Dialogue in Translation: From English to Japanese

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Concerning retellings in children’s literature, John Stephens and Robyn McCallum state, “because retellings do not, and cannot, also reproduce the discoursal mode of the source, they cannot replicate its significances, and always impose their own cultural presuppositions in the process of retelling" (Retelling Stories, Framing Culture, 1998, p.4).

This holds true for translation in general, but it is especially true of translated dialogues in novels, since their linguistic discourses are inevitably dictated by the host cultures and ideologies. This is particularly evident in Japanese where age, gender and other factors strictly determine the way in which one speaks.

Translated dialogue in novels involves and exemplifies multi-faceted, multi-layered intercultural exchanges between the origin and host cultures, and between individuals and societies. The translation of a novel requires not only the translation of sentences but also the reproduction of character, setting, and era in a way that remains true to the original novel, while still remaining accessible to the audience of the translated work.

This paper will examine both the original English and translated Japanese editions of fantasy novels, such as Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy, Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner Series and Merecedes Lackey’s Mage Winds Trilogy in order to demonstrate how dialogue communicates the personalities of the major characters, and how those personalities can be altered by translation. It will also discuss the importance and implications of translating names, where the choice by the translator to either transliterate names phonetically or translate by meaning can have a significant effect on the portrayal of characters and their personalities, as well as their roles within the novel, for example, translating some names by meaning, but transliterating others in order to emphasise different cultural groups within a novel.


Keywords: Japanese, Translation, Dialogue
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Dialogue in Translation


Katherine Brownlee

Macquarie University
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Although Katherine is still an undergraduate student at Macquarie University, she has completed her Japanese studies, and has a strong interest in the process of translation both from English to Japanese, and Japanese to English.

Dr. Mio Bryce

Macquarie University
Sydney, NSW, Australia

Senior lecturer and Head of Asian Studies at Macquarie University, teaching Japanese language, literature and manga/anime. PhD in Japanese classical literature (The Tale of Genji) from the University of Sydney.

Ref: H08P0627