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The objective of this document is to explain some of the unique problems encountered when translating from English into Japanese, and to introduce the approach taken by Passage Co., Ltd. in dealing with these problems.
When translating into Japanese, the translator is faced with unique challenges. The manner in which Japanese sentences are put together differs radically from that of Indo-European languages -- so much so that grammatical terms used to describe languages such as English have little relevance to Japanese. For example:
The problems encountered do not end there.
For most languages, the goals of translation are to maintain equivalence between the source document and the translation in the following areas:
The problem is that it is usually not desirable, and often not possible, to achieve the third, fourth, and (sometimes) fifth objectives when translating from English into Japanese.
We have already mentioned some of the issues that stand in the way of structural invariance. The problem with lexical equivalence is that translations attempting to preserve one-to-one correspondence between English and Japanese words are likely to read as gibberish. As an example, take the following English sentence:
Computers have not yet been applied to all the uses that will be found for them.
It is possible to produce a collection of Japanese word equivalents to this that have the form of a grammatical sentence. It might go as follows (with color used to show equivalence to the original English):
In producing this, the translator has:
The problem with this translation is that it makes no sense in Japanese. A sense of how meaningless the translation is can be gotten by looking at this reverse translation, which was rendered by a popular translation program.
Computer is applied to no use which in the future is found for the reason yet.
In order to achieve semantic and pragmatic equivalence with the original English, the translator has to sacrifice lexical equivalence, as well as structural equivalence. Here is a Japanese translation of the above that might be produced by a more competent translator. Again, colors are used to indicate lexical equivalents between the Japanese and the original English.
Here, lexical equivalence between the source text and translation is reduced to just three words, and even one of those ("applied") has been transformed by changing it from a noun into an adjective.
Once again, reverse translation gives a sense of the nature of the transformation, with a result that reads something like the:
What all of this points to is that Japanese translators have to resort to a different mix of strategies than European translators.
European translators generally use a strategy consisting of two steps:
Japanese translators generally must resort to a more complex process.
Although European translators sometimes use the latter approach, because of the vastly different nature of English and Japanese, the Japanese translator must take the second approach much more frequently.
Given the challenges, even the most competent translators usually cannot produce a fully fluent translation in a single pass. In practical terms, the best we can expect is that they will produce a translation that is essentially free of errors, and which provides a solid base for review and revision. This is the work of our reviewers. They do it well, and make a better job of it than can be achieved by the translators themselves.