Translations and Mistranslations

So, WoW finally opened up its Latin American servers this past 25th, and made available a localization and language pack to go with it (optional, though. you can play just fine on Latin American servers with the good ol’ vanilla English client and launcher). Being the native Spanish speaker that I am, I decided to give it a whirl. See if I could get in touch with a few friends from really down south and get together in-game.

But nothing could prepare me for the translation to Spanish. How do I want to put it? Okay, let’s try this: It’s repugnant. How about that? Need more qualifiers? Happy to oblige: Obscure, Nonsensical, halfway between machine translation and surrealism.

I won’t make a laundry list of all its sins. But having done a lot of translation work in the past myself, I had to switch back to English before my liver gave up the ghost. I can mention a few things, though:

– “Stormwind” has been translated to “Vientormenta”. “Wind” is “Viento”, “Storm” is “Tormenta”. So, “Stormwind” = “Vientormenta”, right? Wrong. Unlike English, German and (I wanna say) Japanese, the Spanish language doesn’t commonly use compounded words like that. This is a no-no. There are a few exceptions, of course (“Torremolinos” being a popular vacation spot in Spain, etc), but if we stick to common use, words shouldn’t be compounded like that anyway. It should have been “Viento de Tormenta”, which is proper and just fine. Conveys the idea and the baggage behind the name just fine. “Vientormenta” means absolutely nothing other than retarded Spanish.

– “Rogue” has been translated to “Pícaro”, which is bad. I mean, very bad. “Rogue” is a difficult word to translate. Lots of synonyms that don’t quite finish encapsulating the idea behind “Rogue”. Fine. Granted. But, trust me on this, saying “Rogue” = “Pícaro” leaves the same taste in the mouth as, for example, a German game that translates “Meuchelmörder” (Assassin), into something vomitive like “Mischievous Guy”. Yes, it’s that bad. In Spanish, the kids that steal apples from the neighbor’s tree, or try to innocently steal a kiss from a girl in the playground are called “Pícaros”. The word only implies that level of villainy. So I guess Rogues got nerfed again. Nerfed in translation.

– “Undercity” became “Entrañas”. “Ironforge” became “Forjaz”. This is just surreal. Absurd. Nonsensical.

“Entrañas” is the direct translation of “Entrails”. As in, yup, viscera. It has nothing to do with the word and the idea behind “Undercity”. At all. Nothing. And no, it matters not one bit that the Forsaken have their organs out there kinda hanging and that’s why they name the city like that, because we don’t rename “Northrend” into “Icecube” just because it’s cold up there. So, please.

“Forjaz” is just inexplicable. Look, it’s easy. It’s right in front of you, like this: Ironforge. Okay? With me so far? Good. The Spanish word for “Iron” is “Hierro”. The one for “Forge” is “Forja” (from the verb “Forjar”). Therefore, in a world inhabited by humans, “Ironforge” translates directly and simply to “Forja de Hierro”, since we established earlier we don’t dig compound words. “Forjaz” means absolutely nothing, other than vaguely suggesting/misspelling a forge, while leaving the “iron” part completely out of it. It boggles the mind.

There are many more ridiculous mistranslations and flights of the imagination around in that localization pack. If you know any Spanish, even at a basic level, you can check a small sample of the (mis)translations here. Be warned. It hurts.

See, I would accept a small or unknown company clowning around like this. But not really Blizzendi. They have the resources, they had at least 3 years to get this right and surely someone, somewhere in their vast organization either speaks Spanish or can get in touch with a remotely decent translation service to do this. Why, then, this? Laziness? Until a better explanation comes along, I’m running with that.

19 thoughts on “Translations and Mistranslations”

  1. Well, you know, Blizzard is stuck there between SAN DIEGO and LOS ANGELES, so they probably never come in contact with anything in the Spanish language.

  2. As a Finn, I’ve always found it odd to translate names, even descriptive names like Stormwind, Ironforge, Watergate or Ramstein. Is that common in Spanish?

  3. Well, with proper names (like cities and such) you can tackle it in a few ways, and they’re all more or less correct. Correct, either because the rules say it’s correct, or just by common use.

    Let’s take Stormwind. Way number one, you can always leave it as it is. Nobody dies in Spanish if you leave the proper name of the city as it is, in the original language. People do it all the time. If you wanted to translate “City of Stormwind” you could perfectly say “Ciudad de Stormwind”.

    Way number two, you can translate it as long as it makes sense, complies with the rules and/or is validate by common use. A good translation that fits this criteria would be “Viento de Tormenta”, since we cannot compound words all happily in Spanish. “City of Stormwind” would then be “Ciudad de Viento de Tormenta” or “Ciudad del Viento de Tormenta”. Both are good. Long, yeah, but correct. This is something that people do all the time as well; IRL most (if not all) cities in the world have an equivalent name in Spanish. Brussels, for example, is “Bruselas”. New York is “Nueva York” and so on. This is not a problem whatsoever.

    Any language that either does not allow compound words, or has no common use governing compound words is gonna have a hell of a time trying to translate foreign compound words. Those translations will always tend to sound “off” or “forced” if you try to do it directly, like they did with Stormwind. “Vientormenta” is stupid. It’s ridiculous. It’s not even a real word, it’s a pastiche and a bad one at that, since it eats the “de”, and makes the syllabe “to” a shared one. It’s bad and lazy and sounds absolutely off to the Spanish ear.

  4. Yeah, that sounds about right. Finns also do transcription (Tokyo -> Tokio) and translation of qualifying words (North America -> Pohjois-Amerikka), so I’m familiar with those.

    While we’re on the topic.. are the French, German and Russian translations of WoW any better? At least the voice acting in the French version (as heard in Empire’s excellent Naxxramas the Movie: http://www.warcraftmovies.com/movieview.php?id=34223) sounded quite good.

  5. Translations are the main reason I never played on Spanish servers.

    The problem with them is not only that the sound ridiculous (I totally agree with you on the Vientormenta but I confess I happen to like Forjaz), the main problem is that they take off your knowledge of the game. I had been playing for a good time (around US launch) when the Spanish servers went life, made a char, logged and some folk asked me indications to go to “La Vega de Tuercespina”. WTF?? I totally didn’t know WTF the guy was talking about! (STV, btw)

    I kept trying to play there since some of my IRL friends were playing, but I just couldn’t. Maybe if the locations had remained with their English names I could have made it (after all, knowing where the stuff is, learning a couple hundred spell translations is not that hard), but you know… La Bahía del Botín. I couldn’t stop thinking of Banco de Santander ;)

  6. That’s all the more surprising that – to my knowledge – WoW’s previous translations into other languages have been quite good. I have played the french version for a couple of years and it is very finely done; to the point of being impressive compared to the usual french translations we get in other games.

  7. I worked on a multinational employee and manager self-service app for a company I was at that had about 130k employees in 70 countries. I had a hell of a time getting the management of that project to agree to having our HR and communications people from those countries perform the translations. They said “well sally took French in school she can do it” etc. They didn’t even want a separate English translation for the UK (“State” here is “County” there, just try and use one word for both).

    Plus various other differences for dates, numbers, salaries, etc. It was easy for me to handle all this (esp. in Java) but they didn’t want me to spend the time on it. So instead they had to have some other developer spend even more time later redoing things when users balked.

    People just want to skimp on that sort of stuff. I don’t know why, because you either either do it right now or do it over later.

  8. Although I agree with you that Blizzard should be expected to put out a top notch translation and that ‘picaro’ = rogue thing is ridiculous, picking on the proper names of cities is a little more ambiguous. They’re fictional, made up names of non-existant places. They can be whatever Blizzard wants them to be, and don’t need to be literal translations of the english version. It’s not as if Stormwind and Ironforge are proper english in the first place – liberties are taken with fictional names.

    Let me ask you this — if you had never read any of the original english text would the names bother you as much, or would you just write them off as nonsensical fictional words? It’s not as if “Stormwind” makes sense in english either, but fantasy settings are full of made up words.

  9. The cities, of course, can be whatever Blizzard wants them to be, but the Spanish language is not Blizzard’s gimp that they keep in the basement.

    As for your question, if I didn’t know the original names in English, “Viento de Tormenta” wouldn’t bother me. “Vientormenta” would still bother me a metric ton. The language is just not correctly used. “Forjaz” would leave me scratching my head – yes, I can see the Forge. It’s hard to miss. But every time I’d go in I’d think what the hell is a “Forjaz” and why didn’t the Dwarves simply named their city “La Forja”. I wouldn’t know anything about any “iron” in that case.

    If someone told me to meet him at “Entrañas” I’d expect to walk into a bloody and repugnant meat shop or abattoir, not the crypt-like underground city it is. I’d wonder why they called it “Entrañas” if there really isn’t much blood and guts around, but plenty of death, decay and strong hints of Gothic.

  10. Eh, I dont agree with your points. You’re nitpicking if you are complaining about the city names.

    Some valid points ((In my perspective)) would be talking about the quest dialouge, and skill names.

  11. Oh, this is brilliant. I’m about to start teaching Spanish in a high school and you have just given me a wonderful new tangent for when I preach about dictionary misuse and the perils of mistranslations.

    It does seem very strange that WoW apparently did such a good job with translating French an then phoned it in with the Spanish.

  12. Mike, honestly, I don’t think I’m nitpicking. City names, particularly capital cities, are some of the most important places in the game. How many times per day players come across or have to mention them? You have to get those right because of volume of use alone.

    Nitpicking would be coming down on them about the Razorfen Kraul translation, because it’s nigh impossible to translate to anything that sounds remotely decent in Spanish. Things like that. But pointing out the really important stuff is not nitpicking I don’t think.

    Shannon, I still have the feeling this whole thing is halfway between machine translation and “something else”. That “something else” being a Rush Limbaugh rant or the poetry of Chewbacca when he passes a gall stone, I still don’t know.

  13. “Stormwind” is not proper English. There are languages where you can just combine words together and make new words, but you can’t just do that in English unless you want to make something sound like a fantasy name. “Wind of Storms” or “Storm Wind” would be proper in English, but “Stormwind” isn’t, so if it’s already going to be wrong why not make it consistant?

  14. Er.. what? Looking at the map of towns around London I spot Sevenoaks, Gravesend, Lightwater, Brentwood, Leatherhead, Godstone, Hullbridge, Sunninghill..

    I guess the English just don’t know their own language.

  15. In Webrunner’s defense, there is a certain art to compounding words, and doing it poorly makes whatever you’re naming sound “fantasy-ish.” For instance, I have an issue of Dragon Magazine from 2006 prominently featuring a short story called “A Moonblade in Waterdeep.” That’s not even trying. “Stormwind” sounds kind of cool, but isn’t really a useful word, whereas stormclouds (rarely used anyway) are distinct from regular clouds and you’re going get better tools from Ironforge than from Bronzeforge (and a windstorm is distinct from a thunderstorm), Stormwind, is… let’s call it “inexpert.”

    Also, Webrunner? Come on.

  16. Blizzard LOVES its compound words.

    Named NPCs are almost always have compounded last names.
    – Stormrage
    – Whisperwind (elf)
    – Stonehammer (dwarf)
    – Longears (elf)

    Factions almost exclusively have compounded names and titles.
    – Bristlelimb Windcaller (2x compound)
    – Deepmoss Venomspitter

    … and generally can be randomly generated by:

    [Adjective][Noun]- [Noun][Verb].

    Run it through a dictionary and you have 1000 new mob faction names and occupations. I guess Blizzard just can’t get enough of this stuff.

    That is why it is so difficult I suppose. With their other languages, perhaps it was easier to translate all these hundreds of compounds. In a language where compounds do not translate well, you get… poor translation of compounds.

    But I still agree with you that they don’t have an excuse for it being THAT poor.

  17. Never would have thought that blizzard is so lazy.
    i played the german version of wow and there weren’t any huge mistakes (or at least none i noticed) but a couple of years ago they started translating all the original english city names into german.
    so you were used to stormwind and warsong and all of a sudden you were in sturmwind queued (?) for the battleground of the kriegshymmnenschlucht. a lot of people (like me) downloaded the english version but for people who just started playing it was the most natural thing in the world.
    my point here being that blizzard does sometimes screw up yet with most of the things it doesnt really matter like the city names

    other mistakes like the rogue are unforgivable..just like renaming heroes you know since warcraft 2 (uther lichtbringer, jaina prachtmeer and illidan sturmgrimm still make me laugh though ;))

    ps sorry for the poor english

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