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Thread: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

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    Default Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Hello! I've recently joined this site and have the lyrics I've translated for a song to contribute. My question is this - how strict are you when it comes to translating literally from Japanese to English? A problem I find with all online translating programs these days is the tendency for them to translate word for word without taking into account the possible idiomatic expressions being used in the Japanese text.

    And, of course, an idiomatic expression in Japanese might be completely incoherent if translated word for word into English.

    I've made sure to carefully look over my lyrics so as to preserve what I believe the songwriter was originally trying to say, but I've also translated some portions of the lyrics in context into idiomatic expressions in English that would be easier for English readers to understand, as well. It keeps the English translation flowing, makes them sound more natural when read, all while keeping what the author meant intact.

    I hope my question isn't too vague. Thanks in advance. (:

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    I don't think there are any rules per se regarding this issue (literalness vs. natural flow), and yes, I agree, that this is an issue that every translator will have to face, and it's a very delicate balance. There's no right answer, either, since every translator will have his/her own way of dealing with this problem.

    Personally, though, I pretty much do what you have described in your post--I place more emphasis on the flow of the entire translation than being literal. After all, we are translating for English speakers to read, so using good and natural-sounding English just seems more important to me, because people reading the translation probably won't care whether or not there's a one-to-one word correspondence between the Japanese and the English. So yes, as long as you don't alter the meaning of the song or use too much imagination, feel free to add a little of your own flavor into the song, if it helps make the English flow better.

    So with that being said, I say definitely feel free to use an English idiom/expression in place of the Japanese idiom. Most English speakers will know what "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" means, but they probably will scratch their head at "If you don't go into a tiger's den, you won't catch the tiger cub (koketsu ni irazunba koshi wo ezu)" XD


    And here's an example of something I translated just yesterday, to show you how I can get quite liberal sometimes. Sorry if it's not a good one, XD
    yawarakana ame no you na anata no omoi ukete
    Literally, it'll be "I receive your thoughts, which are like a gentle rain."
    Instead, I translated it as "Your thoughts, gentle as the rain, completely soak into me."

    My translation is definitely not as literal, but it simply sounds better and blends more naturally into the overall sad but beautiful mood of the song.
    Last edited by animeyay; 10-13-2010 at 08:46 PM.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Hey - thanks for your response (:

    That's good to hear. Hopefully I'll pass that Japanese test and be able to submit my translation, it's an incredibly long set of lyrics and yet has such a wonderful meaning that I can't help but want people to be able to understand what they're saying, heh.

    An example of what I'm talking about is this:

    例えて言うとすれば
    僕はパントマイムダンサーです
    見えもしねえもんを掴んで
    天にも昇った気になって

    I translated the bolded portion as "Though it's not something you can see, please take it with a grain of salt"
    though it literally translates more like "Though it's not something you can see, please grasp it (the concept)"

    Because of the context of the phrase, which is that he said something outrageous but that no one should try to discourage him because even the heavens have taken an interest in him. Would that be alright?

    Thanks again :>
    Last edited by Sephirona; 10-13-2010 at 10:31 PM.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Actually, if I may, I think that line means something slightly different. The four lines of that stanza are not independent lines, but are interconnected, so the translation will make more sense if you try to translate them as one huge line instead of four individual lines:
    例えて言うとすれば
    僕はパントマイムダンサーです
    見えもしねえもんを掴んで
    天にも昇った気になって
    Figuratively speaking,
    I am a pantomime dancer;
    with something invisible grasped in my hands,
    I feel that I have risen up even to the sky above.
    But of course, this is just my interpretation. Feel free to ignore it if you still prefer to take the sentences apart and translate them independently of one another. I'm just trying to help =)
    Last edited by animeyay; 10-14-2010 at 06:21 AM.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    The problem animeyay pointed out above is called LBL, "line-by-line", an easy mistake to do when translating.

    A song always tells a story, so as for me, I have a duty to retell it like how the lyricist intended. Often a literal translation has tacky and confusing words because as you say, some Japanese words and phrases have no direct translation in English. While it may deliver, perfectly, the words in the song, it might not for the whole story.

    I am the first to admit that I may 1) be overly-poetic and 2) interpret the song in a totally different way than most people would, but I am not the perfect translator, and neither are we all. That's why a lot of people have their own lyric sites and put up their own t/ls and at the same time be in league with other translators out there. One person's t/l will always be different from another's. This way we all can celebrate our differences; I for one, accept literal translations as it is another way to t/l, even though it is against my ideals.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Thanks for your input! Actually, I should probably have provided the rest of the context surrounding the song. The song itself also addresses an ambiguous "you", as if referring to one of his smarter crew members. (in case it's unclear, this was a song written for Luffy from One Piece, who is often chided by his crew members for his daftness)
    The lyrics after that part were

    やがて風船が割れ
    独り悲しい目覚め
    そんな日でも
    懲りずに「ヨウソロ」を。。。


    I translated that as:
    Soon the balloon will pop (think snot bubbles in animes that show someone is sleeping)
    Alone, I'll wake up sadly
    And even on that day
    Without learning my lesson, I'll yell "Steady ahead!" (yosoro = sailing term)

    That's why I felt it made sense that there was someone - possibly a crew member - judging the his dreamy ambitions and trying to smarten him up. Other parts of the song sing of him still learning about himself and requiring the guidance of someone (a crew member) to find himself because he's chasing his own tail around (going with Luffy's daftness of character):

    「僕はボクさ」と主張したって
    僕もボクをよく知らなくて
    ぐるぐる自分のしっぽを追いかけ回して
    ひょっとしたら あなたの瞳に
    いつか出会った本当の僕が
    迷い込んでやしないかなぁ?って探してみる

    Even though I insist that I'm ME
    Even I don't know myself that well and
    Around and around, I chase my own tail
    Perhaps in your eyes,
    The real 'me' that you met once has gone and strayed off?
    So let's try searching for me.

    ---

    You're probably right about that part though, your translation makes a lot more sense. Guess I'm not as good with the nuances of the Japanese language yet. xD

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Where a translator falls on the "faithful-beautiful" continuum is a very personal thing, and probably varies not only from one translator to the next but between any two translations by the same person. There's certainly no hard and fast rule for it. If you're asking personal opinions though, my belief is that the job of a translator isn't to render the literal meaning of each word, but to create a similar experience to what someone reading the text in the original language would have -- and that means taking some creative license. As a reader, I find things like literal translations of phrases/constructions that English doesn't use and extensive footnotes to explain jokes/references/idioms to be awkward and distracting, so as a translator I try to avoid those. My favorite translations (though I'm talking more about books and video games and such here) have always been the ones that you might never know were translations without being told.

    Of course, I'm not always successful -- when I'm not very confident that I know what a line (or a song) is trying to say I tend to get more literal, and sometimes I just can't think of a good equivalent expression. But that's what I aim for.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    I would agree with bluepenguin, short Version is: Meaning/Emotion before literal translation.
    Even though I'm not very active on this site (for reasons I never actually figured out myself ^^░) I must say when I translate things I actually found that even one's own mood can be a factor in how I translate...And of course one's own background...if you for example have no grasping of what loss of love feels like you probably translate a song about that differently (I dont have any better examples handy right now, hope my Intention is cleatr though)
    I suppose short version again is: Translators are humans, humans are different.
    Though there are certain cases when a literal translation is useful (for example legal stuff)

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Nice discussion, and a pleasure to see people being so thoughtful.

    Just a word in support of literal meaning.

    The ideal translator is invisible, right? A clear lens, transmitting an image without distorting or coloring anything.

    But you can't give a foreigner exactly the same experience as a native -- only an analogous one. So, trying for the best equivalency, you render a completely natural textů that the author wouldn't recognize.

    The misery of translation in general.

    This isn't necessarily so terrible, but something has been lost. Actually, it something that a foreign reader can much more easily appreciate. It is what you might call the flavor of the original in its native context.

    Native speakers who are completely within their own culture have the same difficulty perceiving it as the proverbial fish that is ignorant of water. But from my advantageous position on the outside, I can feel how different the other world is, how unique it is.

    So, the Japanese phrases -- thoughts, even -- that sound absurd in English really matter to me. Literal translation gives me another angle of view into a Japanese mind.

    I find that this is what I always wanted.

    That's why I can't bear to watch anime with dubbed vocals. I'd rather suffer the most horrible subtitling. If I need a Western voice in my ear, I've got Pixar, Disney, and the rest of them for that.

    TL;DR -- Let's strongly translating with feeling of sincerity! ( ̄ー ̄)

    OK, done now.

    TX/sb

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    you render a completely natural text… that the author wouldn't recognize.
    It's not even meant for the original author to read, but at least it would help them get across to what they wanted to say.

    If I was the author I would be glad to have something conveyed closer to context in a t/l, even if there are some compatibility issues.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Quote Originally Posted by AzureDark View Post
    If I was the author I would be glad to have something conveyed closer to context in a t/l, even if there are some compatibility issues.
    Oh agreed, agreed. That is where the art part comes in. The boundary between translation and adaptation slides around a lot, I think.

    You advocate for the thing that you just can't get out of a machine. Or, not until long after machines can join this forum as contributors. Looking forward to chatting with bots someplace other than IM... I guess.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Argh, I wrote up a really long reply and then when I hit post I found I'd been logged out and the whole thing got lost. I hate when that happens. I will try to reconstruct it, though.

    Basically, I think that how literal or how liberal you want to be with your translation also depends on what you're translating. Different styles work best for different things.

    For example, Katamari Damacy has a really literal translation in places, especially when it comes to the item descriptions (some of which are quite puzzling to a Western audience). It doesn't make any substitutions or offer any explanations for people who lack the cultural context to understand what's going on. But that works for it, because part of its charm is that it is a Weird Japanese Thing. If the translation were less literal, the whole thing would probably lose some of its endearing oddness.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we've got the Ace Attorney games, where the translation changes names, substitutes jokes and references with wild abandon, and even goes so far as to pretend that the whole thing's set in California. But this also works, because the Ace Attorney games are fairly wordy and largely reliant on the text both for humor and for the player's understanding of what's going on (as opposed to Katamari Damacy, where the text is really just flavor). I don't think a more literal translation would have gone over quite as well in this case. (On a side note -- in response to the point about the original creator finding a translation unrecognizable -- when the games were adapted into a Japanese stage play, they used the names and locations from the translation, not the original, so it seems the creators didn't mind. Of course, reactions are going to vary from person to person, but not all authors (etc.) see these changes as a bad thing.)

    Of course, these video game examples don't quite map neatly to musical examples (I'm sorry, I've been thinking a lot about video game localizations lately), but it's a similar idea. For example, my translation of an intentionally weird and semi-incomprehensible song (like Yomigaere! Mukyuu no Rekishi from Utena) will tend to be much more literal than my translation for a song that uses more sort of casual, everyday speech (like Watashi no UMA-sama) or a song that tells a story (like any of the Sound Horizon stuff I've done). Of course, this is all relative -- what I consider literal, I'm sure someone else considers to be taking an unconscionable amount of artistic license -- but that's beside the point, really. The point is that this kind of thing varies depending not just on who is translating, but on what is being translated.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    I have always thought that Japanese is best interpreted in order to keep translations as understandable to the reader as often as possible; however, I prefer to keep this to a minimal, because the Japanese language is truly beautiful and ought to be appreciated.

    It is really up to you to distinguish where best to use literal and interpret translation, but my advice is to try to think of a way to “blend” the two, that way you can maintain a decent balance.
    Last edited by リッキー; 02-04-2011 at 01:39 AM.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    Still engaged with this question.

    I remember how it bugged me that the US editions of the Harry Potter books were translated... from English into English, with all the British terms sanitized (trainers > sneakers). Don't help me so freaking much, Scholastic Press, I ordered a crumpet, not a Pop Tart. And yet their decision made perfect sense. Just didn't meet my needs at all, so hello Amazon UK. I really want to meet that author on her/his home ground as much as possible.

    Give me the commentary in the footnotes, I'll love you for it.

    I know, I know, there's no single best approach.

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    Default Re: Literal translating versus retention of meaning.

    ....*breathes in* Okay. Firstly, I'd like to note that when I first began translating, I worded everything very literally because I was actually a bit fearful of straying from the original path. In the end, I realised that I was making far too many mistakes that way even though I didn't mean to. Being completely literal in translations is an impossible task and the end result will always produce a flawed translation. Always.
    With that said, I don't like it when people translate using too many equivilents. Don't try to make it completely like English because it's not, it's Japanese and it's wonderful to see and experience some of these Japanese poetry works and expressions. They're there for a reason. Also, some people translate things too much to the extent that you can't get the original meaning that was being conveyed. Often when this happens, I also doubt that person's abilities as a translator because to me, when someone makes the translation that different, it appears like they are faking that they know Japanese and are just bulling the whole thing with either an online translator or a dictionary, so be weary of that.
    How I translate now is still a little close to literal, however I use some equivilents where they need to be used and I make it flow much better. Every translator will go through this and unfortunately, it's a matter of making many mistakes with trial and error before you find YOUR OWN way of translating and continue to perfect it.
    Just make sure you don't stray too far from the lyricist's original intentions.
    "Though it's not something you can see, please take it with a grain of salt"
    I did see your translation of this line here and this is a comment on the style rather than how I'd go about it. I get that you're trying to use expressions to explain things, but you must be very cautious about it. Some expressions are only used in selective countries. I am Australian and I know that we have some expressions that other countries like England or America don't have. I personally don't understand "take it with a grain of salt". The only expression I know that has "salt" in it is when someone has hurt themselves (usually an open wound/graze) that generally isn't very serious and they keep whinging about it. That's when you say "Rub some salt into it!" because of course, rubbing salt on a wound would actually really hurt it. Just be careful about that.
    Even though I insist that I'm ME
    Even I don't know myself that well and
    Around and around, I chase my own tail
    Perhaps in your eyes,
    The real 'me' that you met once has gone and strayed off?
    So let's try searching for me
    Another thing here is that you may realise that you are using the words "my" and "me" too many times here. I recently did that in a song because I didn't know how else to change it at the time (I have edited it now). Don't get too repetitive in your words, but that's just my opinion.
    On an final note, yes, try not translate line by line. Usually it will be a sentence split over two lines, but it can also be more (sometimes entire stanzas). Here is one of the most important things to remember as a translator that will really help you: If a translated line doesn't make complete sense or sound right, then it probably isn't. I use that one all the time. :3

    Currently listening to: Gin'iro Konpeitou Gakudan (Yura Hatsuki x Konori)'s "Gentou PAREEDO ~phantasm parade~"
    Currently playing: Breath of Fire III on PSP
    Currently watching: Kuroshitsuji


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