Friday, January 11, 2008

Bedeviling B-Grammar

Wow, it's been some time since my last post. I've been busy with some school stuff, which still doesn't seem like it'll be sorted out soon, so I'm forced to put it on hold for the weekend. Anyway, on with my grammar rant.

I've been known to frequent "scanlation" sites -- a coined blend between "scans" and "translation", to refer to the not-so-legal translation and editing of foreign comics (which, in North America, predominately means Japanese-to-English). But at least most groups retain a sort of relative morality (in the sense that if it's not licensed in the US for distribution, they'll still treat it as fair game for scanlating online). And of course, given the obsessive and greedy need for development in the storyline, online readers seem to be content with 2nd-generation translations and unnatural phrasing.

Now, I could go on for quite a while about the issues of scanlations, as well as the policies behind their "translator" selection process, but today I just want to narrow in on a specific topic: the scanlation translators' knowledge of English (the target language).

But firstly, a brief introduction to what makes a good translator: In short, the translator should have a thorough knowledge of both source and target languages for the context of the translation. Which means that if you studied Medieval Japanese, you probably aren't the best person to call for a technical manual. Conversely, an engineer wouldn't be first choice for translating prose. (Incidentally, the school recently asked one of the Japanese TA's to check my translation of a short story, whom I know personally, and I've noticed that given her extreme lack of experience with English narratives, she erred on the literal, and not on the communicative, thereby making my original translation sound more "Japanese" and unnatural.)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. So, if we're reading a light, fluffy teen-romance comic, we'd want a translator who has experience with the casual and contemporary side of both languages. Likewise, if the comic is a historical fiction set in medieval times, a knowledge of the history and culture would be indispensible.

Unfortunately, from what I've seen, scanlation translators seem to be mostly composed of dictionary-dependent beginners who may or may not have taken a first-year course in Japanese. Frightful when the lack of furigana would scare away potential translators (which is sorta like saying how the lack of niqqud would scare off Hebrew translators). -- I'll make a glossary of terms below.

But, not only do these translators lack a sound knowledge of Japanese, they also seem to lack a sound knowlege of English (although, admittedly, this is more common for the Chinese-to-English translators, since C-to-E has more asian immigrants working as N.American translators than J-to-E). So the source text is not clearly understood, and the translation is shoddy and ambiguous.

One such elementary error seems to be the abuse of the be- prefix. From what I can observe, the not-so-educated would use this to replace a more regular verb, thinking it sounds more sophisticated and complex. (Which, doesn't exactly work when you do a blind substitution. Consider: "hey dawg, wassup?" --> "hey thou, wassup?")
"... an accident befell on their old foster parents, ..."
Whenever you replace something as crucial as verb, you always have to check that the constituents aren't affected. "X fell on Y" is most emphatically NOT the same as "X befell on Y".
Remember: be- verbs always take on DIRECT objects! So that means that it should be "X befell Y", assuming that the verb was correctly used.

So that means "X fell on Y" becomes "X befell Y". Also:
"X came to be Y" -> "X became Y"
"X bears/holds a grudge against Y" -> "X begrudges Y"

And, on the topic of prepositions, just because one verb uses one, doesn't mean a similar verb would use the same one for the same meaning.
e.g. "we talked about the problem"
but "we discussed about the problem"
Also: "I said it was fun"
but:"I spoke, 'it was fun'"
However: "I spoke about the problem"
and: "I said, 'this is the problem ...' "

Mawrr. Let's end with a fun fact: the word "nice" originally meant "fool; ignorant" from "nescienta", lit. "no knowledge". So the next time someone calls you "nice", give them a friendly, piercing glare. =D

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