Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Japanese Gollum

In my researching of the Japanese version of the Hobbit the other day, I was a little let down by the Japanese presentation of Biblo's Egg Riddle. Still, I did come across an interesting translational decision.

In English, the corrupted hobbit-creature Gollum is so named because of the "horrible swallowing noise in this throat." This is illustrated especially well in Peter Jackson's LOTR films, I think, wherein Smeagol periodically coughs out his more sinister moniker, "Gollum." This seems to happen when he is about to give in to his darker nature.

In Japanese, Gollum's name is translated as 「ゴクリ」, which is a gulping, swallowing sound. It's a little more literal than its English counterpart, as "Gollum" isn't a conventional word or sound in English and 「ゴクリ」 is in Japanese, but think this is still a nice way of rendering his name.

It appears that the Seta Teiji, who translated Tolkien's the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings into Japanese, got creative with a number of Middle Earth's proper nouns, and Gollum isn't the only name to have been adapted for Nihongo. 

Some of those other translations may be a nice topic to explore in the future.

Image Source: Wikipedia (Rankin & Bass animation)

Friday, November 21, 2014

A box without hinges, key, or lid...

Today I was thinking a bit about the Hobbit (because that is the sort of thing I think about); specifically about the novel and the old Bass and Rankin animation that had so much charm. Definitely worth a watch!

I've been a fan of riddles for a while now, and it may be that reading and watching the Hobbit as a kid played a part in that. There's one particular short and simple riddle of Bilbo's that I've always loved:

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
yet golden treasure inside is hid.

The answer, of course, is an egg. Or "eggses" might also be acceptable. I was wondering today whether the Japanese version of the riddle is a literal translation, or maybe something with a delightfully poetic spin. The English version rhymes, and rhyming can be quite challenging to translate satisfactorily. The meaning will come across, but the flair, the feeling, some nuance, will often be lost.

A quick Googling brought up an old Japanese Middle Earth blog post from a few years ago, before the release of the recent movies, in which the writer shares the text of the riddles bandied back and forth between the hobbit and the, er...Gollum.

The egg riddle is laid out as:


Alas, it turns out to be a literal translation. Functional, yes. But lacking that something.

At any rate, now I totally want to read the Japanese version of the Hobbit. I'll have to add it to the massive queue of J books I have yet to get through!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A slime, a goddess, and back scratchers

On one of the updates to my Ambition of the Slimes English guide, I came across an interesting translational situation.

There's a slime called マゴノテ:

Literally, this means "back scratcher" in Japanese.

See the resemblance? The explanation for this slime's name could be as simple as that. However, my research uncovered a little bit of a story behind the Japanese word.

The kanji form of マゴノテ is 「孫の手」, which means "grandchild's hand." 

If you go a little deeper - according to Wikipedia, the word was originally 「麻姑の手」(まこのて). "Mako" (麻姑) is the Japanese version of the Chinese deity Magu. Magu was a beautiful female immortal who had some association with the elixir of life, and was known for possessing long, claw-like fingernails. 

There's apparently an expression - 「麻姑掻痒」(まこそうよう) - "Mako scratches the itch," which means something like "everything going according to one's desires."

Anyway, the word for "back scratcher" started off as a reference to the hands of Mako, which would be perfect for such a task. It seems "Mako" eventually morphed into "Mago" (grandchild), though, owing to the fact that the back scratcher's "hand" more closely resembles that of a child than a claw.

This brings us back to the eponymous slime. If I were officially translating the game, I'd be sure to clarify with the developer on this point. However, in my judgement he's referring to both the physical similarity between the slime and the shape of a back scratcher and the divine association of the goddess Mako. It seems that Mako had something to do with the elixir of life; meanwhile the slime's special ability is that when damaged it splits into two, restoring itself in a fashion. 

Rather than translate its name as "Back Scratcher Slime" I thought it better sounding to stretch a little bit and kind of localize it as "Goddess' Hand." The meaning of the name may not really be clear to English speakers, but then there are tons of references to ancient religions and lore in all kinds of games (especially JRPGs) that casual gamers may not pick up.

Back Scratcher Image Source: Rakuten
Magu Image Source: Wikimedia