April 18, 2012

Translation problems

I think the most difficult common word for subtitlers to translate must be sasuga. There isn't any single word in English with that meaning. There isn't anything even close, yet it gets used all the time in anime.

"Living up to our high expectations" is about what it means, but that's way too clumsy for normal use. "Just what we expect from..." is how it's often translated, but that feels stilted in English.

I noticed that in Mouretsu Pirates ep 15, at one point the translator made it "Way to go!" And that's really good. It obviously isn't literal, but that's about what Hyakume was thinking when he said it. (At 20:04.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Japanese at 01:24 PM | Comments (11) | Add Comment
Post contains 114 words, total size 1 kb.

1 That's the way to go in translations, sometimes. You don't translate what they say, but what they mean. "Know the story; know the characters" is one of my mantras.

Posted by: Toren at April 18, 2012 02:07 PM (aq2MN)

2 When it comes to sasuga I've always thought "As expected..." was a good way to translate it in most circumstances.

...depending on those circumstances, of course.  But that's true of translating any language.

Posted by: atomic_fungus at April 18, 2012 02:23 PM (vq4t5)

3 The problem with "As expected" is that in English that can be praise, but it can also be snide. But I think that sasuga is always praise.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 18, 2012 03:17 PM (+rSRq)

4 I've heard some non-praising sasuga; the first one that comes to mind is the line "hayari no umi wa sasuga hito darake", roughly "the fashionable beach was, as expected, really crowded". (darake itself is generally negative, but not always)


Posted by: J Greely at April 18, 2012 04:31 PM (fpXGN)

5 Not always, but you have to lay the sarcasm on pretty thick with that term.

"Way to go" is a good way to translate the normal sense of the word. But a lot of it depends on the tone of the speaker. A more literal meaning would be better from someone who otherwise speaks very formally (and from such a person, the slightly-stilted effect ought to fit right in with the rest of their speech), and something like "way to go!" is perfect for an informal speaker.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at April 18, 2012 04:43 PM (pWQz4)

6 Aww, thanks.

Yeah sasuga is one of those terms that just sounds horrible translated literally.  It sounds stilted and awkwards most of the time. 

Posted by: tellu541 at April 19, 2012 01:35 AM (Nu03Y)

7 I have a feeling that the opposite to "sasuga" was discussed at Chizumatic 5 years ago. "Yappari" was brought up as "living down to it" equivalent. Time flies!

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at April 19, 2012 09:59 PM (5OBKC)

8 I can't pick out many Japanese words on the subs I watch, but I do notice that I frequently see the phrase "As expected from (character name)" or "as expected of..." rather frequently.  I'll have to keep my ears open for that word...

Posted by: Tex Lovera at April 20, 2012 03:17 PM (DvLEA)


The other Japanese construction which is painful to translate is the -tachi particle. A lot of English translators have settled on "and them" for that, which I always hate. At the very least I'd like "and the others" or "and the rest", if they can't come up with anything else. I know it's longer, but no English speaker says "and them".

Sasuga and -tachi are probably responsible for more stilted English in translations than anything else.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 20, 2012 06:16 PM (+rSRq)

10 I'd add the attributive form to the list of things that frequently produce stilted translations; it can produce literal translations like "there's a song that only the me who selected one from there can sing" (Hana no na, by Bump Of Chicken; fansubs for this song are either hilarious, confused, or both).


Posted by: J Greely at April 20, 2012 06:27 PM (fpXGN)

11 "...no English speaker says "and them"."

Some older people in the southeast do. Jeff Foxworthy's made mention of it. Sasuga Redneck-san.

"And company" might be better, though.

Posted by: jcm3 at April 21, 2012 11:14 AM (OU30d)

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