TIM BUNTING

KIWI YAMABUSHI

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Can we please stop ‘translating’ Japanese

pensive ethnic man listening to answer in paper cup phone

Those who have any experience dealing with bringing Japanese words into English should be able to relate. We all know that Japanese and English are linguistically very far apart, and that there are many times when things simply don’t have an English equivalent. That’s a story for another time.

I’m talking about the amazing ability Japanese people have to create extremely long-winded sentences that people seem to have no complaints about, the sorts of sentences that combine multiple clauses into one mega sentence that if translated into English could easily be three or even more sentences, you know the ones I mean, right?

I’m also talking about uniquely Japanese concepts that Japanese people assume non-Japanese people know.

Edo period, anyone?

Simply translating things is not enough. Not only is it tough to read, at times it also requires an encyclopedia. When we think about the aims of translating in the first place, of giving speakers of other languages the ability to understand things from an entirely different culture, then it should be obvious translation alone is insufficient.

What we need is someone with an innate knowledge of at least one of the cultures, as well as domain knowledge, coupled with the pure ability to write. Achieve this, and we’re on the right path to building greater intercultural understanding.

Which is what we’re after, no?

As a translator, this is your permission to add extra knowledge you deem necessary. It’s also your permission to. Cut. Sentences. Up. If they run too long.

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

tim@timbunting.com

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