For anyone, who has been integrated into the Chinese culture as closely as I am, I have been particularly sensitive and curious to any thing related with China. After my first visit to the country half a decade ago, the country and the depth of Putonghua orMandarin continues to amaze me.
So, when I came across this news concerning how the translation of our beloved Pikachu (wait, do you know who or what Pikachu is? If not, check here) has left a bad taste among the residents of Hong Kong, it was quite fascinating. I use the word “fascinating” because this goes on to show that customers indeed value how something is translated and whether the translation reflects their culture in the right way. In this case, a section of the protestors went on to protest outside the Japanese embassy, which I think was stretching it a bit too far.
Pikachu or Pikaqiu or Beikajau
When the Pokémon series was created in 1995 by Satoshi Tajiri, no one could fathom the popularity, love and the success this series would attain in the decades to come. The only thing that seemed to remain constant apart from Ash Ketchum’s age was his ever loyal friend, Pikachu.
Before we knew, Pokémon was a household name not only in Japan but also in other countries around the globe. One successful TV series followed another and subsequently they were localized in various languages to suit the taste and pronunciation of the regional audience. Therefore, Mainland China and Hong Kong have adopted different ways of saying “Pikachu” in their local languages. In Mandarin (Mainland China), Pikachu is referred to as “Pikaqiu” whereas in Cantonese (Hong Kong), it is referred to as “Beikaciu”. Everyone seemed to be happy in their own space in as to how they refer to Pikachu.
That is, until Nintendo’s decision in only using the Mandarin version throughout its games angered the audience in Hong Kong. The dispute between the usage of Mandarin and Cantonese in Hong Kong traces back to the differences in cultural and linguistic identity that is prominent in Hong Kong. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing, that is up for debate. However, by ignoring the Hong Kong audience in favor of using optimum languages for its new Pokémon game, Nintendo has opened a box of “Weedles” (read worms). The same characters in Mandarin written in Simplified Chinese script can be read in a different way in Cantonese. Therefore, when you write Pikaqiu in Mandarin and when you read it, it sounds as Beikajau instead of Beikaciu.
The disappointment among the Pokéfans in Hong Kong stems from the fact that they deserve to call Pikachu the way they have called since the time Pokémon was introduced to them. Why are they forced to call Pikachu as Beikajau? Is it because the audience in Hong Kong is smaller in size and therefore considered insignificant as compared to that in Mainland China? Or is it because Mandarin is more widely spoken than Cantonese? Either way, it has touched a sensitive chord with the Hong Kong fans of Pokémon.
It is a small but significant fix and this incident perfectly goes on to show that, proper translation is often cheaper than mistranslation or no translation at all. I hope that Nintendo takes this as a token of love and appreciation that people in Hong Kong hold for Pokémon and soon release a version suited for the Hong Kong market.
Pika Pika Pikachu. 🙂