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Something I noticed while watching a number of English dubs is that characters talk... the best way I can describe it is as a dialect. The scripts and voice acting are done by native (mostly American?) English speakers, but use odd vocabulary and turns of phrase that sound like part of its own dialect. It is difficult to describe, since it sounds nothing like any real English dialect I am familiar with.

For example, the English dub of Devilman on Netflix uses the word "human" (and at one point "mortal") instead of "person" or "man" in English sentences where those would be expected instead. The phrase "go to hell, you mortals!" comes across as distinctly stilted and unnatural to my ear (as a native General American English speaker).

Is this an actual phenomenon or am I imagining it? If it is real, why does it exist?

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    Welcome to Anime & Manga! This might be an interesting phenomenon because not all English dubs are done by native speakers, but without any examples off hand, it's kind of hard to be sure. Consider adding an example as soon as you can. – Aki Tanaka Jan 6 '18 at 1:56
  • Yes, an example would help us understand what the "unique dialect" might be. More generally, Japan has multiple accents just as has the USA. So if the Japanese characters voice different accents, the American voice actors generally try to adapt, such as give a rural character a southern accent. – RichF Jan 6 '18 at 3:58
  • My guess is that it's similar to how most actors in the UK speak the Queen's English, because it's (relatively) easy to understood, even though only something like 3% of people in the UK speak like that. Voice actors want to be easily understood without sounding too tied to any regional dialect. – kuwaly Jan 6 '18 at 12:27
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    I think I have a sense for what OP means, and it's twofold - first, I feel that voice actors for English-dubbed anime tend to put on a particular affectatious manner of speech, kind of like how American actors in the interbellum period tended to speak with the Mid-Atlantic accent. This gives us odd-sounding pronunciation/phonology. But there's also the matter that over time, English translated from anime Japanese has tended to develop its own idioms and idiosyncrasies that would come across as weird to ordinary English speakers. (...) – senshin Jan 6 '18 at 18:32
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    (...) Think of various lazy calques and set phrases like "it can't be helped" (仕方がない), "I won't acknowledge you" (認めないからね); strange sentence structures to accommodate dramatic pauses that work in SOV sentences but not SVO sentences; things like that. There's something going on here, I'm pretty sure, but some concrete examples would definitely be helpful. – senshin Jan 6 '18 at 18:32
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Adapting the Japanese script of a show for an English dub goes through a few different steps and throughout these steps there is plenty of opportunity for the original script to be altered/adapted/interpreted in a way that results in the dub to be noticeably different from the original, but can also still be far away from ordinary english.

First the script is translated. In language, there are many cases where there is no direct translation or where a word can be interpreted in multiple different ways which could lead to a case like in your question. Also, there are many cultural words and references where even after translation, most english speaking viewers would simply not get it which is why it is necessary to have the translations adapted and re-scripted.

In adaption and re-scripting, writers attempt to make the translation flow naturally when spoken in english while keeping in mind the voice actors and the time it takes them to say it and the time allowed for said lines in the animation itself and also ensuring to mention all the essential plot points. This process allows for plenty of artistic interpretation and I think that is really the answer to your question. This dialect you notice is just how the writers adapted the translated script... an unnatural dialect could be due to artistic choice, an attempt to convey something that doesn't really exist in english or it may even just be bad writing. I would say however, that more often than not the unique dialect you notice is not so much unique, as it is Japanese idioms being kept in the english dub. Some examples are "obento", "shiritori" and adding suffixes like "-chan' which to someone unfamiliar to Japanese things, may seem at first like an odd or unique dialect.

For your specific example I would say it was an artistic choice, but I would also say it is not unnatural, and it even fits well with the theme of the show. The word mortal may not be very common in your everyday conversation but it is very common in dramatic dialogue about gods, angels, demons and the battle between good and evil. There are ample famous books, movies, quotes, poems where humans are called mortals and the setting of those books and movies will usually be similar to that of Devilman. (Edit: If this was not the case, and from your comment it seems as though it isn't, then it would be because of one of the above mentioned reasons. Possibly just bad writing?)

  • When heard in context, the Devilman examples came off as stilted and unnatural. The word "mortal" was only used once in the season, and it was used in a context where it is more believable the character would say "a*holes" or "monsters." These instances do not sound like they were idioms in the original Japanese. Unless you are being very specific (者 "person, agent noun" vs 人類 "human species"), Japanese (and English, honestly) uses the same vocabulary for both "human" and "person." – Anonymous Jan 10 '18 at 13:30
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if you watch modern movies like the lord of the rings series, they also use odd dialect. it adds ambiance to the film and id say modern dubs are going for the ambiance angle on venues that occur in a different time or story universe.

the settings for most anime are not current day normal earth therefore the language helps create that feel. think of something like the lord of the rings series, they do not speak normal english because it would ruin the story.

you have to note that anime went through developmental phases and the reasons for odd dubs through those periods seems to have changed.

something from the sixties like astro boy or even the early eighties like techno police has a very stilted english dub and as it appears to have been translated by non native english speakers then read by voice actors (reference?), the translation appears to use phrase-book snippets from sources that were thirty or forty years out of date when the translations were made. On the other hand some american cartoons such as minute mouse and courageous kat also use the same odd phrases and stilted delivery. whether it was for effect or to mimic the up and coming japanese animations i do not know. of relevance is the fact that several japanese films from the sixties and seventies also used the same odd idioms and stilted delivery on their english dubs. some of the martial arts related ones come to mind and have become cult films due to the justaposition with the delivery not matching the action and the almost irresistible urge to repeat the line out loud for comedic effect.

it was a successful formula for that time period and success doesnt always know why it does what it does, it only knows it has to.

these dubs are clearly odd because of how they were translated and i believe the stilted delivery was intentional to match the level of realism in the animation or create interest. later anime with smoother animation used more natural deliveries although as pointed out, the dialect is not colloquial and that is for effect.

i am familiar with these phrase books. on trips to asia or hosting visitors ive commented on the odd phrases the locals used trying to speak english and in several cases they produced the phrase books and showed me how it was "correct" even though they did not know it was hilariously outdated.

modern english dubs can be at least as good if not an improvement on the original japanese. i cite FLCL as a prime example. over the top voice acting full of expression and the use of current day phrases. in the case of FLCL the odd dialect has been replaced with odd intonations and japanese idioms which have no direct translation are replaced with english idioms that convey similar levels of emotion. the goal is still achieved: the story is told with feeling and set and setting are clearly other-world.

note that an anime set in the 'real' world such as 'the graveyard of the fireflies' has a smooth dub with normal dialect. no need to provide the setting of an otherworld venue.

on a side note regarding liberties taken with dubs, sailor moon was the first major work that i know of where the practice of trying to follow the japanese script exactly with a dub became less important than trying to tell a coherent story. in the case of sailor moon, the story presented to the american audience is much different than the one told in the japanese language release. the japanese language release detailed her attempts to find a boy and had significant sexual overtones. her magic girl quests were almost a nuisance hindering her from completing her dating task.

such an emphasis on dating and sexuality for a young teen was deemed inappropriate for the christian-conservative north american audience and the script was amazingly re-written telling an almost entirely different story while using almost all the original video. thats more than just an odd dialect to create ambiance, its an entirely different script.

id love to see interviews regarding this with some of the voice actors and directors from the sixties and seventies while they are still around. if anyone knows of any, please post some links!

c dos. cd dos run. run dos run! (sorry i migrated here from the computer side of stackexchange)

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    Your answer here is actually pretty scattershot; it's all over the place and it's not clear what you're getting at. You make an interesting point in an effort to answer the question, but extracting that detail is hard to do with all of the other noise surrounding it. This isn't exactly a forum, so answering a question in the fashion you did is explicitly discouraged. I'd encourage you to focus on answering the question as stated, and if you have your own question, you can ask that independently. – Makoto Aug 19 '18 at 17:14

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