An anonymous reader sent in a question a while back about an old JRPG that features a somewhat infamous English line:
So on some forums I’m a member of, every once in a while the topic of literal translations comes up. So every time it does I whip out this picture from the game ‘Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure’ to show why literal is not the way to go.
But today I got to thinking and I wonder if it is even accurate (since I don’t know any Japanese). I’ve attached two pictures. The first is the English version of the game, the second (courtesy of youtube) is the Japanese version.
So the question is… how close did they get?
And here are the screenshots the reader sent in, side-by-side for comparison:
|The Puppet Princess of Marl Kingdom||Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure|
I’ve seen this translation shared all the time on Twitter and elsewhere, but I had never seen the original Japanese line until now. The quick answer to the question is that yes, the English translation is pretty much a straightforward version of the Japanese text.
Actually, seeing these lines side-by-side like this brings two other things to mind:
First, the line sounds super-generic and repetitive in translation, but it’s not quite as bad in Japanese. This is because the Japanese line mixes English words with Japanese words, but when it’s translated, it all “flattens out” into just English. The character’s Japanese speech characteristics are also flattened out in translation due to the differences in language and grammar. In the past I’ve mentioned how Japanese-to-English translation can flatten nuances found in the original text, and this line shows two examples of how that happens. As such, part of the translation process also involves trying to copy the feeling of the original line back into the translated text. In this case, the translator wanted to show what happens when a translation is left flat.
Second, this is a good opportunity to note that there’s rarely a single “literal translation” or “direct translation” for a line of text – the term can mean a million different things to a million different people. If you asked a dozen translators to give a literal translation of the line above, you’d probably get a dozen different translations back. For example, a different translator might “literally translate” the NPC’s line as:
This is the world of snow, White Snow Village. Enjoy the beautiful world of silver.
While yet another translator might realize that “world of silver” is a Japanese phrase for a place covered in glittering snow as far as the eye can see and “literally translate” it as:
This is the land of snow, Whitesnow Village. Please enjoy our beautiful winter wonderland.
Depending on who you ask, one might be more literal than the other. In many cases it comes down to personal opinion.
There are also many different levels of “literal” to take into account – for example, I’ve met some translators who might consider the NPC above to have a literal translation that looks like:
Here snow’s world, WhiteSnow village. Beautiful silver world enjoy okay?
Here(topic) snow’s world, WhiteSnow village (emphatic implied copula). Beautiful silver world(object) enjoy(familiar request).
They might seem strange, but these versions follow the literal word order of the Japanese line. Word order often takes a center role in certain situations, so this style of translation can be useful sometimes, but I think many would agree that this is perhaps a little too literal and not something people would enjoy reading.
Basically, this is all to say that when you hear someone mention the phrase “literal translation”, it’s important to understand that there’s rarely a singular translation that fits the bill and that everyone has slightly different opinions on what “literal” means. So while the official translator in this particular RPG called the line a direct translation, it could have been translated in many other ways and been just as direct/literal. Hopefully that makes sense, or at least gives some insight into the translation process.
Anyway, the question I’m more interested in is: are there any other games out there where the translators left notes like this? I’m surprised something like this made it into the final version of an official translation!
If you liked this breezy look at translation philosophy or if you like seeing game translations broken down in detail, check out my book about EarthBound! It touches on translation theory, the game localization process, and how translations can go very right or very wrong.