decades now, and many things I see here were discussed over and over through the last decades, and it really doesn't take too much time to google it before posting.

Edited by Silvz
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14 hours ago, Silvz said:

I only have this text in portuguese, but if you're interested, I could sent it to you. Basically it is about the role of the translator, and how we usually don't have our identity as part of the work, which is not true. The translator has, as long as reason allows, an active role on the writing of a work. There is no such thing as "what the writer thought", because Language is never the same as thought. The author may have an intention when writing, but many factors come along with it, and it is the right of the translator to not simply "change words" to another language, but to make it available in the best way they can, even if it means changing some aspects from the original. As you start wondering about how languages differ and how are culturally spread, you cannot expect translations to be the passage from one to another.

One of the many examples I can think is the portuguese translation of Lolita (I believe in other languages as well), where the sentences in the first chapter have an emphasis on the same sound. If you read it alloud, you can notice the "intention" of the writer to make it happen. However, that was too specific to the wording the author used, so when it was translated, adaptations were necessary and this aspect was in some ways lost. There are MANY different ways, however, to go around this issue, and I'd recommend you (and all people) to read about some translations techniques and how many "problems" can be worked on. 

Btw, this is a request to everybody: start treating traslation as a science; many are spreading here and in other threads very opiniated views on translation, and most of them are innacurate. Translation is not a part-time job, it is not something anyone can do from nothing. It is being studied for decades now, and many things I see here were discussed over and over through the last decades, and it really doesn't take too much time to google it before posting.

Sure, I should be able to read Portuguese and the topic does get my interest, so that text would be appreciated :sachi:

I'm aware that thought is not the same as language. That's why every piece of writing will have as many interpretations as people reading it. In that sense it's just impossible for the translator to play a passive and objective role in the translation. However, I still think you should only be allowed to interpret the writing so much. 

As for how languages differ, from a technical point of view and as far as modern linguistics and UG is concerned, every language should be able to codify the same message and they only differ in the grammatical means they employ to do so. In that sense, the role of the translator would be to notice what each language codifies naturally and use that knowledge to make a translation as accurate and natural as it gets: it's a balance between both. 

The cultural differences and expressions can be a real pain in the ass, but, and this is only my personal preference, I'd rather have a bunch of translator notes than having the meaning completely changed. Damn, I'd rather read a dozen books about that culture. But sure, that's me, and I get why some people would like to feel the work as familiar in terms of language and culture as possible. 

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Well translation itself was mostly subjective matter to me, so in the end I can't offer much insight to that subjective topic. If anything, as long as it's not like machine translation I'm fine with that.

For the answers, well as long as you understand the story if you read a work with bad translation, I think there's no harm with that. But just like everyone said if you getting better inreading the work with better translation, you'll started to have some doubt with the lesser qualiry of the translation. For characterstic of good translation, unfortunately I can't name some VNs here because I didn' pay much attention to the prose. For the last question, it's something that you need to find out the answer by yourself.

PS - if you want to know what kind of work with bad translation, try to read Flyable Heart.

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5 hours ago, Thyndd said:

As for how languages differ, from a technical point of view and as far as modern linguistics and UG is concerned, every language should be able to codify the same message and they only differ in the grammatical means they employ to do so. In that sense, the role of the translator would be to notice what each language codifies naturally and use that knowledge to make a translation as accurate and natural as it gets: it's a balance between both.

I think it is impossible to achieve this kind of technicality when languages are changing every day and grammar is changing constantly. In Jacquemet (2015), he raised the question of when does a language get "standartized", since the process of globalization directly affects the changes in languages, as they are decentralized and vary within the speakers borders. When is the moment that we can analyze the rules of a language and then dictate them when they are constantly reviewd? And then, specifically about VNs, how would a Japanese-English translation achieve  author's-intention accuracy when Japanese is bound to a culture so foreign to English speaking majority? (Of course, this is also changing because of globalization).

I agree with you that there has to be a balance, otherwise the translator would be doing whatever (as it was exemplified in previous posts), but there should be a long distance between keeping the "original work intact", as many have shown above is the idea VN readers mistakenly think is best and to really translate, which goes beyond the "passage" from one language to another, as I said before. Whenever a translator goes in the right direction - or not, as everything is subjected to trial and error -, they not only receive criticism but also "hate". I'd go further and state that Chrono Clock was a step in this direction with that foreign girl's speaking pattern. We could pinpoint the problems that it had (such as using words that hindered understanding of some lines), but it is an obvious effort to maintain the original's "intention" while making it understandable to English readers. But then, if we look into recent threads about it, it is clear how these efforts are undervalued against the idea of keeping the work intact. Heck, I even saw a person saying "they should have kept everything in English but with italics".

The text I mentioned is available here. It is Tradução, by Rosemary Arrojo, page 411 (205 in adobe reader).

 

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6 hours ago, Thyndd said:

As for how languages differ, from a technical point of view and as far as modern linguistics and UG is concerned, every language should be able to codify the same message and they only differ in the grammatical means they employ to do so.

I don't know how you came up with that, but it's not true. A language is heavily based on history and culture and as a result there are words and concepts, which are untranslatable. Obviously everything can be explained in all languages, but they are untranslatable in the sense that there isn't a word or few words to match the same concept. Instead you will end up needing one or more sentences just to explain the single word used in a sentence. In other cases there is a word, but it's something people stopped using 50-100 years ago and most modern readers will not understand it anyway, which gives the same result when you want to make a translation, which is readable for the general public.

Let's look at an example: jökulhlaup. It's an Icelandic word and the meaning is this: when a volcano erupts under a glacier, it melts the ice. This will form a lake and eventually it will burst and all the water will escape at once. A flash flood created this way is called jökulhlaup. Not only can it be quite strong, like thousands of tons each second (an estimate of the biggest in historical time is 200k-400k), it also usually carries part of the glacier, meaning it's full of icebergs. Very dangerous, but unlike most other natural events, they strike from known locations and then downhill, making the paths known years in advance. Now here is the question: how to translate this to English? It turns out you can't because it doesn't really happen outside of Iceland, which mean it has ended up as a concept unique to Icelandic. Volcanologists decided to just use the Icelandic word because the meaning is clear to "insiders". As a result jökulhlaup has now been added to the Oxford Dictionary as a loanword from Icelandic, though you should not count on the general public to ever know the word.

There are plenty of examples of untranslatable words. The culture and history between English and Japanese is so great that it happens in more normal talk. One example is natsukashi. In Japanese you can use it as an entire sentence and then based on context it carries the meaning of a full sentence. There is no such equal in English. You need to write the full sentence to explain that you are thinking about something good in the past and perhaps wouldn't mind getting whatever it is back.

7 hours ago, Thyndd said:

I'd rather have a bunch of translator notes than having the meaning completely changed.

That's an interesting topic. When should translation notes appear? It would make sense for kanji puns or puns where two words have the same hiragana, but different kanji. However a translator note saying "In Japan traffic is on the left. He is not actually going against traffic" shouldn't be needed. This brings up the question: when to add a translator note?

Another question is how to add translator notes? I have seen it as a pdf file and then the ingame text said "look up note 7" or something, which makes the reader go in and out of the VN. Another approach is to add it as text ingame, but that will disturb the flow of text and depending on engine, you may run out of lines. The last option I can think of is what I did with Musumaker, which is to make the engine display a png file ingame. This file then contains the text. Looks nice, but it requires both graphical work and programming, meaning it's by far the most labor intensive solution and it really depends on the engine if it's even possible.

Just saying "add translator notes" is kind of a vague request to the people who are actually considering doing so. Just as with the actual translation work, it's not as simple as first meets the eye when you actually try to do it yourself and want to get it done right.

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9 minutes ago, tymmur said:

I don't know how you came up with that, but it's not true. A language is heavily based on history and culture and as a result there are words and concepts, which are untranslatable. Obviously everything can be explained in all languages, but they are untranslatable in the sense that there isn't a word or few words to match the same concept. Instead you will end up needing one or more sentences just to explain the single word used in a sentence. In other cases there is a word, but it's something people stopped using 50-100 years ago and most modern readers will not understand it anyway, which gives the same result when you want to make a translation, which is readable for the general public.

The thing is, I never said there was a one-to-one correspondence between words. In fact, by that standard there is no word that perfectly translates to another language, ecompassing all the meaning. When doing a translation, we look at the context and choose one suitable correspondent in THAT context which more or less shares the same semantic content, or at least most of it. There are cases of words that are really difficult to translate naturally, no matter what context they are in. In this case a lot of meaning can be lost, if you don't find a way to rephrase it in a natural fashion. Or you know, you can always add a translation note and call it a day.

And on a side note. If you can explain the concept, then it's by no means untranslatable. I know that you are referring to particular semantic pieces, but what I said is that every language is able to codify the same information, employing for that purpose different grammatical means. 

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2 minutes ago, Thyndd said:

The thing is, I never said there was a one-to-one correspondence between words.

8 hours ago, Thyndd said:

every language should be able to codify the same message and they only differ in the grammatical means they employ to do so.

I see this as conflicting. "codify the same message" in a way where they only differ grammatical seems to me like claiming all words to be translatable. It's not on a one to one basis and how to translate a specific word depends on context, but claiming you can write the same in different languages to make them only differ in grammar is still underestimating how different different languages can be.

 

The problem is not if the same thing can be written in all languages (it can), but rather if something short in one language can be written "within reasonable length" in another language. It easily becomes too long to make it sound natural in normal casual dialogue if it involves concepts, which aren't present in English. There can also be a restriction, usually the text box size. Given these restrictions, text can become impossible to translate without throwing away more information than you would like.

 

2 minutes ago, Thyndd said:

Or you know, you can always add a translation note and call it a day.

And we are back to an oversimplified view of adding notes :P

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20 minutes ago, tymmur said:

I see this as conflicting. "codify the same message" in a way where they only differ grammatical seems to me like claiming all words to be translatable. It's not on a one to one basis and how to translate a specific word depends on context, but claiming you can write the same in different languages to make them only differ in grammar is still underestimating how different different languages can be.

Well, trust me, it's not. The problem here seems to arise due to both of us having different definitions of what grammar is, so let me clarify what I mean. When I talk about grammar I am referring to all the structural tools a language has to incorporate the participants of the "message world" into the discourse. Grammar is what binds words together and tells us how they are related in the message. 

So, what I mean when I state that every language is able to codify the same information using different grammatical means, what I am saying is that if there is no suitable word that works in that specific case without requiring more grammar than the bare minimum to make it grammatically acceptable, you can link a bunch of words together and make for that meaning, using in the process more grammar.

20 minutes ago, tymmur said:

The problem is not if the same thing can be written in all languages (it can), but rather if something short in one language can be written "within reasonable length" in another language. It easily becomes too long to make it sound natural in normal casual dialogue if it involves concepts, which aren't present in English. There can also be a restriction, usually the text box size. Given these restrictions, text can become impossible to translate without throwing away more information than you would like.

I agree. Nothing to argue about.

20 minutes ago, tymmur said:

And we are back to an oversimplified view of adding notes :P

Well duh, it was sarcastic, so :makina:

Image result for sheldon sarcasm

 

Oh, as a language nerd, I'd never do that. I've spent quite a lot of time reading about all kind of languages, so I'm confident enough to say that I know very well how different, and also how similar languages are. And languages are indeed amazing, because in spite of knowing it too well, very often I find out one that throws me for a loop :P

but claiming you can write the same in different languages to make them only differ in grammar is still underestimating how different different languages can be.

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