We sent a verification email to you.
You need to confirm your email by clicking the link in the message we sent. Only verified accounts can post comments on MangaStream. If you haven't received an email, check your spam/junk folder.

Lost in Translation - You and I pt. 2

DzyDzyDino back again!

Before we get started today, I’d like to take a moment for the victims of the Kyoto Animation arson and their families. Seriously tragic, seriously sad. Sending out love you!

I’m sure any segue after that will be awkward, but oh well.

Picking up from the week before last, I was talking about ways to refer to yourself and to another person.

These are really useful clues in translation as they all form the nuance of a character’s “voice.” Are they a macho guy? Are they a tomboyish girl? Are they effeminate and narcissistic? Perhaps they’re traditional and sheltered? How a character refers to themselves and others in their speech can be a very personality-defining trait in manga and anime, or anything character driven.

Though not manga, you may have heard of the big controversy when Undertale got an official Japanese translation because the way one of the main characters referred to himself in the fan translation up until that point was different than what the official translation chose to use, and thus gave an entirely different feel and image to that character in many players’ eyes.

As translators, we use all the “clues” available to us to form how we “hear” a character’s voice so that we can localize it appropriately and preserve that same “voice” in English. These are interesting because they don’t translate to English, and yet they’re used in the translation -- much like the -san, -kun, -chan, -sama, etc suffixes I went over 2 weeks ago. They’re often omitted in translations, but they’re always taken into account.

The next few weeks (unless I get distracted again), I’d like to go over a lot of the more obvious and common transparent “clues” that are present. 

I’m going to go over many of the ways to refer to oneself, but keep in mind many of the examples I’m citing here are not real world ones but common manga/anime tropes, or real world stereotypes (that manga/anime would draw from). Often they overlap with reality, but clearly they’re exaggerated at times.

Moving on!

Starting with...

How a character refers to themselves.

If you’ve taken Japanese I,  loaded up a minute of a language learning app, seen a website about Japanese, listened along to the Japanese while reading subtitles, anything… you’ve probably heard or learned “Watashi” 「私/わたし」for “I”.

This is your standard “I” and generally not gender-specific, though leans towards feminine. If you were a guy “hanging out with the guys” -- other male friends that you were close with -- it might seem somewhat effeminate, but safe.

In manga, you generally don’t have people speaking politely to each other. “Pardon me, kind sir. You were responsible for my older brother slaughtering my entire family and extended family. That was quite rude. Please hold still while I poke you with a stick until you cease to breathe.” -- it’s not happening.

In a situation like that, if a male character referred to himself as “watashi”, it would be a conscious decision by the writer and thus probably be some clue into how that character thinks and what his speech should sound like.

Another way to say “I” is “Boku” 「僕/ぼく/ボク」(as in Boku no Hero Academia). This is more casual than “watashi” and much more gender specific -- 99% of the time you hear it, it’ll be a guy saying it. This is, of course, historically how it’s been. Nowadays with gender norms being a lot more free, you could hear a girl saying it -- though even then it would probably give the impression of someone a little more tomboyish or “stronger-willed.” 

There’s a handful of female singers that refer to themselves as “boku” in their lyrics as well

Younger boys will often use this. Middle-aged mama’s boy NEET will almost always use this, too (giving that immature vibe, as younger kids would also commonly use it).

Again, the stereotypes and common perceptions these words invoke are important as translators because not only is that how most readers would interpret the character, but it’s generally the author’s intent when making those choices. It’s not black or white, and you have to take the sum of all the parts to really get at the nuances. “This girl said ‘boku’ so she’s instantly so-and-so” -- you’d have to look at everything.

Moving down the politeness ladder and into casual, you’ve got the decidedly masculine “ore” 「俺/おれ/オレ」which is also pretty decidedly “not polite.” -- not “rude”, just “casual”. Though if you use this one in the wrong situation, it certainly can be rude. If you walked into work and said “I’m takin’ tomorrow off” and referred to yourself as “ore”, probably wouldn’t be a very pretty scene.

Again, it’s much more masculine. Though using it inappropriately kinda summons the image of a delinquent or a thug. Like strolling up on the street to a random person and referring to yourself as “ore.”

So on a super simple level, whether a male character refers to himself among friends as “boku” or “ore” would give indications about his tone. Talking to a superior, if he still used “ore” that would give even more indications. If talking to a girl or someone he likes, he suddenly changes and refers to himself as “boku” that could mean something else as well.

Watashi to dokka tabe ni ikou ka? - 私とどっか食べに行こうか?
Would you like to go somewhere and get something to eat [with me]?

Boku to dokka tabe ni ikou ka? - 僕とどっか食べに行こうか?
Do you want to get something to eat somewhere [with me]?

Ore to dokka tabe ni ikou ka? - 俺とどっか食べに行こうか?
How about grabbin’ a bite somewhere [with me]?

The way the rest is worded in Japanese would probably change slightly in each of those too, but I left it strictly the same just to give an exaggerated example. Also, if this phrase was actually dialog, I’d probably omit the “with me” if it was someone talking just to someone else -- unless of course they were trying to invite this person out on a date or flirt with them, in which case I’d leave the “somewhere” out and include the “with me.” Having both in the phrase makes it sound a bit unwieldy and kind of awkward. Even the “somewhere” is a little awkward as is, but again… just trying to make a point with it.

Just a simple phrase like this could be changed depending on a simple word and how the character talks.

Those are probably the most common ways to say “I” you’ll see, but that’s nowhere near a complete list.

Watakushi (also written as 「私」- you’ll only know which by the reading given) is a more formal “I” -- public announcements, job interviews, etc… -- in manga it’s often people of higher social/power standing trying to speak humbly but respectfully -- though you get the characters that use it and talk in a humble bragging way too.

Uchi 「うち」-- this one is kind of common too. Depending on how you’re using it, much more effeminate. It can mean we/us/our (company), but girls will also use it as “I” -- I think this one might be Kansai dialect though. (uchi means other things too, but just sticking to the pronouns for now)

Atashi 「あたし」- The “cuter” female version of “watashi.” -- Everything from a girly girl, to a cutesy moe monster might use this. Though it’s pretty common in manga for the cuter or more unique characters to come up with their own ways to refer to themselves. Like “Achishi” and so on...

There’s weird ones that you’ll take into account sometimes.

Washi 「わし」is Watashi again but usually only old characters say it.

Ware/wareware 「我/我々」for some reason this always pops up with some incarnation, spirit, or alien introducing themselves and talking like they’re some greater being.

If a character refers to themselves as "Ore-sama" - it means they’re a cocky bastard.

You don’t refer to yourself with suffixes like -san, -kun… unless I guess you’re going for that Big D Energy… and the girls that refer to themselves in third person might sometimes tag the -chan on it too because why be a little extra when you can just be completely extra.

The “Ore-sama” can actually be pretty hard to translate if it’s in a bubble by itself. If you don’t have any other words to try and play up how cocky and arrogant of a jerk someone is being apart from “Me” sometimes that’s all you can do and hope the mood and art carries it. What else can you do? “It me, muddafukka.” “Guess who? Me, bitch!”  “Whodat, whodat, whodat? It’s ya boi!!!!” ugh… why...

There’s still a ton more, but my point was to focus on the translation aspect of it and not the language. I’m sure there’s no shortage of study resources out there if you’re interested though.

Before I end for today, now that we broached the subject of politeness in speech, something I didn’t talk about when I talked about suffixes like -san, -kun, and -chan was the concept of “yobisute” (呼び捨て).

If you’ve just met someone, just been introduced, whatever -- you’re expected to speak politely and appropriately according to your station/position, be it rank, power, grade, age, whatever’s relevant. 

Though the act of getting to know someone happens naturally (ideally), you’ll all too often see a scene in manga (especially shojo) where it’ll usually get translated to “Do you mind if I refer to you informally?” or “Can you refer to me by my (first) name?” - which usually implies that “we’re more than just regular acquaintances now, I’m now among this person’s closer friends who can speak to them casually!” which makes it a kind of teenage romantic moment in those series that can get overlooked easily - there’s no real good way to sum up everything that comes with that, and saying “Can I refer to you informally?” doesn’t carry that weight.

That concept of dropping the suffixes which also usually implies speaking informally is “呼び捨て”

There will be characters in manga that just speak casually to everyone, even their superiors -- and as a comedic point will constantly get chewed out for it. Or maybe in the heat of a panicked moment, one character will forget and refer to someone casually. The other character will chew them out for it even though they’re in a life-or-death situation, which usually goes along with the “follows all the rules to an obsessive fault” archetype. Or the “demands respect and won't take any crap” archetype.

Ooof, that ran on long! Next week I’d like to get into ways to refer to “you” and also how that reflects on the translation of characters’ speech.

As always, you can click on the title of the post to leave a comment! If you enjoy these posts or this topic, or want to chime in, please comment and let me know!

You can also drop by my stream at http://www.twitch.tv/dzydzydino -- Currently playing through the Yakuza 5 HD Remaster in Japanese and translating on the fly. Started working on some piano covers of video game/anime music, and also playing some Auto Chess recently as well, and a bunch of other random roguelikes/lites and indies.

Until next week! Take care and thanks for reading mangastream!