Pondering on translation

So for the research of this subject, I want to do something related to translation since it is such an integral part in the study of Asian cultures from the Australian perspective. However, the kind of translation that I want to delve into here is not the technical translation, or the translation of formal document that requires military-like precision throughout the process of conversing the meanings of each and every words from one language to another. Technical translation requires a limited amount of understanding of culture or context since the original documents themselves are highly academic and technical, thus lacking the possession of any opinionated or cultural elements, thus making it a uninteresting subject for auto-ethnography. Indeed, the kind of translation I’m interested in are the translations of light novels, particularly those are done by the respective fandoms of the original materials.


2015’s most popular light novel: Overlord 

Light novel

Light novel is a type of primarily Japanese novel, targeting the teenagers and young adults demographic. Light novel are typically about 500,000 words long and are often released as consecutive parts of a series with a rather tight releasing schedule. Illustrations are often included into the novels to help convey additional thematic meanings or simple to pique interests from the young readers (millenniums and their short attention span tsk tsk!). Light novel works in conjunction with 2 other mediums of Japanese entertainment that are anime and manga since any of these mediums can supplements each other by having the original work being adapted into the two other mediums. Typically, outstanding visual novel would use anime as the mean to help increasing the sale and if the adaptation is doing well in terms of its own popularity, it will subsequently get a manga adaptation and so on. The narration of visual novels aim specifically to please the demands of a young audience. Hence, the contents are usually not overly complicated or philosophical, delivered in an informal-oriented tone of writing and utilises a lot of pop-culture references as narration tools. Up and coming light novelists often publish their works online to gain exposure as well as receiving feedback from other writers. Apart from that, publishing companies usually organise contests in order to scout talents.

My relationship with translation

I used to work as a freelance English-Vietnamese translator a few years back, contracted by Vietlabour, a company specialised resolving legal matters that are related to labour relations, to work as a part of their translation team in translating important state-level documents, such as parts of the revised Vietnamese Labour Code in 2010. I guess this is where my love-hate relationship with translation began, as on one hand, I absolutely hate technical translation due to the rigid nature of work as well as the prioritisation of accuracy over the flow of the text. On the other hand, I am fascinated with translation as a concept and its ability to help someone of a different culture understand the essences and  intricate details of another culture. To translate is to broaden your knowledge, to satisfy your thirst for knowledge.

The goal of this project 


Fan translation and official translation of light novels have always had an interesting relationship, perhaps somewhat similar to the sub vs dub relationship in the anime fandom. Official translations of light novel (i.e. Yen Press) are renounced for their total lack of effort and inaccuracy whilst, the quality of fan translation can really be a hit or miss. A passionate fandom will provide keen readers with a translation that are not only accurate in literal meanings of the text but also attempt to give you all the necessary background information that would reinforce your understanding of the authorial intents hidden in the materials. In other words, these unofficial translators have attempted to utilise their own personal understanding of not only the Japanese language but also the Japanese culture to decipher the message and meanings of the materials. In this regard, each and everyone of them is an auto-ethnographer.  Hence, instead of analysing renounced Asian literature works, I find it more intriguing to look this lawless jungle that is the fan translation scene of light novels where all the translation groups try to one-up another by proving themselves to be a better Japan specialist.

In other words, by reading and analysing the differences in different fan translations of some particular light novels (to be decided), I would attempt to  make a statement about the different ways people use translations as a mean to enjoy a cross-cultural experience.



  1. Interesting premise! I’m very interested in seeing how this project turns out as I’m very familiar with the whole fan translation vs official translation shtick. What a lot of fanbases don’t understand is that aiming for a 1:1 translation in any language isn’t necessarily the best choice. Having a knowledge of not only the language but the context of the novel/game helps a lot in this regard. It can give a lot of leeway to a translator in how they write up the translation.


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