Japanese and English

Subject: Japanese and English
From: DIGEST Deborah Snavely <dsnavely -at- SAVI -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 8 Aug 1997 09:03:58 PST

Jim Bauman wrote:

<<To see an interesting letter to the editor on this topic, you can read
Frank Duffy's in the June,1997, STC INTERCOM magazine
on page 3. Frank is a member of the Tokyo chapter.

One snippet states, "...one might assume that Japanese-language technical
documents are concise, minimal, of the essence. Far from it.">>

A Japanese technical editor and copy-editor shared her insight with a seminar I
attended this week. In a nutshell, she said that the Japanese language itself is
intrinsically vague. Naturally, then, direct Japanese-to-English translations
use circumlocutions and other vaguenesses to provide accurate translation.

It's my own speculation (linguistics research, anyone?) that the language
reflects the culture. And the root English -- Anglo-Saxon -- uses short, blunt
words that call a spade a spade and "tells it bang":
Subject verbs object.
By contrast, historical and modern reports of Japanese culture describe an
elaborate and intricate dance of behaviors and language as complex as a tea
ceremony. If language reflects the culture, this presents a real challenge for
international technical writers. If you wrote as straightforwardly in Japanese
as in English, would it offend a Japanese audience by appearing to "command"
them to do something? In some Near Eastern cultures, coming straight to the
point is rude to the point of insult.

Deborah Snavely
Lead Technical Writer
Publications, Software & Systems
Savi Technology / a Raytheon TI Systems company
dsnavely -at- savi -dot- com

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