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For example there is a video game series called LocoRoco, and in katakana it is spelt (ロコロコ) but the "ロ" character is supposed to be pronounced as "ro" so it sounds like "rokoroko". When translating something to English, when do you replace the "R" sound with a "L" sound?

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    Just for clarity on the terminology, this isn't a translation, if I'm understanding correctly. The game was originally Japanese and was called ロコロコ and the English title was then transliterated (as opposed to translated) as LocoRoco, yes? Or is it the case that the game has always had both titles from the beginning? As chosen by the original creators.
    – Leebo
    Jan 27 at 5:54
  • Oh? What is transliterated? So the game actually is called rokoroko, but they translated it differently in English?
    – Darunia
    Jan 27 at 5:56
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    Transliteration is transferring a word from one writing system to another. Translation would involve choosing an existing English word that captures the meaning of ロコロコ in Japanese. It seems to me whoever thought up LocoRoco probably just thought it sounded better to an English ear than RokoRoko.
    – Leebo
    Jan 27 at 5:59
  • oh cool thanks for explaining this to me!
    – Darunia
    Jan 27 at 6:03
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    The two English consonants are perceived to be allophones by a lot of Japanese speakers, which more or less means they converge on the same sound in Japanese. When you want such a sound represented in English or in another Latin-alphabet-based language, it is like a road splits into two and whichever you pick is totally opinion-based.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jan 27 at 6:13
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R is the default consonant to represent the sounds of ラリルレロ using the English alphabet. All the common romanization systems use only R.

The use of L is somewhat exceptional. The most common reason for using L instead of R is that the sound derived from, or is associated with, some Western word containing L. For example, リリアン in this franchise is translated as Lilian, not Ririan, because this リリ is clearly from English lily and it is an important motif in the story.

I could not find the etymology of ロコロコ on the net, but I guess either the original creator or someone from the translation team came up with the idea that ロコ can be associated with locomotion in English. This also explains why C is used instead of K to represent the コ sound. Please don't ask why they used L only for the first ロ. It is up to the translator. Especially in game localization, anything can happen at the discretion of translators, and it is even common to ignore Japanese names altogether (see this list of Pokémon names).

See also: Why do Japanese speakers have difficulty pronouncing "L"?

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  • I like how that answer makes mention of phonemes and the two sounds being allophones, but it is still highly inaccurate at best. "The only difference between the Japanese l and the Japanese r -- not the English r" There is no such thing called "the English r" or "the English l" or "the Japanese l". "r" and "l" are both letters, members of the Latin alphabet. "the English r is not flapped, but is rather a retroflex r" This is partially correct at best, because it really depends on the variety of English. There are English varieties where /r/ is pronounced very similarly to /r/ in Japanese.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jan 27 at 7:07
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    Locomotion is a possibility but it is a rarely used word. If I had to guess (and it is purely a guess) I'd think that it was used to suggest the Spanish meaning of loco, i.e. a bit mad. Jan 27 at 8:56

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