How to reflect quirky phrasing in your subs

Article, Fansubs — By on May 9, 2012 2:51 am

This post was written by Dark_Sage. He is Dark_Sage.

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An analysis of how to make humans speak like humans.


One of the unseen arguments among fansub editors is how to make characters speak. Some editors argue that characters should work with strict grammar rules, never using slang or nonstandard English. These editors are known as “retards”. Other editors argue that subs should reflect how humans actually speak. These editors are probably not retarded, but let’s not take that option off the table.

For those of you unconvinced that nonstandard English is acceptable in subs, think about the intricacies of the English language (well, all languages really, but I can only speak to English). Do accents carry the ability to convey something about a character without directly bringing it up? Of course they fucking do. If you hear a southern accent, you assume certain things about the speaker. We have tons of accents that all convey certain stereotypes about a person, whether true or not.

Surprise, surprise the Japanese language has such intricacies too.


Accents & Dialects in Anime

Often, characters in anime will bring up when another character is speaking in a different regional dialect. “Osakan” is often a favorite target. Hell, Azumanga Daioh has a character named after her fucking accent. Obviously, this shit is important.

Osaka <3

More than just translating a single line where a character says “wow, that person is speaking with an accent”, it’s important to convey this accent throughout the entire show in a method that is relatable to the target audience. Just mentioning the accent once devalues the character (because you’re taking away an important character trait) and can lead to people getting the wrong impression (what is the accent supposed to convey about a character?).

You can easily convey the accent’s meaning by taking a fucking second to look it up. This shit came up on Google right-quick and it should give you a good idea of how to phrase the Osakan accent in English:

Editors, if you notice a character is speaking strangely, ask your TL or TLC what accent they’re using. If they don’t know, you should fire them and get someone who’s taken more than 1 semester of Japanese in college. Osakan isn’t the only dialect in anime, but I have faith that you can use Google to look the other ones up on your own time.


Relaying Character Quirks

Accents and dialects aren’t the only things that are important to convey in fansubs/translations. Character quirks fall under similar guidelines. Hopefully you don’t get stuck with untranslatable gibberish like “uguu~” or “desu~”. If you do, I’m so sorry, but you’re just gonna have to roll with it.

Untranslatable. You’ll have to just toss a tilde at the end of it and hope for the best.

But let’s assume you have something to work with. Maybe a character talks very stiffly but uses slang for comedic effect. Obviously, you’re gonna want to display that aspect of the character.

“I daresay, Mr. Jeffries, that young wigger is trying my moverloving patience. We should remedy this situation posthaste with a deft application of shovel-upside-the-head.”

Or perhaps they end every sentence in “dattebayo” and you need some way to display this.

Catch phrases can sometimes get grating though, so make sure to limit their use.


If a character has a unique trait that’s reflected in the way they speak, it’s important to show this in your releases. You can’t assume your viewers will understand the Japanese accents without your help. If they did, they wouldn’t be coming to your groups for subs. Don’t rob your viewers of the full animu experience by skipping over the unique ways in which characters speak, cuz that’s not cool. (Yeah, I fucking ended this article terribly. Deal with it.)

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John Galt says:

Holy shit, he delivers.

yo says:

I’m having trouble dealing with it, so how about an article on being a productive leecher instead of a leeching leecher. Whatever that sounds like… Oh, something along the lines of ‘signs you need to remind yourself what the sky looks like’?

Dark_Sage says:

I don’t know if I can come up with an article on how to be a “productive” leecher. I don’t have enough content for that. Generally, fansub groups like to see their fans involved. Basically, this means commenting on the releases and spending time in their IRC channels. I mean, that’s about it. It’s not necessary by any means, but a quick “Thanks for the release” every now and then means a lot for the fansubbers because it shows that their work is being appreciated.

Nekumata says:

A few paragraphs about what you consider “good writing”, be it a novel or an article, would be nice.
I’d still love to hear fashion advice from D_S.

Dark_Sage says:

…I’ll consider it. I’m not all that great with praising people, but I’m sure I can find some shit from the Aniblog tournament that would satisfy you.

I’ve gotta get some sleep now, though. Need to be up in less than five hours for another fun day at work.

Aelysium says:

I second Nekumata’s suggestion. After the brutality (and hilarity) of some of your posts in regards to people’s writing, I think a post on what you consider good writing and why would be interesting.

FalseDawn says:

Hm, is the tilde really used in fansubs? I gave up on it several years ago because I decided it was a non-standard pile of regurgitated turds. I know Eclipse used it for “de arimasu” in Shana, but beyond that, is it really used? And is that the only situation it’s considered acceptable in?

Xythar says:

I’ve never used it because it makes you look like a 12 year old girl on MSN Messenger.

kyonyUU says:

Then you should use it because it makes you look like a cute 12-year-old girl on MSN.

Starra says:

This is quite annoying in Hetalia fan translations. See: aru (and da ze). It’s not really a verbal tic, despite what some fans might think. It’s just there to show that China has a Chinese accent. Because he’s, you know, Chinese.

(Fun fact: several of the Hetalia characters speak with different Japanese dialects. The Nordic countries use northern dialects, Spain uses the Osakan dialect, etc.)

Of course, there are actual verbal tics as well. Vee~.

kokujin-kun says:

So squidding squid puns: hot or not?

Xythar says:

Anyone who doesn’t like CR’s Squid Girl subs is a terrible person.

FalseDawn says:

I comsquidderly agree.

8thSin says:

I wouldn’t say a terrible person, but definitely a bad taste くコ:彡

Tantei says:

Oh hush, squid puns are squishly fun

Random says:

Well, nice article, I mostly agree. But here is some opinion: a person watches anime with subs (not because of hearing loss or something), so there will be an original soundtrack giving this person full image of characters’ accent, dialect, other shit like stuttering and more. This way subber shouldn’t care ’bout that stuff. What do you think about it?
The problem is that all described won’t be noticed by newbie, but that’s a bit different question.
Sorry for my english if something is wrong.

Sunny says:

Desu is not untranslatable .-. it’s the Japanese sentence ender that makes an “is” statement.

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