Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

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Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Phoenix512 » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:09 pm

We recently began to look at the questions you guys submitted for the staff Q & A and one of the questions I felt that I couldn't be answered in one sentence.
Why are things like -san and -tachi or -san-tachi not fully translated or left out? {From Yasin Bulhan}
In Japanese culture, the honorifics are used to denote the relationship of the person towards them. The problem with straight translation of them is that there isn't really an equivalent that would give the same meaning. Sure -san can be translated as Mr./Mrs. but when a middle school student calls out another middle school student with -san, is the person in question actually calling them Mr/Miss or just a formal way of giving respect? It's probably the latter but how you would give a translation of that which would give the same meaning in English that the original Japanese conveys?

Also the dropping of honorifics is important in itself. For example in Heartcatch Precure, Tsubomi in the beginning called Erika "Erika-san" which Erika insisted that she drop the -san part. Eventually she did drop the honorific which meant that they were more informal towards each other. For lovers, it means even more when they dropped the honorifics and called each other by their first names (if they haven't already).

I have seen many official subs and how they don't really properly convey these relationships most of the time. I have even seen subs where they have the first name on the sub where the Japanese track was saying the last name.

Now I have a question to pose to you guys. Why do some people hate the idea of keeping the honorifics intact? Is it because you don't know what they mean or rather have barely any Japanese words left untranslated? Or is it some other reason? I'm curious in knowing why. Even if you like the honorifics kept in, provide insight.
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by takenoko » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:32 pm

Something I really don't like is when I watching a show where they don't keep the honorifics, but instead fill it with Mr. or Miss. or something or Lord something. If the reason for dropping the honorifics is to make it sound like more natural English, then doing super awkward lines like those which aren't representative of how English speakers addressing each other doesn't help.

In the end, we keep the honorifics because it's a Japanese show and that's how Japanese people address each other. If seeing honorifics bother people, well, that's their own problem. There's really no way to make everyone happy on this matter

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by That Guy » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:41 pm

I'm personally in favor of honorifics because of the unique cultural significance they hold and their instant insight into relationships, but one of the better arguments I've heard against them is from people who argue that translation should be thoroughly and completely into English, and things that don't translate literally should be approached from another direction. For example, since in English we refer to most people in our own age group or younger by given name, the same standard would be applied even when translating a work where someone calls a Japanese person by his family name and an honorific. Say it's between two students. The one being referred to should be addressed by his first name, as is customary in English, and whatever relationship the honorific indicated should be expressed in the word choice (and tone of voice if it's a dub) the addresser uses. Again, this is not my personal view, but it makes sense from a professional standpoint and it's internally consistent if one prefers through-and-through translation. I personally think that it's best described as one of those little quirks that we prefer left in to remind us that the show is from a different culture where people address each other differently.

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by hurrycanger » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:47 pm

I love how tv-nihon subs the shows and keeps the original meaning of the conversation. All the honorifics and explanation of stuffs like puns or proverbs make me feel that tv-nihon really does an excellent job.
Just like Takenoko, I really dislike watching Japanese shows with natural-English subs.

The more Japanese-like, the more I like about the subtitles because they really match with the language and they send me more feeling of the shows.

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Neutronium Ranger » Mon Jun 07, 2010 9:51 pm

personally like the honorifics because it gives the show more authantisity(sp). I watched Howl's Moving Castle and while watching it they replaced Onee-san with the person's name. It didn't have the same impact in the dialog.

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by tennomichi » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:00 pm

Neutronium Ranger wrote:personally like the honorifics because it gives the show more authantisity(sp). I watched Howl's Moving Castle and while watching it they replaced Onee-san with the person's name. It didn't have the same impact in the dialog.
i do agree with that, because there was this one drama i watch and it really ruined my mood because they replaced the honorific with something else
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Magenta » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:11 pm

I think this is one of those issues where it's impossible to please everyone - I've seen people being militantly "just make it sound good in English" and then there's posts like the ones above that go "Well, I'm watching a Japanese show, why would I want it essentally neutered of it's subtext?"

In essence I think it's just about not swamping the viewer. The issue is being slightly selective and, in a way, inconsistent and managing to know when the viewer actually needs to know the nuance. I'm sure someone will do me a favour and post that "GUIN-HEIKA, YOUR MAJESTY-DONO, THANK YOU FOR RETURNING OUR OJOU-SAMAS" screenshot from Turn-A, and that basically sums up everything you don't want to do IMO.

I've seen subs where it's just like, okay, we're panning to a shop. This next scene takes place in a shop. To show this, we will have a random background extra be all "Can I speak to the manager[-san]?" and... you know, that doesn't need to have it's honorific left in. It contributes nothing to the viewer's understanding of the scene, it's done entirely in passing, has no effect on anything. That's not a sensible way to do things, because it's unnecessarily forcing the viewer to parse the honorific for no real benefit.

But at the same time, the power an honorific has to convey heirarchy, to convey the depths of friendship, to convey respect, is immensely potent, and is not to be underestimated. Yes, you could remove them and lose nothing if you were very, very clever about how you wrote the dialogue in such a way as to just subtly insert all that nuance. But on the flipside, sometimes that nuance can be deceptive. What if the honorific turns out to have been sarcastic, or a ruse to convey loyalty that didn't genuinely exist, or worse, turns out to be part of some kind of joke or psuedonym? ("Richard-san?" "It's RICHARDSON!")

tl;dr Using honorifics effectively conveys a ton of information in a way that doesn't leave the TL fucked if later events choose to screw around with it. I've seen good arguments for eliminating honorifics based on setting, but it's not something I've ever run into seeing as all the shows I've done are set in Japanese middle schools and hence kind of integrate honorifics into the very core of their character mapping.
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by JumperPrime » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:22 pm

I say keep the honorifics. If you try to translate them into English you get a ham-handed translation(I still cringe when I think about how in Rurouni Kenshin they translated "Yahiko-chan" as "Little Yahiko") and if you drop them entirely you lose an important part of the conversation(The Gaiking and Precure examples above show how important stuff can get vented into space just by removing the honorifics from the equation)

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by erikhol » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:43 pm

I say keep them. It does indeed inform the listener more about the character's relationships. I remember when I asked why Chiaki was calling Genta "Gen-Chan". I use to assosiate the -Chan for girls and cute things. But it also denoted a close friendship.
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Lunagel » Mon Jun 07, 2010 10:58 pm

Even licensed manga these days tends to keep the honorifics the same, so it's not as if we're doing something new. And frankly, they just don't translate well. I remember watching a sub of Rayearth about 10 years ago, where the translating staff had translated -san as "Ms" and -chan as "-ster" so we have the odd situation where Fuu calls Umi and Hikaru "Ms. Umi" and "Ms. Hikaru" while Hikaru constantly says "Umi-ster! Fuu-ster!" It just breaks the flow when you get some situation where the English dialogue would never happen in real life.

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Nnnkingston » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:30 pm

Sometimes it's just harder to figure out when it's used in context but it does add to the over-all experience and saves some time when it comes to typesetting.
Like for example it took me awhile to figure out that -tachi could refer to a group of people, naming the "leader" and having the "rest" unnamed

It's much easier to put
"Ryuunoske-tachi" instead of
"Ryuunoske and the others."


In short, I'm in favor of keeping them, but I think that the first time the honorifics are used in each show they should be defined (unless this has already been the standard and I've just been missing it).
But I'm in no position to complain or demand anything. What you guys decide is pretty much fine with me.

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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Guardian07 » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:40 pm

The problem is honorifics are more generalized in English, while in Japanese they are more specific and it's impossible to convey the full meaning in English without a longer explanation, not counting if they're supposed to have a deeper meaning or are sarcastic(like Urataros calling Momo senpai).

Similar problems will eventually occur when translating one language to any other language since no two languages are the same, and there is no way to fully translate one language to another without losing some(at times plenty) of the meaning, not counting cultural references and puns. People who can't get that should just scram, or try learning new languages. Then hopefully they'll realize just how different languages are.
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by Phoenix512 » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:47 pm

It's not about deciding to change the way we do honorifics. Takenoko has already said that he wasn't going to change his ways.

It's more about why some people don't like the honorifics are kept in the subs "as is" compared to something else. That's what I'm truly curious about.

Earlier I ask takenoko about bozu since I was watching the official subs for Negima as the subs had Negi-bozu and it was left untranslated. So take told me it wasn't an honorific at all but it means boy. So all this time whenever someone says Negi-bozu, they were really calling him Negi-boy. That one to me was something that needed to be translated since Negi-boy is understandable in English and still conveys the original meaning of the Japanese dialogue.

Magenta does have a few good points about not to overdo the honorifics but at the same time, you need to keep them in to preserve the relationships and context.
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by ultrakill » Mon Jun 07, 2010 11:57 pm

I took Japanese classes so I understand for the most part what the honorific signifies in the relationship, so seeing it omitted in some subs irks me a bit. It's more than likely non-essential for regular viewers but very important if you want to know the type of relation. It's also more than likely because people get into the train of thought of "if it's not translated, why keep it?" But then that's like saying "I can't detect sarcasm on the internet."
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Re: Japanese honorifics (san, chan, kun, etc...)

Post by AncientLemurian » Tue Jun 08, 2010 2:15 am

I enjoy seeing the honorifics kept in the subs. It adds to the communication.

I've been learning more this way, too. It's makes it that much better.

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