Being Awkward (Or Singlish)

1.

Despite the title, this is not an essay about psychology – but rather an essay about this thing called ‘awkward language’ or ‘awkward translation’. All my thoughts on this issue comes from ruminating on the whole Persona 5 localization/translation fallout and looking through the thoughts of both parties involved.

This is not an essay about choosing sides (although I fall in the ‘readable translations’ camp) but a larger rumination about the nature of language and its fluidity in general. One of the most interesting things that has popped up is this idea of the ‘fetishization of awkward English’. This is such an interesting concept to me – because it reminds me a lot of the debate over Singlish that has been happening for a long time in my country.

In the pro/anti Singlish debate, the pro-faction are those who view Singlish as a unique thing that brings ‘local colour’ to the country, while the anti-faction are those who view it as just another form of pidgin English that completely overturns the English grammar (rather than having its own ‘unique grammar’) and perpetuates a hermetic speaking style that closes off Singaporeans to the greater world around them. In a sense, you could also link the pro-faction with the Persona 5 fetishization camp, and the anti-faction with the good localization camp.

The difference here is that the fetishization camp seems to be defending awkwardness as an exoticism that supposedly ‘fits’ how the Japanese speak (although detractors view it as just racist Orientalism), while the pro-faction are defending awkwardness as a way to FIGHT against what they perceive as Western Racist intrusion on a unique culture. It feels so strange that defending Awkward/Grammatically Incorrect English (although Singlish can’t exactly be defined as Awkward English the same way that bad localization can be defined as it) can be both viewed as Racist & Not-Racist depending on where you stand.

One distinction between both debates, though, is that when people use Singlish – they use it with a clear understanding as to what is being communicated to other Singaporeans. On the other hand, awkward localization makes things harder to parse for a predominantly Western English audience. But I’ve had great fun thinking about how to turn those ‘awkward English’ Persona lines into their Singlish counterparts.

For example – there’s the “Suguru Kamoshida was a scum” line – which fails because it makes more sense in English if you put ‘scumbag’ instead of scum. But, a Singaporean could make it work with something along the lines of

“That mother Suguru Kamoshida was very a scum hor?”

And “Start by telling me what you all schemed…” sounds better when rewritten as “You’d better tell me what all of you were planning…” – but a Singaporean could make it work by saying

“Don’t purae purae y’all better start the telling of what y’all scheming lah!”

(Note: the Singaporean y’all is different from the Texan y’all. It sounds more like y’orr.)

Of course, if a Westerner wrote a book about Singaporeans and he wrote all the dialogue in Persona 5’s version of awkward English with the defense that it’s how Singaporeans speak, the literary community here would probably smack his ass for being a goddamn chou ang-moh mothachibai because the dialogue of Persona 5 lacks the true rhythm of how a pidgin English sounds like – but all this brings up a very interesting idea:

How do we ‘weaponize’ Awkward English?

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Our Lightest Years: The Farthest Reaches of SF

1.

There has been a constant need in Science Fiction for the ‘human touch’. One of the constant critiques levied against those who write SF – especially those of the ‘hard’ variety – has been that, most of the time, everything human, like characters and psychology, are put in service to the explication of ideas. Science Fiction writers of the ‘hard SF view’ look to the medium as a kind of game between the intellects. The aim of a hard SF writer is to try and write a fiction that other scientists would be fooled into believing as plausible. Yet, the result of such an ideal of Science Fiction is that the genre becomes a closed circle.

But, over time, many writers are stepping up to the challenge of delivering the human side, even at the cost of a rigor of ideas. Science Fiction seen in this way is viewed as a bridge between the two cultures. These writers act as ‘translators’ of the great but difficult scientific language – and even if the science is translated badly, the very act of spurring on the interest will develop a curiosity that leads to the proper exploration of such worlds. Science Fiction, in this form, acts as the mediator between the society that fears the advance of the New, and the scientists that are irritated at the misrepresentation of their profession.

I view the latter mode of Science Fiction as more potent, because the ideas of Science are in constant movement – and a book that relies merely on these ideas will be dated once the next paradigm comes around. On the other hand, Olaf Stapledon still remains strong because of his cosmic meditations on the largeness of space and the possibilities of lives – to the point where his books are more like poetic analyses of human smallness and human potential rather than a mere explication of ideas – and even if many of his ideas/predictions of history were proven wrong much much later.

I have always been searching for great authors of the latter variety – so it was with great surprise that I managed to find such a person on a small corner of the internet. In a long-forgotten thread on a Visual Novel forum, a user by the alias of ‘BesterBurgerz’ posted, entirely for free, his indie OELVN project entitled Our Lightest Years. He left no introduction or description and gave only a link.

Our Lightest Years is a 30-50 hour long Visual Novel that confesses to no rigorous knowledge of the sciences, but aims to impart that humanity so required of Science Fiction works. Rather, it approaches through abstract philosophical ideas manifested into novel technologies – and explores the impact of such on the world as a whole. Yet, it does this while focuses on a core cast of 5 main characters.

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Translation: Cross Channel – Introducing the City & Sakuraba’s Ride

Introduction

For fun, I translated some of the first part of C+C. This translation contains the original translation & the original Japanese + commentary. In fact, I’m gonna show the original first – not necessarily to attack Ixrec’s work (although I think he got rid of 90% of the sarcasm & humor & poesy) but just to put everything out clearly for people to compare. The commentary is just my own thoughts on the prose – and they aren’t necessarily anything definitive. But anyway –  Enjoy!

As always, this is just another exercise for me to try and synthesize the style of the master into my own and so I care more about tempering my own prose, but if any of you find any mistakes in my translation, kindly flag it up. Thanks!

(13/04/17 – rereading it, I feel like I pushed too far in the tone and the comedic timing went off… but, you get the point – just go read the original!)

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Pacing The Click – Possibilities of a Visual Novel Critical Vocabulary

Since it’s a normal past-time of film scholars to come up with all sorts of names for formal techniques applied in film – I figure I should do one for Visual Novels as well.

I call this – ‘Click Rhythm’.

This is one of the subtle aspects of the Visual Novel as a medium that people don’t seem to really touch on. It’s what demarcates the text in a VN from the text in a novel. Essentially, it allows for the writer to ‘sculpt’ a part of the time that a reader takes to read a certain stretch of information.

Now, you can’t control the click speed of a reader in a Visual Novel of course – so it’s different from ‘sculpting in time’ in the sense that it occurs in film. There are actual moments in VNs where the click speed is controlled (e.g. the concert in White Album 2) but those are sparse. Yet, this element alone allows more control over information compared to a novel.

In a novel, the text takes up an entire field (unless you’re reading House of Leaves or something) – which allows for your eyes to jump around. Although we may scroll through the text linearly, you can be sure that our eyes are shifting from here to there sometimes – unless you’re a really concentrated reader of course.

But imagine if you had to read a text that said:

He walked down the corridor. The monster appeared. It ate him

Versus.

He walked down the corridor. The monster appeared.

It ate him.

Versus.

He walked down the corridor.

The monster appeared.

It ate him.

Versus (in VN format)

He walked down the corridor.

(Click)

The monster appeared.

(Click)

It ate him

Now, if you had been reading a text normally, your eyes would probably be able to grasp all those elements at once, and so there’s less of a tension. On the other hand, with a Visual Novel – there’s a greater form of suspense that comes with the click. You sculpt the reader’s reaction by having the information go out piece by piece. Combined with a nice bit of scary OST and a CG of a monster – the tension is ramped up a lot more.

Now, look at this extract from Sakura no Uta:

The Heart and Nature are, also, in a circle. Therefore, these aren’t separate things. They’re the same. And, of course, the scenery we see and get used to every day – always contains the past, present, and future. Every phenomenon that changes over time – collects within that process. A thing like that cannot be static. The World is dynamic. Removed from that. It isn’t the World. Therefore, we can continue walking as usual. We can speak to one another. We can think about painting.

And imagine the impact if every sentence was split up with a click in between them.

When you lump together all that stuff in one paragraph – it looks like the rantings of some new age hippy. On the other hand, by splitting the paragraph with click-rhythm, its significantly smoother and more poetic.

Of course, this strictly applies to the ADV format – but there are novels that swap between ADV and NVL, such as Dies Irae battle scenes. When seen from Ren’s perspective, it enters into ADV that is paced to his speech patterns. When it segues into the omniscient Masada narration, it frequently becomes NVL and barrages you with prose. The same thing occurs in SubaHibi with certain important scenes.

One of the best usages of click rhythm comes from Zypressen in Sakura no Uta – with Rina’s Monologue of course. The lines skew into poetic fragmentation, while the screen becomes swathed in a completely new art style. It grants a beautiful melancholic quality to the whole recitation.

In a way, this quality of click-rhythm actually slightly mirrors enjambment in poetry. Lines can be broken into pieces across the click the same way lines can be broken up in poetry. Poetry is also about precise control of information per line to create a powerful effect. Click-rhythm skews the notion of the normal rules of readability.

So – in order to create better analysis of Visual Novels and their effects, a renewed critical vocabulary is required. One that combines elements from Film Critique (for CG), Literature (for content), Comic Books (for matching of text to image), and Games (for systems, win-states & choices). Lack of such terminology & awareness results in stuff like Bobduh’s critique of Gakhthun where he misses out on the aesthetic qualities of click-rhythm combined with sound and image – going for a normal literary analysis. The fact is that there are some scenes in Visual Novels that only work as Visual Novels – and they read horrible if applied to a book format (Forest is full of these)

But, really – who the heck has the free time to do something excessively academic like that?

Cross Channel – Crossing Translation/English Variant

Not a good song to do on Valentine’s Day. In fact – one of the most emo songs to ever exist. And, I never really looked at the song lyrics till now. Matching the lyrics to the tune was really depressing. Anyway – enjoying singing to the loneliness!

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Translation: Albatross Koukairoku – Prologue

Once, there was a ship

Through a certain age of darkness & chaos – it weaved through the gaps. A ship determined in its voyage. A persistent ship.

Rust & deterioration accumulated within that hull.

Perhaps, truth be told – the very fact of its floating was a miracle unto itself. A slap in the face against the engineers and the physicists.

And – this ship was called.

The Albatross!

But, we are getting too far ahead of ourselves…
For our story – shall start away from the sea.
Firstly, a certain time, a certain country, a certain port
In the rum-tum-tumble of a certain street.

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