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Getting Along With Chan - Honorifics Today

Okay, while I'm in the process of doing some research and material gathering for my next review, I thought I would take a stab at offering a counterpoint to an interesting debate on honorifics, the usage of honorifics, and their inclusion or redaction from translated manga, and anime; including their correct translation in the speaking dubs of anime for the Western audiences.

The biggest issue when it comes to honorifics today whether they are coming to us through the translation of popular manga or anime, or even foriegn television and film, is not a question of acceptance; as the many debates that have raged on have fueled. It's a matter of whether or not they are 100% necessary in the English speaking world.

Sure there are differing opinions as to the weight a correctly translated honorific can add to a work, but the argument is not the nodding consent that they exist, but if they are essential.

I have heard and read both sides of this debate and argument for a long time now, and as a casual bystander in the fray -- one that just wants to enjoy his entertainment -- it's becoming a nuisance to have to sift and filter through the over use, or incorrect use, or forced use that the little attachments of the Japanese language have evoked.

Here's the rub; I am pretty sure of two things. One, is that I am an American, and I speak and read English. It is my primary language. I am fortunate to know a few select words in a few languages, but not really enough to allow me the luxury of conversing without the use of a massive translation tool, or someone to interpret what I'm saying, and what is being said.

Now, as an English speaking individual, I have learned the correct usage of several of our own native honorifics (whether these have come to us from other countries and have been assimilated is moot), such as properly calling a person either "Sir" or "Madam" "Mr" "Mrs" or "Miss" or even "Ms" depending on the status of the person to whom I am speaking. There are even nick-names and less formal Honorifics that expand the way we address people in society in a less formal manner, such as "Dude" "Kid" "Sport" "Kiddo" "Missy", "Buddy" and so forth.

Then there are the privileged titles or honorifics that we bestow upon judges and professors of higher learning and medical professionals, such as "Honorable" "Your Honor" or "Doctor". We are not a monarchy, and so we will never have a cause to use the honorifics of royalty such as "Lord" or "Master" or "Highness" or even "Excellency", the closest we may come, would be in the addressing of clergy, such as "Reverend" or "Bishop" or "Grace".

The fact is, we as Americans have quite a few of our own honorifics, and we have a hard enough time just getting our language correct, let alone how to use these additions properly.

Now the debate like I mentioned before isn't about whether or not Japanese honorifics are really right, but the argument for me, is whether it's a matter of preference or necessity.

In the past several decades Japan has adopted several of our English words, and these are called "Loan Words" words that during this past century are relatively new, such as "Computer", "Escalator" "Automobile", "Bus" "Christmas" and many others. This isn't a one sided thing. In fact we have also adopted the use of Japanese words into our language with relative ease, such as "Tsunami", "Sensei", "Katana", "Saki", and the list grows with each day as more cultural exchange in the form of media and business abounds.

What seems a tirelessly wheel spinning debate is the use of Japanese honorifics in media. Where some see this as a must, and others see this as a want, there are still those that see it as a pure problem.

Let's tackle the matter of translation.

I'm going to use Manga and Anime as my main points for all of my arguments, since this is the most furious of debating grounds.

It is my opinion that honorifics should be included in manga.

Now before all you pro-honorific fans go radical with applause, I have to stop you and clarify. I think that if a company is going to go through the trouble of including them, according to the original Japanese, and not translate "San" and "Chan" and "Sama" into their English counterparts and equivalents, then they should be used correctly, and every time without fail.

On the other hand, if a company choses to translate "San" into the English counterpart of "Mr" or "Mrs" then they need to pay closer attention to the context of the honorific, and make sure that gender intent is applied.

Now, as for their use at all.

Why are people called "Misaki-Chan" or "Souma-Kun"? What good is any of this to English, and how can this be ported to our understanding?

Well, it's not easy. We are dealing with a language that almost always uses and refers to the person by their name everytime they are mentioned or even addressed. It isn't uncommon for a person to use their own name when speaking of  themselves when they are the subject. So the honorifics are a means to classify the importance of the name, as status, and familiarity.

I wouldn't dream of walking up to the Pope and calling him "Bro". It's just rude and disrespectful, in fact given his status it would probably be considered disrespectful to address him as "Mister" or even "Sir". His title has been put in place to reflect the appropriate methods by which he should be addressed, and referenced.

The same as in Japanese. Their language is designed to reflect, on a much broader spectrum the scope of individual addressing, all the way down to family, friends, co-wokers, acquaintances, and professional peers. This is their language, and it has worked well for them for a long time.

Now, it can be argued that abolishing or translating their honorifics is wrong, and bad. And I'm sure for people that really, really love Japan, and Japanese culture it is. But in all sincerity, it's tossing our own language under the rails, when we arrogantly assume that we don't have enough words and expressions to adequately convey exactly what they do.

I'll offer this as an example, if I go to Japan, I'm sure that people addressing me will use my name (David), and attach a "-San" to the end of it. And you know what, that's perfectly fine. I'm sure there might be a few that would offer to call me "Mister" but then, it's a stretch. It's not going to make me think less of their country, or their language because I suddenly have a applied honorific consistent with their own language.

Now let's say that Aya Hirano (VA for Haruhi Suzumiya, Konata Itzumi) was to visit me here in the States, would she be insulted if I addressed her as "Miss" Hirano? Doubtful. I would be showing her all the proper respect and social courtesy I would any one else for a person of her status, on both a level professionalism and acquaintanceship.

I really don't imagine she is going to go back to Japan and accuse us all of being ignorant bumpkins for calling her "Miss" instead of "-San" or "-Sama".

So why the rage?

Why can't we forgo the headache of bending over backwards for a language not our own?

Answer, because as fans, we naturally emulate that which we enjoy. We love Japanese, and so we mix it in. Even if there is a perfectly acceptable counterpoint to calling someone "Sensei" we still feel the need to use it, and hear it. Not because calling someone "Professor" or "Teacher" or "Doctor" is any less acceptable, and applicable, but because we just like their method better.

Admit it, we are just jealous that Japan can give a person the honorific of "-Chan" and we have to resort to just calling people by their shortened names. Personally I don't much care to be called "chan" or "Dave" which when combined is basically the equivalent. Calling someone "chan" is like being comfortable enough and intimate enough that you can get away with calling someone by their silly nick-name.

The gender argument is also pretty weak, by comparison. Again, assuming the company doing the translation is going to go to the trouble of satisfying the stomachs of the fans, then they need to make sure that proper context is used. If they are gonna translate them, then make sure they translate them correctly.

A lot of the argument could really be eliminated, if we just accepted that we ARE NOT IN JAPAN. no matter how much we really want to be, we aren't Japanese. We aren't dealing with a language that has all these pretty sparkly things, and add-ons. And I think until we can actually learn how to handle our own language, we need to stop trying to half-ass someone elses.