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Example: fan translation of manga

Watch this video where Dr Matteo Fabbretti discusses translation in Japanese manga.
Text on screen: What is manga? Well, manga, to put it in simple way, are Japanese comics. However, they are not quite like comics like as we understand it in the West. They’re not quite like, say, Spider-Man or Superman. It’s a broader field. In Japan, they are considered a medium, like televisions. So there are many more manga genres and manga artists. So it’s a broader field. In fact, if you visit in Japan, it’s pretty much impossible not to find mangas because they’re everywhere, unlike, say, comics in the West.
Text on screen: What are some of the challenges when translating manga to English? Manga, they’re basically they follow the Japanese reading direction. So the first thing that you will find if you read Japanese manga, that you have to start from the right and start reading basically the opposite direction of how we would read in the West. Manga are normally set in a real location in Japan and, therefore, there will be a lot of specifically Japanese linguistic and cultural items, which become difficult in translation to deal in translation.
Text on screen: Another challenge is the use of honorifics. What are honorifics? Japanese honorifics. In order to understand Japanese honorifics, I’ll explain to you a bit about the difference in European languages between a formal you and a friendly you. So in Italian, for example, who we can say tu and voi. And this is, in a way, the same thing happen in many European languages, also in Japanese. However in Japan, it’s more complex. And, therefore, they have a different model to, they have a number of ways for people to refer to other people. Therefore, they will be using something like their suffix that they put at the end of their name.
So, for example, you, Dorota because you are my supervisor, you would be Dorota-Sensei. And because I’m your underling, I would be Matteo-Kun, so used to be. So it would be formalized. So there will be an explicit suffix, honorific suffix, attached to people’s names.
Text on screen: Who has translated manga into English? Historically speaking, manga has been translated both by commercial entities, like manga publishers, commercial manga publishers, and also by fans. The way it happens is that, as I said, there is a great deal of manga produced in Japan.
And, therefore, up to a few decades ago, manga publishers weren’t quite sure whether manga would be successful in the West. Because, as I say, they are quite different from people understanding of comics. There was an understanding that if you wanted to translate manga, you had to convert them into comics, so changing reading directions, take away all the Japanese cultural items. Fans were not quite happy with the way commercial publisher were going about translating manga and they started translating them by themselves. This sort of phenomena started like in the early 2000s, so it’s already been nearly 20 years that the fans have been translating their own manga.
Text on screen:What does good translation mean to manga fans? Well, the fans weren’t happy, first of all, with the idea of flipping the manga. Because of what happened when you take a manga that should be read in one direction and you mirror the image, what happened is that all the characters become left handed. So in the early days of manga publishing, fans were unhappy with the fact that the honorifics were not maintained. And, therefore, people refer to each other with an informal you. And fans felt like that a lot of meaning was lost in translation.
And, therefore, they systematically set out to translate them in a way that they could see that for them, they wanted something of the Japanese culture to come through in manga. They wanted to see manga how Japanese people were reading it.
Text on screen: How do fans translate cultural items? Can you give examples? For example, a Japanese festival or a ritual of some sort that is only specific to Japanese culture. Rather than changing it into something that made sense for the Western audience, they would put a footnote at the bottom of the page or perhaps a footnote at the beginning of the page of the manga to explain the context or the story in which it took place. So they would give some details. And they would explain. Before that, footnotes in comics were unheard of. So this was quite something that the commercial publishers weren’t thinking about doing and fans they’ve been doing it systematically since the beginning.
What is interesting and unique about these footnotes? Sometimes, they would put their own comments about the difficulties they face when translating. And they were really giving insight to the readers about the actual process of translation.
They wouldn’t just give the result or the translation, they would actually tell them I found this difficult and they would use the first person, I, as a translator, I found this difficult to translate or interesting to translate. So fans, they would give readers an insight into the process of translation.

Another interesting type of interlingual translation is translating comics and graphic novels.

It involves a change of language but it also requires the translator to think about the relationship between image and text and the way they are read or viewed.

In this interview with Dr Dorota Goluch, Dr Matteo Fabbretti discusses the challenges of translating manga from Japanese into English.

He shows that the challenges were addressed differently by commercial comics publishers and by fans, who have been doing their own translations.

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Working with Translation: Theory and Practice

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