Even if you’re not into video games, you may have heard of Animal Crossing over the past year. With the Coronavirus pandemic, countries going in and out of lockdowns and what feels like a constant barrage of bad news, people have jumped at the chance to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo’s newest release of the now 20-year-old franchise, which offers a little bit of wholesome escapism as you build a life on a desert island alongside your animal neighbours.
Having sunk quite a few hours into the game myself (and not being familiar with the previous editions), I was delighted to discover all the tiny details in the game – and, as my translator brain never truly switches off, I was interested to see how the game was able to be adapted into so many other languages, encompass aspects from several different cultures, and yet still stay true to its Japanese origins. Here are a few examples!
Last week, I watched Les Misérables on stage for the first time ever. I know – I worked in a theatre for 9 years, but this particular show had passed me by. Partly because I live over 200 miles away from the West End so I mostly rely on shows touring to my part of the world, but also because my existing knowledge of the show painted it as a depressing tragedy, so I wasn’t exactly in a rush to see it.
But there’s a reason why it’s one of the longest-running musicals in the world: despite the sad events throughout, I found the performances incredible and it was hard not to get swept up with those iconic songs. Ever the linguaphile, the next day I looked up the original French soundtrack on YouTube to see how it compared with the English.
Humanity has been translating words from one language into another for thousands of years – from inscriptions in stone to religious texts, from books to films, and even songs.
But as any translator will tell you, sometimes it’s just impossible to copy everything into another language and expect it to have the same effect; some real creativity and ingenuity is needed to adapt the text to the new audience. Occasionally, the best solution is to leave some aspects behind in the original language, omitting certain parts in order for it to make sense – and be well received – in the new language. This is called translation loss.