Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Issues in Translating Common Japanese Phrases

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Issues in Translating Common Japanese Phrases

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. The objective of this paper is to explain some of the unique problems encountered when translating useful Japanese phrases. Sometimes even the finest translators come up against words that defy translation. Many languages include words that do not have a simple counterpart in another language. When translators come across such a word, they usually describe it so that it makes sense in the target language. But some words pose more difficulty than others due to interesting cultural differences. When translating from Japanese, the translator is faced with unique challenges.

Keywords: common phrase; Japanese; language; untranslatable words

All languages are influenced by culture and to some extent culture is influenced by language. In order to cope with the challenges of "untranslatable" words, it is important to acknowledge cultural difference, which strongly influences our understanding of foreign languages. This special relationship between language and culture is central to any good translation and is particularly important when translating Japanese into English and vice versa. In dealing with languages so far apart as Japanese, the translators cannot of course be literal in the strict sense, and in their search not so much for equivalent words as for words which produce equivalent effects, the translators are faced with unique challenges. English, as it is written these days, is too clean-cut, too light-hearted, and it is simply incapable of reproducing Japanese phrases. When the languages are so very different, when the cultural contexts also are very different, and, finally, when literary standards are really much further apart than we sometimes like to admit, perhaps the translator must have the kind of freedom of expression which, though purporting to translation, amounts in fact to explanation.

In Japanese, when you finish introducing yourself to somebody, you say yoroshiku onegai shimasu (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) This is a greeting that people use a lot, especially at the beginning of a new relationship. In English, you might finish your self-introduction by saying something like "pleased to meet you," but this is not the meaning of the Japanese phrase. Yoroshiku literally means "well" or "properly," and onegai shimasu means "please." Some have translated this roughly as "please look kindly upon me" but of course this is inappropriate for most translations. When you have to introduce yourself, the phrase yoroshiku onegai shimasu can be translated by "please treat me well/take care of me," "be kind to me" or "let's have a good relationship." As a new member in a group, you will say this to people you met, and they'll say it back to you. When you start a project and you need to ask people to work with you on it, you'll say this phrase with the meaning "let's work happily together," "I'm counting on you" or "let's have a good relationship." Depending on the situations, it could mean "please remember me," "please take care of it," "I'll leave it to you," "hope we can get along well," "please give someone my regards." Yoroshiku is the casual version of yoroshiku onegai shimasu used among friends, and is like a magic phrase that softens requests, expresses gratitude, opens doors and makes everybody feel good.

Another "magic" phrase is otsukaresama or more politely, otsukaresama desu or otsukaresama deshita (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) Tsukare means "tired," and the o and sama make the word more polite. Taken literally, otsukaresama can be translated "a tired person." This is a polite way to acknowledge someone else's tiredness. Co-workers often say this to each other. It can also be used as a generic way of saying goodbye at the end of a working day, or after a big effort at something, or just as a general sort of greeting throughout the day instead of konnichi (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) "hello" or sayönara (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted. …

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