Accents

People occasionally debate about how an accent should or shouldn’t be translated. Some people think they shouldn’t be at all. I would have to disagree. Usually a character has an accent for a reason. Characters that appear in fiction that have an Osakan accent, often fit many of the stereotypes associated with that accent. Also, if they don’t possess an accent in the English translation, then the reader probably won’t know any of this otherwise. The difficult part of course, is choosing the right English accent that corresponds with the way the accent is used in Japanese. For example, in Genshiken, Ogiue’s accent is used to show her rural upbringing, thus a country or southern accent works rather well. In Moyashimon, Misato’s Osakan accent doesn’t have as clear of a purpose. Yes, he tends to play a comedic role often enough, but that doesn’t seem to be quite the link either. Is it meant to identify his upbringing and characterize him that way? It’s hard to say. In cases like this, I think it’s more pertinent to look at the character, and adopt a fitting accent based on that. Misato is friendly, a bit silly, and a bit critical. I don’t think a southern accent would work in this case, even if it is used often for the Osakan accent.

In one of the games I’m working on, the character Poko speaks with a Shitamachi accent, a downtown, lower-class accent. Here the point is that Poko fits the stereotype well, at least in the way he talks to others. For this reason I decided to adopt a Brooklyn accent. Then of course, comes the hardest part of all: attempting to depict an accent in writing. I’m no Mark Twain, so I can only hope I manage to convey Poko’s lines in an easily recognizable accent. If it were a southern or midland accent (which I’m more familiar with), it might be a little easier. Luckily, the net has a fair share of hints, samples and sound-bytes to help me portray it accurately.

Aitha way, I know id ain’ gon’ be easy.

10 Responses to Accents

  1. Dark_Shiki says:

    Just don’t go too far. I’d prefer that an adaptation of an accent not include the real-life difficulty in understanding the person. I’d probably just make heavy use of slang, when appropriate, ignoring accent for the most part. In my opinion, accent is something for voice actors to worry about, not translators.

    • Dark_Shiki says:

      Something to add: I think accent should be conveyed in writing by word choice rather than using “fake” English to try and mimic the sound of the accent.

      • kouryuu9 says:

        I would have to disagree myself. I realize conveying an accent in writing can be really difficult, but take Mark Twain for example. He is highly appreciated precisely for his ability to capture and compose in the native accents of a wide variety of people.

        Anyways, I’d like to think I did a good job with this one.

  2. DarkFusion says:

    Try using the Azumanga Daioh manga’s english rendition of Osaka’s accent as an example. The manga version was a New York accent, though the anime dub’s was a southern accent (ADV made some explanation about this in the DVD extras)

    • Ichigo69 says:

      Actually, when Yen Press (the superiour translator to ADV) took over the license to AD, they made Osaka have a southern accent…

  3. Peter says:

    I never really considered accents before in visual-novels. I can’t say I’ve noticed them before. Is this your own idea, or have you seen similar practices in other English translated visual-novels?

    • kouryuu9 says:

      I don’t know if I’ve seen it before in English translated Visual Novels, but like CG land says, I think the characters’ manner of speech is something important to be conveyed. In anime, you have the dub actors, so you don’t have to convey it in the text. However, in games like ours where only the text is English, and the voicing is still Japanese, the text is the only way one can convey the presence of an accent or speech style.

      Like CGland says, portraying a girl who speaks like a guy is very difficult in English, since the speech style is nearly the same to us. On the other hand, I think the more formal speech style of your “young Lady” type of prim and proper girl is much more easily conveyed. In such upper class society there IS a tendency to use less common words and to speak very formally, which can be conveyed in the text.

      For example, take Morimoto’s speech in Soul Link. He has quite a formal manner of speech, and one could say he almost sounds like a waiter boy you would find in a hotel. As such, I made a point to refrain from using contractions in his speech, and also to give a bit of that service tone to it.

      Still, I do find it fun to work with speech styles. A game like Seinarukana, where every character has a unique style of speech would be a lot of fun for me.

  4. cgland says:

    Depend of the situation and setting.
    If, for exeampe, you take a Manga like Lovely Complex where all the Character use the Kansai-Ben (except one or two)… There is no point in making the accent visible in the translation.

    But in a Manga like Hajime no Ippo, where a character like Sendo use a strong Kansai-Ben accent with eating a lot of letter, there is a point of making the accent visible in the translation.

    Now, is think the more difficult thing is not really the accent bu the way of speaking some character can have.
    It’s really hard to translate the way of speaking of a Boyish Girl using “ore”, or an Oujo-Sama and her desuwa, an energic childish girld using her name as “i” and a Nanoda in the end etc…in English or other Latin and german based language.
    I think thet is the real trap when you translate Manga, Anime or Game from Japanese.

  5. GRS says:

    Most important is to make thing understandable. I have nothing japanesse words, but dialects and accents are rather impossible to be well translated. How to translated Osaka accent into english? Only good option that I know is to use old english, from XVII-XIX century, but this might be hard to understand for those who doesn’t know it.

  6. TDOMMX says:

    Speaking from the other side of the fence, I think speech styles should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, a character’s mannerisms clue the reader / viewer in to aspects of their personality (or changes therein); other times, they’re not.

    When I was writing the English script for Rosenkreuzstilette, handling the dialogue proved to be an interesting challenge. In the game, one of the characters speaks like a true aristocrat, ending her sentences in “desu wa”, being excessively polite with her instructors, and so on. After a major plot point, her speech changes drastically and she begins to feel like an entirely different character. In cases such as these, I think it’s extremely important for translators to pay attention to changes in the characters’ attitude, diction, and even the length and frequency of their lines. To properly convey this shift while still maintaining her “noble” persona, I had her use continue to use sophisticated turns of phrase, but coat many of her lines with barbs and become increasingly motor-mouthed.

    When the dub version of Neon Genesis Evangelion was first released, I recall some people complaining about Joe Pisano’s not trying to recreate Toji Suzuhara’s accent in English. Personally, I don’t see what they were up in arms about. Toji was intended to be a foul-mouthed jock, and as long as the English properly conveyed that much, it shouldn’t really matter if he sounds like he came from downtown Brooklyn or not. The accent isn’t an integral part of the character in this case, so it shouldn’t matter that much if a nuance is preserved or not (though I’ll commend Carl Gustav Horn for adapting the accent in the English version of the manga).

    Of course, if an aspect of the character’s speech is lampshaded, such as when a girl is known to sound like “one of the guys”, I think the English scriptwriter should do their best to make sure their interpretation of the character stays consistent with this. Similarly, it’s rather jarring when a prim-and-proper rich girl’s dialogue relies heavily on contractions or when a country bumpkin sounds like an urban poet. The writer should thoroughly understand the characters, their personalities, and their place in the grand scheme of things before penning even one line of text.

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