Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A few thoughts on the translation of Kyoukai no Kanata, part 2

Hey, folks - I've finished translating chapter 1 of volume 1 of Kyoukai no Kanata, which contains a few more terms of art that demand English analogues. Check after the jump for some extra info and also a bit about Shindō Ayaka's dialect.

異能力 (i-nouryoku: xenomachics) - this term refers to the special abilities of a xenor. For example, Kuriyama Mirai's xenomachics comprises her ability to manipulate blood and use it as a weapon. The term 異能力 means "other-ability". In this case, the "other" part (異, i) is essentially a contraction of 異界士 (xenor), and as we saw in part 1, I have used the prefix "xeno-" in correspondence with the Japanese character 異 (i), to refer to things relating in some way or another to xenors. Then, to denote the nouryoku (ability) part of this term, I have used a variant of the (rather uncommon) Greek suffix "-machy".

Let me say a few things about "-machy". Those of you who are familiar with the creation myths of Greek legend may be aware of the Titanomachy and the Gigantomachy, in which the Olympians fought against (and defeated) the Titans and the Giants, respectively. As you might surmise from this, "-machy" is a combining form meaning “fighting”. Following this line of construction, the term "xenomachy" would refer to something like "the battle of [someone] against the xenors", which isn't quite what 異能力 means - I would need something more like "the way in which xenors do battle". 

As such, I have corrupted the "-machy" suffix into "-machics", by analogy with terms like "pyrotechnics" and "aerobics", which are all of the form "X-ics" where the "-ics" implies something like "the art of X". This is a bit of a forced construction, but I like it so there.

Note also that the unusual construction 異能力者 (i-nouryoku-sha: xenomachtor) appears a couple times. This breaks down as "other-ability-person", and so I have again chosen the agentizing suffix "-or" (actually "-tor", in accordance with Greek practice as I understand it). It's unclear to me whether there's any difference between xenors and xenomachtors, but the terms are similar-but-different in Japanese, so I've made them similar-but-different in English. Presumably, all xenors are xenomachtors, but not necessarily the other way around.

妖力 (youryoku: ghastmacht) - this term refers to how strong a dreamghast (or a ghastling, or a half-dreamghast) is. A lull (see below) is a period of time in which ghastmacht declines. This term is effectively a contraction of 妖夢の力, meaning "strength of a dreamghast", and is essentially the dreamghast analogue of pneumagoi (see below).

The "macht" here is the German "macht", cognate to English "might" and the same morpheme found in "Wehrmacht". As an interesting aside (if I'm reading my dictionaries right), both "macht" and "-machy" originate from the Proto-Indo-European *magh-, albeit the former via Proto-Germanic and the latter via Greek. This is a nice state of affairs for my translation, since both 異能力 (xenomachics) and 妖力 (ghastmacht) share the character 力, meaning strength

霊力 (reiryoku: pneumagoi) - this term refers to the power / energy a xenor has access to. This term doesn't show up until mid-way through chapter 2, but it fits in this post thematically. Basically, the following analogy holds: xenor is to pneumagoi as dreamghast is to ghastmacht (see below). Literally, 霊力 breaks down as "spirit-power" (霊 is not used in reference to anything dreamghastly in the novel, so it's presumably a different sort of "spirit"). Pneumagoi is constructed from Greek "pneuma" (soul / spirit) and "magoi" (magus / sorcerer in the plural). This is a clear abuse of language, insofar as 1.) I have glued together these two words without declining/conjugating/whatevering them appropriately; and 2.) adding the meanings together gives you some sort of person, rather than a substance or idea.

I'm going to roll with this anyway, though, since the term is thoroughly explained the first time it shows up in the novel. As you can see, I'm trying pretty hard to keep etymologically similar translations for Japanese terms that are etymologically similar / share a character / whatever. "Magoi" (uninflected "magos") also derives from the same PIE root as "macht" and "machy" (unless they derive from an Iranian language, in which case that's another bag of worms altogether).

凪 (nagilull) - this term refers to the phenomenon in which there is a decline in the power and abundance of dreamghasts (and, presumably, ghastlings). There's nothing too surprising here - nagi is literally a Japanese nautical term for a period of calm waters and low wind, and lull is an English term for the same.

As an aside, I very much like the character 凪 for the way in which its meaning is derived from its component parts. 凪 is written using 几 and 止. The former is not a character unto itself (in this context), but rather a radical (bushu) sometimes called 風構え (kaze-gamae: wind-structure), which features most prominently in the character for wind (風, kaze). The latter is a proper character that appears in words like 止む (yamu: to stop [intrans.]). As such, 凪 is actually composed of the pieces for "wind" and "to stop", and indeed, that is essentially the definition of 凪. I thought that was pretty cool.

思念体 (shinentaipsyclone) - a psyclone is a magical three-dimensional projection that can be stored in pieces of paper (and possibly other everyday objects), and can be caused to reappear by anybody with sufficiently advanced xenomachics. Akihito's mother sends him a postcard with a psyclone embedded in it, and Ayaka is able to make it manifest again.

The Japanese 思念体 means something like "thought-body", so psyclone seems like a pretty good localization to me. Psyclones are not to be confused with cyclones, which are unrelated, and which cannot, in general, be stored in pieces of paper.

Regarding Ayaka's dialect - as those of you familiar with Japanese media are likely aware, the standard Japanese dialect, and the one used by newscasters and so forth is generally based on the language spoken in the Tokyo area. Ayaka, however, speaks in a dialect from the Kansai region (which includes Osaka, Kyoto, etc.). I'm not sure which particular variant of Kansai dialect she uses, honestly, because I'm not exposed to this family of dialects often, but that doesn't matter for my current purposes.

In fansubbing circles, it has long been a common (though by no means universal) practice to translate the Kansai dialect into Southern American English (think Texas). In some contexts, this is a good choice - in comedy, Kansai dialect is sometimes used to signify stupid characters (boke), and the same holds for the usage of Southern American English in American comedy (think redneck humor).

Ayaka, however, is not a comedy character (though she is funny), and so I don't feel that using Southern American English here would be a particularly good choice. Plus, I wanted to try something different and see how it pans out.

Solution: Scottish English. Mind you, I'm not turning her speech into full-on Scots, because 1.) I don't know Scots; and 2.) odds are you don't either. The main goal here is to convey the impression that Ayaka has a Scottish accent, and to that effect, I've basically been replacing standard English words with their Scots equivalents only in those situations where doing so doesn't make the reading difficult for an English speaker with no knowledge of Scots. I've also thrown in a few other Scots features (more tag questions, some Scots idioms that are either straightforward or well-known in English, etc.). As part of this, I've been tossing in apostrophes in cases where the Scots word looks like a contracted form of an English word with the same meaning, even if the apostrophe isn't used in Scots orthography.

I'm not sure how well this will turn out, honestly, but I've never seen Scottish English used as a replacement for a nonstandard Japanese dialect, so I think the results will be interesting if nothing else. (If anybody who actually knows Scots wants to help me out by correctly Scoticizing some of her lines, that'd be great - I've got some dictionaries and I've heard a little bit of Scottish English in my time, but other than that, I'm kind of flying blind.)

I'd be very interested to hear feedback on this - is it too difficult to read? Does it just look stupid? How are non-native English readers faring with it? Etc., etc.


  1. Ayaka's dialect was refreshing and not so difficult to read. You've done well to distinguish her dialect.

    On another note, it was interesting how you used the words "xenors" and "dreamghast" instead of the anime version's "youmu". I was familiar with "xenors" and "dreamghast", but didn't really know what they meant until after reading your blog post. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and Kyokai no Kanata to the online world! :)

  2. P.S. I'm surprised that you haven't reached your goals yet because you seem to be a very knowledgeable and passionate person. It seems like you can do anything and have a lot of potential. Those traits are essential to (1) getting a job, and (2) getting into grad school. Ganbatte~!

  3. I recently watched the anime, and now I'm wanting for more. I look forward to reading your translations of Kyoukai no Kanata :)