Manga Terminology Part 1

So here’s the thing that makes any conversation about Manga difficult for me: Manga is a Japanese art form; therefore, the terminology used in an intelligent discussion on the topic includes many words in Japanese…I do not speak or read Japanese. Now that I have begun to understand what the art form is, who reads it, why it’s different from American comics, why it’s different from other kinds of art, and why it’s different from other literature (basically all the things that make Manga a “thing” separate from other things); I must now begin to learn some of the words used to describe the differences within the form itself.

To add to the complexity of this task, Japanese uses a different set of characters from those used in English and there is sometimes not a “one-to-one” translation of syllables from Japanese to English. This requires people who wish to use characters available and recognizable to English speakers to portray Japanese words using a type of transcription called Hepburn Romanization. It used the letters of the English language to portray the sounds one would hear listening to a speaker who is speaking in Japanese. So when the reader “sounds it out” in English, they will (hopefully) pronounce it close to the way it would be pronounced by a speaker of Japanese.

As you can guess, while there are official rules for this system, not everybody who transcribes any thing into English sticks strictly to those uniform rules. This sometimes leads to multiple English spellings for the same word! Also because languages are living creatures, always growing and adapting; sometimes these different transcriptions begin to take on new meanings with a context different from each other! Think of the way authors sometimes indicate a character’s accent in their writing. If they use a Southern accent, what does that say about that character? If they use a Boston accent what does that say? A Mexican accent? Think of how authors portray that accent on the page. They might switch a vowel, add a repetitive vowel, drop letters. Are some of these anomalies I am finding in the transcriptions of Japanese terms meant to portray the same kind of things? Maybe when I find a word spelled with an “a” in place of an “e” it is simply a mistake, but maybe it is intentional to try to convey a context. Or maybe it is another word altogether!!!! Dessert vs desert, through vs though; to a non-native English speaker these words would be awful tricky!

OK that introduction to my terminology list was awfully long so I guess I will make a new post with my list of terms I have (hopefully) learned! Thanks for listening to my dilemma, please feel free to leave me comments with your thoughts, suggestions, or advice!


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