Comic Talk and General Discussion *

Tips for Translations
PaulEberhardt at 6:20AM, March 16, 2019
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I just read Tantz Aerine's latest cool news post: https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/news/2019/mar/15/translating-your-webcomic/ It's about translation, and I think she totally nailed the topic. Naturally it's one of my favourite topics - I grew up in three languages (German, English and Plattdütsch) and have thus known about translation problems since my early childhood; it's one of the things that inspired me to become an ESL teacher, too - so I couldn't resist adding my own two cents.

I never read or watch anything in its translated or dubbed version if I can help it for just the very same reasons she doesn't. It just isn't the same and usually not as good either.
This is to say, some translations may be done really well, technically, but even they can never quite preserve the flavour of the original. You can't hold this against the people who did them, it's just the point where translation meets its limits.
This is because every language has its own unique ring and natural flow. Some translators seem to ignore this altogether, the more competent ones just grin and bear it as well as they can.

For instance, something that sounds really cool in English may sound ridiculously clumsy in German, no matter what you do. Back in the 1990s a comedy programme on our local radio station used that to effect. They translated the lyrics of popular songs word by word and deliberately paid no attention to grammar and idioms (Queen's “I want to break free” came out as “I want to throw up free of charge” and so on). The thing is, this was dead funny in German, but it wouldn't work half as well the other way round. Much of the humour stemmed from the language-specific way the songs sounded differently, and that German speakers probably aren't that used to feeble attempts at writing song lyrics in a very mangled version of their language. Ok, and perhaps because Google Translate hasn't been around back then. In any case, German to English translations done that way just tend to sound as if you couldn't be bothered to make an effort.

Anyway, because of the way every language sounds differently, I'd recommend reading your own translations out loud, if you do them, just to see if they sound naturally. I nearly always do that with mine. If you ask me, much of the trick really is in making your translation sound the way it should. Everything else is secondary.

This is why not just the Greek translation mentioned by Tantz, but also the German translations of Lord of the Rings make a rather disappointing read, too, compared to the original - Schicksalsberg just doesn't have the same gloomy ring to it as Mount Doom, no matter which way you look at it (Mirkwood is rendered as Düsterwald, by the way, which to my mind happens to have hit the mark for once) and translating Strider as “Streicher”, which brings to mind the profession of a house painter rather than a lone wanderer in the wild, is just short of a crime against humanity. The thing to keep in mind here is that this job was done by experienced professionals with high-level training who put in a lot of effort to preserve Tolkien's way of playing with language and linguistic quirks AND had Tolkien himself as an advisor. It was one translation that mattered a great deal to him, because he loved germanic languages. Still, even he was at a loss on how to get it to sound right. Moreover, he knew it and it irked him.

I can think of one or two instances where the translation is actually better than the original, though, and that's the German dubbings of some 70s films and series, like The Persuaders and Italian action comedy movies starring Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. Thanks to chief translator Rainer Brandt they've become cult classics to this day, whereas they're justly forgotten in about every other language. Mr Brandt achieved his success using the following method: First he went out and a couple of beers at some shabby bars around the corner, where he could listen closely to people sardonically letting off steam after a day's work. Then he read the summary of the story - just that and nothing more, the original script the producers expected him to translate remaining unopened on the desk. Having done that he proceeded to watch the film with the sound turned off and took notes about what people MIGHT be saying (with the people he met at the bar firmly in mind). Lastly, he practically rewrote the dialogue from scratch. The result was invariably hilarious, and helped by the rather thin plots it always worked extremely well. It's a pity that today's translators are such chickens that they hardly ever do this any more.

With my own comic, I use the same basic approach as the producers of these European films of the 1970s. You see, they were often a combined effort of different countries, with actors from all around Europe, most notably Italy, France, Germany and Spain. The actors would just speak their lines in their own native languages, and for each country the others would be dubbed (and in some cases slightly “embellished” by a Mr Brandt). So these films have never had an original language to start with - and it's just the same with Master the Tiger. I think up some lines and gags in English, others in Plattdütsch, some even in standard German - just the way they happen to pop out of my imagination - collect them into a vaguely coherent page and for each version freely translate those parts in the other language. Also, I sometimes adapt the panels to fit the dialogue, not the other way round - pretty much the way the Italian version of a comedy spaghetti western would be cut differently than the German one to fit the different audiences' tastes.

The advantage of a comic in both English and Platt is, that these languages are closer relatives than most people think and have a similar phonetic system. That way I can often keep the same sound effects and stuff. Also, it allowed me to translate my print comic that was thought up entirely in English into Platt without having to rewrite too much. Even so the result has got a slightly different flavour, it's just that it's one I can live with.

By the way, I've done normal, i.e. faithful translation work, too, just not for myself, but for other comic creators who needed to have their characters say something in German. Really faithful translations, may I add, not Brandt-style ones; they could probably tell by my asking for a lot of context.
I'll be happy to do that again, if asked nicely enough and if I happen to have the time.
last edited on March 16, 2019 6:29AM
El Cid at 7:52AM, March 16, 2019
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I was asked to help with a Spanish-to-English translation of a webcomic once and I followed a similar technique to Brandt's. Once It had been explained to me what the characters were saying and in what context, I would basically just rewrite the scene from scratch as if it were an American comic. That must be a ton more difficult with films, however, because you need to at least somewhat match the actors' lip movements. And I see in a lot of Japanese cartoons where the characters just suddenly shift their pitch and expression mid-sentence in a very awkward manner, which I assume must have something to do with the translation not matching up with the original pace of the conversation… though that may also just be an aspect of Japanese humor which doesn't have a good contemporary analog in American cinema.
PaulEberhardt at 11:41AM, March 16, 2019
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It may be an aspect of Japanese humour for all I know, or perhaps it's because Japanese and English are so much more different from each other than German and English, say. Since the Brandt method gives you nearly complete freedom with the way you shape the dialogue, I would think it harder to match the lip movements with a translation that stays totally true to the original.

The German version of the Simpsons suffers a lot from this, because the Brandt method won't always work here. The episodes contain lots and lots of puns and very often they come with a visual complement so the translators can't just replace them with some of their own. As a result, everybody who understands enough English to recognise the original pun instinctively cringes at what they made out of it. It's not their fault. It's nobody's fault, really, but it's another one of these small things that make watching stuff online more and more attractive, simply because you can select the language.
Eustacheus at 9:41PM, March 28, 2019
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Ivar Combrinck who directed the german dubbing of The Simpsons and Futurama until he passed away, also had several problems with modern phrases and pop cultural references. For example: “Try ctrl-alt-delete!” got translated to “Try an alternative control deletion!”.

Another cringeworthy dub (not by Combrinck) I heard was for “fire in the hole!”
There's no german equivalent for this phrase, so every translator seem's to do their own thing. “Shoot in that hole” was clearly the most pathetic one (heard on “Stargate Universe”).

But then, there are some tiny things that make the translation imho better than the original. Star Wars, 1977, for example:

Original:
Luke: There's something alive in here.
Han: That's your imagination.

Translation:
Luke: There's something alive in here.
Han: Yes. Your imagination.

Anyway, I'm too lazy to learn a new language, so I have to read/watch translated stuff, when the original is something other than german or english. “One Piece” for example. I like the show, but I don't want to “read” it. So instead of a subbed version, I'm watching the english dubbed version, because the german voices are so f****** annoying.


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