the thing you need to realize about localization is that japanese and english are such vastly different languages that a straight translation is always going to be worse than the original script. nuance is going to be lost and, if you give a shit about your job, you should fill the gaps left with equivalent nuance in english. take ff6, my personal favorite localization of all time: in the original japanese cefca was memorable primarily for his manic, childish speaking style - but since english speaking styles arent nearly as expressive, woolsey adapted that by making the localized english kefka much more prone to making outright jokes. cefca/kefka is beloved in both regions as a result - hell, hes even more popular here
a literal translation is an inaccurate translation.
localization’s job is to create a meaningful experience for a different audience which has a different language and different culture. they translate ideas and concepts, not words and sentences. often this means choosing new ideas that will be more meaningful and contribute to the experience more for a different audience.
There was an example during late Tokugawa period in Japan where the translator translated, "Я люблю Вас” (I love you), to “I could die for you,” while translating Ася, ( Asya) a novel by Ivan Turgenev. This was because a woman saying, “I love you,” to a man was considered a very hard thing to do in Japanese society.
In a more well-known example, Natsume Soseki, a great writer who wrote, I am a Cat, had his students translate “I love you,” to “the moon is beautiful [because of] having you beside tonight,” because Japanese men would not say such strong emotions right away. He said that it would be weird and Japanese men would have more elegance.
Both of these are great examples of localization that wasn’t a straight up translation and both of these are valid. I feel like a lot of people forget the nuances in language and culture and how damn hard a translator’s job is and how knowledgeable the person has to be about both cultures. [x]
Important stuff about translation!
Note that you can apply this to your own translations even if they aren’t big pieces of literature or something. Don’t feel bad about not translating word for word. An everyday sentence may sound odd translated literally - it’s okay to edit a little bit so it feels right!
Oh my god, I’m about to go on a ramble, I’m sorry, I can’t help it, the inner translation nerd is coming out. I’m so sorry. The thing is–there is actually no such thing as an accurate translation.
It’s literally an impossible endeavor. Word for word doesn’t cut it. Sense for sense doesn’t cut it, because then you’re potentially missing cool stuff like context and nuance and rhyme and humor. Even localization doesn’t really cut it, because that means you’re prioritizing the audience over the author, and you’re missing out on the original context, and the possibility of bringing something new and exciting to your host language. Foreignization, which aims to replicate the rhythms of the original language, or to use terminology that will be unfamiliar to the target culture–(for example: the first few American-published Harry Potter books domesticated the English, and traded “trousers” for “pants”, and “Mom” for “Mum”. Later on they stopped, and let the American children view such foreignizing words as “snog” and “porridge.”)–also doesn’t cut it, because you risk alienating the target readers, or obscuring meaning.
Another cool example is Dante, and the words written above the gates of hell: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
In the original Italian, that’s Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. Speranza, like most nouns in latinate languages, has a gender: la. Hope, in Italian, is gendered female. Abandon hope, who is female. Abandon hope, who is a woman. When the original Dante enters hell, searching for Beatrice, he is doomed, subtly, from the start. That’s beautiful, subtle, the kind of delicate poetic move literature nerds gorge themselves on, and you can’t keep it in English. Literally, how do you preserve it? We don’t have a gendered hope. It doesn’t work, can’t work. So how do you compensate? Can you sneak in a reference to Beatrice in a different line? Or do you chalk her up as a loss and move onto the next problem?
You’re always going to miss something–the cool part is that, knowing you’re going to fail, you get to decide how to fail. Ortega y Gasset called this The Misery and Splendor of Translation. Basically, translation is impossible–so why not make it a beautiful failure?
My point is that literary translation is creative writing, full of as many creative decisions as any original poem or short story. It has more limitations, rules, and structures to consider, for sure–but sometimes the best artistic decision is going to be the one that breaks the rules.
My favorite breakdown of this is Le Ton Beau De Marot, a beautiful brick of a translator’s joke, in which the author tries over and over again to create a “perfect” translation of “A une Damoyselle Malade”, an itsy bitsy poem Clement Marot dashed off to his patron’s daughter, who was sick, in 1537.
This is the poem:
Je vous donne
Le bon jour;
Et qu’on sorte
Le vous mande.
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
Si tu dures
Dieu te doint
Seems simple enough, right? But it’s got a huge host of challenges: the rhyme, the tone, the archaic language (if you’re translating something old, do you want it to sound old in the target language, too? or are you translating not just across language, but across time?)
Le Ton Beau De Marot is a monster of a book that compiles all of Hofstader’s “failed” translations of Ma Mignonne, as well as the “failed” translations of his friends, and his students, and hundreds of strangers who were given the translation challenge (which you can play here, should you like!)
The end result is a hilarious archive of Sweet Damosels, Malingering Ladies, Chickadees, Fairest Friends, and Cutie Pies. It’s the clearest, funniest, best example of what I think is true of all literary translations: that they’re a thing you make up, not a thing you discover. There is no magic bridge between languages, or magic window, or magic vessel to pour the poem from one language to another–translation is always subjective, it’s always individual, it’s always inaccurate, it’s always a failure.
It’s always, in other words, art.
Which, as a translator, I find incredibly reassuring! You’re definitely, one hundred percent absolutely, gonna fuck up. Which means you can’t fuck up. You can take risks! You can experiment! You can do cool stuff like bilingual translations, or footnote translations! You write your own code of honor, your own rules that your translations will hold inviolable, and fuck it if that code doesn’t match everyone else’s*. The translations they hold inviolable are also flawed, are failures at the core, from the King James Bible right on down to No Fear Shakespeare. So have fun! It’s all in your hands, miseries and splendors both.