formality of speech

Formality of Speech & Cultural Differences in Gaming

By Hagen Weiss

What is one of the top things to consider when localizing your game or mobile app? This might come as a surprise but, in our experience, it should be the degree of formality used in the dialogue between characters and when addressing gamers.

Not taking this nuance into account could make your game sound unnatural, or worse inappropriate, which could easily alienate players.

Shifting Formalities

Let’s take the German language as an example. Historically, formal speech has been prioritized when addressing strangers or when in a formal context such as in a business setting but, more and more, informal speech is being used in day-to-day conversations and even when meeting someone for the first time, especially with younger demographics.

And this cultural and societal shift is not just happening in Germany. In Spain, it is becoming more and more common to use an informal language register unless speaking to an elderly person or when on official business, such as dealing with governmental organisations. In French, a distinction is to be made between Canada (Quebec) and France; French speakers from France tend to be more formal in their day-to-day conversations than Quebecers.

Korean, on the other hand, is a language that has as many as seven different speech levels to properly reflect a situation’s level of formality; a lot of importance is given to using proper language to convey respect and deference when addressing elders or high-level executives in a professional setting. Hierarchy and age are important cultural factors in Korea, which is why honorific terms, verbs, pronouns and titles are used in certain circumstances.

Formality of speech is not just a matter of using a different tone and avoiding slang; in many languages, it will have an impact on grammar and on the second-person personal pronoun “you”, which will change depending on the level of formality that the situation calls for, both in speech and in writing.

For example, here is the pronoun “you” in a few languages that have different levels of formality:

● French – formal would be “vous” and informal would be “tu”
● German – formal would be “Sie’” and informal would be “du”
● Spanish – formal would be “usted” and informal would be “tú”

Choosing how to best approach and address potential players and hook in new players requires careful consideration; the last thing you want to do is insult a potential customer by using the wrong pronoun.

In the gaming industry, the trend no doubt is to use informal speech as the games usually target a younger demographic and, even when targeting an older public as super-casual games do, times have changed and people do not expect formality in all aspects of their lives, least of all entertainment.

Don’t Get Lost in Translation

The objective that you should keep in mind when localizing a game for a new market is to make it sound as natural as possible to a native speaker. While you may choose to use an informal tone to address your gamer, the dialogue between your characters is as important, if not more, and should take into account the degree of formality that is appropriate in context.

For example, if your main character is a young boy addressing an elderly king that he is just meeting for the first time, then using a formal tone and appropriate pronouns and grammar would be the right approach.

Not taking this into consideration and using an informal tone the whole way through will make it obvious for your gamer that they are playing a translated version of your product and give them a subpar user experience, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve when trying to enter a new market.

Same goes for colloquial expressions that are often used in video games, such as when two characters are chatting informally between themselves. If the English version of the game uses expressions such as “What’s up?” or “You ok?” your translator should make sure that the equivalent expression is used in the target language; don’t make the mistake of switching to a formal register when translating, as not only will it sound unnatural, it might affect your gamers’ perception of a character’s personality or of their relationship with other characters.

Considering Cultural Differences Is Essential

Formality of speech is a perfect example of a subtle yet important cultural nuance that emphasizes the importance of working with a professional translator that is a native speaker of your target language; after all, this is a tricky concept even for the most advanced speakers.

At the end of the day, great translation requires some creativity in order to have the desired effect with the target audience and should not only consider language, but also social and cultural norms in the target country.

Get in touch with us today if you need help localizing your game and determining the level of formality that should be used – our team of experienced translators and native speakers will be able to guide you in the right direction.

iGlobe: Marketing & Translation Agency
iGlobe is a marketing and translation agency in the gaming industry. We offer gaming companies with professional marketing services to help your project succeed in your target market.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you with your next project!

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