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Do translations really need honorifics?


brycec
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It has been a while since I started a thread here, since I have nothing much to bring up, but I was recently reminded of something that I have encountered among fellow bloggers, one of whom has a bigger audience than I do but we agree on things and sometimes link to each other.

In the anime and manga community, there are people that do not really like a work because the official translation lacks the honorifics that supposedly let us know what kind of relationship the characters, and while they are nice to have, those honorifics do not really feel or sound natural, depending on setting, kind of story, etc., with Kodansha USA’s translation of the first volume of Seven Deadly Sins being a good example of a time that it felt completely unnecessary.

Of course, I am not always right, so I thought that I would open this up for discussion to you all. What are your thoughts on the matter?

(This situation mainly comes up in written works, but I am placing it here because it crops when it comes to dubbing anime and translating manga and the anime section here is separate from the manga section).

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Well, there was that time in Nagi no Asukara which I've seen both in english and japanese, in the second episode Manaka keeps referring to Tsumugu as Tsumugu-kun which causes Hikari to rebuke her, then she immediately changes it to Tsumugu-san in hopes that that will make it better. In the english version however, they simply refer to characters by name so instead she changes it to Mr.Tsumugu Sir which doesn't make much sense in that context.

Another example I could give is in QQ Sweeper, in which the main character refers to the person to whom she is employed to as Kyuutarou Boss as opposed to Kyuutarou-sama as it likely was in the japanese version, she works as sort of a maid in this context so a denotation is nessecary to show respect toward her master.

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I tend to prefer it with honorifics, but I understand why sometimes it might not fit. 

@Mars Terra, that scene in A Lull in the Sea always feels awkward to me, too! It makes sense in the Japanese sub, but it just sounds weird and nonsensical in the English dub. Aside from that I generally enjoy that particular dub, though. I've seen it both in sub and dub multiple times. 

I don't really like it when in dub they switch it to Mr. or Ms. instead of using "san", or other honorifics. It would sound more natural to me if they just included the honorific. 

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I think it's better to include the honorifics, and the users above already put pretty good examples of why. Also ppl know they areding/watching manga/anime and that it comes from Japan and so it will have some things that cannot be translated and have to be included to get a better understanding of the scene or the character's personality...

But, @brycec, I think it would be better if you tell us what was the part that looked awkward in that manga translation, bc otherwise, I can't think clearly of a example when honorifics are awkward...I imagine it's something related to the story or a scene not being set in Japan?

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I think that it would all depend on the dialect that the translation was being formatted in. In America Mr. Mrs. Miss are rarely used anymore except in formal settings, so I would say probably don't need the honorifics since the social status of the people involved in the conversation is indicated by vernacular inflection.  It doesn't matter either way to me personally if they're there or not. However, in the above reply using Mr. and Sir on a single name is definitely odd and sounds horrible.

JAT -Cheers! 

 

 

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On 12/16/2017 at 7:29 AM, cheesecake said:

I think it's better to include the honorifics, and the users above already put pretty good examples of why. Also ppl know they areding/watching manga/anime and that it comes from Japan and so it will have some things that cannot be translated and have to be included to get a better understanding of the scene or the character's personality...

But, @brycec, I think it would be better if you tell us what was the part that looked awkward in that manga translation, bc otherwise, I can't think clearly of a example when honorifics are awkward...I imagine it's something related to the story or a scene not being set in Japan?

I think I will need to look at it on my computer, since my iPad app is not bringing up the volume, but I remember it being around the time where Meliodas one-spotted somebody in the being. I was not a fan of that moment, but the series has a setting that seems to be similar to the Middle Ages and it has knights and kings, yet the person that was one-shorted a few others were addressed as sama, when that does not necessarily fit.

As I said earlier in the post, I may need to look through it again on a different device, but it certainly did not work.

Update: Okay, I went looking at what I was referring to, through my digital copy of Seven Deadly Sins, which was purchased around the time when B&N was still a good place to get digital manga from, and it looks like what I was talking about cannot be explained with a few words or uploads, so I am linking to the Crunchyroll page to read it all, as they use Kodansha USA's tramslation for each Kodansha title.

A quick glance through does not seem too bothersome, but actually taking the time to read it will show why it seems unnatural, other than the fact that Seven Deadly Sins does not take place in Japan nor does it have a Japanese-like setting.

http://www.crunchyroll.com/comics_read/manga?volume_id=309&chapter_num=1.00

Edited by brycec
add link to chapter where issue comes up.
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On 12/19/2017 at 3:43 PM, brycec said:

I think I will need to look at it on my computer, since my iPad app is not bringing up the volume, but I remember it being around the time where Meliodas one-spotted somebody in the being. I was not a fan of that moment, but the series has a setting that seems to be similar to the Middle Ages and it has knights and kings, yet the person that was one-shorted a few others were addressed as sama, when that does not necessarily fit.

As I said earlier in the post, I may need to look through it again on a different device, but it certainly did not work.

Update: Okay, I went looking at what I was referring to, through my digital copy of Seven Deadly Sins, which was purchased around the time when B&N was still a good place to get digital manga from, and it looks like what I was talking about cannot be explained with a few words or uploads, so I am linking to the Crunchyroll page to read it all, as they use Kodansha USA's tramslation for each Kodansha title.

A quick glance through does not seem too bothersome, but actually taking the time to read it will show why it seems unnatural, other than the fact that Seven Deadly Sins does not take place in Japan nor does it have a Japanese-like setting.

http://www.crunchyroll.com/comics_read/manga?volume_id=309&chapter_num=1.00

Oh, then that makes sense...

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On 12/29/2017 at 12:40 PM, BurnsyCEO said:

I think it's needed to give the full experience. It's kind of a given that some shows from other countries won't make much sense if you don't understand the culture or language. Translating honorifics just widens that gap.

Yeah, this is kind of true, and is a good reason that honorifics would help, but you either get people unfamiliar with the culture, or the honorifics may not exactly sound natural.

For me, I am more okay if the honorifics sound and feel natural than just putting them in because translating them would have things make less sense. It is like profanity in fictional work, it might be able to add things, especially if you can understand context, but if it feel unnatural then it actually hurts the experience rather than enhances it.

21 hours ago, Hebiyoujo said:

I prefer it without honorifics. It's a rare occasion it will throw anything off, and when it does it's not a big deal.

I am of the same mind that I kind of prefer to not have them, due to how unnatural they can feel in some translations. 

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Hmm....  If I'm watching it subbed...not a problem, it's part of the original work.  However, watching something dubbed...makes it different.  For a first time viewer (for instance, my husband), honorifics is another slipperly slope to climb (and truthfully, he'll just be annoyed that it doesn't immediately make sense and not like the show).  For a long-time fan of animation, it probably isn't so much of an issue.  Truth be told, no one ever explained honorifics to me and I never looked it up.  I just slowly pieced them together after years of watching.

 

I'm very happy that these days we are keeping the Japanese names (for example, Usagi instead of Serena, though that particular flip wasn't a huge issue for me back in the day), but honorifics maybe need to be dropped in some of the dubs. For some, like Hiiro no Kakera, the honorifics are actually pointed out and argued in the dialogue (kun, chan, senpai) and so while it feels odd sometimes, it makes sense. It would be odder to try to translate that into english than to just leave it as is.  Others, it comes off as klutzy.  It really is dependent on the anime.  I personally prefer that an anime pick a language and stick with it and just avoid these half'n halfs.  Nothing can be done for it anyways.  It isn't so much of an issue that it would be a turn off for me but for newer fans, it might muddy the water a bit.

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It's an interesting topic, but I say it depends, and I mean it really depends. Take for example, Persona 4, the game, not the anime. In there, it not only feels natural because how seriously the game takes itself, but the actors pull it off without much of a thought, so you rarely think about it. Yet on that same note, when it happened in the animation, it was unnatural because the tempo of the show was different than the game. In another note, sometimes it can feel unnatural in Japanese, like with Dragon Ball's many series. If feels odd to hear Goku refer to Piccolo and Vegeta as san, because they both tried to kill him multiple times. Plus, even though Goku was raised on Earth in Japan, to see Piccolo or Vegeta do the same to him is jarring. That said, if it happened in English, it would be more awkward. I guess what I'm getting down is this, it all depends on situations, and the seriousness of any given show.  

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For dubs, I wouldn't think it's necessary...just find an equivalent way of expressing said honorific. For example, let's say you have a character that says "okaasan" and "obaasan", etc., then I would have them say in the dub the more formal, "mother" or "grandmother".

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I personally prefer having Honorifics myself. :D 

Before when I was just starting anime (If my memory serves me right it was Mermaid Melody Pichi Pitch) whenever the characters would say an honorific for the first time in the anime a note above the screen will be showed on how those honorifics are used such as -sama is used for people who are treated as someone with a higher ranking by the one said the honorifics. That's basically how I know some honorifics as well such as -sama, -san, -kun, -chan, -senpai and so on. The thing is that in translations there are always times when we really can't fully translate the whole message of the anime because there are words that doesn't have any correct translation in other languages and I think this mainly why I pretty much love watching subbed anime compared to dubbed ones. :) 

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4 hours ago, RyePotatoes said:

I personally prefer having Honorifics myself. :D 

Before when I was just starting anime (If my memory serves me right it was Mermaid Melody Pichi Pitch) whenever the characters would say an honorific for the first time in the anime a note above the screen will be showed on how those honorifics are used such as -sama is used for people who are treated as someone with a higher ranking by the one said the honorifics. That's basically how I know some honorifics as well such as -sama, -san, -kun, -chan, -senpai and so on. The thing is that in translations there are always times when we really can't fully translate the whole message of the anime because there are words that doesn't have any correct translation in other languages and I think this mainly why I pretty much love watching subbed anime compared to dubbed ones. :) 

Kind of interesting, Rye. I mostly learned about the honorifics through manga, since many publishers here put in honorific definition lists in the titles they release here. It is definitely true that translation is more an art than science, since, as you said, things cannot be translated well, but there does need to be some balance to make things come off naturally, as that helps with the flow and with the immersion.

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