Re: Japanese and English

Subject: Re: Japanese and English
From: "Stephen A. Carter" <hticn -at- GOL -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 00:47:44 +0900

In article <199708091355 -dot- WAA18451 -at- gol1 -dot- gol -dot- com>,
Stephen Forrest wrote:
>At 12:45 PM 8/9/97 +0900,Stephen Carter wrote:
>>Bravo! This is *exactly* the way it is. Much of my own work is
>>Japanese-to-English translation of patent documentation in the field
>>of automotive electronics. I have yet to see anything "intrinsically
>>vague" about the Japanese language.

>I worked for an American subsidiary of a Japanese company, and we had many
>poorly translated documents to deal with. Fortunately, my American boss knew
>Japanese, and he could usually go back to the original to clear up difficult

You had problems with bad English translations that were cleared up
by going back to the original Japanese texts. Where's the vagueness?

>He said one of the problems with translating from Japanese is that
>they don't have all the conditional tenses that we have, so things like, "If
>the conditions are such-and-so...," or, "This would be the case if...," are
>difficult to translate going from English to Japanese.

Well, you're right that there's no one-to-one mapping of Japanese
and English conditionals. In some cases Japanese may make
distinctions that English normally doesn't (but can, when necessary),
and vice versa. That said, the two fragmentary examples you give
aren't at all difficult to translate into Japanese, though the actual
translations may be different depending on what is said in the missing
parts of these sentences. But this is a matter of structual
differences between the two languages, not of any inherent vagueness
in one or the other.

>Going the other way,
>they tend to translate things that are in fact conditional as a complicated
>series of declarative sentences.

Not true. In 14 years as a professional translator I've never had to
translate any Japanese conditional as a complicated series of
declarative sentences in English. (But even if this *were* true --
which it definitely isn't -- wouldn't it be evidence of English being
too clumsy and vague to deal adequately with what is expressed clearly
and succinctly in Japanese?)

Since your boss was able to correct the English translations by going
back to the Japanese originals, it seems to me that the difficulties
you had weren't due to any "intrinsic vagueness" of Japanese, but to
translators that were asked to translate materials without enough
context, or were translating into an imperfectly grasped second
language, or were just plain incompetent.

>Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

Stephen A. Carter High-Tech Information Center Nagoya, Ltd.
<mailto:scarter -at- hticn -dot- com> Nagoya, Japan
PGP key ID: 0x59B4F7AD * Team OS/2 *

TECHWR-L (Technical Communication) List Information: To send a message
to 2500+ readers, e-mail to TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU -dot- Send commands
Search the archives at or search and
browse the archives at

Previous by Author: Re: Japanese and English
Next by Author: Re: Middle English
Previous by Thread: Re: Japanese and English
Next by Thread: Re: Japanese and English

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads