Playing Final Fantasy X… in Italian! – Part 2

This is the second (and final) installment in the Final Fantasy X Italian series, as I’ve finished the game. Playing through the game is fun as well always, but it’s also very interesting to see how translators choose to get the meaning across of a work of fiction. In my opinion, fiction can be much harder to work with, especially if it’s of the fantasy genre. Fantasy invents entire worlds, languages, and hosts of new words to describe the universe. I qualify this with works such as The Lord of the Rings, which is the prime example of this situation, considering it has several whole languages translators have to deal with, as well as several cultures, which were concocted in English. The translators for The Lord of the Rings must have had their work cut out for them.

Anyway, the topic at hand is Final Fantasy X, a game from Square Enix, released in 2001, and re-released in HD on the PS3 in 2013. For the past week or so, I’ve been studying the game in Italian. The dub is in English, but subtitles and other game text are all in Italian. This makes for great study material, as you can accumulate vocabulary and immerse yourself in the language. You can read about my analysis of the first half of the game here, if you haven’t already. Now, let’s get started with Part 2!

The mode of address for authority figures and normal people is made very distinct.

I should have noted this in the first part of the game, but it is much more present in the second half, as the story much more heavily involves authorities and the government in the world of the game. In Italian, as in all Romance languages, there is a tu-vous distinction, or a distinction between a non-polite and polite form of address in the second person. Perhaps due to the pseudo-medieval context of the game, translators chose to include the third mode of address, reserved for authorities, particularly rulers and religious authorities, which is somewhat outdated in Italian in the real world. The central religious organization of the world of the game, the Church of Yevon, is run by four main figures, known as maesters. Lower on the social ladder are the summoners, who serve to protect the people under the Church’s control. Both of them are often addressed using the second person plural pronoun, voi. Though it is effectively the plural version of the pronoun tu, the non-polite second person pronoun, the use of voi toward a single person is a gesture of great respect, the second person version of the royal “we” in English. In the English version, this is not made apparent through the pronoun you, but rather addressing the figure in question as, “My lord/lady”, “Milord/milady”, “Lord/Lady summoner,” or “Your Grace”. This imparts the same effect as using voi, which is very interesting as a stylistic choice. Another nuance that has, perhaps unintentionally, been added to the game in translation, is the shift between tu (non-polite), lei (polite), and voi (royal “you”). For certain characters in different scenes, this can express intimacy or contempt. This is especially powerful for one of the characters who has unwaveringly followed the Church’s teachings, and once she is branded a traitor for doing her duty, she is shaken, and one of the antagonists who attempts to use her is one of the Church’s maesters. She noticeably shifts from addressing him with voi to using tu, which, under normal circumstances, would not only be rude, but is much more immediately indicative of her character development, from being polite and respectful to all superiors without question, to making decisions for herself. Since the game was originally in Japanese, this might also be more apparent about her in Japanese in a similar way, considering the much more complex system of formality, respect, and connotative pronouns than those in Western languages.

A very crucial detail to the story is completely left out until a point where it basically doesn’t matter!

This is less an analytical point, than it is, in my opinion, a mistake on the translators’ part. This detail (unavoidable spoilers here) concerns the objective of the summoners’ pilgrimages, which is to train to receive what is known as the Final Summoning. This is a supernatural power that allows the summoner to defeat the destructive force known as Sin. However, there is a catch: the act of doing so takes the summoner’s life in the process of the summoning. This calls into question as to whether this is even ethical or worth the effort, considering Sin reappears two years after it is defeated. Now, he translation in Italian does not articulate this at all. It simply states that the summoners will defeat Sin, and will die doing so. (“Sconfiggerà Sin.. ma anche lei morirà!“; that is the line from the game, almost verbatim.) For those of you who don’t know Italian, this line does not explain that the Final Summoning itself kills the summoner. In fact, it might actually imply that the summoner dies as a casualty of the battle against Sin!

This is repeated in the same manner over and over again, until a point much later in the game, where a person explains that the summoner will perform the Final Summoning, die, and Sin will be defeated temporarily. At this point in game, you’re about to fight the person responsible for granting the Final Summoning to the summoners, which completely eliminates it from the equation and as a plot device.

I suppose, if you’re an Italian speaker with some knowledge of English and you can understand most of what is said to you, this does not present a problem. However, what I feel is more likely, is that Italian speakers are depending more on the subtitles for information, rather than what is being spoken aloud. Not to mention that the Italian text that shows the fact explained above is somewhat “blink and you miss it”. This, I consider an egregious error.

The concept of an “unsent” has more than word used to translate it.

More explanation here: an “unsent” is a person who has not received a sending, a supernatural funeral of sorts, which was explained in Part 1. This ceremony is required to make sure that the souls are laid to rest in peace. If they do not receive this ceremony, they either become fiends due to their resentment of the living, or they become an “unsent”, which is effectively their body and mind (some simplification here) bound to the physical world by the sheer force of their will to stay alive and accomplish something they were not able to in life.

Now, the fact that this word has more than one translation is not an altogether bad thing, I think. Actually, it could be a good thing, since the word is a bit ambiguous or multi-faceted, whichever you think it is. Since an “unsent” is neither dead nor alive, and is still, in appearance, like any other person, it’s not exactly appropriate to translate it as spettro or fantasma (“specter” and “ghost” respectively). The words used to translate “unsent” are still debatable, however. Occasionally, in sentences where I might expect the translated word to be used, the word morto is used instead, which is just a dead person. Granted, this may not have been the intention, since the meaning of “dead person” is easily substituted for the same meaning in the sentences in question, in which case there’s no problem. The most consistently used word is non-trapassato, which is literally “non-passed-away” or “non-dead”. It’s just a negated form of trapassato, and in context, it implies a person who has been “sent”. Since the original Japanese used for the term is 死人/死者 (shibito/shibisha), which means “dead person/departed”, it’s probably the closest translation possible.

Despite my little qualms here and there with translation, it’s largely my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the game in a new way, and I still highly recommend this game in general. For language learners, changing the language of a game or a system is an invaluable tool to getting immersion practice, so I highly suggest that you do so at some point.

I hope you enjoyed this mini-post-series on Final Fantasy X. I’m considering doing this again for other games (in a different language, I suppose), among which I’m considering Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts. Please share this post on Facebook and Tumblr!

Fluency Revisited: 3 Things That It Is and That It’s Not

A few months back, I did a couple of posts regarding the objective of foreign language study: achieving fluency. I did several posts on the definition of fluency, and the levels thereof. Looking back on those posts and considering my views now, I think I need to revise my definition fluency. I’m going to talk about some of the things what it is and what it’s not. This is by no means an exhaustive list. So, here we go!

What fluency is:

1. Literacy

This is one thing that hasn’t really changed for me. I don’t think you can be called fluent in a language unless you can express yourself in all three modes of communication: reading, writing, and speaking. While most people think of speaking when it comes to fluency, I think that in order to master a language, which is fluency, you need to be literate. In fact, the first order of business when you’re learning a language with a different script should be learning it. The best way to acquire more vocabulary is reading, and if you don’t have many opportunities to speak, you should be familiar with the writing in the target language, especially when you’re talking with someone in a chat window on some social network.

2. Interpretation

Interpretation is the exchange of the spoken language through speaking and listening. You need to be able to process and react to the spoken language, using the target language in both instances. It’s not really enough to get the gist, because you may miss certain nuances, such as sarcasm, irony, or jokes. You can’t claim to know a language when you understand everything being said, but cannot respond.

3. Cultural conventions

A big mistake that I see with a lot of people in language classes is literally translating whatever they’re trying to say from English. It is important to understand that people who speak one language do not think in the exact same way as the people who speak another language. This is evidenced by the fact there are words that don’t necessarily translate to or from other languages. You need to learn how people use idioms, how certain words fit into certain contexts.

Another thing about this is that you cannot automatically use another language the way you would your own. Just because you talk casually with just about everyone doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate in another language. That’s not the culture. For example, in most Romance languages, it is not up to you to decide when you can use the “tu” form to address someone who you’ve become good friends after a long time. It is considered polite to either ask (though that is a bit more forward), or wait for that person to give you express permission. And don’t think people won’t notice. They will.

What fluency is not:

1. Being a scholar/academic

Let’s be honest: the majority of the speakers of any language are not professors. And by no means can learners be expected to acquire such advanced skill. Being an intellectual requires the study of advanced texts and learning of a much higher degree, which you can only consider when you actually know the language to begin with.

2. Being a native

Don’t let any teacher or anyone else tell you that fluency precludes anybody who didn’t grow up speaking the language. This is by no means true, because you can learn to acquire that facility by immersing yourself in the environment where the language is spoken (after some time studying the language of course). That’s how children learn: they’re immersed in the language, and know how to use it only after much trial and error.

3. Taking only classes

You need to get out into the world, where people use the language for their everyday lives. Get yourself out of your bubble, your little comfort zone, where all you ever do is take tests and answer questions. Sure, you can practice conversations in class; but even then, everything is scripted. Knowing the language in theory isn’t everything.

So, there’s something else for you to think about. Remember, these are just my opinions, not definitive facts. Take them as you will. Please share this on Facebook, Google Plus, and Tumblr! Leave any comments if you have something to say about this topic.

Are You Being Polite Enough? Read This and Find Out.

Formality is a feature of many languages in Europe, Asia, and other places. Curiously enough, the only language I can think of that doesn’t really have words explicitly dedicated to this is English, and technically Brazilian Portuguese. We dropped the word, “thou,” the equivalent of usted, vous, Lei, você, अाप (aap), and 당신 (dangshin) from English a long time ago. There’s actually a term for this, the tu-vous distinction.

But before we move on, let’s get something straight: “formality,” in linguistic contexts, is often a misnomer. Formality is a quality of language (written or spoken) that you use in certain situations, such as speaking with officials, discussing transactions, and other such scenarios. This consists of a different of set of vocabulary. What most language textbooks and teachers are talking about when they say, “formality,” is actually what most people would call, “politeness.” These are not the same thing, which a lot of people (in my experience), don’t immediately realize. Sure, they’re closely associated, but they can exist separately. “Politeness” describes behavior, how nicely or rudely you speak to someone, such as with your grandparents, or with your teachers at school. You can be polite without being formal, and the other way around. Every language can be formal, but not every language can be explicitly polite.

Now we have the confusion sorted out. I find that people who speak languages where there exists a separate polite pronoun for, “you,” and/or “you all,” the people have a stricter sense of what is good and bad behavior. Whether you’re being polite or not actually changes what you say in many languages. In English, politeness is often indicated by your tone of voice, and the inclusion of the word, “please.” However, in other languages, the sentence can change quite noticeably, such as in the case of Italian. Take the command, “Dammi il sale” (Give me the salt). There are a couple of more polite substitutions, such as “Mi dia il sale (still a bit rude),” “Mi dia il sale, per favore (a bit better than before)”, and “Mi darebbe Lei il sale?” (indirect, uses the conditional).

In Korean, there are four distinct, “styles,” of speaking, which consider both formality and politeness. The first style, formal high (inventive, I know), is both the most formal and most polite. This is what you use with clientele if you run a business, or in a meeting with government officials. In those situations, you do need to be both polite and formal, because you obviously wouldn’t say, “Yo, what’s up,” to the President of South Korea. In contrast, the fourth style, informal low, is used mostly with children and between very close friends. There’s no need (most of the time) to be formal or polite with a child, or with your buddy since kindergarten.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people who speak English as their first language are less polite. But there is definitely a looser sense of when you need to be polite. In English, I hear people speak to their parents informally much more often than in, say, Hindi. Hindi-speakers will never refer to their parents using, “तुम/तू, tum/tuu”, unless there is a great degree of intimacy or they’re being intentionally rude. Typically, Hindi-speakers opt for “अाप, aap”, which is the more polite way of saying, “you.” In Italian, Spanish, and other Romance languages, you actually have to request or give permission to use the informal form. It is not at all uncommon for Italian speakers, to say something like, “Potremmo usare la forma, ‘tu’?” (Could we use the “tu” form?”)

That’s my piece for today. Maybe this will give you something to think about. Feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments!

3 Really Good Reasons to Learn Portuguese

We always go on and on about the professional merits of learning languages, and subordinate the cultural and internal benefits. Here, I’m going to give you 5 good, non-job-related reasons to learn Portuguese.

1. The music and dance. Portugal and Brazil have rich musical and dance traditions. Brazil is particularly strong in both, with its extravagant festivals for Carnival that include samba accompanied by loud, upbeat music. Portugal’s fado is also quite famous, and has two variants: fado de Lisboa and fado de Coimbra. The first simply refers to the kind that originated in Lisbon, which is often mournful, slow, and a bit emotional (lots of unrequited love, poverty, and misery). The second, which is from the city of Coimbra, is the polar opposite, being fast, lively, and extremely optimistic. Portugal is home to many folk dances as well, if you’re interested in the more traditional roots of the Luso-Brazilian culture.

2. The people. Brazilian and Portuguese people are very different, which can also be seen in the language. Brazilian people are very upbeat, happy, and inclusive people. Brazilians typically say a gente (the people) to mean, “us”. They also don’t have the tu-vous distinction with tu (informal) and você (formal), using only the latter to say, “you”. Brazilian Portuguese is also very prone to making innocent words into those of a sexual nature. If you learn Portuguese from my guide, you’ll see this. Brazilians very much want to be your friend.

Portuguese people, on the other hand, are more traditional, especially when it comes to the language, preserving spellings that aren’t even observed in the spoken language. Portuguese people are very big on manners and formalities, but this is not to say that Portuguese people are uptight. Portuguese people appreciate people who follow social conventions, and are very willing to help you if you just ask. The Portuguese people also have a great respect for their elders and their family, and becoming a friend of the family is a sign of being a good friend to them.

3. A greater sense of emotion. Portuguese has this wonderful thing called saudade, which, while being concise, roughly translates to the nostalgia you feel when recalling something that has gone away, and will most likely never return. Portuguese is a good language for emotion, particularly regarding love. The word apaixonar-se technically means, “to fall in love,” but is usually used in the present tense, which has a special meaning in Portuguese. It describes the feeling of continually experiencing love and being more enamored with the other person.

That’s all I’ve got for today! Please leave any comments you might have, reblog this post, and/or share/like it on Facebook!