#RPGaDay2021 Day 24: Translate

Well, today there wasn’t much of a choice for me: to Translate is something I’m very passionate about, so I feel obligated to talk about it in the context of tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs).

Origins

When I started playing TTRPGs, I knew little if any English. It coincided with the year I fell in love with Metallica and other English-speaking bands, so I began what has now been a lifelong passion to become an expert in the English language—as much as I was able to from a forgotten country of Spanish-speaking people.

As such, I had no opinion of the translations I read and used at the time. I don’t remember feeling like they were weirdly written or anything, but I can’t vouch for them because of my ignorance.

Later on, however, I became more and more conscious of the quality of the TTRPG translations I read—and the lack of it.

Today

Translating is one of the hardest things in the world. I consider it impossible to do perfectly but, at the same time, that’s exactly what motivates me to do it the best I can every time I try my hand at translating something.

The translators who do this for a living have my utmost respect, as I believe that they’re underpaid and overloaded with stuff to do in order to make ends meet. That being said… TTRPG translations are mostly mediocre, if not outright bad.

The translators seem to either a) know only the bare minimum about the English language or b) work under such impossible circumstances that they translate quickly and without much care.

I have many examples I could bring up, but I won’t because a) I’m not interested in dunking on people who, once again, were probably severely underpaid and had to fulfill ridiculous deadlines and b) my idea is to focus on a large issue that I barely see discussed. Obvious mistakes—such as translating proper names—are things that anybody can point out.

Neutral Spanish

The Spanish language is spoken in at least 20 countries around the world. Only one of those countries is Spain. Both in number of inhabitants and countries, the non-Spain countries are the majority.

With that in mind, most Spanish-speaking TTRPG publishers have their headquarters in Spain. They are owned by Spanish people and I assume that only Spanish people work there.

Still, I don’t think that it’s too much to ask that the translations that they sell in those other 19 countries try to use a Spanish language that’s understandable by the people who live there. I’m not asking for them to localize the translations—although that’d be awesome, of course, if too high an investment—but simply for them to use a neutral form of Spanish.

Neutral Spanish is a term that is commonly used in translations that try to avoid the particular idiosyncrasies of each Spanish dialect. Because yes: if there are 20 countries that speak Spanish in the world, then there are at least 20 Spanish dialects.

And yet the reality is that almost all TTRPGs available in Spanish are only available in Spanish from Spain. And that includes grammar and, worst of all, words that are only used in Spanish from Spain. 

And that makes them unintelligible.

An example: in Dungeon World there’s a move called “Hack ‘n’ Slash” which everybody in English understands: it’s about fighting in close range with weapons against an opponent.

In the Spanish version of the game, the translator decided to use a couple of terms which, I assume, are popular in Spain: Saja-Raja.

I’ve played D&D for 20+ years through 4 Editions of the game, and I’ve never heard or used such an expression.

Every time I’ve played Dungeon World in Spanish I’ve had to explain what the expression is trying to convey. Most of the time, I just use the original English version and people understand it.

Talk about a failure in translation.

So this is what I’m most passionate about when it comes to Spanish translation of TTRPGs. Please: use Neutral Spanish. That’s a way of showing respect for your non-Spanish customers and, let’s be clear, we’re the immense majority here.

I want to support Spanish TTRPG publishers. I want to have the games in my mother tongue so I can easily play it with my friends. And although the cost is higher and the availability lower than English titles—at least for me—most of my physical TTRPG library is in Spanish.

But I’m having a harder and harder time trying to justify the investment when I have to basically re-translate or explain the translations to my friends. I need books that are, at least, in a language that I can read out loud and other people will understand.

As it is, I just can’t do that.

P.S.: D&D 5th Edition

Just recently Wizards of the Coast (publisher of D&D) decided to start producing new, in-house translations of D&D 5th Edition which, up until this point, was in the hands of Gale Force Nine and Edge Entertainment, in the case of the Spanish translation.

They’ve already said that they’re doing Spanish from Spain translations.

I wish they didn’t. They are once again ignoring a majority of people who don’t understand that dialect.

Spanish is a language spoken in many other places besides Spain.

Neutral Spanish is the only way to show respect and appreciation for your non-Spanish customers.


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