In case you didn’t know, whenever Lonesome finishes editing a script file of Senmomo, we get on a Discord call together and go over it line by line, looking for odd turns of phrase, typos, grammatical errors, and edits that stray too far from the original Japanese. (He’s usually very good about keeping to the original tone, but sometimes he gets too excited, and I’ll make him redo a line.)
But wait. He proclaimed to the world when he first joined me that my translation is already good as is and could be released in its current state after a simple sweep for typos. Why am I bothering to have him go over the script?
Or, alternatively, he’s the editor. He’s supposed to touch the script now, so why am I suddenly coming back in and interfering with his job?
There’s a lot of good answers to these questions, ones that I’m sure are fairly obvious to most of the people reading this, so I won’t bother enumerating those. In this post, I’d like to talk about one that often goes overlooked: bias inherent in a translator’s perception of English.
Lonesome and I come from fairly different linguistic backgrounds. I grew up my entire life in Florida, that strange pocket of the American southeast that seems to defy the influence of all the states surrounding it. I did spend my second year of college in Japan, but I mostly spoke Japanese there, so outside a few short periods of my life, I was mostly exposed to people of backgrounds similar to mine.
Lonesome, meanwhile, finds his English origins most strongly in Canada. He also went to college on the east coast of the US, and now he lives somewhere in Asia. With more of an international background than mine, he tends to prefer the conventions of British English in writing, even if his accent when speaking is essentially no different from mine.
With all this in mind, it’s actually remarkable how similarly we do speak. But the slight differences between our English sensibilities do make themselves apparent in the script. And just think of the untold hundreds (maybe even thousands, hopefully) of people who will eventually read Senmomo. Each and every one of them comes from a unique background, and they will read the game through that lens. What sounds normal to one person may sound strange to another. (To give an example, I was once criticized for using “sense of equilibrium” over “sense of balance” in a screenshot I posted, but all of us on the team agreed “equilibrium” worked better there.) The final script needs to reflect a neutral standard of English that will sound natural to as wide a range of readers as possible.
As such, we get on our calls together to make sure the script reads in a way we can both be happy with. For example, I tend to prefer “too” where he would more readily go for “as well.” I’m an “okay” person, but he likes “alright.” He’ll go for “towards” where I’d sooner use “to” or “toward.” Sometimes, one of us will point at a line the other wrote and say, “This sounds kinda off.” Translators and editors are only human; we can only write based on what makes sense to us. When we make a word choice, we do it based on the nuances we personally consider that word to have. Your personal biases are going to creep into your translations no matter how hard you try. You can obviously counter this with some effort, but it always helps to have another pair of eyes. See this quote from the Wakabayashi:
Like writers, translators have their own idiolect. A predilection for certain turns of phrase can result in a ‘translator’s tic’. Ways of overcoming this include paying careful attention to one’s writing, soliciting critical feedback, and consciously looking for alternative expressions when reading other people’s work. (p. 169)
All of which I do regularly.
This can easily be a slippery slope, of course. So what if both of us supervise the script at once? Won’t it just become the average of our sensibilities and potentially still not mesh with other readers? Considering that you don’t really hear about this in discussions of translations, I think you know the answer to that question. I’ve gone on about differing linguistic backgrounds, but those are ultimately backgrounds of the same language. Said differences are going to be minute—mostly on the level of “oh, that sounds fine, I guess, but I might’ve gone for something else first.” Indeed, when we went over Chapter 1 on a call with Garudyne and Silverlight, neither of them said a word about our English. I take this to mean that we’ve reached a comfortable medium that most people can enjoy.
Indeed, I actually advise against having too many people touch the script, lest its voice get too schizophrenic. One editor and maybe one TLC is enough, with perhaps a QC person dedicated solely to catching typos (and doing other things that don’t involve editing the script). I have a relatively long history with fansubbing, and one time, I subbed a show I was really looking forward to with a group I’d just joined. I’d already read all the source material. I knew the story inside and out. I had a plan of attack for everything. I remember watching the first episode on the TV in my dorm’s common room (this was during my study abroad), then racing into my room to write my TL. Once I’d finished and uploaded it, I went to bed, leaving the rest in the hands of the other members of the group.
I woke up to an incomprehensible mess that I couldn’t even recognize as my own script. It was all over the place; I couldn’t tell what sort of voice it was intended to have. Some lines just made no sense at all, and even some subtle foreshadowing had vanished without a trace. I quickly discovered the reason for this: the project had one editor, two TLC people, two QC people, and the group leader. All six of them had editorial authority over the script (which begs the question of what “TLC” and “QC” mean). And more than one of these people spoke neither English nor Japanese fluently.
Needless to say, I was less than thrilled at this arrangement. And I, uh, let them know it. I’m still not proud of how I conducted myself that day, but that conversation resulted in the arrangement of letting me go over scripts for future episodes again with the TLC people in a desperate attempt to salvage what little I could. I’m only still in contact with one of the individuals involved in that project, and I distinctly remember him being the one I enjoyed working with; he had a good head on his shoulders, and I’ve gladly worked with him on other projects since then.
So as you can see, there is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen; once you start getting to three or so people with decision-making authority on editorial work, a script starts to lose its identity. Whenever possible, I’ve liked to work directly with my editors. For instance, when I subbed Attack on Titan: The Final Season with DameDesuYo, myself, the editor, and the group leader would all sit down and watch each episode together before release to make sure we were all satisfied with it. The workflow on that project was much better than the nightmare I described above, so I rarely had anything to say, but I was glad to have the opportunity.
When I first recruited staff for Operation Bellflower, I was deliberately vague about what I wanted from an editor. Basically all I said was “DM me your application,” upon which I would send applicants the test I had prepared. I wanted to see what people would bring to the table of their own accord. Most people just gave me very short messages along the lines of “Hey, I’m interested, so send me the test.” A couple even mentioned existing projects they’d worked on.
Lonesome, though, was different. I’d seen him responding to my WAYR posts during my translation effort, and I knew he was interested in editing, but I certainly wasn’t expecting multiple paragraphs going into detail about his background and editing philosophy. Even over the course of the next week, while I was waiting for people to submit their tests, he filled my Discord DMs with questions about such things as the workflow, my style, and even my competence. He even asked to have the opportunity to look at the script before fully committing to the project, a request I happily granted. If it was the unreadable MTL mess people feared it was, he would not have considered it worth his time. I was testing him, but at the same time, he was testing me. I was impressed, to say the least.
This alone didn’t earn him the position, of course. Even if people hadn’t brought these topics up, I intended to have these discussions with the submitters of the best tests from the very beginning. But even then, Lonesome’s test submission was so much better than the rest that I couldn’t bring myself to care about furthering anyone else. And in case you were unaware, one of the editor applicants does this for a living. That’s how good Lonesome is at this, despite having no prior experience. On Reddit, our camaraderie is a bit of a spectacle at this point, what with how much we talk each other up, but personally, I’m very glad to have him. This is by far the best work relationship I’ve ever had with an editor. More often than not, once we finish going over a script file on a call, we’ll stay on the line for another hour or two shooting the shit about all kinds of things, ranging from what we’re reading to our daily lives, or—and this is by far the most common subject—translation theory. Several of these blog posts I’m writing originated from conversations I had with him.
Perhaps you disagree with my statement above regarding how many people ought to have editorial license over a translation. I’d certainly be interested in hearing your perspective. I’m still DubstepKazoo in all the usual places, so by all means, feel free to give me a shout. Next time, I want to talk about something everybody’s guilty of: dumb mistakes.