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Translation and Rewriting (Japanese-English)


Here I would like to put down a few general impressions that I gained from comparing my translation of the speech by the Japanese Vice Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Goji Sakamoto (Boao Forum for Asia, 24 April, 2004) with the official translation.

These impressions are reflections that I myself have come up with concerning my own translation technique and ability. In that sense, they may be of less relevance to people who do not suffer from my particular defects of translation and style, but I will put them down here in case someone finds them useful.

1. Transitions

One of the most notable differences was the handling of transitions. Time and again my translation lacks noticeable transition markers, by which I mean words or phrases indicating that the speaker/writer is changing the topic, introducing a new topic, or perhaps modifying or qualifying something said before. The official translation uses these quite freely and resorts to quite a variety of expressions.

2. Following the Japanese sentence structure

It is noticeable that my own translation is staid, sober prose that tends to follow the Japanese fairly closely. The official translation manages to come up with quite effective rhetorical devices that add force and vividness to the English. This is partly a difference between English and Japanese prose style. Unfortunately, English tends to be deadeningly prosaic under the influence of Japanese.

Slavishly following the structure of the original Japanese not only results in wooden prose, it can lead to a failure to emphasise those statements that need to be emphasised and de-emphasise those that need to be played down.

3. Variety in vocabulary

A similar caveat goes for vocabulary. Being tied to a few fixed equivalents in translating Japanese words leads to monotonous prose. While I would like to break away from this, inertia tends to win the day. The official translation, by using the services of an English native speaker for polishing manages to come up with that most sought-after feature of good English, variety.

Jargon and buzzwords, while denigrated by good stylists, can also be used to bring prose to life and make it relevant to the reader/listener.

If there is anything in common among these three points, it is the tendency to follow the Japanese too closely, whether in choice of sentence structures or choice of vocabulary. The use of a rewriter is possibly the very best way of bringing this problem into focus. A good translator should be able to depart from slavish adherence to the original and create a good translation without resorting to a rewriter. But in my case, the trend to follow the Japanese is just too strong. A comparison with the efforts of the rewriter show this fault up only too clearly.



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