Now something magics itself into being right?
Aren't you glad I didn't say Avada Kedavra?
(First Harry Potter reference of the day, y'all!)
First, I am an English Professor (not that you'd know it by my improper comma usage), which means that I deal with language all the time. I teach students how to translate ideas in their heads into writing language on the page which can then be translated by another person back into ideas and understanding...WHEW! This process of communicating (translating concepts, experiences and emotions into squiggles someone else can comprehend) is something that is extremely difficult for even the most talented of writers. When I teach I admit that. I actually do have a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing, and I still get frustrated and overwhelmed when I write. As a writer I am always trying to pin down an elusive thought or feeling into the exact right words, and sometimes failing. The reason for the difficulty is not only the nuances of our personal experiences, but the complexities of language itself. I warn students regularly about misusing the thesaurus, explaining to them that although there are many words for what seem like the same thing, but those words are NOT the same.
Every word is a living, adapting, evolving signifier with at least, if not more than, two "definitions." The first is a bare-bones basic definition, the denotation of the word. We can look this up in the dictionary and read about what a word means on its most basic level. But every word also carries within it a secondary connotation, a definition that is not only in flux (adapted, defined and redefined), but which often contains either value, judgement, nuance, emotional connection, or cultural association. What does this mean, well, maybe we should use an example? I'll use something scandalous...I know my audience.
The word Bitch means, quite literally, female dog. That's one of its denotations. The other denotation is that it is a pejorative term for an aggressive or contentious woman. Lots of words can mean two things. Unless you're a dog breeder, you aren't really thinking of the first definition, so let's look at the second one. Bitch can mean a lot of things, and the connotation of the word depends on the situation, speaker, audience and implications. If I am poking fun at my best friend (something I cannot help but do) and she laughs and calls me a bitch, I'm okay with that, because the context of the situation (our relationship, the mood, the tone of voice, and the implications of that word) makes it fine. If my sister puts a sticker on the back of her car that reads "Super Bitch," I might roll my eyes, but I know that a sticker like that is actually doing something very subversive; it is re-appropriating (redefining a word that is hurtful within the dominant culture for positive use within a minority culture) that term in a way that she can identify with, and implying that she is a strong, independent woman.
|It might be interesting to discuss,|
but I don't want this sticker on my car.
(Image from eshirt.com)
|Ichigo is confused by all of this.|
Let's just let him go fight bad guys.
He's not really a semiotics/sociolinguistics fan.
(Image from Anime Vice News)
So, if writing is hard even within one's own language, imagine the difficulty translators face when attempting to move not only from artist to audience but between languages which might have very different understandings of what words mean. To be a translator you have to know a culture very well and understand not just what words mean, but how they are used in day to day interactions, between various groups of people (among whom a particular word may mean something different in different contexts). The language of a culture reflects the ideas, values, and texture of a culture. There are words for things in some languages which simply do not exist in another language because there is no cultural equivalent, or because such a language has no use for a particular word (check out this list of 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words from Jason Wire at Matador Abroad). There are also cultures that are naturally multi-lingual in a sense, adopting words from other languages and absorbing, adapting, redefining them into their own daily use. Both English and Japanese adopt words regularly from other cultures when there is no equivalent in their own language. Although the words adopted are often used in similar ways to the original language's meaning, there are subtle differences in connotation. There are even cultural groups who technically speak the same language, but their use of it is so different that it causes translation issues. English is spoken in the United States of America, Canada, Australia, England and some island nations. And yet even close neighbors like the USA and Canada have language differences significant enough to cause translation and comprehension issues. Even within a single country like the USA, there are regional and cultural differences reflected in language. I live in the rural Southeast of the United States. Shakespeare lives in an urban environment on the West coast. We both lived in the upper Midwest for a while. I am from Appalachia. Each of those places has different speech patterns, dialects, regional speech, and values reflected in word usage, syntax, etc. People in different social, economic, cultural, regional and even social-specific groups can have an impossible time understanding one another, despite speaking the same language.
|Shuichi is mad that Dr. M's poor fansubbed|
Gravitation didn't do his story justice.
(Image by shubear88)
|Nausicca approves of decent translations!|
Thank you for your efforts to bring us stories we might never have access to, but please do remember to take your time.