"Translation by fans for fans": organization and practices in a Spanish-language community of scanlation


[Versión catalana] [Versión castellana]

María José Valero Porras

Department of Translation and Language Sciences Faculty of Translation and Interpreting Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Daniel Cassany

Department of Translation and Language Sciences Faculty of Translation and Interpreting Universitat Pompeu Fabra



Objective: To describe the organization and literacy practices of a Spanish-speaking scanlation community (a group of fans who collaborate on the Internet to scan, translate and distribute mangas) by examining the community members’ roles and activities, the online environments in which they work and the resources they use.

Methodology: The study employed cyberethnographic techniques to create and analyse a database comprising 97 videos of onscreen activity, 32 transcripts of comments drawn from Facebook, blogs, forums and chats, 96 scanned manga chapters and, finally, six semi-structured interviews.

Results: The scanlation community in question assigned its members specific roles (of cleaning, translating, typesetting or correcting) and the members worked in a variety of online environments (email, Facebook, forums and chats). Members interacted to negotiate the development of projects, troubleshoot and exchange knowledge and expertise. Their literacy practices were regulated by the shared culture of scanlation communities as these exist worldwide, evidenced in the existence of a set of ethical standards, a common repertory of tools (translators, dictionaries, inventories of fonts, etc.) and a series of specific, socially valued semiotic practices (such as maintaining Japanese honorific suffixes in translations). This sophisticated level of organization challenges the notion that the cultural products of these vernacular and plurilingual practices are merely the result of their individual members’ creativity or of the spontaneous collaboration between them.


Objectiu: Descriure el funcionament i les pràctiques lletrades d'una comunitat hispana de scanlation (escaneig, traducció i distribució de mangues a càrrec de grups de fans del gènere que es coordinen a Internet) atenent els rols dels membres, les activitats, els contextos i els recursos que utilitzen.

Metodologia: Emprant tècniques de l'etnografia virtual, es compila i s'analitza una base de dades composta per 97 vídeos d'activitat de pantalla; 32 transcripcions de comentaris en pàgines del Facebook, blogs, fòrums i xats; 96 capítols escanejats de mangues, i 6 entrevistes semiestructurades.

Resultats: La comunitat divideix el treball en funcions interdependents (neteja, traducció, composició tipogràfica i correcció de mangues) assignades a determinats membres. Aquests utilitzen diversos espais virtuals (correu electrònic, pàgines del Facebook, fòrums i xats) per interactuar, negociar l'elaboració dels projectes, ajudar-se en problemes concrets i intercanviar coneixements. Aquestes pràctiques lletrades estan regulades per la cultura compartida de les comunitats de scanlation de tot el planeta, tal com reflecteixen l'existència d'una normativa ètica, un repertori comú d'eines (traductors, diccionaris, inventaris de fonts tipogràfiques, etc.) i una sèrie de pràctiques semiòtiques específiques, socialment valorades (com ara el manteniment dels tractaments honorífics japonesos en les traduccions). Aquesta organització sofisticada desafia la concepció que els productes culturals elaborats en aquestes pràctiques vernacles i plurilingües responen només a la creativitat individual o la col·laboració espontània dels seus membres.


Objetivo: Describir el funcionamiento y las prácticas letradas de una comunidad hispana de scanlation (escaneado, traducción y distribución de mangas a cargo de grupos de fans del género que se coordinan en Internet) atendiendo a los roles de sus miembros, sus actividades, los contextos y los recursos que utilizan.

Metodología: Empleando técnicas de la etnografía virtual, compilamos y analizamos una base de datos compuesta por: 97 vídeos de actividad de pantalla; 32 transcripciones de comentarios en páginas de Facebook, blogs, foros y chats; 96 capítulos escaneados de mangas; y 6 entrevistas semiestructuradas.

Resultados: La comunidad divide el trabajo en funciones interdependientes (limpieza, traducción, composición tipográfica y corrección de mangas) asignadas a miembros particulares. Estos utilizan diversos espacios virtuales (correo electrónico, páginas de Facebook, foros y chats) para interactuar, negociar la elaboración de los proyectos, ayudarse en problemas concretos e intercambiar conocimientos. Esas prácticas letradas están reguladas por la cultura compartida de las comunidades de scanlation de todo el globo, tal como reflejan la existencia de una normativa ética, un repertorio común de herramientas (traductores, diccionarios, inventarios de fuentes tipográficas, etc.) y una serie de prácticas semióticas específicas, socialmente valoradas (como el mantenimiento de los honoríficos japoneses en las traducciones). Esa organización sofisticada desafía la concepción de que los productos culturales elaborados en esas prácticas vernáculas y plurilingües responden solo a la creatividad individual o a la colaboración espontánea de sus miembros.


1 Introduction

The term scanlation (a blend of scan and translation) refers to scanning, translating, editing and distributing mangas freely —and illegally— online as done by traditional groups of fans or scanlators. They aspire to be recognised and appreciated within the network of manga fans by providing translated versions of comics for whoever wishes to read them in their own language (Costales, 2012; Rampant, 2010).

The task is complex as it involves managing multiple semiotic resources (verbal, graphic, and typographic) in several languages (source Asian language, target language, and, sometimes, an intermediary language that provides access to the source language). It demands coordinating a team of nonprofessional volunteers who live in different corners of the world and in different time zones. It aims to satisfy the expectations of a knowledgeable transnational readership who demand quality products with minimum delay. It involves disseminating copyright protected materials in public web spaces in order to reach the highest number of fans possible, while at the same time avoiding prosecution from commercial publishers or professional translators (O’Hagan, 2008). In order to reach those goals scanlators rely on digital technology and online teamwork, as this facilitates and keeps down the cost of obtaining reproducing, modifying, and disseminating globally popular cultural products; this also favours an exchange of knowhow and skills required to carry out the task and make it possible to track the contribution made by each member (Lee, 2011, 2012). This is how scanlation groups develop forms of organization protocols and their own self-regulating norms, which we will analyse in detail.

Despite the sharp increase in translations produced "by fans for fans" (e.g., fansubbing, amateur translations of videogames) there is scarce research literature in scanlation. Cultural Studies analyse the figure of the scanlator as a cultural prosumer and distributor (Lee, 2011, 2012), the social and commercial implications of online unofficial distribution of manga translations (Jacobs, 2015; Madeley, 2015) or the infringement of copyright laws and the threats for the publishing industry (Lee, 2009). Translation Studies focuses on the various techniques employed by amateur scanlators and professional translators or the tensions that arise between the two sides (Demirel, Görgüler, 2015; Ferrer-Simó, 2005; O’Hagan, 2009). Other studies link this practice with learning and they look into their potential for developing translation strategies (Inose, 2012; O’Hagan, 2008), for learning foreign languages or understanding how different social groups develop culture-specific ways of constructing meaning with their particular semiotic resources (Huang, Archer, 2012; Valero-Porras, Cassany, 2015).

To date, research into collaborative digital translation has not yielded data regarding the organisation of a scanlation community (Costales, 2012; Demirel, Görgüler, 2015; Folaron, 2010; Gambier, 2014; Jiménez-Crespo, 2015; O’Brien, 2011; O’Hagan, 2012; Pérez-González, Susam-Saraeva, 2012) nor on the role played by interpersonal communication and shared culture of the participating members. In this light, our study describes how a Spanish-language scanlation community works and what its literacy practices are, while looking at roles assumed, activities carried out, and the spaces and resources used. We intend to record and analyse how these communities of fans use technology to overcome language barriers, and geographical and time constraints, as well as making a contribution towards thinking about the role played online interaction as a part of collaborative translating which is voluntary and self-regulated, moving further and further away from professional domains towards fandom and fan cultures.


2 Theoretical framework

A useful concept to help understand scanlation (and other manifestations of fan culture such as fansubbing, fanfiction and vidding) is that of participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins et al., 2009), which we regard as groups of individuals that feel devoted to the same activities or cultural products (which they associate their identity and lifestyle to); group members participate in social practices of creation, modification, interpretation, editing or distribution of contents to do with their common interest. Coined in Cultural Studies, this concept is opposed to consumer culture to account for new roles assigned to the end users of popular culture products. In contrast to a view of spectators as passive consumers, the notion of participatory culture encompasses the work put into creating, transforming, exchanging and disseminating contents by such groups. The members of participatory cultures take the materials they consume and blur the distinction between cultural production and consumption (Androutsopoulos, 2011; Chou, 2010; Jenkins, Ito, Boyd, 2015; Knobel, Lankshear, 2010; Lee, 2012; O’Hagan, 2009). According to Jenkins et al. (2009), a participatory culture’s characteristics include: involving its members so that they can express themselves through social practices related to the materials they appreciate; getting each member to create and share contents; procuring the transmission of expert knowhow and skills to beginners, and promoting a close relationship among its members. Although participatory cultures predate Internet, they have no doubt been able to expand and develop more than ever before with Web 2.0.

Another theoretical and methodological approach (Barton, 2007) that helps to explain scanlation is the one known as New Literacy Studies (NLS), which appears as a critical reaction to psycholinguistic approaches that conceive reading and writing as cognitive skills that are universal and context-free. In contrast to these views, NLS, linked to the ethnography of communication and linguistic anthropology, take an ecological, holistic approach to reading and writing activities, which are conceived of as purpose-driven social practices, located in sociohistorical contexts and defined by the culture of the human groups where they occur. The NLS involve ethnographic descriptions of a variety of literacy practices that occur in a range of settings, be they dominant (i.e. official and institutional, like education and professional) or vernacular (i.e. daily and private, like the family). Within the NLS, the term digital literacy practices refers to social interactions mediated by pieces of writing produced, manipulated or distributed on the worldwide web (Barton, Lee, 2013; Gillen, 2014; Jones, Hafner, 2012; Lankshear, Knobel, 2011; Mills, 2010). From this point of view, scanlation constitutes a vernacular digital literacy practice that involves culturally learnt ways of constructing and manipulating the meaning of texts and establishing relationships with other fans (Barton, 2007; Wolf, 2010). Scanlators take global media artefacts (mangas) and transform them into common cultural resources that the fan community uses to construct relevant meanings in local contexts (Fiske, 1989; Jenkins, et al., 2008). Just as what happens with fan art, fanzine, cosplay, and other examples of fandom, scanlation is associated to creativity (Barton, Lee, 2012, 2013), because the scanlator brings agency to the source text comic. It transforms it into a different cultural product, expressing new meanings, as it projects the identities of the fan-translators and helps towards building a shared culture (Deumert, 2014; Pennycook, 2007; Tagg, 2015).


3 Methodology and context

This research derives from a multiple case study, ethnographically-oriented, on the discursive construction of fan identity among representative members of various cyber-fandoms. Each case is focused on a single individual and the ecology of practices s/he is active in, the spaces where his/her fan activities are carried out, and the social bonds that s/he establishes. In order to find individuals that present potential interest for research, first we browsed Google to find websites that could serve as meeting points for members of various fan cultures (e.g., forums for video gamers, fansubber blogs, Facebook pages about sports). We explored the lists of the results and identified the main topics of interest for these communities, the languages they used and who the most active members were. We then announced our research in approximately 30 of these spaces, out of which about 10 were linked to manga and anime fandom. We received emails from about 10 manga fans who were interested and answered an open questionnaire about the type of activities they did in their respective communities, their frequency of participation and their goals and motivations. We finally selected Shiro (Spanish, 27), a scanlator with a long background in fandom, with previous experience as a translator in other Spanish-language scanlation communities. She currently comanages a broad community of scanlators, with over 3,500 Facebook followers, as well as working in translating, editing, and proofreading mangas.

Shiro’s community consists of 25 members, male and female, between 17 and 42 years old, from various Spanish-speaking countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Spain and Mexico). They work on retranslating English mangas into Spanish, which have been previously translated by English-speaking scanlation communities from a source text in an Asian language (Japanese, Chinese or Korean). Shiro introduced us to all the other scanlators in the group, and to some managers of other Spanish-language and Anglophone groups. After gaining consent, we accessed the group’s online spaces, public and private, to observe the members’ activities and to collect textual artefacts. As a central participant, Shiro provided additional data by using other techniques of virtual ethnography (Androutsopoulos, 2008, 2013; Hine, 2000): she allowed us to interview her on Skype, Facebook and email. Furthermore, she accepted the recording of her computer screen activity by means of Camtasia Studio software for the time she spent translating, editing, and correcting mangas.

The fieldwork spanned over October 2014 to June 2015. We compiled a database made up of: 97 video recordings of screen captured activity; 32 textual artefacts (transcripts of comments posted on Facebook, blogs, forums, and chats); field notes (61,723 words) and 6 semi-structured interviews. We first classified the data according to the type of practice (e.g., translation, editing, communications among members). We then made an inductive and descriptive coding of the data (Saldaña, 2015) and linked the codes to the categories that make up a literacy practice (Barton, 2007; Hamilton, 2000): a) participants, roles and relationships; b) environments; c) purpose and social setting; d) artefacts and tools; e) activities; f) values, beliefs, and attitudes; and g) routines, norms and patterns of behaviour.

Now we move on to describe how the group works and what its practices are, stressing how work is organised, how digital spaces are used, how meanings are constructed through cultural sharing and a shared system of beliefs, norms and resources.


4 Results

4.1 Functions

Scanlators see themselves as "non-profit publishing pirates".1 That is why, although the work is voluntary and not paid, the vocabulary they use is related to a professional environment. Thus, the three co-managers of the group introduce themselves as the "co-bosses" of the "team" and each one takes responsibility for publishing new translations every fortnight of chapters of "projects" (or manga titles). At present, the group has 42 active projects. To develop them, the co-managers distribute tasks according to each member’s "post". Each role involves skills and specialised knowhow (linguistic, technological, or cultural) and it interacts with the other roles in a sort of chain production:

  • The co-managers are responsible for obtaining the"raws"(scanned pages of manga in the language they are translated from) for each project. They write to the manager of the Anglophone group who have translated the manga they are interested in and obtain permission from them to use the scanned pages and their translation as a starting point. Even if the digital content is public the permits work as "psychological contracts" and they must not be ignored. If permission is only obtained for one of the two things, then another group has to be contacted in order to get the pending permission or cancel the project. It is only once that both permits have been granted that the raws are sent to the translators and to the "cleaners", who work simultaneously.

  • The cleaners digitally clean the text of the scanned pages, using Photoshop or other software. They take important decisions regarding which texts and signs to keep and which ones to delete. Sometimes, deleting some text (like onomatopoeias overlapping drawings) may require redrawing the object that is affected. To obtain clear pages, without watermarks, they change the image with filters of colour correction. For this they must take extreme care not to blur the expression of the figures.

Screenshot of Shiro’s computer while she is cleaning a page

Figure 1.  Screenshot of Shiro’s computer while she is cleaning a page

  • The translators translate from English into Spanish on a word processor, separately, using certain conventions to facilitate the "typesetters’" job, the next stage of the chain production: they must show which page they are translating, the type of text (dialogue in speech bubbles, words outside the bubbles, onomatopoeias, or interior monologue). To this end they use typographical mechanisms, such as capital letters, italics, or parentheses, although ─according to Shiro─ the meaning of these styles can vary from group to group.

Screenshot of Shiro’s computer as she translates a chapter

Figure 2. Screenshot of Shiro’s computer as she translates a chapter

  • The typesetters insert the Spanish rendering into the clean page. They have to adjust each segment to the shape of the bubbles (designed for the top down writing systems of the Asian source-text languages). They also choose the typographical font, the size, the colour and the position of each piece of text. All of these decisions have a bearing on the meaning of the manga. For example, it makes it possible to mark the discourse type (onomatopoeia, dialogue, interior monologue, etc.) or its importance in its context.

Screenshot of Shiro’s computer while introducing translated texts

Figure 3. Screenshot of Shiro’s computer while introducing translated texts

  • The proof-readers review the scanned pages with the translated version. They check spelling and appearance (for example, they make sure that no bubbles are blank). They also check that the translation is coherent and sounds natural. They resort to the English source if they come across parts that do not make sense. When they are done they send an email to the composer with a list of errors for correction.

Email with corrections sent by Shiro to a composer

Figure 4. Email with corrections sent by Shiro to a composer

  • Finally, the co-managers gather all the chapters approved by the proof-readers, they compress the format, upload them on the server and publish the links on the group’s platforms.

The managers "hire" new members according to their needs. The beginners must pass a test of cleaning, translation, typographical composition, or proof-reading, depending on the post they are aspiring to. In the test, they must show their language proficiency, cultural and technical knowledge, willingness to work, shown in the time they put into the task, keenness to improve and acceptance of criticism. That is why each member only tends to do one type of task, although in time and with experience some members broaden their range of tasks. Members warn the manager when they are in examination periods or on holiday so their workload can be reduced accordingly. If a member repeatedly fails to carry out duties assigned or obstructs the chain production process, that member is "fired" or invited to leave the group.


4.2 Spaces

Web 2.0 maximises participation, collaboration and the exchange of knowledge (Lankshear, Knobel, 2011). The group under study uses these platforms:

  • Closed group on Facebook. The managers use it to: inform about the permissions obtained for translating new titles; introduce new members; lead the "democratic" election of new projects (everyone can propose and vote which projects are selected); announce the list of chapters to be published before each update; warn members with pending work or remind delivery deadlines. The rest of members take on a more reactive role, commenting or assessing the announcements with a "like". Sometimes, other members publish resources of interest to the group, like links to manga blogs, anime websites, tutorials for translating, cleaning, editing mangas or language resources (translators, dictionaries, etc.). In short, here is where the group manages its activity, privately and in orderly fashion, sharing all the information regardless of the time and location of each member.

  • Facebook Chat for the team. This messenger service is used to socialise and solve technical doubts, in a "24/7 service". Members have fun exchanging opinions, joking and getting to know each other better. When they come across a problem, they hook up, explain the difficulty and wait for help to come from whoever may be connected. That way time zone differences become an advantage, given that they increase the likelihood that there is always going to be someone available.

  • Email. Email makes it possible to exchange messages and attachments more asynchronically. The managers use it to request permissions and, occasionally, to organise "joint projects" (collaborative projects among members of two or more scanlation groups). The team uses this channel to send its work to the rest and submit queries to specific members.

  • Open Page on Facebook. With nearly 3,700 followers, it is used to promote the group among manga fans. The co-managers use it to: 1) announce updates (fortnightly publication of chapters) and send to the blog; 2) introduce previews of the chapters that will be published to keep the readers interested; 3) answer readers’ queries and questions; 4) ask readers for their opinions and interests; 5) organise contests about manga and about cleaning, translating, or typographical composition, for the twofold purpose of stimulating the fans and hiring new members for the team; and 6) promote the work done by other scanlation groups (in exchange for them reciprocating on their webpages).

  • Blog. For keeping the links to translated chapters and works as a database, cataloguing the translated mangas according to diverse criteria: stage of the project (active, finished, paused, cancelled projects), manga genre according to Japanese classification (seinen, shojo, shonen, yaoi, etc.) and alphabetical order. It is also for publishing reviews and lists of recommendations for mangas and animes. These publications help the fandom to discover new titles, to gain knowledge collectively and to acquire a more sophisticated taste. Furthermore, they stimulate digital debates with and among fans about specific titles. The blog contains sections that are more or less static, like a brief introduction to each member of the team; a description of the various functions scanlation has (cleaning, translating, typesetting); a set of ethical norms to ensure that the activity is cost-free and to regulate possible retranslations by third parties; and, again, the promotion of other groups.

4.3 Shared culture

Participating in the activities described is regulated by culturally specific ways of constructing meaning, by means of common repertoires of tools and resources and by a set of shared expectations, values and norms. We will now describe the semiotic conventions that the fans have developed to carry out their tasks of translating and editing the mangas, the linguistic tools and the online resources that they use to do the job and the ethical norms they have developed to justify their activity, control the chain of retranslations of mangas and ensure the acknowledgement of all the scanlators who have contributed.


4.3.1 Semiotic practices

For the fans, the main value of manga resides in the cultural resonances that it evokes. This is why scanlators use certain fandom conventions in their translations that differ from the ones used by professional publishers and they try to bring out the Asian flavour of the source text (Rampant, 2010). They are dynamic conventions, transmitted from experts to beginners, negotiated in virtual environments; they slightly vary from group to group and enable scanlators to portray themselves as real manga experts:

  • The reading direction of the source text is kept the same, i.e., right to left in Japanese mangas, and left to right in Korean manhwas and Chinese manhuas.

  • Honorifics are directly transliterated into Latin script, like san, sama, chan, sensei, oppa, etc. The forms of address and the rituals of courtesy that are characteristically Asian are highly appreciated in fandom; the fans also add them frequently to their usernames on Facebook y and blogs. For example, the co-managers sometimes end their usernames in –san, which shows a degree of respect. Some young male members use the suffix –kun, indicating a certain intimacy, and some female members use –chan, a diminutive suffix to show endearance.

  • Popular and marked terms are kept, like kokoro (related to spirituality), waka (Japanese mafia), nunchaku (martial arts).

  • Part of the original punctuation is kept, as in the case of vertical lines and dots.

  • Accuracy is sought for translating Asian proper nouns and place names, even when it involves time-consuming research.

  • Japanese phraseology is recreated, when possible. Some scanlators who know some Japanese can watch anime (comics adapted to animated films) in the source language and they translate the phrases they understand from Japanese into Spanish without consulting the English intermediate version.

  • The source text register is rendered as closely as possible: scanlators know that the language used in the source text comics is a very colloquial "urban" register and they try to reproduce it in Spanish, resorting to insults and teenage expressions.

  • Foreignising strategies of various sorts to render onomatopoeias: a) to translate them as infinitive verbs to evoke the Japanese onomatopoeic system, containing as it does some that express conditions, movements, or feelings that do not actually cause any sound (Inose, 2009); b) to keep them in their original language and alphabet system, sacrificing accessible meaning for the sake of cultural authenticity; and c) to keep the source text form of expression and add a translation over it.

Examples of strategies a, b y c, from left to right, to render onomatopoeias

Figure 5. Examples of strategies a, b y c, from left to right, to render onomatopoeias

  • Great wealth of fonts, sizes and letter types to imitate the source text typography.

With these semiotic conventions, scanlators highlight the Asian origin of the source text. Besides these conventions, they use other conventions to hide the fact that their translation is indirect, i.e. based on an intermediate English version, because the fans do not have a special cultural fondness for any English-speaking country.

  • Substitution of English spelling conventions for the laughter and interjections, e.g., (Spanish) ja-ja rather than (English) haha.
  • Substitution of English punctuation, e.g. opening question mark is added to the beginning of questions.

  • English-sounding onomatopoeias are eliminated if they are not common in Spanish-language comic books (like "crack" and "ring") or if they have no equivalent (e.g., whoosh for the wind).

  • Lastly, Spanish-language scanlators claim to use "neutral Spanish", a negotiated, dynamic solution to blur the differences among dialectal varieties around the world and to emphasize their cultural allegiance to the East. Thus, scanlators tend to select the most widely used lexical, semantic and grammatical expressions, supposedly, (e.g., they use lindo rather than guapo or maldito sea instead of joder).

4.3.2 Tools

Scanlators share technological and linguistic tools to do their job. They tend to exchange opinions about online machine translators and dictionaries (e.g., Google Translator, the translator of El País, WordReference or Urban Dictionary); they produce tutorials on cleaning, translating, and editing mangas, and post them on the team’s Facebook page, and they share specialised resources that they may find on the Internet, such as lists of onomatopoeias translated from Japanese into English, blogs about different varieties of Spanish, downloads of typographical fonts, and so on.


4.3.3 Ethics

Scanlators have developed an ethical code to justify their illegal activity. Based on the distinction between what is legal and what is moral, they regard themselves to be legitimised to do what they do provided they comply with the following norms.

  • They must not translate mangas officially translated into the target language and they must eliminate from the group’s web platform any that might be translated at a later date. Thus, they hope to support the cultural industries associated with manga, while avoiding legal trouble. They see their own work of cultural mediation as a "temporary remedy" to patch up the shortcomings of the official industry.

  • They must not charge a fee for their work. They are only interested in receiving acknowledgement and to that end they publish the pseudonyms of the scanlators who have worked on each manga, on a cover "credits sheet".

  • They must not "steal" projects from other groups; i.e. they do not translate mangas that other groups are already working on.

  • They must acknowledge the work of other groups in the "credits sheet" in cases where an intermediate translation by another group has been used as the source text.

5 Conclusions

It is fascinating to analyse how a community of Spanish-language fans, spread all over the world, coordinates online to carry out a truly complex plurilingual, multimodal job, i.e. manga scanlation. Our description provides information on the procedures used to simplify their task, to access resources and share them, to increase productivity and the visibility of the product, and to promote collective intelligence. These practices include management (e.g., providing materials for the members, wording the task allocated to each member, scheduling, quality control), promotion of informal training (transmitting guidelines, exchanging resources, answering queries), and promotion of the group (interacting with the fans, curating contents). Scanlators recognise the technical characteristics of online platforms (real time or not real time; public or private status; persistence of the message in the system; size and layout of the message) and they organise and distribute them in accordance with maximising participation and efficiency. In this regard, this study develops and broadens quite significantly previous studies on collaborative translation and fantranslation (Costales, 2012; Demirel, Görgüler, 2015; Díaz-Cintas, Muñoz-Sánchez, 2006; Gambier, 2014; O’Brien, 2011; O’Hagan, 2009; Pérez-González, Susam-Saraeva, 2012).

On the other hand, our findings provide new insight on several concepts associated to fandom culture.

  • Despite being voluntary work, unpaid and associated to leisure, scanlation is highly structured and, even goes so far as to mimic the language and some procedures of official cultural industries. As happens with other fantranslation practices (e.g., fansubbing), scanlators are gradually taking up a space that was traditionally reserved for professional translators. Their practices are manifestations of cultural convergence, which smudges any clear-cut borderlines between textual genres, traditional and new communication channels, consumer and producer roles, as well as spheres of activity (commercial, cultural, personal, etc.; Ito, 2014; Jenkins, 2006). This calls for a revision or a more relativistic approach for the concept of vernacular digital practice (Barton, Lee, 2012, 2013).

  • Scanlators use a specific repertoire of semiotic conventions to translate mangas that derive from the values and tastes that are shared by the fans. Therefore, the notion of vernacular creativity in fandom is not to be understood as the result of individual inventiveness (Androutsopoulos, 2011), but as a process located in cultural contexts and oriented towards representing the identities of certain social groups (Burgess, 2006; Maybin, Swann, 2007).

  • Most of the published research carried out to date takes on the viewpoint of the expert translator and focuses on translational transgressions committed by fans or on the poor quality of their output (Costales, 2012; Díaz-Cintas, Muñoz-Sánchez, 2006; Inose, 2012). However, this study suggests that the scanlators have their own cultural logic, removed from traditional translation standards. Thus, for this kind of community the reproduction of the Asian spirit is just as important or more so than translational accuracy, and the shortcomings in their knowledge of English are compensated for by using translation resources and multimodal strategies to construct meanings (Valero-Porras, Cassany, 2015).

To sum up, the phenomenon of fantranslation is so alive, sophisticated and unique that it requires further research from the standpoint of ethnography and emic, to understand these new forms and values of collaborative writing.



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1 The passages within quotation marks are direct quotes form Shiro taken from interviews, from the explanations she gave us while she recorded the activity of her computer screen, from her conversations with other scanlators or from her posts to the group’s blog. This is how we have tried to integrate her voice in this paper, reinforcing the emic nature of our research.


Recommended citation

Valero Porras, María José; Cassany, Daniel (2017). "Translation by fans for fans : organization and practices in a Spanish-language community of scanlation". BiD: textos universitaris de biblioteconomia i documentació, núm. 38 (juny) . <http://bid.ub.edu/en/37/cassany.htm>. [Consulta: 25-06-2017].