In Poland, the popularity of manga and anime continues to grow each year. The amount of manga publishers and frequent screening of Japanese animations in our cinemas are proof of this trend. Consequently, there is growing demand for Japanese translation services. But, translating manga and anime from as distinct language as Japanese is a great challenge.

Grammar – speaking about comparing apples with oranges

Problems in translation exist even on the level of grammatical structures that are completely different than Polish. Japanese has a SOV word order (Subject + Object + Verb), meaning that in Japanese the verb is typically at the end of the sentence. In contrast, in Polish the most popular word order is Subject + Verb + Object. Of course a skilled translator can easily solve this issue due to inflection in the Polish language, which allows for a greater freedom in word order. Lack of the future tense and plural forms of nouns in Japanese also pose a challenge. However these difficulties are easy to solve after careful analysis of the sentence context. A more significant problem for the translator is the lack of masculine and feminine genders in Japanese, which, in Polish, occurs not only nouns but also verbs and adjectives, though the translator can rather easily determine the character gender based on the context of the sentence. But what if the author deliberately decides to hide the character gender? In such a case, the translator must closely examine the procedure the author chose to hide the gender and also maintain the ambiguity for the reader.

Names and their double meaning

A greater challenge for the translator are character’s names, usually written in kanji characters, though in spelling some hiragana and katakana are also used. Often, in their spelling, they carry a hidden meaning to uncover later by the reader. A good example of it can be ”Spirited Away”. In the movie, the name of the protagonist, Chihiro (千尋- literally meaning ”thousand questions”), is changed by Yubaba, who considers the girl unworthy of it. The girl’s new name is Sen, which also is an alternative pronunciation of the kanji character千. But the translator is unable to convey this information in any other way than in a footnote, hoping that the viewer can read it in the few seconds of the scene.

Can the wordplays be preserved?

It’s not surprising that when translating so complex a language like Japanese, many wordplays will be lost in translation – it’s inevitable. Translators can once again rely on footnotes to explain unclear jokes or provide needed context. Another solution is to create an analogic joke in the target language. A good example can be the name of one of the characters in the series “Assassination Classroom” where students are assigned to kill their alien teacher. In the Polish version “Korosensei,” the teacher’s name, has been translated as “Pan niezabijalski” (Mr. Unkillable). The reason for this is that “Korosensei” consists of two parts – Koro meaning “impossible to kill”, and “sensei” meaning both teacher and serves as an honorific form attached to a name.

(A. W.)

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