Resource Translation Lessons for Translators & Editors

Discussion in 'Translator's Corner' started by Galooza, Oct 10, 2020.

  1. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Translating I: Redefining Translation

    If you stop and really think about it, can you actually translate a story? I argue you can’t. What you’re really doing is translating an author’s intentions through your own retelling, meaning you may not be translating what you think. And that view of subpar but faithful wording rather than retelling the story as well as you can becomes an issue. Is writing subpar doing right by the author? Compared to anime & manga that have the luxury of music and art to draw people in, novels don't. Thus, good writing is critical. Literal translating limits word choice while storytelling takes imagination. To that end, it behooves us to take on a more liberal, yet restrained approach. So be bold with words, because while there is a line to be crossed in translation accuracy, it's crossed in the essence of the writing. To set your mind to the side of understanding what the essence of writing is, it’s necessary to understand a literal thought process so we can uncouple ourselves from it.

    Example:

    “I wanted you to help me find out about the jade pendant the other time. How’s your investigation?”

    “Regarding the jade pendant, I’ve already found out some information about it.”

    When we consider the context of this block as a whole, the jade pendant is already mentioned as a subject. Thus, the entire first part of the second sentence is unnecessary. There are little examples like this everywhere in web novels, whether they actually mention things in regard to the story or are simple sayings put at the beginning or end of a sentence. Keeping things just because the author had them is a literal mindset. Oftentimes, these little sayings serve no purpose and break up the flow of a sentence after translation. Engaging in the act of translation is to already change something from its original form. To follow through with that, you then want the new form to be the best it can. Let’s rewrite those sentences and see how things flow:

    Rewrite:

    “Have you found anything about the jade pendant I asked you to look into?”

    “I've found some information regarding it.”

    The essence of writing is all about the big picture and how you communicate it. Ultimately, the question is to what degree you consider a rewrite to be too much and whether that’s hurting the writing. That’s for you to figure out, but if the goal is good writing, leniency toward change is important.

    Translating II: Split Positions and their Implications

    If you’re a translator working with an editor, although you may not be the one doing the rewriting, there’s a status quo in the translation community that translators have the final say with wording. If English isn’t one’s strong suit, it’s normal to translate with a literal mindset, and that’s okay. But with all due respect, you asked for an editor for a reason. Disagreeing with a change is fine, but talk things over with your editor to find that happy balance. Understandably, we have egos about our work because of how seriously we take it, but at the end of the day, this isn’t for us or the author. It’s for the readers, and how we retell the story to them.

    Editing I: Sentence Rewriting

    Going back to the literal mindset, that also comes into play here. Leaving paragraphs or sentences structured exactly as the author had them is a literal mindset. However, restructuring text can have a drastic effect on how well readers comprehend a story and possibly communicate the story better than the author. If we can do that for the author, shouldn’t we?

    Along the same vein, we should look for any chance to combine sentences. First, I like to start by reading the whole paragraph, then looking for sentences that could go together and take it step by step.

    Example:

    “That jade pendant is indeed related to the royal family of the Nine Nights Dynasty. It’s said that over ten years ago, a lady suddenly appeared beside the former Emperor of Nine Nights Dynasty. That lady possessed remarkable abilities and assisted the former Emperor to secure his position as the Emperor in just a few months. That lady wore this jade pendant back then. However, after the former Emperor’s position was stabilized, that lady disappeared suddenly, and there’s no more news of her from then on. Rumors have it that the lady was already pregnant when she appeared.

    Rewrite:

    It’s said that over ten years ago, a rumored pregnant lady possessing remarkable abilities suddenly appeared beside the former Emperor and assisted him in securing the position in only a few months.

    “That jade pendant is indeed related to the royal family of the Nine Nights Dynasty. It’s said that over ten years ago, a lady suddenly appeared beside the former Emperor of Nine Nights Dynasty. That lady possessed remarkable abilities and assisted the former Emperor to secure his position as the Emperor in just a few months. That lady wore this jade pendant back then. However, after the former Emperor’s position was stabilized, that lady disappeared suddenly, and there’s no more news of her from then on. Rumors have it that the lady was already pregnant when she appeared.”

    Rewrite:

    But she disappeared immediately after, and no news has ever come back of her. It was she who wore it.

    New paragraph:

    That jade pendant's indeed related to the Nine Nights Dynasty's royal family. It’s said that over ten years ago, a rumored pregnant lady possessing remarkable abilities suddenly appeared beside the former Emperor and assisted him in securing the position in only a few months. But she disappeared immediately after, and no news has ever come back of her. It was she who wore it.

    Now, a literal mindset would probably be screaming bloody murder at this point, but this is where the essence of the writing shines through. Nothing more or less has been said contextually, only the details come through in a far more natural way after they’ve all been rewritten, even with a different structure.

    Editing II: Text Condensing

    That’s the hard part, and a lot of it is easy for editors to overlook or not know is part of the job. What’s left will be minor in comparison, but may play just as much if not more of a role in making the English sound more natural than rewriting sentences. It comes in multiple parts:

    Numbers

    Nobody wants to read huge numbers written out. It has to be one of the most painful things in reading, but there’s also the question of where to draw the line with small numbers. Whether you want to follow this is up to you, but in school I was taught to write out numbers up to ten before using numbers.

    Contractions

    If you don't know what contractions are, they're combinations of two words by way of an apostrophe. It's best to hit up Google if you want a list, but please don't be afraid to use them. If you’re ever confused about a contraction’s usage, read the sentence using both of its words. If the sentence doesn’t make sense, the contraction is incorrect.

    Example:
    Incorrect: “What is it’s (it is) name?”
    Correct: “What is its (possessive) name?”

    Exception: Because of plural form, adding 's to a noun can either make it a contraction or possessive depending on usage.

    Repetitive Names & Details

    Languages such as Chinese & Japanese that use symbols with specific meanings use the same literal name in every reference. Once a reader contextually understands something and it is the current subject whose name has already been mentioned, referring to it the exact same way is unnecessary and tiring to read.

    Example:
    Non-condensed: The Sky Chasing Wind God Book is over there! Hurry! The Sky Chasing Wind God Book is getting away! Ah! The Sky Chasing Wind Good Book went around a mountain!

    Condensed: "There's the Sky Chasing Wind God Book! Hurry after it!" "Ah! It went around that mountain!"

    Readability & Flow

    Readability. The culmination of all the previous lessons. Now while I say that, that's still not all there is to it. Rhythm is important, and it brings readability into the realm of flow. Though not often called a writing skill, varying sentence length is something you can actively do to achieve flow. The same sentence length, all the time, all the same, gets very dull and boring. Don't write words, write music.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
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  2. Saorihirai

    Saorihirai Well-Known Member

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    I 100% agree on this. Though I'm not a translator, my favorite translation is from Adonis, whose translator (working solo mind you, *and* releases like idk 10k thousand word chapters) does not translate literally but liberally and it makes me reading experience 1000000x better. She translates the essence of the work, not the exact diction and whatnot. Given, she has a high grasp on both languages so others may need an editor to help out a bit but translation shouldn't be done literally. Of course, in reality, there's a balance where some things or phrases may be left in its literal expression and provided footnotes for. I've seen professional literature featuring different languages do this as well, and it comes across as very professional and fluent. Most of the work I've read here simply reads like machine translation with good grammar.
     
  3. Femme Fatale

    Femme Fatale | Sublime Goddess Of Chance |

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    Commendable!

    Are you asking for input from the community?
     
  4. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Input's more than welcome (it'll help this from getting buried in the archives over time lol) :D
     
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  5. Amaruna Myu

    Amaruna Myu ugly squid dokja (●´∀`●)

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    I've gotten used to this translation by now, but I'd like to remind people that "好" isn't solely meant to represent good. when someone asks you if you want to go shopping, normal English speakers don't say "good", but rather "okay". as a Chinese speaker this translation is understandable, but non-chinese or non-english speakers will just get the wrong idea.
    at least put a footnote explaining this translation if you dont want to put "okay"

    additionally, 酸。 "我肩膀好酸" is not "my shoulders are very sour"
    no one says that in real life. it may be the quality of the translations I read or that the translator just badly edited mtl, but you should at least try to correct this
     
  6. emiliers

    emiliers Well-Known Member

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    [puts on sunglasses] Oh man, do I have a rant. (This is mostly directed at Chinese translators, but I guess it applies to those Japanese weebs who leave in -desus as if it's going out of style too.)

    Can I just say that I absolutely hate when translators straight-up just leave in freaking 吧 or 呢 in pinyin at the end of sentences? As if they are super untranslatable Chinese concepts when, in fact, they are just a grammatical reality and fully capable of being translated into English??

    Like... I've seen translators defend simply transliterating 吧 as "ba" instead of actually, you know, trying to reword the sentence in a way that makes grammatical English sense because ~apparently~ 吧 is used to "soften" the sentence in Chinese so it'd be somehow impossible to translate that into English?? Which is a terrible excuse and makes zero sense. 吧 is a common-as-dirt ending signifier that actually draws no attention to itself to native Chinese speakers. There are just some sentences that feel absolutely natural to end in 吧. And so the absence of 吧 in a sentence that would typically have it is what would cause some notice. And, yes, those sentences do tend to sound sharper/more curt. But there are very easy ways to adapt that into English!!

    Ex: 走吧。 --> "You should go." or "Let's go." vs. 走。 --> "Go."

    Also, 吧 is sometimes used at the end of rhetorical questions, and there's even less reason to keep it transliterated then. (你應該知道吧? --> You should know, right?)

    As for 呢 (ne)... I'm even more baffled here, since there's an actual, translatable meaning. When someone goes, 你呢? They're literally saying, "What about you?" Literally. So 呢 = what/how about (insert pronoun here). There's no ambiguity here.

    Like there are some bizarro attempts at keeping "consistency" by some translators by leaving all these "sentence-ending words" in pinyin even when there's a perfectly fine translation available. Don't... don't do that. If I wanted to read Chinglish, I'd look back over my sad old Chinese afterschool homework.

    As for actual English... Well, my criteria for a good editor is "someone who at least knows what a split infinitive is". (Also, incorrectly placed modifiers.) In short: I think English teachers need to teach better grammar in schools, because hoo boy, are there some absolutely atrocious grammatical errors in some of these translations, even by native English speakers. In fact, while I find non-native speakers' work tend to sound a bit stranger, it's usually the native English speakers who keep committing all the grammar errors.

    Anyway, I could go on forever, but I'll stop while I'm ahead. [adjusts sunglasses and rides off into the sunset]

    EDIT: OK, apparently I had one more, and I guess this is aimed at the Japanese translators, since the Mainland seems to have fully converted to using quotes so it's less of an issue within the Chinese translation community (though us Taiwanese folks still hold onto our old-timey ways of writing these things, but I digress).

    But, you know... those brackets 「」 you see around speech in Japanese (and Taiwan-published Chinese novels)? Those are literally... just a different way... of writing quotes. So translate them into quotes... Don't leave the brackets... Don't be a weeb. These aren't exotic or special or strange... They are literally just a different punctuation style... It's like how British English uses single-quotes now for dialogue while American English uses double quotes...

    Nothing makes me nope out faster on a Japanese translated novel than seeing those brackets remaining around the dialogue.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2020
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  7. Shibb

    Shibb Well-Known Member

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    This mtl inaccuracy is shocking and just downright confusing.

    This happens? Wtf. How? It's lesson no.1 that those things are just filler or a way to put in question mark to a sentence that's not a question. It's not like they're accent denominators like "haiyah" vs "aiyah".
     
  8. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Shameless bump for a final edit. Had better ideas to wrap it all up into a nice package (and I just want as many to read as possible :blobpeek:).
     
  9. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    What I find more often are these super long sentences containing multiple thoughts separated by commas. A literal translation to English for these would be very unreadable even though they're fine in Chinese. I'm a big advocate of translators rewriting sentences so that they sound like natural English rather than whatever structures they were in the original.

    I mostly read Japanese translations and it's just too common to see the original syntax being retained. It just makes the reading experience so very awkward and hard to parse.

    I don't know if it's just because there's a lot of MTL out there, but I see a lot of translations of words rather than translations of meanings. And that's a pretty big disservice to the reader.
     
  10. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    So, I lied about it being the final edit. After seeing a mention of pronouns recently and connecting that to something big I never covered, I needed to add it in. Add in some new things that came to mind from my newest editing job, and I completely rewrote it again.
     
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  11. riririn

    riririn Well-Known Member

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    oh... I'm so glad you brought this because I love to read stuff about this!
    I really like the way you put this! This is something I've only slowly started to learn as I kept translating (which is unfortunate for my earlier work...) and this is just such a simple way to understand. I should really spend more time editing >.>

    YES EXACTLY. Like... if the reader knows Chinese then maybe it's understandable to them but if you don't know any at all how are you supposed to read it??? And often times they just leave a very short note that doesn't really explain what it's for... I find it distracting and honestly a little lazy too ._. also I just wanted to say that I really admire your translations although I didn't read most of the novel since it wasn't my type of story
     
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  12. Pluuto

    Pluuto Member

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    Exactlyyy. It's also important to retain enough of the original idea to make it understandable. Rigidity is a big problem fr.
     
  13. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Redid the translation section. In terms of literal translating, never really had a strong why in regards to the translator, just the reader. I think this way of seeing things can better put things in perspective for translators as well.
     
  14. Tita von Deeznuts

    Tita von Deeznuts Member

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    But many readers of fan translations think the literal stuff is better and localization is the devil.
     
  15. ToastedRossi

    ToastedRossi Well-Known Member

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    I think the reason for this is that they're used to translations for anime and manga (and maybe for foreign film). And in those cases more literal translations make sense. In media with visual and audio cues the audience can draw from a lot more than just words. A sentence that scans awkwardly doesn't jar as much because you still have facial expressions and intonation to work off of.

    For translating literature though, the written word is the only thing to go off of so anything that's jarring there threatens to pull the reader out of the flow of the story. I think it's important for a translation to be as immersive as possible, but what gives this immersion is going to be different when dealing with different media. Readability isn't that big a deal for visual media whereas it's super important for regular books. I'd side with the fan translations for the former, but I don't think it's a very good fit for the latter.
     
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  16. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Localization is the type of stuff you see professional publishers do, and they make tons of choices that do go too far. Simply wording things a bit different for better writing is different than completely changing it to fit a western demographic.

    Edit: Edited in basically what Rossi said about media as I meant to write that in initially. Anime and manga have the luxury of music and art to help immerse readers and viewers, novels don't. Good writing is important.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2021
  17. Tita von Deeznuts

    Tita von Deeznuts Member

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    I'm not disagreeing. Just pointing out that a lot of people prefer to sacrifice readability for what they think is authenticity.
    Localization begins with the sort of thing you did in your second example—adding in dialect cues to make the dialogue read more like a native speaker would say. Next thing you know, you might use a pronoun in the place of a 哥哥 or the character's name instead of a 兄ちゃん and all hell will break loose.

    All I'm saying is that your suggestions for higher quality translation, while completely reasonable, can actually alienate your readers if you get too good. Your threshold for permissible localization sounds a lot higher than most fans', whose standards are in the toilet. And they are not forgiving.
     
  18. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Reformatted the translation section again. Rolled with the new way of looking at things and got further in depth with really defining the second section which I'd left still kinda vague before.

    Didn't say anything before because you're not wrong, but also that's not really what we do here, which is why I said that's what professionals do. It's about redefining what being faithful to the author's story really is. Although I don't at all support getting rid of all suffixes, more often than not, far too many are left. Enough to make you wanna bash your head into a wall. The other replies in this thread support that.

    Edit: I should note that I support suffixes in appropriate cultural conditions. In Japan for example, not abroad among foreigners. Also, in order to not use too many I use them sparingly, such as referring to a such and such-senpai in 3rd person I will, but we don't talk to each other face to face using it. It's very situational.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2021
  19. riririn

    riririn Well-Known Member

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    I think it'd be super cool if you did your updates as new replies to the thread instead of just editing bc I can't tell at a glance what I've already read and it'd be interesting to compare how your own view of translation has changed over time.
     
  20. Galooza

    Galooza The One True Walapalooza

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    Hmm, I could do that. More often it's completely reformatting sections which would mean reposting a fair portion of it, but I could definitely do that.
     
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