Ravaging Times

June 9, 2007

Personal Excuse/Philosophy on Fan Translation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — merc @ 3:00 pm

“Do not try to satisfy your vanity by teaching a great many things. Awaken people’s curiosity. It is enough to open minds; do not overload them.”

— Anatole France

I just read this quote today, and it describes how I feel about translating certain things in comic books. I only speak 1 East Asian language, thus I can feel the pain of average English readers who are forced to swallow terms like “sensei”, “gongzi”, and “nim” (“person capable of teaching by license or life experience” in Japanese, “young male of a middle/high-class family” in traditional Chinese, and “person with higher social status than speaker, by class or age” in Korean). Sometimes it just seems like overkill. Culture-dependent respect can be shown in the word-choice of the rest of the dialog, or in footnotes if absolutely essential to a scene.

And when there is a fair equivalent, example, “sensei” (Japanese) or “sifu” (Cantonese) – “master”, then by all means use it. As far as I can tell it conveys the sense of status and skill pretty well.

This is not always possible, as in the cases where characters are definitely not speaking to their equal (status-wise) even if they are of the same age/gender/title (seniority, for example). At those times I would try to use the romanized term once or twice, then drop them completely until the next scene that “demands” it.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” does a pretty good job in keeping the terms American. “Sifu” stuck, probably due to one of the creator’s Chinese martial art learning experience; if he had learned Japanese martial arts, the animation would probably use “sensei”. But honestly, “master” (as in “Master Pakku”) would be just fine.

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