Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Thane

Japanese role language in Three Houses - Blue Lions part is up

Recommended Posts

Hello chaps!

I'm a linguist by trade and at heart and I've always loved video games. By combining my interests, I'm here to go into needless detail about a topic a few of you might find vaguely interesting.

I'll start by introducing the topic of role language and then proceed with the Black Eagles students proper. In the first part there will be some repetition from my previous role language thread (that I don't have the Serenes link for at the moment so take this Reddit link). Some things are bound to be a little simplified for the purpose of not making this topic too long.

What is "role language?"

Role language, or yakuwarigo, is effectively a fictional character's idiolect - a person's individual and unique use of language. Unlike in real life, however, role language is a way of speaking prescribed to a character by an author that is more concerned with evoking certain mental images rather than trying to stay true to real life.

This is not to say role language and real life language usage are completely different entities. Masculine and feminine words, common in Japanese, are used in real life as well as in in fiction, but is still role language due to how their usage portray the character. In the most basic sense, it's a tool used to convey and reinforce character traits through speech.

For example, if you were to imagine a stereotypical middle-aged man from the American south or an upper class British lady, chances are you have a very clear picture in your mind of what they would look like and how they would speak. Here we are going to be looking at the latter.

In short, this is how a character speaks and what it might tell us about them. Keep in mind though that this does not tell the whole story by any means; Celica and Edelgard speak very similarly, yet they are opposites in many ways.

Context

As I mentioned in my topic about the lords' speech patterns, geographic isolation, both from other countries and other groups within the country due to the mountainous terrain, Japan has a lot of varied dialects. This by itself is not rare, one does not need to look further than Spain or Italy to see that, but where Japan differs from a Western perspective is the level of formality.

In Japanese, you can conjugate verbs to match the level of formality you wish to convey. You can, via conjugations alone, speak more humbly, show more respect to others, and/or be rude. Furthermore, unlike Indo-European languages, Japanese has multiple ways of expressing the first and second person pronouns (i.e I and you).

While Japanese is very rich in nuances and dialects and hard to summarize in a Reddit post, the way the language itself is structure lends itself well to creating fictional archetypes. This image shows five different characters saying the same thing, "I know", in five different ways.

General notes

Women tend to speak more formally than men. This is often seen in the usage of honorifics (like titles) and more usage of formal pronouns

There is also something called "sentence ending particles". Despite the scary name, it's not too complex in theory. Finishing a sentence with one to three particles (certain syllables) adds a meaning or nuance to it, perhaps the most known of these being ね (ne), which can be likened to a "right?" or "huh?" in English. Compare "that was fun." to "that was fun, huh?".

While not telling the whole story, pronouns are probably the quickest and one of the most central parts of role language as it answers two central questions: how do they refer to themselves and how do they address others? That's why I'm going to spend a little more time on that next.

First person pronouns

  • Watakushi - Incredibly formal and only used in rare circumstances or by certain characters, usually nobles and/or snobs. So far I believe the only protagonist who has the honor of using this is Leif, at the very end of Genealogy of the Holy War.
  • Watashi - Formal for men, informal/formal for women. This is the standard pronoun that is taught to foreign students, as it is rarely too formal/not formal enough. However, men, at least younger ones, tend to rarely use it in casual conversations both in fiction and real life.
  • Boku - Informal and boyish. Often used by younger characters, but can be used by older people as well. Has a softer ring to it, and in modern manga sometimes used by young girls as well.
  • Atashi - Informal and used primarily by young girls.
  • Ore - Informal/vulgar, used only by men. People who use this are either very casual, sleazy, vulgar, in a position of power, or just manly.

Second person pronouns

While you tend to use a person's name and an honorific/title when addressing someone in Japanese, you can also use a second person pronoun, though I'd argue it's more common in fiction, at least based on personal experience. People just calling Byleth "professor" therefore sounds marginally less forced in Japanese, though not much.

  • Anata - Formal. Used by both genders but tends to be used by female characters no matter the situation.
  • Kimi - Informal and primarily used by males.
  • Anta - Informal. A bit more confrontational/aggressive/uneducated than kimi, and can be used by both. Pretty sure all tsunderes use this.
  • Omae - Informal/vulgar. Used mostly by men. Aggressive and rude edge when not used between friends. Also used often to speak down to others from a higher position.


     

The Black Eagles

 

Spoiler

 

  • Edelgard - Like I mentioned before, she speaks like Celica...which is distinctly and surprisingly feminine. She uses the particle ending の ("no") in statements, which is often associated with female characters, the omnipresent わ (wa) particle which is also very feminine, and she uses the feminine kashira ("I wonder") when, well, wondering something. She uses watashi and anata like the majority of female characters. She uses polite speech when addressing Hanneman and Manuela, presumably because of their seniority and positions as teachers, even when she's the emperor.
  • Hubert - Has a very distinctive speech pattern. He always speaks formally, which a character can do for many reasons - emotional distance (Soren, Miriel, Lukas), professionalism (Seth, Frederick), priests and priestesses (Yodel, Silque), and more - but in addition to that, he calls people 殿 ("dono"), which is a rarer, polite way of saying Mr/Mrs/Ms that often appears on official documents. He often uses a respectful second person pronoun I hadn't seen until I started researching this - 貴殿 ("kiden") - which adds a strange flair to his speech. Finally, he likes saying "desu na" rather than "desu ne", which sounds strangely old man-ish.
  • Ferdinand von Aegir - Uses watashi and kimi, the former being fairly rare for young men, but it adds to his serious nature, I suppose. He uses an archaic imperative form - ta mae - when telling someone to do something, which complements his stiff nature. Lastly, just like in English, he speaks very properly. In Japanese, you've effectively got three alphabets, each with their own intended use, as it were, but technically all words in kanji (Chinese signs) can be written with the other two, which can be used for emphasis, slang or what have you. Where some characters might say ほんと? ("really?"), Ferdinand uses the "correct" 本当. I believe there are at least two instances where a character uses hiragana instead of kanji and Ferdinand repeats the same word but with the proper kanji. While the localization in general seems to be great from what I've seen aside from a blunder or two, I'm very impressed with how well they manage to translate Ferdinand's speaking pattern to English.
  • Bernadetta - Headache in a can. She primarily speaks formally though not with some of the female students, uses the informal atashi and anata, adds a -san to everyone's names (Mr/Mrs/Ms), and most notably, she often extends the final vowel of the final word in her sentences when flustered. This is to show that she's shy as a mouse and, well, freaks out. Olivia in Awakening does the same, 恥ずかしい ですううううう! ("how embarrassiiiiiing!").
  • Petra - Funnily enough quite straightforward to analyze. She uses watashi and anata, always speaks formally, and speaks very, very choppily, far more than in the English version. In addition to that, she doesn't use grammatical particles, which could be likened to not using prepositions in English, although not quite so extreme as many particles often get dropped in everyday speech in Japan. She also sometimes erroneously uses "desu", "is", after verbs even though it's primarily used after nouns and adjectives. I think this has been localized tremendously well and I'm happy the choppy parts were removed, though the problem is, both in Japanese and English and just like with Leanne in FEH, that you can hear this is clearly a Japanese/English native doing the voice.
  • Caspar - Just what you'd think. He uses ore (with katakana for extra roughness) and omae, speaks sloppily and uses the negative nee instead of the more proper nai, shortens some words when possible, uses the masculine and vulgar particle ending ぜ ("ze") and never speaks formally. He shortens some words, which is common for characters who have a more masculine tone to their speech. He does add -san when talking to Catherine and Shamir though.
  • Dorothea - Speaks femininely like Edelgard, and like Bernadetta speaks formally with guys and superiors/elders but not girls. She thoroughly uses honorifics, even -kun for male peers and -chan female peers, which is pretty rare in Fire Emblem, as well as -senpai (upperclassman, someone who has worked/been doing something for longer than you and is expected to help their juniors) when talking to Manuela. Often uses an extended "nee" which adds a more playful twist to it.
  • Linhardt - Yeah I've got nothing. He speaks boyishly, uses boku and kimi, speaks formally to elders. There's very little to say here, actually, aside from the fact that he uses でしょ instead of だろう ("right?") even in casual conversations which is pretty rare for a guy and perhaps it can be read as a little effeminate?

 

  •  

Discussion and translation of formal speech in Fire Emblem

You might have played games or watched an anime where people discuss characters' level of formality. Some characters insist on others speaking less formally while others might insist the opposite. There are in general more remarks about proper speech and conduct in Japanese entertainment than in Western fiction, based on my limited experience.

This also the case in Three Houses and there is a reason I'll get into later why I bring it up here for the Blue Lions.

Let's start with the early beginning of the academy phase. You might remember that every class at least mentions formalities when Byleth chooses their class and introduces themselves properly as their teacher for the first time. Claude, for example, says that he should perhaps choose his words more carefully, and then when Byleth says they don't mind, continues on by saying it might not be that important with formalities due to their closeness in age.

In the Blue Lions' scene they talk about this just for a little longer which makes it a good place to bring it up. Annette apologizes for having spoken casually, "like a friend", to Byleth earlier at the monastery, and like with Claude, Byleth says they don't mind. Annette and Dimitri are hesitant to accept this, but after Sylvain points out they're relatively slack in formality when talking to Dimitri, the latter agrees that it should be okay to be more casual since they are not in Faerghus. Ingrid says it'll be hard for her, and Mercedes tells her she's sure Byleth won't mind so she shouldn't force herself.

Stuff like this is a nightmare to translate as there are no real equivalents in English and there are no simple guidelines to follow here. If you translate things word for word, it'll come out stiff, unnatural and maybe even confusing, and if you take too many liberties, you lose the significance of the source material. What is a relatively simple scene in Japanese - "should we conjugate words in polite form and use more formal speech or no?" - becomes a real challenge in English or really most other languages without this kind of system.

This brings us to our last detour before the students, and it's a real blast from the past.

Wil x Raven, Ashe x Dimitri

I have mentioned Wil x Raven's support on multiple occasions in the past. It was clear that the translation for Blazing Blade faced many challenges and the localization process was no doubt far less structured back in those days than it is today. Despite the many, many strange translations of Blazing Blade I do respect the localizers for doing their best with what must've been a really tough situation.

However, Wil and Raven's support conversation is a typical example of how bad a translation featuring discussions of formal speech can get. What is, again, a simple and straightforward conversation in Japanese becomes a real challenge to tackle in English. Basically, what Wil is saying in the Japanese version is that he should use formal speech and address Revan with the honorific 先輩 (senpai), which is used for upperclassmen and seniors who are older and/or have worked/studied longer somewhere and are therefore worthy of respect and expected to help their juniors out. Normally, when talking to your senpai, you use formal speech as a sign of respect.

What they did in the Blazing Blade localization is have Wil outright call Raven "senior" despite this being incredibly unnatural in English. The support is translated so literally that it becomes stiff and unnatural and therefore alien and distracting to the English reader. Wil does want to be more formal even after finding out Raven is only 19, which in a Western context becomes even weirder as no 17-year-old would worry about how they speak to a normal 19-year-old. I should also point out that them being in the military never factors into the Japanese script, so Wil's concerns have nothing to do with that either.

The reason I bring this up is because Ashe and Dimitri's support conversation also focuses heavily on the usage of formal speech. Dimitri wants Ashe to stop being so uptight and simply talk to him like a friend, but Ashe says it's hard for a commoner like him due to how different someone like Dimitri is. Regardless, in their B support, Ashe does give it a genuine try; he uses Dimitri's name rather than calling him 殿下 (denka, "your highness") and he stops conjugating his verbs politely, but eventually says it's too hard for him to be casual.

This conversation has been very well localized into English. While still obviously a very Japanese topic of discussion at heart, Ashe's more stiff speech is conveyed in a much more natural way, choosing words you would actually use in a formal context in English, like "dine". I believe this support conversation alone can show how far localization has gotten since the release of Blazing Blade as they managed to keep the spirit of the original while making it sound as natural as one could expect in English. If they had made Ashe a bit more stiff in the C support too it would've been a home run.

The Blue Lions

  • Spoiler

     

    • Dimitri - Speaks perhaps surprisingly directly to his friends and peers. He uses ore for himself and omae for others and is moderately fond of the masculine (though technically gender neutral) emphatic sentence ending particle zoZo is used by pretty much every male lord when they're commanding their armies, like when they're setting out, but only the lords with a more masculine speech pattern tends to use it frequently, like Ephraim and Chrom. Despite being direct, he does not speak sluggishly or vulgarly, and he is very corteous when talking to people older than him.
    • Dedue - A typical quiet giant. Uses ore for himself and omae for others. He shortens many of his words, especially in the negative (for example, dekinai, "can't (do)", becomes dekin), which is another primarily masculine speech pattern. As you might have guessed, however, he speaks very formally to Dimitri, though he keeps using ore, which is an interesting contrast I think is a lot more common in fiction than in real life, though don't quote me on that. Boey does the same when talking to Celica, to give another example of this.
    • Mercedes - Uses watashi for herself and anata for others. Perhaps the character that surprised me the most once I started reading up on this. Like I mentioned in part one, people of the cloth like Yodel and Silque tend to speak formally pretty much all the time (provided they're not remarkably un-priest-like). While Mercedes is not formally a priestess, she's kind, has worked for the church, and is deeply religious, yet she pretty much never uses neither formal speech nor titles. She might be the only one Blue Lion who actually uses Dimitri's name (everyone else calls him "your highness" or some variation of insult if you're Felix) and she does so without any form of honorific. Mercedes fills out the big sister archetype very well, speaking very femininely with the わ (wa) sentence ending particle used frequently together with kashira (I wonder) which is also feminine. More than that though for added big sister energy, it feels like half her lines start with ara ara, which translates to "my my" or "oh dear!" and is often used by older female Japanese characters. Lastly, to mark her ditzy and airheaded nature, many of her sentences end with a ~, extending the last syllable.
    • Felix - Uses ore for himself and omae for others. As you know, he calls Dimitri "boar" or uses the insulting second person pronoun 貴様 (kisama) which is very disrespectful. Like Dedue, he shortens some of his words, and he uses plenty of the sentence ending particle zo. Interestingly, in his one support with someone much older/of higher station aside from Dimitri, that being Seteth, he's remarkably polite, adds the formal 殿 (dono) honorific Seteth's name and uses watashi for himself. An interesting quirk, if you can call it that, is that he keeps the "I" when conjugating in the -te form; where many people would say 何を言ってる? (nani o itteru?) , "What are you saying/talking about?", Felix says 何を言っている (nani o itteiru). Notice the い. I...don't think this means anything, but there it is. Mind you, you're supposed to keep the い, yet it falls off in most spoken conversations.
    • Annette - Uses the less formalatashi for herself and anata for others. While she uses polite speech for her elders and superiors like Dimitri, she is notably casual and does not use overly feminine speech. For her peers, she does not use any honorifics nor does she use polite speech, and where many people refer to their family members in more formal and traditional ways, like Dimitri calling his father 父上, chichiue, Annette sticks to calling Gustave 父さん, tousan, even though it's common to at least add an "O" at the start, otousan. It fits well for someone as cheerful and friendly as her, though I would've expected her to use the honorifics -kun and -chan for her classmates, though perhaps not using them can be interpreted as her being more friendly and less stiff.
    • Ingrid - Uses watashi for herself and anata for others. She is notably stiff, speaking formally to every single other character besides Sylvain and Felix, probably to emphasize how long they have known each other. When speaking to Sylvain and Felix, she speaks very femininely, like Edelgard, Dorothea, and Mercedes, though less playfully/big sisterly than the latter two respectively, of course. You know the drill by now: the sentence ending particle wa, as well as no even in statements and not questions, and kashira. When speaking to Dimitri, she is perhaps even more formal.
    • Ashe - Uses boku for himself and kimi for others. He's a good boi and speaks politely to everyone except those younger than him and Mercedes (I don't know why, this woman is just full of surprises). He does not use honorifics for his peers but always adds them to those of a higher station/are quite a few years older. When speaking to those younger than him, he has a decidedly boyish tone, often ending his sentences with さ, sa, which is a mildly assertive/emphatic sentence ending particle primarily used by boys/men, but women can use it too, and it is less rough than zo.
    • Sylvain - Probably the hardest one to properly pin down. Uses ore for himself and alternates between omae and kimi depending on who he's talking to (and sometimes swaps mid conversation). In a way he's the opposite of Ferdinand von Aegir; where Ferdie speaks stiffly, Sylvain is very breezy. If you will remember, words written in kanji - Chinese signs - can technically all be written with the other two Japanese alphabets katakana and hiragana. Where Ferdinand would always say the proper 本当 (hontou), Sylvain can say that or ほんっと (hontto). 先生 (sensei, professor/teacher) can become せんせ (sense), etc. Sylvain also frequently uses the masculine, vulgar and emphatic ze sentence ending particle, but unlike Caspar who uses it to mark a rough speech, in Sylvain's case it's more likely to emphasize him being casual and at ease. He sometimes uses the question particle kai as opposed to ka from time to time as well, though I have a hard time finding a lot of information about what this says about his personality, so if someone knows, please tell me. I would've expected him to use -chan when talking to all the women, but he only does it when talking to Dorothea. Despite his casual nature, he's fairly polite when talking to Manuela, Byleth, and Dimitri, even if it's a lot more relaxed than, say, Ashe's speech pattern.

     

     

Edited by Thane

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please keep going. It's nice to see both things that can't be conveyed well in English, and ways that Treehouse did a much better job with this game than Fates (I do think they get more flak than they deserve, but they still made some weird decisions with Fates).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is interesting, I didn't know the Japanese had different words that each gender uses, but it may be like saying "gurrrrl" or "bro" or "dude"? How similar is it to that? Like I'm female and say "dude" and like gay men or drag queens might use "gurl".

Also I thought "baka" was what tsunderes said, so I learned that it's actually anta.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

as a learner of japanese, this is extremely helpful

please continue!

Edited by Yexin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, Yexin said:

as a learner of japanese, this is extremely helpful

please continue!

I agree, can you do it for the other 3 houses (BL, GD and AW(ashen wolves))? and for the monastery characters (including Jueritza and Flayn)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, Dragoncat said:

This is interesting, I didn't know the Japanese had different words that each gender uses, but it may be like saying "gurrrrl" or "bro" or "dude"? How similar is it to that? Like I'm female and say "dude" and like gay men or drag queens might use "gurl".

I can't comment on the words you've chosen exactly, but just consider them words that one gender might be more inclined to use than the other.

27 minutes ago, Dragoncat said:

Also I thought "baka" was what tsunderes said, so I learned that it's actually anta.

Baka is "idiot", anta means "you". Tsunderes can use both. I mean, you don't even have to be a tsundere to use both! I mean, Ike uses a lot of anta.

24 minutes ago, Yexin said:

as a learner of japanese, this is extremely helpful

please continue!

 

6 minutes ago, darkblade2814 said:

I agree, can you do it for the other 3 houses (BL, GD and AW(ashen wolves))? and for the monastery characters (including Jueritza and Flayn)

Happy to help! I might go for the Blue Lions, then the Golden Deer and then do a miscellaneous roundup for the rest. Of course the Ashen Wolves would be interesting too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 minutes ago, Thane said:

I can't comment on the words you've chosen exactly, but just consider them words that one gender might be more inclined to use than the other.

Baka is "idiot", anta means "you". Tsunderes can use both. I mean, you don't even have to be a tsundere to use both! I mean, Ike uses a lot of anta.

 

Happy to help! I might go for the Blue Lions, then the Golden Deer and then do a miscellaneous roundup for the rest. Of course the Ashen Wolves would be interesting too.

thank you

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, Dark Holy Elf said:

Just posting to thank you for doing this; very interesting and informative read!

I'm happy you enjoyed it! I'll hopefully get to the Blue Lions and Golden Deer sometime next week.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is very educational and interesting, please keep going!

And also, I have question, does Edelgard speech pattern changes after the time-skip? To me it feels like she speaks in a more serious and commanding way when I heard her in English and it makes me wonder of whether if it is the same for Japanese. 

Edited by Edrey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, Edrey said:

This is very educational and interesting, please keep going!

And also, I have question, does Edelgard speech pattern changes after the time-skip? To me it feels like she speaks in a more serious and commanding way when I heard her in English and it makes me wonder of whether if it is the same for Japanese. 

I had thought that was just Tara Platt trying to make her sound noticeably older, myself, rather than any change in character. I would enjoy confirmation in either direction, though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thank you, the blue lion are pretty clear on their speach parters, and very in character, specialy miss sugary malice, Mercedes herself (when annoyed) but I'm looking fowards to the Golden Deers, they are a very mixed group, they will be a nice soup of leanguges

Edited by darkblade2814

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 1/17/2020 at 11:01 AM, Thane said:

More than that though for added big sister energy, it feels like half her lines start with ara ara, which translates to "my my" or "oh dear!" and is often used by older female Japanese characters.

Mercedes and Cyril have attained A-rank

Really enjoying this series! I'm surprised to see Dimitri use ore - I understood the term to be vulgar, perhaps incorrectly. I was curious, though - did his manner of speech change when he went full boarmode (post-skip, pre-Gronder 2)? It seems like a tool that could be used to indicate his altered frame of mind, but I'm just speculating here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Shanty Pete's 1st Mate said:

I was curious, though - did his manner of speech change when he went full boarmode (post-skip, pre-Gronder 2)? It seems like a tool that could be used to indicate his altered frame of mind, but I'm just speculating here.

I also want to know this.

Ashe is indeed the goodest of boys. 

Keep going! Will you do church characters too?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...