An activist translates Minecraft, manga, and Harry Potter from Russian into the Chuvash language

A woman in traditional Chuvash clothes takes a photo of her friends using a smartphone during the Chuvash festival ‘Akatuj’ held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by the Сhuvash diaspora, June 2, 2019. Author: Zakharov Oleg. (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

Novaya Vkladka, an independent Russian media outlet, has published an article about Yuman Yentimirov, a resident of  Cheboksary, the capital of the Chuvash Republic in Russia, who has launched a project to popularize his native language. An edited version of the article is republished on Global Voices with permission from Novaya Vkladka. 

Together with other enthusiasts, 20-year-old Yuman Yentimirov translates computer games, Japanese comics, and popular films from Russian into the Chuvash language.

As Yentimirov says, the project is entirely non-commercial and aims to satisfy the growing demand for this type of content among the residents and Indigenous people of the republic. He decided to start promoting his native language in 2023. His professional activity is not related to this interest; Yentimirov is an SEO specialist, engaged in website promotion through search engines, but he became interested in Chuvash culture, thanks to his family. “My dad told me about [Chuvash] holidays that are no longer celebrated. For example, Surkhuri, which is an ancient Chuvash holiday, celebrated during the winter solstice,” he explained. At first, the young man ran a Telegram channel, discussing various aspects of the Chuvash language and culture, but later, he decided to narrow down his focus.

Yentimirov is a fan of Japanese manga comics. He is interested in what other languages of the peoples of Russia, besides Russian, that manga is translated into, but discovered Japanese comics only in Tatar. This motivated him to start his own project. Now he is translating the popular “Death Note” into Chuvash, publishing new chapters on his Telegram channel “Chuvash Manga.

“Death Note” is a manga by Tsugumi Ohba, illustrated by Takeshi Obata, serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump from December 1, 2003, to May 15, 2006. According to a survey conducted in 2007 by the Japanese Ministry of Culture, it ranks 10th among the best manga of all time.

Yentimirov decided not to limit himself to comics: he started translating computer games and chose Minecraft as his first project. The amateur translator studied the game menu and found that, among others, Tatar and Bashkir languages were currently available. “But ours, Chuvash, is not. So I thought, why shouldn't I try and translate it,” he explains.

He worked alone on translating words and phrases for Minecraft, as he did with comics. His next goal is to include Chuvash in the language menu in the official version of the game through a cloudsourcing platform — cloud software used, among other things, for game localizations. To have the desired language in the game, words and phrases must be approved by the platform's proofreader. Yentimirov expects that proofreading will be done by this summer.

Yentimirov is also developing another project — creating Chuvash subtitles for popular films. When he shared this idea on his Telegram channel, other language speakers who wanted to join the project wrote to him. Currently, one of the volunteers is writing subtitles for short anime, and another has started translating films from the Harry Potter series. Videos with Chuvash subtitles will be published in a separate Telegram channel.

All his projects are non-commercial, he says, so he does not worry about copyright issues for the works he translates. As for his own rights as a translator, Yentimirov says he doesn't mind if someone wants to publish his work in other sources. “It helps to spread the content, and more people will be able to read manga in Chuvash,” he adds. Although the team does not monetize their work, they do not refuse support from subscribers: in the channel, content authors encourage leaving donations.

According to Yentimirov, there is currently quite a large demand for translated films, games, and books. He believes that people feel “much cozier and nicer reading in their native language,” and such content will help those studying Chuvash to immerse themselves in the language.

Interest in the Chuvash language in the republic has always existed, he believes, but “it seemed to be outside the modern world.” In his opinion, a new wave of Chuvash popularity began in 2021 and was promoted by local bloggers.

Recently, interest in native languages has intensified in some national republics of Russia. Channels and communities appear on various social media, helping not only to learn languages but also to use them in everyday life. For example, in Udmurtia, a self-published newspaper in the Udmurt language was launched in 2023. In the Syktyvkar “Revolt Center,” a club has been operating since 2023 where participants learn the Komi language through conversations, games, and songs. 

Languages are also being popularized by zine and comic authors. For example, the artist Altan Khaluun Darkhan from Buryatia released a zine entitled “Ulaalzay — the Flower of the Saranka,” in which they share information about the national culture through the story of their family.

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