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"Freely" translated

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"Freely" translated

Postby play_on_my_words » Sun 06.26.2011 3:48 am

Hello everyone! Figured I'd make a post on this because it has really been bugging me. I know that when some people translate a language to and fro that person, often or not, adds their own little spin on the language, hence "freely" translated. For some odd reason this really bugs me, because then I feel that their translation doesn't stick to the original. I mean sure I'm not going for a literal translation every time I translate, but I go for something that would sound natural in the target language. Anyone else ever thought about this? Right now I'm reading a parallel text and I find it somewhat confusing how they can sometimes put a spin on certain sentences. Anyway, if you guys feel like discussing. I think it would be a fun and interesting thing to discuss.

/dicuss (if you want)
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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby Hyperworm » Sun 06.26.2011 10:47 am

You clearly already understand that there's a scale here, between "absolutely literal translation" and "making it up in order to preserve intent/naturalness/mood/rhythm/any of many other factors". (Where to put a sentence on that scale depends on the translator, the purpose of the translation, and the particular sentence being translated.)

I have my own intuition there, and I recognize errors on both ends - where the translator has (in my opinion) gone too far, or not far enough.

If you want opinion on whether you're too far to the left or the translator is too far to the right, maybe post some examples? :D
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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby micahcowan » Sun 06.26.2011 6:57 pm

Personally, I think it's quite impossible not to put some personal spin on a translation. I mean, even textbook translation exercises are bound to produce significantly varying, yet still "correct" answers across students (and between the students and the textbook).

Making a translation sound "natural" in the target language is hard work, and in order to be done effectively, usually has to be done fairly "freely", perhaps sometimes even to the point of reordering sentences, or replacing literal meanings with completely different ones which still manage to convey the intended "flavor".

On the other hand, since you mention that you're currently reading a parallel text, I feel the rules should be somewhat different for those... I have a parallel text of my own, that frustrated me with the "freedom" of the English translation (it was some collection of folk tales, with 日本昔ばなし in the title... but the books I could find with titles like that, don't seem to match that. And I don't have it handy). I feel like parallel texts ought to err on the side of literal, direct translation, even to the point of coming across odd-sounding in the target language.

Of course, this assumes that one of the languages is "native" and the other is meant to be a "study" language. Otherwise, how do you know which language to write in, and which to do a potentially odd-sounding, direct translation to? If the purpose is instead to simply provide the same stories in more than one language, then achieving a tight coupling between the two is probably pretty much a pipe dream.

The reason I didn't like this particular parallel text is that sometimes several sentences of Japanese were combined to a highly-abbreviated English version that only gave the same gist... or sometimes certain clauses or sentences in the Japanese were left out altogether in the English version. In none of these cases did they actually seem necessary. Although, it does occur to me that the English translator may have been required to keep the physical length of his text close to the Japanese text, in which case his/her hands were probably tied. That may well be the case with your text as well...?
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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby AJBryant » Mon 06.27.2011 10:13 pm

Translators also have to take target cultures into account. I'm translating something right now that has a lot of discussion about kanji and Chinese words and Japanese words, and since the genbun is in Japanese, they can get by with only kanji, but I have to provide the CHINESE word when talking about Chinese, and the JAPANESE word when talking about Japanese, and expand the text to have discussions on "this is the same word in different languages" and so on. I also had to make some changes like when the author describes certain phrases as "like pickles with rice" -- i.e., something that provides a little side flavor and oomph, and the closest I could get to using that idiom in a way English speakers could get was to say something along the lines of "like condiments adding flavor to a bland meal" or something.

I've also added substantial footnotes in some places to explain references or details that I wouldn't expect a foreign reader to know about.

Translation -- GOOD translation -- is an art form, and it's more important to be able to write well and fluidly (and colorfully) in the target language than it is to be fluent in the source language. Many people who are fluent in Japanese are crappy translators. I know others who are not as fluent, but are better translators, because they have the gift of communicating the ideas well rather than relying on straight chokuyaku to the genbun. Not EVERY word needs to be translated. Some idioms are more wordy in Japanese, some are more wordy in English. You say what the writer MEANS to say, not what the writer SAID.

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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby furrykef » Wed 06.29.2011 1:54 am

I'm a big fan of translating freely and I do it myself. The problem, of course, is that it's easy to get lazy and not bother fully understanding the original text because you can BS your way through it. But a translator really is something of a second writer, and I think sometimes it's his job to distill something to its essence rather than slavishly duplicate the original work. For instance, I love the Pioneer/Geneon dub of Lupin III even though it takes massive liberties with it -- obviously, there were no jokes about Shaq or eBay in the 70s. But it's funny, and that's the important thing.
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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby AJBryant » Wed 06.29.2011 10:26 am

furrykef wrote:For instance, I love the Pioneer/Geneon dub of Lupin III even though it takes massive liberties with it -- obviously, there were no jokes about Shaq or eBay in the 70s. But it's funny, and that's the important thing.



See, to me, that's inexcusable. Yeah, it may be funny, but that's actually changing the content. That's not reframing the joke. That's reWRITING the joke.

I would be sending them hate letters.
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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby Ongakuka » Wed 06.29.2011 10:57 am

There's a 'Friends' episode where an old man complains to the friends that his cats can't sleep because of noise (I think it was that anyway) and Rachel accuses him of 'not having cats.'

In English he replies: 'I might have cats!' (might be 'I could have cats!')

What this means is that he doesn't have cats, but they shouldn't be noisy because they don't know he doesn't have cats. In other words, a weak and pathetic back up to his original statement, and if you watch it on the show it's quite funny (unlike me explaining it here.)

In Japanese, it's difficult to convey this concept, so the Japanese translators had no choice but to change the joke. He says これから飼う! (which is also funny but less funny when put into English - I'm not good at translation but if I may 'freely translate' it has the nuance of like 'then I'll get some!'

This is an example of the difficulty in maintaining the 'essence' of a joke (or even regular phrase sometimes) when translating from Eng to Jpn or vice versa.
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Re: "Freely" translated

Postby furrykef » Wed 06.29.2011 2:00 pm

AJBryant wrote:See, to me, that's inexcusable. Yeah, it may be funny, but that's actually changing the content. That's not reframing the joke. That's reWRITING the joke.

It is rewriting the joke, but I think rewriting the joke is exactly what was called for in that particular situation. If you're showing a badly animated and extremely dated 1970's Japanese cartoon to a 2000's American teen/young adult audience, well, I think something's gotta give. TV shows are entertainment first and foremost, and so figuring out what would entertain people and giving it to them is the primary concern. They do, of course, have optional subtitles on the DVD that are more faithful to the Japanese... and a lot more dull as a result. If I'd watched that version, I'd probably never have become a fan. But it's there if you want it!

I'm not saying this is always the right way to do a translation, just that it can have great results when done well. Don't see it as mangling the source material; just see it as a different show that happens to use the same plots and animation. ;)
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