25 May 2014

Let It Go Translations

(This post is only tangentially linguistically themed.)

So, I´ve been a big fan of Idina Menzel and her voice for a long time--since I discovered her, and RENT--probably around the year 2000.  

To me, she´s always been a big star, being discovered in RENT and then being part of the smash Broadway hit Wicked, I thought for sure she was a household name.  Turns out, boy was I wrong.  Among musical theatre fans, sure, they all know her--but around the average Joe Blow, not at all. Not until the Disney movie Frozen, anyway!

It seems she doesn´t even think of herself as a big star, even now.  This is crazy to me because as far as Broadway goes, I think there´s very little room for her to get bigger in fame than she already is/was before Frozen.  I follow her on social media, and she seems to be the average cute girl next door--with a job that she loves and precious kids and she´s going through a divorce, it´s really sad, and OHMYGAHD she was invited to sing at the Oscars and she was freaking out!  Continuously posting about how nervous1 she was about this!  I couldn´t believe it!  Her job—which she is arguably one of the best in the world at—is performing perfectly live on stage in front of audiences night after night.  How could she possibly be nervous about the Oscars?!  She does this all the time, without the help of autotune or time zone corrections *cough* *Mariah Carey* *cough*

Well, the infamous Adele Dazeem thing happened, and I think she sang well, but it wasn´t her best performance.  We´re all friends here, we can admit it.  It was just okay.  You could tell she was a nervous wreck, poor baby!  I do really love her performance with Jimmy Fallon and his gang--her voice is so beautiful and in this one, she´s clearly having fun--and I feel like this is what she sounds like when she´s just singing around the house, playing with her kids.  If she were just singing around the house, and I were there, I´d be like, "damn, girl.  You sing real good… wow, yeah."

Now, I know this Let It Go song from Frozen has been covered and parodied 10,000 times.2  And there are countless things on the internet about how kids around the world won´t stop singing this song, thereby driving their parents mad.  If you´re one of those parents, well, then, I guess you should have stopped reading this post by now.  I´m not one of those parents and I´m not sick of this song yet.  I still love it.  I think the writers intentionally made it sound like Stephen Schwartz because they realized Wicked-style-music sounds really lovely in Idina´s tone and register.

Here she is singing Defying Gravity from Wicked and her voice is so beauuuuuutiful.

Tonight I was catching up on The Voice with my mom and this contestant girl sang Let It Go, and didn´t do a very good job.3  It´s understandable!  It´s a hard song to sing!  I started Googling around and stumbled upon this video Disney put together of all the languages this movie has been translated into. 

I, of course, really love it.

I´ve since read that this movie was translated into 41 different languages and unlike Avril Lavigne (read my rant about her here), obviously Disney has the money to actually translate this thing properly.  It´s a huge task, but of course Disney has every reason to want their blockbuster to be perfect all around the world.  Well, I´ve decided I want to work for their team.  This article4 in the LA Times says that back in the day, high budget translation wasn´t that big of a deal—for instance, Lion King was only translated into 15 languages, and Tarzan only 5, and all the songs recorded by Phil Collins himself!  I´ll have to look into these for a later post, of course.  

Here´s what I know.  There´s this man named Rick Dempsey whose title is “Senior Vice President of Creative for Disney Character Voices International.”  It´s basically his job to “internationalize” Disney movies.  He has 76 people around the world in 19 offices who oversee movies in 55 languages, according to this article.5  Yes, I want him to hire me.  They translated Frozen into 41 languages (even though the video above only shows 25 of them—I know you were counting).

One of my few dream jobs (along with being a singer for Cirque du Soleil) is to be a full time translator, but I´d like to translate novels.  I´ve never been good at rhyming or making songs in English—I´m sure I´d be no good at it in any other language, either.  I´ve done a bit of poetry translation, and man, it´s mentally exhausting.  The translation can really make or break a work´s success.  I´ve seen good translations of musicals in Mexico, but I´ve also seen it go badly. 

As an aside: There´s this musical I saw in Vegas along time ago called Notre Dame de Paris.  Well, it was lovely.  It was translated all over the world, and seriously, according to the Guinness Book of World records, had the most successful first year of any musical ever (it debuted in 1998).  Despite this, in the US the critics destroyed it in the press, mostly due to its poor translation from the original French—and soon thereafter it went under.  It was translated for Canada, Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Japan, China, South Korea, Haiti, Taiwan, Singapore and Lebanon.  Some popular songs from the show, have also been translated into Belarusian, Catalan, Czech, German, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Dutch and English.  But the English translation was so bad that it only played in the US for less than two years.  Andw has a DVD of the stage production in the original French and, oh how we treasure it.  I still enjoy watching it, and the soundtrack is one of my favorites.

Khya and I used to translate pop songs from English into other languages in high school for fun, but we… took a lot of artistic liberties.  That is, we didn´t do a very good job, but it was fun.  Andw and I have talked about creating a new translation for Notre Dame for years, but haven´t gotten around to it.  Maybe one day we´ll do it.

Anyway.  I can hardly imagine how hard it is to translate a text such as an animated movie and convert its idioms to a local understanding, keeping the essence of the story the same, and making songs still rhyme, too, and have the lips match up!  The actors’ and animations’ lip movements, body language and what’s on screen at the time all kind of have to match.  I know this is done all the time, but that doesn´t make the task any less difficult.  Sounds like the most exciting of challenges.

But hold on, Disney even went so far as to find singers whose voices sounded like Idina´s.  Part of Dempsey’s job is to find a singer with similar qualities to the actor’s voice in each country.

Watching the multilingual version of ‘Let it Go’, you can see how fantastically both the voices and the words have been matched up with the original animation, and how the singers have been picked to match the character and to sound as similar as possible to the English voice.  They did a good job!

I was a little surprised to find out what the 41 languages are, that Disney considers to be key.  Among them, 3 versions for China: Cantonese, and two different Mandarin versions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China).  The Mandarin dubs for Taiwan and Mainland China are translated and dubbed by separate teams; they have different voice actors, different accents and different dialogue. Even the lyrics for the songs are different, as you can see in this post.  Disney takes a similar approach with French and French Canadian, and Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.  There are 3 Spanish versions,too One is for Latin America, and Spanish speaking Americans, another for Spain, and a third for South America.  Ha!

In an NPR interview6, Dempsey was asked if some languages were harder to translate to than others.  He responded, “You know, certainly your territories where they have dubbed for many years are going to be easier - like, in France. But we have some new languages; like, Vietnamese is a fairly new language for us to dub in. We did Malay Bahasa, and that's a new language for us. So there's always going to be challenges when you're opening up a new market and dubbing there for the first or second time.”

That´s how you know they had a big budget, hahaha.  Growing up watching cartoons dubbed in Spanish all the time, I´ve seen some really shoddy translation jobs, and some very obviously not Mexican, even if the cartoon was being sold in Mexico.

Lastly, I came across this list—someone else´s opinion of the top 10 best non-English versions of Let It Go.  Yep, I´m still not tired of it.

2 This is one of my personal favorites http://youtu.be/2bVAoVlFYf0  

04 May 2014

Making Plurals with -i

Michael poingnantly corrects anyone he ever hears say the word "syllabi."  We were talking on the phone (I got a fancy new bluetooth radio in my car for Christmas--thanks honey!) as I was driving home and he told me the story of how he had corrected a classmate that day.  Outraged, he says to me, "It´s ´syllabuses.´  Why would anyone say ´syllabi´?"  I sheepishly told him maybe they say it because that´s what everyone else says.  "Like who?" he asks.  Everyone I´ve ever heard, I guess.

The rule is simple enough.  Words of Greek origin are made plural with -es and words of Latin origin are made plural with -i.  For example, octopuses, cacti.  But is ´syllabus´ Greek or Latin?!

And so while I´m driving I look it up in the Online Etymology Dictonary.  I found the story so funny, I´ve decided to share it here.  The confusion is all based on a mistake!

syllabus (n.) 
1650s, "table of contents of a series of lectures, etc.," from Late Latin syllabus "list," ultimately a misreading of Greek sittybos "parchment label, table of contents," of unknown origin. The misprint appeared in a 15c. edition of Cicero's "Ad Atticum" (see OED). Had it been a real word, the proper plural would be syllabi.

But it wasn´t a real word, so the proper plural* is, in fact, syllabuses!

*Well, that depends on if you´re a descriptivist or prescriptivist.  Language is evolving and in time, the common vernacular becomes what is correct blah blah blah.

Verbs Not Necessary

I don´t know if this is a New Orleans thing, or a general people thing, but I had never really heard people speak sentences without verbs until I moved back to New Orleans after college.  Maybe only then did I start dealing with the general public, instead of with generally educated people.  I don´t know.  I blogged about this before, here.  Back then, I was dumbfounded when my coworker had texted me, "We on are way."  I´ll never forget that moment.

I now hear people speak without verbs almost daily.  I still cringe.  It´s beyond bizzare, to me.  Yesterday, driving home, I was at a red light.  There was a gas station across the way with one of those electronic advert boards.  It was scrolling through promotions, and I happened to notice:


My mouth was agape too long for me to get my phone and take a picture before the light turned green.