Howdy, friends. DubstepKazoo is back with the second leg of our journey through the interesting parts of the Wakabayashi. Let’s jump right back into it!


The next big thing to discuss is English present in a Japanese text. Unsurprisingly, Wakabayashi has many ideas, and the one you go with largely depends on the purpose of the English within the text. Here’s the one we went with in Senmomo:


Mark the non-Japanese expression by italics, underlining, parentheses, quotation marks (‘scare quotes’), angle brackets, uppercase (including all caps), a different typeface, a coloured font, or phonetic or non-standard spelling. (p. 183, emphasis mine)

Katakana English in Japanese can convey anything from trendiness to austerity, but in Senmomo, it is literally English. It’s “the language of the Republic.” It’s in katakana, of course, but characters who use English words are explicitly using words from a different language in their speech. Oftentimes, it’s a word Soujin doesn’t know, so we have to set it apart somehow. We chose the tried-and-true method of angle brackets. There’s actually something else we did, but I think I’ll keep that a secret and see if you can spot it.


I will say that we considered replacing the English with another language—such as French—but we quickly abandoned that idea. One, the Republic is very obviously based on the US. It goes on imperialistic conquests, it has a hard-on for freedom, and its most famous restaurant is WcDonald’s. It would be absurd for its language to be anything but English. Two, the reader needs to be able to understand the English involved. I can’t think of a second language that the majority of English readers will be able to recognize. And three, there’s just no language with the same relationship to English as English has to Japanese. It’s that simple.


Funnily enough, it’s not just English that this happens to in VNs. As I recently discovered, Tsuriotsu 2 has a handful of lines written in French with the Japanese translation provided as ruby text. My French-speaking compatriots in Operation Bellflower assure me it isn’t shit, though it is missing accent marks and makes a few odd word choices. Truly, I wonder how a hypothetical translation effort might handle that.


Wakabayashi also talks about metalinguistic references, such as discourse regarding kanji, and provides several approaches you can probably guess by now (rewriting to English metalinguistic discourse, dodging the issue, keeping the Japanese and adding explanations, and so on). In Senmomo, we do have some proper nouns whose kanji’s meanings are significant. We have our cake and eat it too by including said meanings as ruby text the first time the terms appear, such as sappanwood for Empress Suou or Floral Splendor for Hana Akari. This approach obviously wouldn’t work in a novel, but hey. You better believe we’ll take advantage of the medium.


She also has a very long section about wordplay—that thing every translator dreads—and dedicates most of it to categorizing the various types of it. If you want to know what she suggests you do about it, look no further than any translated VN that contains it, as she is of the same mind as us. Interesting to note is that she also proposes just axing the pun if you can get away with it and can’t think of anything else to do with it, perhaps adding your own pun in somewhere else to compensate.


The next worthwhile area of discussion is onomatopoeia. In English, onomatopoeia is rather juvenile, and exclusively represents sounds. Not so in Japanese. No, Japanese onomatopoeia can also represent information from other senses (sight and touch, for instance) or even states of mind. They’re more accurately referred to as mimetics, and they can be the bane of my existence at times.


If you’re lucky, you can translate them with an English onomatopoeia, a well-chosen verb, or a creative simile or metaphor. If you’re not, things get a lot harder, and Wakabayashi throws a lot of things at the wall in hopes that something will stick. Here’s a very interesting piece of advice she has to offer, though:


An acquaintance with English sound symbolism might likewise be helpful—e.g. knowing that fl at the start of a word expresses movement (flee, flutter), gl at the start of a word is often associated with light (glow, glitter), sn at the start of a word often relates to the nose or mouth (snout; snicker) and can have somewhat unpleasant connotations (sneer, snap), and sl at the start of a word relates to frictionless motion (slide; slithery) or unpleasantness (slug; slovenly). (p. 202)

And here’s a very funny one:


Omission. This is acceptable if the propositional content is not affected and the sound effect lacks significance. Studies show that omission is in fact one of the most common techniques in Japanese–English translation of mimetic expressions. It should not, however, be used as an excuse for not attempting to find a solution. (p. 205)

One final note on this section:


Ultimately, the best way to translate mimetics is to understand the context, deverbalise the meaning and express it without consciously resorting to the above techniques. (p. 205)

That’s my approach with everything, really.


The next section she talks about is a relatively minor thing: slogans and catchphrases. Japanese advertising copy isn’t worded even a little similar to English advertising copy. Here’s a short quote:


They are often characterised by elements such as brevity, wordplay, and repetition or parallelism for effect. Unless the translation is purely for informational purposes, it is vital that the English rendition also sounds catchy. This might involve modifying the Japanese or substituting a creation that has impact in English. (p. 206)

This was only relevant for one line in Senmomo. Hotori has a side job as the idol (“famous singer” within the text, as “idol” isn’t a word in the Empire’s language) Natsumi, produced by her friend Shino. At one point in Chapter 2, Shino muses over a slogan to advertise a new product with. Predictably, it reads badly when directly translated, so Lonesome threw it out and came up with his own. I don’t have access to our script at the moment, but if I remember, I’ll come back and copy/paste it here later.


That’s it for this one. Just one more post in the Wakabayashi train, and it’s gonna be an exciting one: it’ll start with a discussion on honorifics and end with an analysis of how I translated Senmomo’s title. Let me know what you think about this one while you wait warmly for the next. See you next time!

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