Terminally Incoherent

Utterly random, incoherent and disjointed rants and ramblings...

Friday, March 31, 2006

What I learned at Coffe Hour yesterday.

The CS department has a weekly Coffee Hour on Thursdays at 3:30 in the conference room on the third floor. Both students and faculty are invited. It is a very informal setting where you can chat just about anything with some of your professors or other students.

Yesterday, for example, I learned that Dr. Bredlau is an Anime fan. I would have never guessed that in my life! zewrestler brought me DVD's of Gungrave. He highly recommended the show so I decided to give it a try. He was giving me the DVD's during the coffee hour, and when Bredlau saw them, he commented that he likes Anime. :O

Apparently he lived in Japan for a while, and he can actually speak a little of broken Japanese. Another student there was actually learning Japanese, so this turned into a fascinating conversation about the language and culture of that country. Apparently when you are a guy, and you try to speak Japanese it is important not to "sound like a girl". Males and females speak differently, apparently and it is very common for westerners to sound effeminate if they don't know the right tone and etc... It was quite fascinating actually.

This makes you think... How many of the small details and nuances do we loose in translation when we watch anime? I'm bilingual myself, and I know that there is no such thing as lossless translation. When you translate from one language to another you need to be very careful - and most of the time you will loose something, or inadvertently add some meaning that was not in the original.

I know this, because i watched allot of english movies, subtitled in Polish, and vice versa. And let me tell you - in both cases, the experience is painful, bordering on comical. I would venture a guess than over 30-35% of actual content is completely lost. Puns, idioms, culture specific references, and some of the pop culture related jokes are virtually untranslatable.

70% is not bad - you get the plot, you get all the twist, and turns, you understand your characters and all. What you don't get is the icing on the cake - the subtle interactions, the stuff implied or hinted at. Good translators may attempt to capture that stuff, but then they run a risk of adding to the original. So sometimes you will see culturally adjusted translations which try to capture the spirit, but not the actual content of the original. So you swap a US-centric cultural reference to a native one, or an english idiom, to roughly equivalent one in the targeted language.

If you do it well, it blends in so seamlessly that hardly anyone notices... That is until someone decides that this is the "best line" in the movie/book and starts using it as a catchphrase. When that happens, a simple linguistic trick aimed at "capturing the spirit" of what was said, by using a native reference or idiom turns into "added content". That "brilliant line" was not in the original - you added it when translating. This means that while something was gained here, some meaning was also lost. Your version is slightly different from the original! This is the danger of translation. This is where I get that 30%.

This makes me want to learn more about Japanese language and culture so I can get more out of my anime and manga :P

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