Within Danish literary analysis there is a term called “replikindividualisme”, line-individualism – the notion that each character within a play, book, film or any form of narrative medium ought to have their own register, dialect or in other words a manner of speaking. We shall in this first of many instalments be looking on not only what makes certain character’s manner of speaking characteristic for themselves, but also in which way that translators have handled these characteristics in order to possibly convey the same nuances in the original to a different audience. If every character spoke the same it would destroy any sense of individuality or in other words what makes them them, just like in real life how every person speak with them own vocabulary, slang, registers and so on.
Move on to the first character, the bulbous headed watchman of Earth:
Uatu the Watcher:
The famous watchman of planet Earth with the bulbous head and Greek robes, stems from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s superhero comic The Fantastic Four, wherein Uatu appears before the quartet to pit the them against two other groups of super-beings to see who is the superior – suffice to say it is the last time that he blatantly breaks the commandments of his kind – namely that of staid non-intervention.
His first lines already set the stage for his formal and archaic diction:
Cease this useless conflict! The Watcher commands you.
“Cease” is a fairly old fashioned and formal way of demanding someone to stop, but it is his reference to himself in the third person that cements his role as a supernatural being, since he by this states that by his very nature and vocation as a Watcher commands them to cease.
Later on he speaks directly to the Fantastic Four when they have succeeded in being victorious in Uatu’s senseless testing of the lesser beings, whom he swore to observe, rather than play soldiers with.
The contest is over! You have triumphed!
And my mission, too, is at an end!
Now that mankind has reached the moon, I must go to a more distant part of the galaxy to observe you, mortals from afar! For we Watchers must be ever aloof – ever apart from other races.
But remember this well – no matter here you voyage – no matter how far you travel – to whatever reaches of this limitless universe – you will never be – alone!
And now, farewell! Space is your heritage – see that you prove worthy of such a glorious gift!
Referring to the human cast as “mortals” puts himself “We Watchers” into a distant contrast, fitting with the contents of the paragraph, and moreover his “must be ever aloof” is redolent with archaism from its syntax to the usage of “aloof” in its original meaning of “to be above”. “Farewell” is also rather formal as well. Notice the neat semantic rhyme with “voyage” and “travel.”
Going from his initial appearances in the first issues of the Fantastic Four to the more recent Marvel 1612 – where the cast is given a Elizabethan temporal makeover. We meet the Watcher as he communicates astrally to the good doctor Stephen Strange, who is frankly baffled by old noggin’s telepathic messaging:
Stephen Strange, I am afraid I cannot help you to your feet. But if you imagine yourself standing, then you will be standing.
As seen before Uatu abhors abbreviations as any good alien ought to – such illogical constructions are simply beneath an aloof being of his worth – and as good science fiction teaches us via Teal’c and Mister Spock, then it’s that aliens possess impeccable command over the English language. Despite his stiff manner of speaking, Uatu is nevertheless a polite chap.
After much talking, rather Uatu speaking in stately paragraphs of exposition and Stephen merely asking one or two questions, Uatu lapses into the grand tradition of scientific jargon or babble:
My hypothesis is that in a little more than four hundred years from now. Somebody will build a chronal engine, powered by an unstable simultaneity, which will on its translocation to this era, become a microscopic simultaneity.
“Chronal engine”, “unstable simultaneity” and “translocation” all make perfect sense within the framework of the story and they are indeed all actual if rare words, not gratuitously conjured up from a Star Trek script writer’s astronomical letter-soup. Nevertheless, the profound amount of timetravel terminology frankly furthers the confusion for Stephen and he implores Uatu to speak in simpler terms, something, which we know from our science fiction, is rather hard for aliens to comprehend, but polite chap as ever, Uatu agrees:
All other methods of timetravelling the Watchers have observed until now make use of the various pliable properties of time. They treat time as a river.
An event roughly four hundred years from now on the other hand, will simply punch a hole through time, a little more than a dozen years ago, and deposit something in our recent past.
It is the arrival of this something which begins the current cycle of destruction.
Indeed, rather than referring to science fiction jargon, Uatu expresses the concepts in figures of speech, with a good added measure of alliteration “pliable properties of time.” Romance adjectives and nouns abound to increase his register of formality, though there are far more basic words here since Uatu is propitiating the lower frames of mind of Stephen, his mortalinterlocutor and mouthpiece. Notice also “current cycles of destruction” referring to a recurring system of presumed rebirth and also the ever favourite “cycle” for evaluating units of time in a science fiction setting.
At the very end of the comic series, we meet Uatu’s superior, who congratulates Uatu upon his mission and reassures him that:
We will never know, Ikor’s child, will we?
All is now well. The universes continue as much as we are shamed by you, we are proud of you.
And, so that you do not forget your shame, and so that we do not forget your triumph, the High Tribunal have a gift for you. We have grafted it from the fringes of alternity.
It is small. Keep it safely.
It runs in the family, the lack of contractions, “fringes of alternity” and so on conform with the Watcher’s stately cosmic socielect. Further points for archaic diction goes to his referring to Uatu as “Ikor’s child,” a much loved tradition of authors such as Tolkien.
In addition he uses “shall” and “will” as adheres to the notions of obligation and eventuality to the former and volition to the latter, whereas in American English, the language of the Marvel comics, “shall” in particular has become archaic and formal – such is not the case in British English, however.
Translating the diction of this cosmic watchman should have a focus on the archaic elements, using a language that at the same time also eschews any colloquial traits and adheres towards mentioning the nature of his vocation and his hallowing his vow of passivity and neutrality in all of his observations.
To this point we will look at the Japanese translation of the 2006 multiplatform RPG “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance,” where our bulb-headed beholder has the task of updating the player’s team of any eventual developments and in general being a walking, living and breathing repository for answers and prodding the player in the right direction – ever so cautiously throwing his onus of non-intervention to the wind.
During the very beginning of the game we are greeted by Uatu:
I am Uatu, the Watcher. I prevented your deaths, for you are needed to save this universe. Listen closely, mortals. Doctor Doom's unrestrained use of Odin's power will soon tear the fabric of reality beyond repair. I have broken my sacred vow to only observe so that I may give you this one chance to save your world.
Thus we meet “mortals” in reference to the superheroes, and him having “broken my sacred vow only to observe” that he serve as the players’ guide, in plural as it is also a multi-player game.
Waga na wa Uatu
Sonata-tachi no inochi o sukutta
Kono uchuu o sukutta ni wa, sonata-tachi no chikara ga hitsuyou da.
Shikato kikunoda, chikyuu no tami yo.
Dokutâ Dûmu wa Ôdin no chikara o mote asonde iru.
Kono mama de wa genjitsu ni shuufuku fukanousei na horobi ga unjite shimau.
Kansatsu no tainin ni sazugeta kono mi daga, ima koso seinaru chikai o yaburou sonata-tachi ni, tada ichido no chansu o ataeru
Kono uchuu o sukuu no tame ni
"My name is Uatu
I have saved your lives.
Your powers are vital if the universe is to be saved.
Therefore listen well, ye People of Earth.
Doctor Doom has been playing with Odin’s powers,
At this rate we shall face the emergence of the possibility of the complete annihilation of reality.
I have therefore broken my hallowed vowing to the great obligation of observation.
Ye have but only this one chance that I give unto you all, for the sake of saving the universe!"
Waga na (我が名) - “My name is”, this is a stock-phrase in most Japanese media for when an ancient character introduces themselves, and also rather solemn since it uses the archaic genitive case of the first person pronoun ware (我), itself of Old Japanese stock.
He refers to the cast as sonata-tachi (そなたたち) the plural of sonata (そなた) an archaic pronoun akin to “thou”, but somewhat more amiable, hence my choice of rendering it as “ye/you (all)”. There no colloquial contractions in sight, such as でる for でいる, but he preserves the latter, i.e. “to be” or “to be doing something.”
The noun tainin (大任), referring to a great responsibility or obligation is fairly formal thus befitting his mentioning his vocation and the significance of his breaking his holy vow of only to observe in order to help the player and to that extent the superhero team.
Later on the team meets Uatu at the lunar base:
Chikyū jō no jiken ni wa kanshō senu to chikatta watashidaga , kono kiki o misugosu koto wa dekinu . doūmu ga ōdin no chikara o ranyō shita tame uchū no kōzō ga hōkai shitsutsu aru noda . kore o tomerareru no wa shokun nomida.
“I vowed not to interfere with the affairs on Earth, but this is simply a crisis that I cannot ignore. Doom’s unbridled usage of Odin’s power is causing the universe to collapse into ruin. Only you, ladies and gentlemen, can stop this.”
Do note that the translation above is my own since I could not find the proper official English original version of the lines.
Uatu uses watashi (私), a gender neutral first person pronoun that in fiction has a nuance of nobility and aloofness – though outside of this usage it is primarily a female pronoun. His usage of this suggests once more an adherence to sheer logic and its status as the general polite pronoun also implies his generous disposition towards the superheroes, coupled with sonata-tachi (そなたたち), which itself was also polite and he speaks in a fairly reverent old fashioned way, though not too deferential either.
He uses the archaic particle of negation nu (ぬ), i.e. senu (せぬ, “will not”) and dekinu (できぬ, “cannot”), rather than ~nai thus shinai (しない) and dekinai (できない) – further enhancing his status as a cosmic being.