Part of a series on game comparisons! Last time we looked at a scene between two girls in Sea Mauville.
Today’s post is not a reader one, but a personal curiosity. From playing through Pokemon Gold and Silver again (thanks to their recent re-release on the 3DS Virtual Console), I came across this character in Violet City I had forgotten about: Earl.
He has a funny way of talking which automatically raises flags regarding what the original language may have been, and even references the “winner is you” meme. So I figured it was worth looking into.
So let’s see what’s going on here!
The following conversation takes place when you speak to the man between the Gym and Mart in Violet City.
Hello! You are trainer? Battle GYM LEADER, win you did?
(No) Is that so? Then study shall you! Follow me!
Here, teacher I am. Good it is you study here!
EARL, I am! Wonderful are POKEMON, yes! Teach you I will to be
a better trainer! What you want to know? Want to be a winner is you?
The above looks at when you say “no” just to pick out some samples of the dialogue. He does a little dance and twirl between the “Follow me!” and “Here” as he leads the trainer to the Pokemon School
Inside the school he cites the “winner is you” from a badly translated line that came
from the 1986 game Pro Wrestling:
In general his speech is pretty wonky, likely to express it is someone who is speaking English as their second language and has not quite mastered it just yet. Almost like Yoda-speak at times!
So let’s take a look at the original Japanese:
Original Japanese / Lit. Translation:
はーい あなた トレーナーですね
それでは べんきょー するです
では いいてくる ですよーワタシ ここの せんせー！
あなた ここでべんきょー すると いいねー
ポケモンは すばらしー ですね！
ワタシ つよく なるためいろいろ おしえまーす
どうすれば つよくなるかしりたい アルか？
Hiiii! You’re a trainer right? Did you beat the Gym Leader???
In that case timeeee to studyyy!
So let’s gooo!
I am the teacher of this place!
You really ought to study here!
Pokemon sure are wonderful!
I’ll teach you alllll you need to know to get super duper strong!
What do you wanna know?
Want to know how to get stronger and stuff?
So at a glance this literal translation simply has some long drawn out words. It is literally expressing what the Japanese text was doing (long vowels represented with “ー“‘s as well as some words that normally don’t have long vowels). It does give him an eccentric way of speaking but nothing really beyond that.
But it can be taken a different way too, that is, as a “foreigner speaking Japanese.” Often a stereotype involves long vowels in the wrong places, or just a generally funny “tone” to their Japanese. You can call it an “accent” such as how someone speaking English as a second language may have an accent influenced by their mother tongue. This may be more the case too as his name is “Giovanni” (not to be confused with the Team Rocket Boss, as his name is “Sakaki” in Japanese).
The first four regions of Pokemon were all based on real regions in Japan, and as such most the NPCs and characters (minus a few blatantly foreign one such as Lt. Surge). As such, the name “Giovanni” really sticks out among the rest, as does his eccentric way of speaking. It is likely meant to make it obvious it is a foreigner who does not yet have a perfect grasp of the language.
Of course, that does not discount the possibility that he may be a foreigner and an eccentric individual, considering his twirling dances on the way to the Pokemon School!
So the localization decided to give him a funny speech pattern beyond simply extending words, such as how the literal translation may have looked, because they likely understood that he is meant to be an eccentric foreigner. They gave him jumbled speech and even referenced a “bad translation” as they figured it fit the context and his not-fluent grasp of the English language.
The choice of the name “Earl” is curious, however, as it is still more typical to the west. It does not really get the blatant “foreign” aspect across as much as the name “Giovanni” among other Japanese names. Perhaps choosing a more straightforwardly “exotic” (to western audiences) name may have worked, but perhaps they also did not want to straddle the line of what may have been perceived as an offensive stereotype? As such they made it obvious in his text instead of his name.
This is all speculation however, the game is quite old! We may never know what was going on with Earl.
On a final side note, the Pokemon School is actually a juku in Japanese. They are a more specific type of school that does not have mandatory attendance. A small nuance between a regular school and this one!
Earl (or “Giovanni” in Japanese)’s original text hints at someone who is either rather eccentric (quite possible with his twirling around), or someone with a not-perfect grasp of the Japanese language (hinted at with his foreign name in the otherwise Japanese-themed Johto). Of course, it’s likely a case of both –an eccentric foreigner with a not-perfect grasp of the language. The localization picked up on this and gave us someone with a funny way of speaking, though the name “Earl” isn’t as strikingly foreign as the name “Giovanni” among all the other Japanese names. Also, the “winner is you” meme is referenced only in English, but has a meta sense to it being a poorly translated line –just as his speech mannerisms.
Anything else in Pokemon Gold & Silver raise the localization alarms of curiosity for you? Let me know! I’m playing through the games again and will keep an eye out for anything else that may be interesting to look into!