August 30, 2006

More about pronouns

Going back to the beginning of Shadow of the Moon provides more context for how the relationship between Keiki and Youko has evolved grammatically over the two novels.

The first time Keiki speaks to Youko, (chapter 4), he omits the pronoun. In his next sentence, he says, "It is you." Here he uses the familiar but fairly neutral anata. When he says in frustration, "Must you be so obstinate!" he again omits the pronoun. In the next paragraph, when he asks, "Is not your life precious to you? Then allow me to do what I must," he omits the pronoun and attaches an honorific (おっしゃる) to "allow me," literally, "I'm asking you please to allow me."

In chapter 5, when Keiki first gives her the sword and says "It is yours," he uses anata again, but in chapter 7, when he loses his temper and says, "You stupid woman!" (愚かな方), he omits the pronoun and uses kata as the object of the adjective, which is more polite than "person" or "woman." A page later, he says, "You are my lord" (あなたは私の主です). He uses anata, but his grammar is very proper. In fact, you could teach the above sentence in a Japanese 101 class.

A few sentences later, he says, "You must forgive me," omitting the pronoun and using itadaku, a verb ending used in honorific speech (also said before a meal, meaning "I humbly partake.") What Keiki is doing, then, is using anata sparingly and and shifting the honorifics to the verbs. Given the circumstances, and given what is from Keiki's perspective Youko's un-empress-like behavior, anata is probably the best he can manage.

This is a bigger problem for English-Japanese translators, who--in order to be accurate--first have to build relationship trees for all the characters to figure out which pronoun is appropriate in each scene. Especially when writing subtitles, translators will often resort to quick-and-dirty equivalents that aren't technically correct. This is what Keiki is doing. Calling Youko "Empress" would hardly help to expedite things, so he falls back on a pronoun that is perfectly understandable to her in this particular context.

The whole time they are in the vice-principal's office, the vice-principal addresses Youko and Keiki as o-mae or o-mae-ra (plural). Keiki addresses him in turn as anata and the people in the office as anata-gata (gata is the same as kata above, here a plural marker). So Keiki is being a lot more polite to them than they are to him.

After chapter 7, Youko and Keiki don't speak again until chapter 66. In chapter 66, Keiki omits all pronouns until he repeats his pledge to her at the end of the chapter, at which point he uses gozen (御前). Gozen is actually the same kanji as o-mae, except with the on-yomi or Chinese reading. In this case, it means "Your Excellency."

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# posted by Anonymous Anonymous
9/05/2006 1:11 AM   
That's very intersting and begs the question:
How do the japanese handle translation in the other direction?
When dubbing "Friends" or "Hamlet", what pronouns are used between Phoebe and Joey, or Hamlet and Ophelia?

PS. Great work on these translation projects, thank you very much!