Translating Ishigami's letters in 容疑者Xの献身 ('The Devotion of Suspect X') into Chinese
(How Liu Ziqian turned Ishigami from a misfit otaku into a possessive boyfriend)
8 September 2018 (latest update 29 Dec 2018)
In earlier posts, I looked at the letters that Ishigami, posing as a stalker, sent to Yasuko when she was seeing Kudo (工藤 kudō), how Ishigami utilises 'student translationese' in those letters to present himself as a socially inept, robotic, obsessive otaku, and how the English translation took liberties with the style and content of the letters to alter the portrayal of Ishigami's psychology and attitudes.
The book has also been translated into Chinese, raising the question: Has the translator managed to capture the tone of the letters (if at all), and if not, exactly what kind of Ishigami/stalker emerges from them?
As with English, most features of 'student translationese' are difficult or impossible to directly render in Chinese. The inappropriate personal pronouns and their insistent use cannot be replicated since Chinese has fixed personal pronouns in ubiquitous use — although they are more likely to be dropped than in English. Chinese does not explicitly mark politeness levels of verbs, and imperatives are not inherently rude. Chinese does have translationese from Western languages, but while sometimes subject to criticism this has largely been naturalised.
Consequently, while we will take note of how 'student translationese' is handled, for the most part we will focus on the wider features of style and how the stalker's "voice" is presented in translation.
In fact, the Chinese translator makes no attempt to render Ishigami's letters in translationese. Instead, she uses a literary style, a form of modern written Chinese that incorporates certain elements from the older literary language — pronouns, demonstratives, and other grammatical features — and exploits the resources of the writing system to achieve a polished, succinct, and elegant diction. It is second nature to educated Chinese, especially products of a literate higher education, to write in such a style, which is frequently employed for writing letters or more formal documents.
Despite a predilection for literary expressions, however, this modern style is not itself literary Chinese: it is based on the modern colloquial and freely includes, or to be more accurate, requires elements from ordinary spoken language. Grammatical particles of a non-literary nature, like 就 jiù 'just' and 才 cái 'only', and 了 le (past marker), are essential to this style, as are everyday expressions like 想想 xiǎng xiǎng 'have a think', all of which are found in Ishigami's letters. Such expressions have a more informal, natural, and livelier flavour than literary diction and are an essential part of modern prose.
In Ishigami's letters, this hybrid style results in a subtle contrast between 'cooler', 'more objective', 'more distant' prose, and segments where the cadences of everyday speech shine through, whether to add emphasis, make demands, or express attitudes. The differences between the two are not absolute (there are literary equivalents of words like 就 jiù) but there is a clear difference of tone.
A couple of difficulties in appraising the translation should be noted. One is interpreting the tone of voice of the letters, especially as they form a one-sided dialogue. In many cases we can only make a subjective judgement how they should be read. Secondly, while the reader knows that it was Ishigami who sent the letters, they were initially presented to the police as being from an anonymous stalker. This will subtly influence how they are interpreted.
On this page:
The first letterB. General comments
The second letter
The third letter
The fourth letter (a)
The fourth letter (b)
The fourth letter (c)
A. Point-by-point comparison
The first letter
The first letter points out Yasuko's undesirable behaviour (fancy clothes, heavy makeup; coming home late) and tells her to correct it. The Japanese original uses short declarative sentences with plain verb forms, including one imperative. Communication is one way, in the tone of a man telling his woman what to do.
'Recently, you apply your makeup very thickly, clothes are also gaudy. This is not like you, only simple and elegant attire suits you. Besides, your returning late is causing people concern. After finishing work you should return home immediately.'
Ishigami's criticisms of Yasuko sound more direct and haughtier than the Japanese original. Where the Japanese is niggling, the Chinese is almost pontificating.
- In criticising Yasuko's makeup, the rendition as 你的妆化得很浓 nǐ de zhuāng huà de hěn nóng 'you apply your makeup very thickly' is an unveiled accusation, differing from the Japanese in:
- Ignoring ようだ yō da 'appears to be', and
- Translating 少し sukoshi 'a little' as 很 hěn 'very, quite'.
- Like the Japanese, the concern about coming home late is couched in an impersonal style: 你的晚归也很令人在意 nǐ de wǎnguī yě hěn lìng rén zàiyì 'Your returning late also greatly concerns people'. While the delivery is similar, the heightened diction of the Chinese gives it considerably more gravitas than the homely 気になる ki ni naru 'is concerning'.
- 晚归 wǎnguī 'late return' is from the set written expression 早出晚归 zǎochū wǎnguī 'go out early come home late'.
- 很令人在意 hěn lìng rén zàiyì 'very much makes people concerned' is an impersonal expression from the written language that uses the literate causative form 令 lìng 'to cause'. This is actually a naturalised piece of translationese, a set style of expression that arose in order to handle adjectives from European languages on the pattern of 'impressive' ('which impresses people'), 'alarming' ('which alarms people'), 'interesting' ('which interests people'), etc.
On the other hand, Ishigami's instructions to Yasuko for improving her behaviour have a more colloquial feel.
- 就该 jiù gāi 'just should', which echoes speech, translates the familiar imperative なさい -nasai:
- 该 gāi means 'should'.
- 就 jiù, meaning something like 'just', is an emphatic adverbial that adds force to the statement.
- 才适合你 cái shìhé nǐ (Japanese: ...のほうがよく似合う ...no hō ga yoku niau '...suits you better') 'only [this] suits you'. This is the language of everyday life but the effect is more assertive than the Japanese original.
The Chinese consists of a sequence of short sentences showing Ishigami talking down to Yasuko. The portions criticising Yasuko adopt an impersonal tone. The portions telling her what to do use expressions from everyday speech. The total effect is somewhat "bossier" than the original Japanese.
The second letter:
The second letter attempts to engage with Yasuko, starting with a solicitous (almost wheedling) attempt to sound out what is happening. Ishigami/the stalker explains that he is trying to help and warns her not to trust other people. While the tone at the end becomes perceptibly stronger, Ishigami does not use an imperative. This may be the most natural-sounding of the four letters in Japanese.
'Do you have some worry? If you do, I hope that you will tell me without reservation. It's precisely for this that I ring you every night. I can give you many suggestions, other people you should not trust, also cannot trust, you should just listen to me.'
The first sentence is in a written style; the second in a neutral style.
- The written term 是否 shìfǒu 'have you not?' (colloquial equivalent: 是不是 shìbushì) is used to translate the relatively friendly Japanese expression あるんじゃないのか arun' ja nai no ka 'is there?'.
- 希望 xīwàng '(I) hope' is used to translate てほしい -te hoshii '(I) want you to'. This is phrased as a request, not a command, but is less inviting than the Japanese.
To explain his frequent phone calls, Ishigami uses the spoken-style 就是为了这个才 jiù shi wèile zhège cái 'it's precisely for this that'. This is the language of everyday life in Chinese and (in the context and depending on the intonation of the two versions) comes across as slightly stronger than the Japanese.
- 就是 jiù shi adds emphasis.
- 才 cái here is relatively colloquial and means 'only, just, actually'.
The strong advice 私のいうことだけを聞いていればいい Watashi no yū koto dake o kiite ireba ii 'you should listen to / do only what I tell you' is rendered as 你只要听我的话就好 nǐ zhǐ yào tīng wǒ de huà jiù hǎo 'you should just listen to / do what I say', losing the sense of だけ dake 'only' in the original. The style is colloquial and assertive.
- 只要 zhǐ yào 'only need'
- 的话 de huà 'if'.
- 就好 jiù hǎo '(emphatic) is fine'
The first and second sentences, tending towards a written style, lose the stalker's rather disingenuous attempt at intimacy in the Japanese. On the other hand, when he says why he rings every night, Ishigami uses a spoken expression that sounds more emphatic than the Japanese. The final section, also using emphatic spoken language, is similar in tone to the Japanese.
Overall, the second letter in Chinese sounds less caring and more domineering than the original. The Chinese largely loses the progression from solicitude to bossiness of the original.
The third letter:
The third letter abandons the previous chatty style, featuring tones of suspicion, menace, and anxiety as Ishigami raises doubts that Yasuko is cheating. He threatens that he will not forgive Yasuko if she betrays him and indicates darkly that he is her only protector.
The letter uses more formal expressions like のではないか no de wa nai ka 'aren't you?' (rather than んじゃないか n' ja nai ka) and finishes one clause with the relatively formal conjunction が ga 'but'. The letter contains a high concentration of 'translationese'.
'I have an ominous premonition, I worry that you might betray me. Although I believe this definitely cannot be possible, if there really is such a thing, I will definitely not forgive you. I am your only comrade-in-arms, only I can protect you.'
The first 'translationese'-style split sentence is:
Fukitsu na yokan ga suru.
'(I) have an ominous premonition.'
Anata ga watashi o uragitte iru no de wa nai ka, to yū mono da.
'It is that you may be betraying me.'
Wǒ yǒu búxiàng de yǔgǎn,
'I have an ominous premonition,'
wǒ dānxīn nǐ huì bèipàn wǒ.
'I worry that you might betray me.'
There are two main differences from the Japanese:
- というものだ to yū mono da 'it is that...' is omitted and 我担心 wǒ dānxīn 'I worry (that)...' is added to express the Japanese のではないか no de wa nai ka 'could it be that'.
- The Chinese changes the time of the feared betrayal from the past or present (裏切っている uragitte iru 'are/have been betraying me') to the present or future (会背叛我 huì bèipàn wǒ 'might/will betray me').
The section where Ishigami expresses trust, followed by a threat not to forgive if that trust is broken, and the illogical reason for this, are subtly altered.
- At 如果真有这种事 rúguǒ zhēn yǒu zhèzhǒng shì 'if there really is this kind of thing' (もしそうなら moshi sō nara 'if this is so'), the Chinese adds the extra word 真 zhēn 'really', increasing the vehemence of his words. 这种事 zhèzhǒng shì 'this kind of thing' is colloquial in tone and strengthens the impact.
- The awkward translationese expression 許さないだろう yurusanai darō 'will probably not forgive' is rendered as a strong, straightforward threat in Chinese: 我绝不会原谅 wǒ jué bú huì yuánliang
'I definitely won't/wouldn't forgive':
- 绝 jué meaning 'absolutely' or 'definitely' is not in the original Japanese.
- The auxiliary verb 会 huì 'will, may', while similar to だろう darō, is used for firm statements of possibility or ability. Speaking of one's own future actions, it is closer in nature to a commitment than だろう darō in Japanese.
- Ishigami's conclusion that he could not forgive Yasuko for a relationship with Kudō because he is her only ally is smoothed over. There are two main differences from the Japanese:
- The illogical connector なぜなら naze nara 'that's because' is omitted.
- 味方 mikata 'ally', having the sense of 'person who is on your side', is rendered as 战友 zhànyǒu 'comrade-in-arms'. Unlike the Japanese, this suggests solidarity between Ishigami and Yasuko. The stalker's logic — that the stalkee has no right to live life as she pleases — is muffled and transformed into an appeal to work together.
The third letter faithfully follows the contours of the Japanese but weeds out or ignores 'student translationese', making the language more logical and straightforward. The language is relatively vehement, including some spoken expressions which strengthen the impression of browbeating. At the point where Ishigami expresses confidence in Yasuko, then threatens what will happen if she is actually guilty, the Chinese reinforces the conditional by adding 真 zhēn 'really'.
One substantive difference is the translation of 味方 mikata 'ally', 'person on your side' as 战友 zhànyǒu 'comrade-in-arms', depicting a rather different relationship between Ishigami and Yasuko. Rather than just threatening to stop protecting Yasuko, the Chinese Ishigami cunningly appeals to their common cause.
The letter on Ishigami's computer
The fourth letter (on Ishigami's computer) is longer than the other three. Influenced by the intensity of emotion, it also has more varied sentence structures. The language features an honorific and uses である de aru, a more formal version of だ da.
In the first part, Ishigami reveals in a snarky way that he has identified Yasuko's suitor. He angrily asks the nature of their relationship and declares that a love relationship would be regarded as betrayal.
Anata ni kikitai. Kono dansei to wa dō yū naka na no ka.
Moshi ren'ai kankei ni aru to yū no nara, sore wa tonde mo nai uragiri kōi de aru.
I want to ask you. What is your relationship with this man?
If you say you are in a romantic relationship, that would be an outrageous act of betrayal.'
'I have found out what the origin of the person you often see is. I've specially taken photos, you should understand my meaning. I want to ask you: what is your relationship with this man? If it is a romantic relationship, then you have seriously betrayed me.'
For the first sentence, the Chinese uses typical written expressions:
- 已 yǐ 'already' instead of 已经 yǐjīng 'already'.
- The non-colloquial expression 和 hé 'with' instead of colloquial 跟 gēn 'with'.
- The literary interrogative pronoun 何 hé 'which, what', instead of vernacular 什么 shénme 'what, which'.
- 来历 láilì 'origin' as a translation of Japanese 素性 sujō 'background, identity'.
The resulting style is cool and formal.
Ishigami points out that she should realise this since he has taken photos. The Japanese is polite, but it is a condescending, sarcastic politeness. The Chinese sounds more menacing:
- 特地 tèdì 'specially' points out that Ishigami had to take special measures to reveal her transgressions.
- 你应该明白我的意思 nǐ yīnggāi míngbái wǒ de yìsi 'you should understand my meaning' is an expression from everyday life used when the speaker wishes to hint at but does not want to clearly spell out the implications of what was said. It can be used in veiled threats. In the context, Ishigami is noting darkly that he has caught Yasuko out.
The question about Yasuko's relationship with Kudō follows the Japanese in both tone and style. It starts with a spoken form typical of heated argument:
- 我想问你 Wǒ xiǎng wèn nǐ 'I want to ask you.'
The question itself slips back into a partly written style:
- 和 hé instead of colloquial 跟 gēn 'with'; 何 hé instead of colloquial 什么 shénme 'what?'.
- However, 这个 zhèige 'this' is in spoken style.
The final sentence, stating that a relationship with Kudō would be a serious betrayal, is a relatively straightforward translation with a hint of spoken language to convey extra expression:
- 那 nà 'then' is a spoken form used to follow on from conditionals.
The translated letter begins coldly but becomes increasingly vehement, reflecting the content.
Ishigami points out that he has identified Kudō in a completely formal, literary style. The language is cold and impersonal. Where Ishigami refers to the enclosed photos, the Chinese uses a reproachful and menacing expression reminiscent of ordinary life, unlike the Japanese original which uses a condescending honorific. The indignant tone in the last two sentences reproduces the tone of the Japanese.
The combination of cold written language and elements from everyday speech create a hostile, strongly worded paragraph that is close to the effect of the Japanese.
Ishigami continues by pointing out in angry language what he has done for Yasuko. He declares that he is entitled to tell her what to do and proceeds to tell her bluntly to break up with Kudō. He then uses a slightly roundabout expression to threaten that Kudō will bear the brunt of his anger if she doesn't.
Watashi wa anata ni meijiru kenri ga aru. Sokkoku, kono dansei to wakare-nasai.
Samonakuba, watashi no ikari wa kono dansei ni mukau koto ni naru.
I have the right to give you orders. Break up with this man immediately.
If you don't, my anger will be directed at this man.'
'I want to ask you: you also think, what have I done for you? I have the right to give you orders; break up with this man immediately. Otherwise my flames of anger will burn towards him.'
The colloquial tone of Ishigami's question: ...と思っているのだ。 ... to omotte iru no da 'What do you think ...?' — meaning 'Don't you know ...!' is translated with a double-barrelled expression:
- 我想问你 wǒ xiǎng wèn nǐ 'I want to ask you', a typical expression found in ordinary conversation not out of place in arguments or heated discussions.
- 你也想想 nǐ yě xiǎngxiǎng 'You think (about it) too' urges the addressee to reflect on herself.
The translation conveys the stalker's assertion of his right to tell Yasuko what to do and his command to break up in a blunt but neutral style. To render the Japanese familiar imperative -なさい, the Chinese uses a plain imperative:
- 立刻...分手 lìkè ... fēnshǒu 'break up... immediately'.
The threat that the stalker's anger would go in the direction of Kudō is expressed dramatically in a literary style. Whereas the Japanese simply consists of two intransitives (向かうことになる mukau koto ni naru literally 'come to go in the direction of') to make the sentence sound threateningly impersonal, the translator renders the content in a more exaggerated style:
- 怒火烧 nùhuǒ shāo 'flames of anger (will) burn'.
- 向 xiàng 'in the direction of'. This post-verbal use of 向 xiàng is typical of the written language.
The translation plays up the intensity of Ishigami's potential anger and loses the linguistically impersonal nature of the threat.
The translator uses a mixture of literary and spoken language to highlight the strong feelings of the paragraph. At one point phrases from everyday speech are doubled up to capture the argumentative tone of the Japanese. At another an exaggerated literary-style translation captures the stalker's impersonally delivered threat, resulting in an overdramatic tone where the Japanese is, if anything, less direct.
Ishigami concludes the letter by declaring that he is ready and able to kill Kudō. He repeats his threat to get revenge if Yasuko is in a physical relationship with him.
Kurikaesu ga, moshi kono dansei to danjo no kankei ni aru no naraba, sonna uragiri o watashi wa yurusanai. Kanarazu hōfuku suru darō.
I repeat: if you are in a physical relationship with this man, I will not forgive that kind of betrayal. I will probably definitely get revenge.'
'To me, making this person experience the same fate as Togashi is extremely easy. I'm already psychologically prepared, and I have the way to do it. I repeat one more time, if you have physical relations with this person, I definitely will not allow this kind of betrayal. I will certainly get revenge.'
In Chinese, virtually the entire section is in a literary or written style.
- Typical elements include:
- Repeated use of literary 此 cǐ 'this' instead of colloquial 这个 zhège 'this'.
- The written form 相同 xiāngtóng 'the same' instead of colloquial 一样 yíyàng 'the same'.
- The written/literary expression 对我而言 duì wǒ ér yán 'for me' instead of colloquial 对我来说 duì wǒ lái shuō 'for me'.
- The written/literary idiom 易如反掌 yì rú fǎn zhǎng 'easy as turning over my palm' instead of colloquial 很容易 hěn róngyì 'very easy'.
- The written form 已 yǐ 'already' instead of spoken 已经 yǐjīng 'already'.
- The written form 和 hé 'with' instead of colloquial 跟 gēn 'with'.
Where the Japanese uses the peculiar sequence of 許さない yurusanai 'will not forgive', followed by 必ず報復するだろう kanarazu hōfuku suru darō 'definitely probably get revenge', at both places the Chinese is a direct threat: 我绝不允许 ... 我一定会报复 wǒ jué bu yúnxǔ ... Wǒ yídìng huì bàofu. 'I definitely will not allow ... I will certainly get revenge'.
- 許さない yurusanai 'will not forgive' is rendered as 绝不允许 jué bu yúnxǔ meaning 'will absolutely (or definitely) not allow', with 绝 jué 'absolutely/definitely' added for emphasis. (Note that the Chinese uses 允许 yúnxǔ rather than 原谅 yuánliàng 'forgive' for 許す yurusu 'forgive' at this sentence, indicating a willingness to take action.)
- 必ず報復するだろう kanarazu hōfuku suru darō 'definitely probably get revenge' is rendered as 一定会报复 yídìng huì bàofu 'definitely will get revenge'. While 会 huì 'will' appears be a rendition of だろう darō, the two are not equivalent. The Chinese is natural, normal usage. The Japanese is strange and found only in translationese.
The use of 一定会 yídìng huì 'definitely may, will' in the second sentence is not appreciably weaker than 绝不 jué bù 'absolutely won't' in the first. The result is a firm and straightforward threat in both sentences in Chinese.
This section is almost completely translated in a literary style. The withdrawal into cold impersonality is entirely appropriate to the content. Ishigami is no longer haranguing Yasuko; he is coldly threatening to eliminate her suitor and take revenge on her. The Chinese also eliminates vestiges of translationese in the original to make the threats more direct.
B. General comments on the Chinese translation
As we saw in our earlier post, the English translation takes a number of 'creative liberties' with the original. By contrast, there are few glaring errors or drastic alterations of meaning in the Chinese. Nevertheless, the Chinese does impart a subtly different colouring to the letters. This is partly due to the translator's stylistic decision to render the letters in a literary mode, interspersed with ordinary speech.
Ishigami's voice in the Japanese original, while heavily coloured by 'student translationese', shows clear variation between letters, from the quiet but controlling tone of the first letter; the reaching out and reassuring tone of the second; the sudden harsher language of the third; and the anger and unrestrained threats of the fourth. Translationese is most noticeable in the last two letters, where it is used to oppressive effect.
The use of literary register from the outset in the Chinese muffles the changes in tone between the letters. The literary register is used to convey Ishigami's displeasure at Yasuko's attire and late hours (where the Japanese Ishigami is more low key but annoying), to sound Yasuko out on the changes in her behaviour (where the Japanese is disingenuously sympathetic), to express alarm at the possibility of betrayal (where the Japanese Ishigami shows strong signs of upset), and of course to express Ishigami's rage in the final letter. It is only at this final letter that this literary style could really be said to reproduce the effect of translationese in the original.
The spoken segments, on the other hand, are more heated in the Chinese. They are reminiscent of the language used in discussions and arguments in everyday life. Whether telling Yasuko what to wear and what times to keep (where the Chinese is more direct and overbearing than the original), explaining why he phones every night, confronting her with questions, or reminding her what he has done, the language is emphatic, familiar, and domineering. We can hear Ishigami haranguing Yasuko. The language is easily imagined as a lecture from a family member or boyfriend.
With its two styles, the Chinese translation arguably simplifies and amplifies the tone of the letters, making them slightly less nuanced and slightly more strident than the original. The letters seem to be uniformly browbeating Yasuko into bowing to the stalker's wishes.
Coming from a stalker, the letters sound presumptuous and intrusive, the kind of attitude that a stalker might be expected to have. Coming from Ishigami, on the other hand, they seem to show Ishigami dropping his mask as he tells Yasuko in no uncertain terms what he thinks. What lies behind the mask is not the social awkwardness of the otaku, nor the frantic anguish of the distraught lover, but the possessive attitude of the controlling boyfriend, a cultural type that is largely taken for granted in China. This, too, is a kind of love, but it is a different kind of love from that found in the Japanese and the English.