Unspeakable puns. Kanji-dependent wordplay as a localization strategy in Japanese
Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice
Year of publication
This study examines the multifaceted use of kanji-play in the Japanese localization of the online card game Hearthstone. The kanji script's ability to represent sound and meaning has resulted in a long history of language play within Japan, but its use as a method of localizing humor into Japanese has seen little attention. As kanji-play is inherently absent in English, its use in localization tempts description as a way of compensating for untranslated wordplay in an original text. However, analysis of the kanji use throughout Hearthstone finds that novel selections of kanji are involved in simultaneously satisfying multiple macro- and micro-level localization strategies. The kanji-based puns assist in recreating the wordplay-heavy user experience from the English Hearthstone version while also working to translate nuances of original text, create thematic connections, and engage players with both Hearthstone and the Warcraft universe it exists within, serving as an important element of the Japanese localizers’ toolkit.