Censorship vs. Localization

There has been varied, but relatively constant noise being made by the World of Warcraft community about the Chinese release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Said in one way it is simply a year late. This is normal practice for some operating systems or languages, but for an MMO expansion pack it is a bit more visible, and with angry waiting fans it’s even more visible.

The thing about WotLK is that it has been ready for release for a year, but has gotten hung up in requirements put forth by the Chinese government regarding its release. These requirements have been dubbed censorship by the fanbase (particularly those on Kotaku and MMO-Champion), but the interesting element is that these are simply localization [L10n] issues from a different angle.

The main points of contention are skeletons: skeletons under cauldrons and against walls, skulls on spikes, skulls on weapons, skeletal knees poking out of zombie bodies, giant bone animals, and I’m not sure about skeletons in armor. The claimed ideological basis for and defense of, the censorship is that ancestor veneration, signified by being good to the bones of ancestors, is difficult when you’re going around destroying those bones/skeletons/zombies or putting them on weapons or spikes. Of course, there’s a slight problem when the the the majority of the expac deals with necromancy and its problems (via the Lich King). In short, the narrative of WoW: WotLK is hard to localize to China.

And yet, it has been done. Skulls are removed, zombies have no bones, and bone dragons and bone griffons are transformed to flashy ghost dragons and griffons. Is this a sign that, indeed, narrative does not matter? Or is it a sign that millions of ravenous players will force certain hands, and this is the best the Chinese government (particularly the the ministry in charge of publications and press (GAPP) and the ministry of culture (MOC)) is going to get (the fact that other games, particularly other, more local MMOs such as Perfect World were not put through such direct censorship, but multinational Blizzard’s MMO was is, perhaps, telling)? Or, is it just a sign that L10n really is the way things work now, and like translation only becoming visible with its mistakes, L10n is only visible when it doesn’t happen ‘properly,’ which is to say when it isn’t localized enough and is thus put through additional censorship. Games that are localized enough (self censored in both the production and L10n phases) do not need censorship; games that are not localized enough get censored before release.

This logic seems to be mirrored in calls to limit indigenous exclamations in Final Fantasy XIII (Koncewicz), which would make L10n easier, or at least possible due to the extensiveness of these noises (one of many places where you can seen these unlocalized noises is in Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks). But what they’re asking for goes part and parcel with the L10n process as internationalization [i18n], the production level planing for L10n. Both Koncewicz and guides to L10n indicate making assets easily changeable is best practice for i18n as L10n can then more easily push the product into some parituclar locale. However, while Koncewicz indicates this was the intention of FFXIII as an internationally aimed game it seems to be opposed by the very imbeddedness of certain games into certain cultures (Subarashiki kono sekai, which is subtitled It’s A Wonderful World in Japanese, but localized as The World Ends With You in English is an interesting example). Thus, the complaints of FFXIII are less against L10n than against Square-Enix’s i18n process and the idiosyncrasies that they do not want to delete from FFXIII and other games.

However, in the case of WotLK, Netease.com, the company releasing WoW in China, wants to censor, but did a poor job self censoring in the L10n process, and Blizzard in fact did not i18n ‘enough’ in the development process. One might also extend this claim by saying their recent, much lauded Starcraft II L10n is a direct step up from the failure of localizing WotLK for China. The ‘enough’ here is actually problematic for two reasons. One is that  they are being forced to change the narrative level significantly, and if such alterations are in fact part of the L10n can one even call the game a translation? If you don’t fight a Death Knight, a Lich and a Bone Dragon are you really playing Wrath of the Lich King? Is WoW: WotLK US/EU and WoW: WotLK China the same game? The second is that while WotLK was hounded by the Chinese goverment locally developed (multinational, but of Chinese origin) Perfect World Online was released with skeletons available for slaying. So how much of i18n and L10n are being enforced where they should not be, how much of cultural particularity or universality are being reinforced by political clout or business acquiescence where it is actually a nonexistent thing?


  • Koncewicz, Radek. Localizing Exclamations in FInal Fantasy XIII
  • Mickey Yang. “Pics: What’s Changed in Chinese Version Wrath of the Lich King.” Chinagame.178.com. Posted: 8/16/2010.

Destabilization of the Translator | Destabilization of the Translation

There are two new trends in translation that I would like to discuss. Both are postmodern and intentionally unstable, but they have opposite instabilities. One trend destabilizes the translator, and the other destabilizes the translation.

The destabilization of the translator has multiple translators, but a single translation. It has its history in the Septuagint, but its present locus is around dividing tasks and the post Fordist assembly line form of production. Like the Septuagint, where 72 imprisoned scholar translators translated the Torah identically through the hand of God, the new trend relies on the multiplicity of translators to confirm the validity of the produced translation. However, different is that while the Septuagint produced 72 results that were the same, the new form of translation produces one result that arguably combines the knowledge of all translators involved. This trend of translation can be seen in various new media forms and translation schemes such as Wikis, the Lolcat Bibul, Facebook, and FLOSS Manuals.

Wikis (from the Hawaian word for “fast”) are a form of distributed authorship. They exist due to the effort of their user base that adds and subtracts small sections to individual pages. One user might create a page and add a sentence, another might write three more paragraphs, a third may edit all of the above and subtract one of the paragraphs, and so on. No single author exists, but the belief is that the “truth” will come out of the distributed authority of the wiki.  It’s a very democratic form of knowledge production and authorship that certainly has issues, but for translation it enables new possibilities. While wikis are generally produced in a certain language and rarely translated (as the translation would not be able to keep track of the track changes), the chunk-by-chunk form of translation has been used in various places.

The Lolcat Bibul translation project is a web-based effort to translate the King James Bible into the meme language used to caption lolcats (amusing cat images). The “language” meme itself is a form of pidgin English where present tense and misspellings are highlighted for humorous effect. Examples are “I made you a cookie… but I eated it,” “I’z on da tbl tastn ur flarz,” and “I can haz cheeseburger?”[1] The Lolcat Bibul project facilitates the translation from King James verse to lolcat meme. For example, Genesis 1:1 is translated as follows:

KING JAMES: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth
LOLCAT: Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat Maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem. [2]

While the effort to render the Bible is either amusing or appalling depending on your personal outlook, important is the translation method itself. The King James Bible exists on one section of the website, and in the beginning the lolcat side was blank. Slowly, individual users took individual sections and verses and translated them according to their interpretation of lolspeak, thereby filling the lolcat side. These translated sections could also be changed and adapted as users altered words and ideas. No single user could control the translation, and any individual act could be opposed by another translation. The belief is that if 72 translators and the hand of God can produce an authoritative Bible, surely 72 thousand translators and the paw of Ceiling Cat can produce an authoritative Bibul.

FLOSS (Free Libre Open Source Software) Manuals and translations are a slightly more organized version of this distributed trend [3]. FLOSS is theoretically linked to Yochai Benkler’s “peer production” where people do things for different reasons (pride, cultural interaction, economic advancement, etc), and both the manuals and translations capitalize on this distribution of personal drives. Manuals are created for free and open source software through both intensive drives where multiple people congregate in a single place and hammer out the particulars of the manual, and follow-up wiki based adaptations. The translations of these manuals are then enacted as a secondary practice in a similar manner. Key to this open translation process are the distribution of work and translation memory tools (available databases of used terms and words) that enable such distribution, but also important is the initial belief that machine translations are currently unusable, which causes the necessity of such open translations.

Finally, Facebook turned translation into a game by creating an applet that allowed users to voluntarily translate individual strings of linguistic code that they used on a daily basis in English. Any particular phrase such as “[user] has accepted your friend request” or “Are you sure you want to delete [object]?” were translated dozens to hundreds of times and the most recurring variations were implemented in the translated version. The translation was then subject to further adaptation and modification as “native” users joined the fray as Facebook officially expanded into alternate languages. Thus, <LIKE> would have become <好き>, but was transformed to <いいね!> (good!). Not only did this process produce “real” languages, such as Japanese, but it also enabled user defined “languages” such as English (Pirate) with plenty of “arrrs” and “mateys.”

Wikis, FLOSS, and Facebook are translations with differing levels of user authority, but they all work on the premise that multiple translators can produce a singular, functioning translation. In the case of Facebook this functionality and user empowerment is highlighted; for FLOSS, user empowerment through translation and publishing are one focus, but a second focus is the movement away from machine translation; in all cases, but wikis particularly, the core belief is that truth will emerge out of the cacophony of multiple voices, and this is the key tenet of the destabilization of the translator [4].

The other trend is the destabilization of the translation. This form of translation has roots in the post divine Septuagint where all translation is necessarily flawed or partial. Instead of the truth emerging from the average of the sum of voices, truth is the build up: it is footnotes, marginal writing and multiple layers. Truth here is the cacophony itself. The ultimate text is forever displaced, but the mass intends to eventually lead to the whole (whether it gets there or not is separate matter for Benjamin, Derrida and the like).
While this style of translation is less enacted at present it is not completely new. Side by side pages with notes about choices is one variation centuries old (Tyndale’s Biblical notations, Midrash, and side by side poetry translations), the DVD language menu coming from multiple subtitle tracks is another variation, and finally this leads to new possibilities for multi-language software translations.

While the Septuagint leads to the creation of a single text in the myth, 72 translators translating a single text would produce 72 different translations in reality. The attempt to stabilize this inherent failure of translation argues that one of those translations is better and used, but it can be altered if a better translation comes around. The Bible translation is always singular, but it changes. Similarly, the Odyssey is translated quite often, but the translations are always presented alone. They are authoritative. In contrast, Roland Barthes comparison of modern works and postmodern texts and Foucault’s discussion of the authorial function both lead toward this destabilization of the author [5]. This discussion can be linked into translation studies’ discussions of author and translator intellectual production. The destabilization of translators and translations build off of both of these postmodern traditions, but the latter trend attempts to avoid weighing in on the issue by simultaneously exhibiting the conflicting iterations.

The main difficulty of the destabilization of the translation is the problem of exhibiting multiple iterations at one time in a meaningful way. How can a reader read two things at once, or with film, how can a viewer understand two soundtracks at once? Books and films provide multiple examples of how to deal with such an attention issue. With literary works endnotes are a minimal example of such attention divergence. Endnotes do not immediately compete for the reader’s attention, but the note markers indicate the possibility of voluntary switching. Footnotes are a slightly more aggressive form of attention management s they tell the reader to switch focus to the bottom of the page, a smaller distance that is more likely to happen.

For film, subtitles, which layer the filmic text with both original dialogue and the authorial translation, are a close equivalent to endnotes as they split the viewer’s attention, but do not force the attention toward a particular place. It is entirely possible to ignore subtitles regardless of complaints against them (much harder to ignore would be intertitles filling the screen). Finally, the benshi, a simultaneous live translator/explainer, is an early to mid 20th century Japanese movie theater tradition that most resembles the more aggressive footnotes as the benshi’s explanative voice competes with the film’s soundtrack for the audience’s aural attention [6].

Unlike websites such as Amazon, which have language dedicated pages (.com, .co.jp, .co.de) and block orders from addresses outside of their national coverage, or services such as the Sony PSPGo Store, which disallows the purchase of alternate region software, some sites utilize pull down language options that change the language while remaining on the same page, or provide multiple linguistic versions for purchase.

With digital games the localization process has traditionally replaced one language with its library of accompanying files with another. However, as computer memory increases the choice of one language or another becomes less of an issue and multiple languages are provided with the core software. This gives rise to the language option where the game can be flipped from one language to another through an option menu. Most games put this choice in the options menu at the title screen, but a few allow the user to switch back and forth. The simultaneous visibility of multiple languages or a language switch button would be further advancements toward the destabilization of translations.


[1] Rocketboom Know Your Meme. <http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/lolcats>; I Can Has Cheezburger. <http://icanhascheezburger.com/>; Hobotopia. <http://apelad.blogspot.com/>.

[2] LOLCat Bible Translation Project. <http://www.lolcatbible.com/index.php?title=Genesis_1>.

[3] FLOSS Manuals. http://en.flossmanuals.net/

[4] This conceptualization relates to Bolter and Grusin’s hypermediacy. Bolter, J. David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999.

[5] Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text.” In The Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Simon During, Donna Jeanne Haraway and Teresa De Lauretis. London: Routledge, 2007; Foucault, Michel. “What Is an Author?” In The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, edited by Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose. New York: New Press, 2003.

[6] Nornes, Markus. Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

The Task of the Translator; The Location of Localization

I’ve been reading a lot of Walter Benjamin’s “Die Aufgabe des Ãœbersetzers” lately in reference. So much so that I also went back and (re)read the original. The question of course for everybody, or at least as I understand decades later and after Paul de Man, is whether the focus is on ‘translation’ as the ‘failure’ or the ‘task’ of the translator, both of which are built into the German. This comes down to whether the translator tries to translate the ‘what’ or the ‘why’ of the original, the idea of touching and either deflecting or reforming the ‘vessel,’ et cetera. The voice in my head then asks what the relationship between localizations is?

There’s an interesting thing that happens when I read translation work: I don’t feel like I’m barking up a crazy tree. This is nice. However, the other thing that happens is that I wonder exactly how I’m trying to tie things together, which doesn’t exactly work. Too many partial overlaps at once.

Things that are important here are, of course, the failure of the translation process, but also some of the other basics such as translation being not just ontological and spatial, and not just historical and temporal (which Bermann and Wood try to point to, rightfully, in Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation, but also specifically NOT temporal or spatial for localization.

Or rather, that is of course what is the intent with localization.

Translation is a post-production effect. It is written and then it’s translated. Even if I’m going to be difficult, or pomo, and say that repetition, adaptation and the like are also forms of translation there is still a key difference and that is the temporal aspect. However, localization specifically abuses that location of the translation. Game translation (localization) is increasingly moved from the post-production to the central production point. This follows through with the central claims of games as new media: that they have no original and are variable. This moving (temporal) position of localization also justifies the claim that games are not actually translated as it was never officially in one place or another. And more, for the case of simultaneous releases (and better yet releases with multiple languages) they are able to claim a full disabling of the temporal element of translation.

What Difference an M Makes

One of my pleasures is reading. It is also one of my guilty pleasures as I tend to read books of a speculative nature. My thoughts have always dwelled near the question why would I want to read about the world I live in? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the escape? Yes, I’m an escapist, and that has included worlds of alternative reality, fantastic worlds, futuristic worlds, and even alternatively represented worlds such as animation. With that (probably unsurprising) admission out of the way I can get to a topic that has bothered me for quite a while, which has also had a new development (new if only in the case that I recently noticed it).

Authors, genres, sorting and status.

An author I’m rather fond of is Iain Banks. he writes fiction. Most of it could be in this world although some of it is a bit iffy, or at least somewhat psychotic. Okay, that describes most fiction as how “real” is the illuminati in comparison to Area 51 and extra terrestrials? I first read Banks’ Dead Air, which I borrowed from a friend in 2004. I loved it, but I couldn’t remember who had written it after I gave it back and didn’t read anything else of his for half a decade. When I finally did figure out who that Scottish writer my Scottish friend loaned me was I was confronted with two things. The first was Iain Banks. I proceeded to read The Steep Approach to Garbadale, The Business, and Whit. The second thing I found was Iain M Banks, the author of the Culture series of science fiction and various one offs. Those of you who might have bothered to guess will probably realize that Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks are the same person.

Average logic seems to hold that people cannot write for multiple genres at once. Or that audiences don’t shop for multiple genres.

But maybe logic should think of all the pseudonyms out there. And then maybe question the purpose of those alternate pen names: Banks wrote 3 books as Banks then got his publishers to publish a sci-fi book. it came out under M. Banks so as not to confuse audiences (or so holds the WIkipedia entry). Maybe it’s for the readers. It’s definitely not because Banks cannot write for both genres as he does well and has done will for over two decades and twenty books.

So why is it that the United States publisher (Orbit) has chosen to publish Banks’ latest novel, Transitions, by Iain M. Banks? It was published in the United Kingdom as a book by Iain Banks and the two book covers are visible, unproblematically, on Banks’ website showing the different covers and different names.

Banks has no problem with his name separation (and integration). So why do I care? What is it that I see as troubling and annoying about both the separation and integration of a science fiction identity and a fiction identity? Mainly status.
Salman Rushdie is a good, similar example. Rushdie’s works are fantastic. They question reality. But they’re “Fiction.” Even one of his earliest works, Grimus, a very “science fiction and fantasy” novel if ever there were one, is happily labeled “Fiction” and sorted alongside Rushdie’s other, “serious” books. While it is labeled “Fantasy novel/Science Fiction” on Wikipedia the Amazon entry (as well as most other booksellers) has ignored this and simply lists it as “Literature & Fiction.”

In bookstores’ entry systems especially of 20 years ago, when both the M and Rushdie’s singular straying happened, Fiction was the high genre and anything more “generic,” anything that needed a modifier, be it fantasy, science fiction, thriller, romance, was the low move toward rubbish, or at least special audiences (where special has all of its connotations, good and bad).

Rushdie rode his barely (and yet very) “Fiction” style out to be one of the most influential writers of the late 20th century. This has many parts to do with his status as a post colonial, and yet British, subject as well as the politico-religious issues surrounding Satanic Verses. However, as his work was “serious” it brought in the very not serious early novel. This preserved the singular location of an author within a store, and essentially, the analogue archive.

In contrast, Neal Stephenson, a second prime example, whose early work was in fiction (The Big-U, Zodiac and a few disavowed co-written works) before he smashed onto the scene with Snow Crash and Diamond Age, two cyberpunk highlights. Stephenson is located in the science fiction section. Again, this is in contrast to his incredibly popular (alternative) historical fiction Cryptonomicon and Baroque Cycle. Because his original hits were in science fiction he has remained in that area. This has not prevented him from garnering support and sales, but it has prevented him from winning awards other than those in science fiction, which his popular historical fiction novels do not fit. It has placed him, marked him, classified him, as a science fiction author.

The placement within the archive, one’s labeling/identificying denotes the status of the author. Rushdie is respected as he is in Fiction. Stephenson is less respected as he is in Science-Fiction. Banks avoided this very possibility with the little M., which separated identities, forced his presence into both places of the archive (and store). With the doubled name Banks broke the status game.

But that is exactly where I see the problem now. My guess is that within the United States, where sci-fi is low, but popular, M. Banks and the Culture novels sell better. This might be switched in teh UK where Banks is known as a Scottish author and gets additional sales because of that and the brogue of his Fiction novels.

The collapse of Banks to M. Banks within the US does a few things. It attempts to ride M. Banks’ greater popularity so as to increase the Fiction sales. This is fine as far as anything Capitalistic goes. However, it also will problematize the location, and therefore status of Banks in the Ficiton section. As M. Banks his previous Fiction books stand to be reissued as M. Banks and relocated to the sci-fi section. In some ways this makes no sense, in others it’s good business, but I see it simply as the denigration and codification of generic borders.

Somebody out there must like Alice…

I’ve been doing work with William Huber recently on Kingdom Hearts, transmediation and adaptation. An amusing example related to Alice in Wonderland:

The claim that unbirth from the upcoming PSP version is a mistranslation is, I believe, rather false. Why? Because somebody out there likes Alice rather a lot.


= Unbirth

Protest + Game = ?

At base, protest and play are in opposition. Play is the interaction with rules. There are rules, people break them and form emergent properties that become the new rules and game. Play is working with rules. In opposition, a protest works directly against the rules. A protest means to destroy rules or the system, not to adapt them (despite the possibility that this is all that might eventually happen). Protest and game run against each other but are they combinable?

State of Emergency is about rampaging. It’s about things related to protests, but while it has tie ins with the Seattle WTO protests it really isn’t related. There are also various Sim/Civ-esque games based around revolution, but again these are not exactly about protest, but the reinstitution of order.

Would it be possible to create a game that systematically broke the idea of rules by causing the constant creation of new rules through their breaking? It would maintain entertainment/pleasure by giving out points, awards, or achievements for disruption and for changing the system itself? Instead of giving people the ban hammer for cracking the code, breaking the rules, or finding interesting use of mechanics, it would reward the players. I suppose this is really called “life” and “hacking,” but what if, what if…

What Type of World is it Again?

I’m sure the above is not something you need to question if you’ve sat through Disneyland’s Small World ride in either its new or old forms. We all know it’s a small world; we all know that all the people in the world are represented; we all know that everybody’s cute, singing oh so happy. What you/we might not know are some of these interesting particulars.

Like that in each of the rooms there exist Disney characters: Lilo and Stitch in the island/Hawaiian area, Aladdin in the Arabian world and so on and so forth. Is the world Disney or is Disney the world? And just what is the relationship between the Orientalist fantasy of Aladdin and whatever we may claim Disney(land) is?

And again, what of the happy warnings in the beginning that rotate between English to French to Spanish to English to Japanese to Spanish to English to German to Spanish and on ad infinum. Obviously that says something about the French, Japanese and German visitors, dying to hear the message about keeping their arms and legs inside the tram as well as those visitors that don’t get a personalized message. But it also says so much about the relationship between English and Spanish in a park, and corner of the country, that is indebted to Spanish speaking workers.

So what type of world are we in again? This time let’s not just call it small, or fun, or even troubled, but perhaps complicated.

Thoughts on DAC – Programmers and Humanitists

The conference Digital Arts and Culture is meant to combine various people from various fields in order to talk and work. It’s interdisciplinary. It also seems to combine people who are in multiple disciplines. It’s multidisciplinary. Unfortunately, the result has similar pitfalls to the standard woes of disciplines. Namely: a) you go to what you know b) there are multiple sessions at any given time c) these sessions roughly break down into humanities, arts and computer science. These three end up meaning that the three groupings have much more limited interaction than might otherwise happen.

I have two examples to elaborate.


On the first day there was a panel on Software Studies. In it Aden Evens gave a talk on Programming and Fold (or Edge as he changed it to). The talk was interesting, but it was to a room filled with programmers who were mumbling and stirring in anger during the first half of his talk saying “wrong wrong WRONG!” to themselves and each other. This was offset by the second half when all of the sudden something clicked and they suddenly became interesting as he moved to the second part that he was trying to connect. However, the q/a consisted primarily of people taking him to task for various ways

Now, there are two things that are important here. Aden Evens is, apparently, a humanistist (yes, it’s a clunky word and there might be something better). He has time spent coding, so he’s done his work enough to talk about the programming side and, importantly, present on a panel that’s slightly more focused on the programming side. The second is that he was largely alone in that room as his fellow humanitists were likely off in the embodiment and performance session.

The result is that the two sides did not really interact and the place where they did interact was as if in enemy territory. Even though there was discussion, it was slightly at odds.


The second example is when I presented on the second day. My own talk had been accepted in both the Future of Humanist Inquiry (humanitist) and Software Studies (programmers) sections, but for various reasons I went with the Software Studies side. At my panel there were four people:

  • Scholarly civilization: utilizing 4X gaming as a framework for humanities digital media
    [Elijah Meeks, University of California, Merced]
  • Shaping stories and building worlds on interactive fiction platforms
    [Alex Mitchell, Communications and New Media Programme, National University of Singapore]
    [Nick Montfort, Massachusets Institute of Technology]
  • Translation (is) not localization: language in gaming
    [Stephen Mandiberg, University of California, San Diego]
  • Seriality, the Literary and Database in Homestar Runner: Some Old Issues in New Media
    [Stephanie Boluk, Department of English, University of Florida]

Of note is that my panel consists of one “refuge from the humanities theme,” one critical geographer, myself (who chose this option and tailored intendingly), and a cs oriented twosome doing slightly more typically programmer things.

The result (and the opposite of the first example) is that questions and discussion was geared completely toward the programming talk. There were some humanitists in the room (I saw them) but they all tended to leave to go in and out. Of the 20 minutes of Q/A 18 or so were discussion about the IF presentation. No questions went to the critical geographer. Now, this might be considered a matter of bitching, but i’m really trying to say it’s a matter of disconnect.

For instance, one of the lines of questions into the IF discussion was focused on the movement and particularities of platforms, programming and possibilities of moving between platforms. This is localization, the exact topic that I had been discussing and in a very similar way to which I had been discussing. So similar, in fact, that the chair and I had a glance at eachother before I felt the need to jump in and point out some of the problems with what they were discussing. This is discussion as it should be, yes, but it is also disconnect that the completely obvious link.

DAC then is interdisciplinary, fine. But it’s also very fragmented by the mentality of doing what’s comfortable, going to the talks that you know, and of course, mingling with the people who are like you.

Multiple Languages

Texts that have had multiple languages within them have been around since forever. Well, possibly not forever, but in one way or another for a rather long time. One might even find that the current mixing of languages that we attribute to globalization and transnationalism is actually not new, but links in with premodern society: that it is Modernity that unnaturally ended the mixing of languages. However, this is something for the future. For now, I simply want to point out the different reactions given to this mixing of languages depending on the media in which it takes place.

Recently I have heard more and more about Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wonderful Life of Óscar Wao. I finally read it last September. In it the author writes in English, but mixes in pithy spanish phrases and words. These go untranslated and unmarked, and require the reader to actively figure it out. Such a mixture reinforces ideas of postcolonial flow in the current global climate and reproduce what it is to be always within two languages. It is a best selling book, but it is also granted the distinction of literature through academic accolades.

That said, a German I know complained, extensively, that he doesn’t speak Spanish (a native German, he does speak, read and teach fluent English), and used that as a reason for not only putting the book away unfinished, but simply disliking it. I want to point out, first, that this is not the normal reaction to Óscar Wao, but then ask why I can claim any idea of normalcy to this or any other text.

Here I will supply my list of four observations around this:

  1. nobody bitches about made up languages
  2. art is okay, but not ‘wanted’
  3. foreign languages less acceptable than non-languages
  4. games are right out

So, the first is a sort of odd thing to say, but it’s pretty legitimate: nobody complains when somebody goes through the trouble to make up a new language. Examples are 1984‘s Newspeak, Lord of the Ring‘s Elvish and Star Trek‘s Klingon. The first is considered amazing and important, the second equally amazing, and the third completely nerdy, but still, uncritiqued. Nobody complains about them even if a glossary of terms is necessary. Even Neuromancer is considered important in its alternate language even if it makes it slightly difficult.

However, when that alternate is not “legitimately” an alien and just a foreign (with all of the ironies of that statement) language it becomes problematic. Óscar Wao is one example, but there are plenty of others. However, here’s the catch: those others are acceptable in “art” modes, but not as pleasure texts. Entertainment is supposed to be easy, relaxed, the opposite of “work.” Understanding other languages, cultures, people, in short, the foreign, that’s just work, and we can’t have that, so entertainment texts generally have a hidden translation at play, a Babel Fish between strange character and the screen. They might have an accent, but Bond villains all speak English.

Finally, we get to the fourth bit. One of my favorite moments of videogaming is in Onimusha 3 at the beginning when the player, coming from Tokugawa Japan, suddenly finds him/herself in late turn of the 21st century France alongside Jean Reno. This, in itself, is not particularly interesting as timewarping happens disturbingly often in popular cultural texts (temporality, pausing, et cetera are interesting issues in their own right). What is amazing of these few moments is that the Japanese player is forced to interact with both Japanese and French. Sadly, this state is soon avoided by the introduction of a magic spell of some sort that allows Jean Reno to both speak and understand Japanese, which results in the remaining 8/10ths of the game being solely in Japanese.

Multiple languages in games don’t happen. Obviously, I just used an example of it happening, but the point stands that such is very rare. Whereas such multi-linguality is common in other media, grudgingly accepted in others still, it is rejected in yet other media. There is a level of acceptability of mixing languages depending on the media and the content.

thoughts from the plane

On my way to London (and just before) I watched two rather striking movies. Well, they weren’t particularly striking, but they had something that sparked my interest. Nigerians.

Both District 9 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine have rather negative depictions of Nigerians. The former makes them arms, flesh and drug dealers in the alien district in South Africa and the latter turns them into the initial, random group of ‘baddies’ that Wolverine’s team faces off against and in the process display their mutant abilities. Both show Nigerians as black market dealers, as against the main law, as bad guys, but also interesting, as sub bad guys. In both movies they are not the main adversary, they’re represented as the fly that gets in the way, but not the bad bads (who are, in both movies, governmental agencies and the good guys are the rebels).

The second is something that has annoyed me for a long time, but was brought out in different way on the plane. Americans leave the movie early. By early, I mean before the credits finish rolling. This is not true of all Americans, I’m told, as Los Angelinos stay to the end to see their fellows. However, it’s quite different from Japanese where the movie does not end until the lights rise at the end of the credits and people do not leave until that point.

This observation has a few minor asides:
a) certain movies use gag clips or extra info during the credits to keep people in the audience (one such is Austin Powers), but the question then is whether people pay a whit of attention to the names as they are paying attention to the continued movie.
b) what about the difference between movies with the information at the beginning and the information at the end?

But the plane brought out something even stranger. X-Men Origin: Wolverine’s credits were fast forwarded through. The credit roll went up fast and it was unreadable, but it did go. Why? Is that adding insult to injury, just satisfying legal obligations? Or is it something else?