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translation audiences and honorifics

So there are various philosophies of translation, how literal or high level you should be, how much to preserve meaning vs. experience. For example, samurai daimyo and ninja could be translated as knight lord and assassin. This would make them seem more familiar to European cultures and preserving or 'translating' the experience -- after all, samurai isn't exotic to Japanese people -- at the potential cost of shades of meaning, and the exoticness that might be why someone wants to read the translation in the first place.

One specific disagreement I've seen is over Japanese honorifics: -san, -chan, -kun, etc. Pro translators seem to pride themselves on full naturalization, turning -san into Mister and relatives, -chan into endearments if anything, and such. Anime/manga fans generally prefer preserving them, and that has taken over professional manga translations, which now usually have an honorifics guide in the front. I prefer that myself, as I can easily see uses of honorifics that would be hard to translate without contortion[1], and it's not much work to have learned them.

But I realized, part of it may be due to the difference in intended audience. Pro novel translators probably assume that theirs may be the only novel from that language read by many of the readers, and aim to minimize the work expected of the readers. Anime/manga fans generally read or watch many such works, often trying to learn Japanese for real themselves, so for us, the not very large amount of work in learning is amortized among many works.

[1] One example: it seems easy to translate Gingko-san as Mister Gingko, or Hayate-san as Miss Hayate. But what if someone's gender is unknown or non-binary? You've got a choice problem in English that simply doesn't exist in Japanese, where -san can apply to anyone or anything.

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Damien Sullivan

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