A while back, a reader named Zachary asked a question about Final Fantasy IX. I’ve never played the English version, so oddly enough this is sort of going backwards for me, but let’s take a look!
In FF9, you’re never explicitly told what Quina’s gender is. Instead the game instead uses s/he to refer to Quina a few times.
It’s sort of a silly running gag in the game, and they refer to Quina like that more than once. I assume you’re not really meant to know the gender, but I was wondering what they referred to Quina as in the Japanese version.
I have zero understanding of Japanese, so I’m not sure how they handle gender. Do they do a similar thing as in the English version by using both male and female term at the same time, or is there some sort of gender neutral way of referring to someone in Japanese? Or perhaps they did give Quina a gender? Or maybe in the end it’s impossible to really tell based on the nature of the Japanese language? Would appreciate if you could shed some light on this.
First, for reference, this is Quina:
And here’s a look at a scene in both games where this “s/he” thing shows up while discussing Quina:
|Final Fantasy IX (Japanese)
|Final Fantasy IX (English)
In English, you can see that it says “s/he”, which is pretty unusual to see in game dialogue. So what does it say in the original script?
In Japanese, the word “aitsu” is used here. It’s a pronoun, but (in simple terms) it doesn’t have any specific gender attached to it. As such, in Japanese-to-English translation it can be translated as “he” or “she” or “that person” or even sometimes “it”. It’s a pretty common word, especially for entertainment, so nothing really feels out of place or unusual in the Japanese text here. I guess the localizers weren’t sure what to call Quina, if anything, so they decided to avoid making a decision by going with “s/he”. I’m not really sure how it’s meant to be pronounced, though…
Regarding Zachary’s other questions, in general, Japanese uses pronouns a lot less often than English does. This is because if the subject of a sentence is understood, it’s often left out of a sentence altogether; there’s no grammatical requirement to include a subject. Or, if you do want to specify someone in a sentence, usually you’ll just refer to them by name. That said, Japanese can and does use pronouns – in fact, there are probably more pronouns in Japanese than in English!
Anyway, this issue of “I’m not sure if this character is intended to be male or female” pops up all the time during Japanese-to-English localization – this is just one example of it. I think this is the first and only time I’ve seen it handled as “s/he”, though – have any other games or movies or what-have-you used that before? It’s an interesting choice!