牧野成一 (Makino Seiichi): 日本語を翻訳するということ - 失われるもの、残るもの
Published by 中公新書 (Chuko Shinsho), June 25, 2018
Price: 780 yen plus tax
An intriguing and challenging interrogation of aspects of the Japanese language and translation by Seiichi Makino, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and Emeritus Professor of Japanese and Linguistics at Princeton University. Perhaps better known to many as the coauthor (with Michio Tsutsui) of dictionaries of basic, intermediate, and advanced Japanese grammar, Professor Makino has also published several other works on Japanese and linguistics in his almost 30-year distinguished career at Princeton.
Makino gives two aims for writing this book. He seeks to show that however good a translation might be, there are some things that cannot be conveyed from one language to another (in this case, from Japanese to English), and to reveal and explore through translation the profound differences between Japanese and English.
I have to confess that I haven’t completely understood all the author’s points on the first pass through. It’ll need at least another close reading to absorb everything. Here’s a little taste of what you’ll find in 日本語を翻訳するということ - 失われるもの、残るもの.
What do we mean by translation? It includes indirect translation, adaptation, and interpretation.
Is it even possible to translate poetry? Can we translate Japanese onomatopoeia and mimetic words into English? Do palatal and nasal sounds evoke a sense of psychological distance?
Four writing systems. The softness of hiragana. Uchi or Soto? Genderedness of katakana. Usage as a novel-writing technique. Can we translate the punctuation of the source text into the target language? Writing directions: horizontal and vertical.
Can we translate metaphors? Similes. Metaphors and religion. Personification. Expressing empathy. English abhors personification. Synecdoche and metonymy. Translation of creative metaphors.
Present tense in past-tense narratives. Japanese has two just tenses: present and past. Stream of consciousness in the present tense. The author Hideo Levy and tense.
Verb and noun number Japanese language. What do we mean by 無数? Hints can be found in haiku paintings. The meaning of the plural marker タチand empathy. Is empathy just for humans? Plural nouns in English.
The audience for communication. Soliloquy of remembrance. Focus on the right to speak. Modality and ウチ/ソト forms.
Japanese favors the passive; English favors the active voice. Spontaneous intransitive verbs can’t be used for the passive voice. The voice of the spontaneous state. Spontaneous verbs in English. The potential form. The がand をpotential forms.
The Japanese “style” in translation. Repetition and translation. Is redundancy a negative or positive? To omit or repeat, that is the question. Repetition is analog, omission is digital. Interpreting white spaces. Rhythm and repetition. Repetition in English. Soseki’s unnatural Japanese . Common ground between Soseki and Murakami. Haruki Murakami’s tactic.