A Proposal for the Creation of a New Translation Theory between Japanese and English by a Partial and Selective Union between Conventional Translation Theory and so-called Technical English Writing

Paper presented at the FIT Fourth Asian Translators' Forum
at Tsinghua University on October 28 – 30, 2004

by Chuichi Kamei (亀井忠一)

  In the realm of business, scientific and technical Japanese-English translation in Japan, so-called technical English writing is in fashion. This theory was first developed by some American scholars as a guide for writing business and technical documents such as technical specifications, manuals, technical papers, business reports and letters. Subsequently, some Japanese corporations engaged in international trade and some Japanese scholars realized the utility of this theory for improving their English documents. It spread quickly throughout Japan, because most ordinary Japanese who are not professional writers are not trained sufficiently in the art of writing clearly and logically during their school days and many original Japanese texts are written poorly.
     Technical English writing theory teaches how to write logically in a correct order and sometimes requires a complete overhaul or modification of the construction of the original text. This and some other principles of technical English writing theory contradict the conventional translation theory advocated by most past and current Western and Japanese translators and also the actual translation of all or nearly all the official documents of the Japanese government and other international organizations including those affiliated with the United Nations. This is the cause of confusion among many novice Japanese translators and students of translation in Japan.
     I would like to show some examples of Japanese-English translations done by such Japanese translators.
     The following is a paragraph of one of the regulations of a certain semi-official Japanese association concerned with investment funds and a translation into English done by such a Japanese translator.


Calculation of NAV (Net Assets Value)
    The Company shall define that a NAV is the dollar value of one share of a fund determined by taking the total assets of a fund, subtracting the total liabilities, and dividing by the total number of shares outstanding. The total assets and the total liabilities (consisting of domestic securities, domestic futures contracts and other financial instruments in Japanese yen) shall be evaluated at the current market prices at the time of calculation, i.e., those that are described in the general ledger of the fund should be increased or decreased by appraisal profits or losses, respectively. In this process, assets and liabilities in foreign currencies should be evaluated in the same manner.

     I would like to point out that, as the beginning of the regulations of a Japanese semi-official association concerned with investment funds, these regulations have a character similar to that of a law, and therefore the whole text must be translated accurately and faithfully. 
     Putting aside the question of terminology, I believe that anyone having read this translated text would have an impression that it is understandable at least until the middle of the second sentence, but when you read; "i.e., those that are described in the general ledger of the fund should be increased or…," you may feel that this translation is a bit awkward in terms of its grammatical construction. No, far from being a bit awkward, the whole translation is inaccurate and unfaithful, and the translator keeps on translating the rest of the document in a similar way, although there are some paragraphs translated correctly here and there.
     The Japanese text above can be translated as follows:

Calculation of the NAV
    For the calculation of net assets value (NAV) of a unit, a sum obtained by deducting the total liabilities from the total assets entered in the ledger of trust account on the date of calculation shall be increased or decreased by the profit or loss from the valuation of domestic securities and the profit or loss from valuation of domestic futures transactions and, in the case of a securities investment fund for investing in assets denominated in foreign currencies, by the profit and loss from the valuation of the foreign investment account and the profit and loss from the valuation of foreign exchange transactions, and the resultant sum shall be divided by the number of residual units of the day. The quotient of this calculation shall be the NAV of a unit.

     This latter translation is based on a translation theory described at the end of this paper. I hope you can see the difference. The translator of the first translation tried to simplify the construction of his English translation by splitting the whole original text into three separate sentences and by filling the lacunae in the first sentence by providing additional information in the second and the third sentences. But the translator of the first translation failed in his attempt, because the second and the third sentences do not convey clearly, accurately and faithfully the information contained in the original text. In addition, the fragmentation of the original text into three separate and inconsistent sentences makes the whole translation difficult to understand and incoherent. Thus, the first English translation fails to reflect correctly the flow of thought underlying the entire original text.
     I believe that the translator of the first translation is guided by a set of rules of English writing called "Technical English writing." 
One of such rules is that sentences should be short. 
     Mr. Hideki Kataoka(片岡英樹)wrote on page 108 of his book entitledテクニカル・ライティングの50のルール "Fifty Rules of Technical Writing" as follows:

ルール44. 長い文章は15から20語の短い文に分割する。
読み手は、読みやすさ(簡潔さ)を好むので、長いセンテンスあるいは長いパラグラフは短く、理解しやすい単位に分割することが必要である。50から60語のセンテンスは、そのセンテンスを2つの短いセンテンスに分割することである。そのため、通常よく行われる方法は、接続詞(because, and, or, so等)でつながった長い複文をまず見つけ、次に接続詞で分離することによって短文を作るやり方である。

Rule 44. Long sentences should be split into short ones of 15 – 20 words.
     It is not rare to find sentences of 40 words or more or lasting over several pages in technical writings. It may be necessary to write with such care to express an idea (particularly in legal and patent documents). In most cases, however, it is unnecessary.
    Because of the preference of readers for readability (conciseness), it is necessary to divide long sentences or long paragraphs into understandable units. In other words, sentences consisting of 50 – 60 words should be split into two shorter sentences. A method commonly used for this purpose is to find compound sentences connected by conjunctions (because, and, or, so and the like) and then separate them into short sentences beginning with these conjunctions.
     Another method is to separate the main point from the supporting elements to form two or more separate sentences.

     It is clear that this rule of technical English writing served as the basis of the first translation shown above.

     There are other rules that may complicate the process of translation. One of them is the rule on paragraphing, namely, that paragraphs should be arranged in one of the following orders: general to specific, chronological order of description, space arrangement, listing order and importance. Another important rule is that of one topic for each paragraph. The strict application of these rules in the translation of Japanese documents into English often results in important modifications or rather a deviation from the structure of the original Japanese texts.

    The following is an example of such modification of the structure of the original Japanese text in the process of translation into English.

(1) できるだけ他社に先駆けて、中国現地企業として根を下ろすこと(投資規模の大小を問わず)
(2) 事業許可を早く抑えること

 Business in China, particularly in Shanghai, appears to be promising for foreign ventures because of the large-scale urban development, rapid economic growth, and huge potential market in the country. However, signs of strain caused by such rapid economic development in the old socialistic regime are appearing throughout society. In particular, the various economic and legal systems lag far behind those in Japan and other developed countries, frequently causing embarrassment to foreign ventures in China.

Nevertheless, we should recognize that this delayed development of the economic systems has been of benefit to enterprises that entered this country in the early stages ―― unique benefits not seen in other countries.

In spite of the rapid economic growth, Chinese society still suffers from a total lack of information, so the Chinese do not evaluate enterprises by how well they are known overseas. Rather, they evaluate enterprises and accordingly the reliability of their products, by how early they based themselves in China. This is why a small enterprise can compete with larger enterprises on an even basis.

We should remember that China, which is now opening its market, intends to do so within the framework of its socialistic economy, which means restricted openness. Foreign people, observing the fast pace of economic development of China, may believe that Chinese society is rapidly opening up, but once it has reached a certain degree of openness, China will surely return to the age of selection and restriction. This can be inferred from the fact that business in China are controlled by an extensive official authorization system such as does not exist in other countries.

Based on the above, the following two points are crucially important for business in China:

(1) To become established as a local enterprise as early as possible before competitors (irrespective of the size of investment).
(2) To acquire a business permit as soon as possible. 

    I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the third paragraph of the original Japanese text has been moved to the fourth paragraph in the translated English text.

     I regret that, because of the time limit imposed, I am obliged to omit examples of other cases of such deviation in Japanese-English translation. But I would like to quote here an extract of an article of Mr. Ken Sakai, President of Pacific Dreams, Inc., a translation company based in Salem, Oregon, U.S.A. published in the summer 2003 issue of the JLD Times, a quarterly publication of the Japanese Language Division of the American Translators Association.

Direct Translation vs. Meaning-based Translation

(First half of the article omitted)
     In Japan, there are a number of vocational schools and correspondence courses for the study of translation. Sometimes graduates of these programs apply for jobs in my company. At Pacific Dreams, Inc., we screen all job applicants with the same sample translation test in order to determine their ability level. I have been surprised and dismayed to discover that applicants who have graduated with top marks from various translation schools and courses seem the mostly likely to live by the equation "translation = meaning-based translation," and they come up with translations very much opposed to what I had in mind. This leads me to imagine that such translation schools emphasize the difference in Japanese and English composition and teach students to radically alter the order of texts during the translation process. I suppose that this sort of method makes for better flavor when translating literary works and the like, but where technical documents and manuals are concerned, I feel that it serves to macerate the logic and thought process of the author and obscure the author's actual intent.
     The goal of the translation process is to faithfully re-express in a different language what the author wrote in the source text. In other words, it is unforgivable for a translator to unilaterally change the original text, over-emphasize certain meanings, or jumble up the logic. Sometimes people mistakenly interpret the goal of the translation process, resulting in the absurd misconception that translators who can produce meaning-based translations have a high degree of skill. If a translated text comes out much more well written than the original text, it can hardly be said that the translator has produced a faithful translation. However, in reality, when a client is expecting a well-written translated text, the prospect of disappointing the client and the issue of customer relation can create something of a dilemma. 
(The last paragraph is omitted.)

    I must add that there has been no objection to the opinion expressed in this article since its publication.

    And now, I would like to examine the definition of "translation" according to the conventional theory of translation. For this purpose, I have made extensive research on the history of translation and translation theories worldwide and in Japan from ancient times to today. The eminent translators, authors, linguists and scholars whose works I have examined include Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.E.), Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus c. 347 – 419/420), Martin Luther (1483 – 1546), John Dryden (1631 – 1700), Charles Batteux (1715 – 1780), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), Donald Keene, Edward Seidensticker, Arthur Waley, Noam Chomsky, Eugene Nida, Gerry Peters, Geral J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw and Walter E. Oliu (Handbook of Technical Writing), Tsubouchi Shoyo (坪内逍遙)、Futabatei Shimei (二葉亭四迷)、Mori Ohgai(森鴎外)、Nogami Toyoichiro (野上豊一郎)、Kawamori Kozo (河盛好蔵)、Betsumiya Sadatoku (別宮貞徳)、Itoh Sei (伊藤整)、Mori Tohru(森徹)、Nishiyama Sen(西山千)、Takasaki Eiichiro(高崎栄一郎)、Ken Sakai(酒井謙吉)、Mochizuki Minoru(望月稔)、Kataoka Hideki(片岡英樹)、Ogawa Tomoki(小川智樹)、Tsujitani Shinichiro(辻谷真一郎)、Itagaki Shimpei(板垣新平)and Machida Ken(町田健).

     Because of the time limit imposed, it is impossible to describe individually the works and opinion of these translators, authors and scholars. However, I believe that the theory of John Dryden supplemented and reinforced by the modern linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky and Eugene Nida represents the average opinion of an overwhelming majority of them. In fact, an analysis of their opinions and actual works shows that ____ percent (___%) of the total population are in favor of the conventional translation theory.

     John Dryden (1631 – 1700) was a predominant English literary figure of the day, poet, dramatist, translator and critic. His influence on English literature for the next century or two was massive, and his pronouncements on translation are often cited as the first systematic theory of translation in the West. His theory of translation can be summarized as follows:
(1)  There are three ways of translation.  
    (a) One is metaphrase, or turning an author word to word. This is also called literal translation or verbal version (直訳).
    (b) The second way is paraphrase, or translation with latitude (意訳).
    (c) And the third way is imitation (翻案). 
    The best way for learning translation is the midpoint between metaphrase and paraphrase, but for appreciating translation, literal translation and imitation should be avoided and the maximum weight should be placed on paraphrase. 
    In imitation, the translator assumes the liberty, not only to vary from the words and sense, but to forsake both as he sees occasion; and, taking only some general hints from the original, to run divisions on the ground-work, as he pleases. Imitation is only for someone particularly endowed with the genius for specific works and for specific purposes. 
(2)  The translator should share the expressions, thought and spirit of the author. He should translate in the way that the author would have written if the latter were able to freely express himself in the target language of the translation. He also should translate by going back to the era of the author and should not express his subjective views in translation.
(3)  Translation should be a process of faithfully communicating the specific expression, meaning, intent and spirit of the source text in the target language, and should not be that of simply replacing the words of the source text with particular words.
(4)  The qualification of a translator, worth reading, must be a mastery of the language he translates out of, and the language he translates into. A translator who would write with the force or spirit of the original must never dwell on the words of his author. He ought to possess himself entirely, and perfectly comprehend the genius and sense of his author, the nature of the subject, and the terms of the art or subject treated of; and then he will express himself as justly, and with as much life, as if he wrote an original; whereas, he who copies word for word, loses all the spirit in the tedious transfusion.
(5)  The translator should choose the works of authors suited to his character for translation, and should attempt no modifications surpassing the author by overestimating his own abilities.

     Now, let us jump to two modern linguists, Noam Chomsky and Eugene Nida.

     Noam Chomsky, born in 1928, has been a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1961 and is the creator of so-called "transformational generative grammar(変形生成文法)." The term "transformational generative grammar" refers to a process of translation that essentially consists of analyzing and dividing the source text into various elements, transforming and regenerating an equivalent text in the target language. Chomsky argues in this theoretical system that behind the superficial appearance of a text there is a substance called "deep structure(深層構造)." The theoretical core of Chomsky's linguistics is an attempt at universal grammar  (普遍文法),  a systematic description of the structural characteristics of languages in general, by referring to the linguistic intuition of mother tongue speakers. For this purpose, he investigated the common features of all the languages of the world based on an analytical assumption of setting the linguistic intuitions of mother tongue speakers as the standard of reference, and restructured their common features theoretically. 
     Against this concept of deep structure, he argued that there is so-called "surface structure" (表層構造) constituting the syntactical structure or garment of a sentence. Therefore, a sentence consists of deep structure and surface structure. In the process of translation, the translator must analyze the surface structure of the source text to find out the deep structure hidden behind the surface structure and correctly convey the meaning of the source text in the target language. 
     Chomsky's linguistics goes further, but it is important for us translators to understand these two concepts and apply them correctly in actual translation.

     Eugene Nida, born in 1914 in Oklahoma in the United States, is first and foremost a specialist in the Bible and an organizer of Bible translations. He was involved in a vast number of cross-language and cross-cultural Bible translation projects supported by the American and United Bible Societies. In addition, Eugene Nida has been ardent lover of language and culture since his school days. He eagerly learned Greek, Latin and modern European languages, but also has been keen on learning and investigating languages and cultures of other parts of the world, especially in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. Some of his most important scholarly work consists of his linguistic investigations. Early contributions in this field include A Synopsis of English Syntax (1943) and Morphology; The Descriptive Analysis of Words (1946). In 1968, Eugene Nida was elected president of the Linguistic Society of America.
     Internationally recognized as the father of contemporary translation studies, Eugene Nida has certainly ushered in a new research methodology for translation, characterized by the application of contemporary insights from linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, communication studies and other branches of learning. His major contribution to translation scholarship can be seen in three phases of development, namely the descriptive linguistics phase, the communicative translation phase, and the sociosemiotics phase. In the descriptive linguistics phase, Eugene Nida tackled language and translation issues by applying modern linguistics to the description of the morphological and structural features of language, as well as the nature of translation. This phase ranged from his PhD thesis A Synopsis of English Syntax (1943) as mentioned above, through Morphology: The Descriptive Analysis of Words (1946), Bible Translation – An Analysis of Principles and Procedures with Special Reference to Aboriginal Languages (1947) and Customs and Cultures (1954), to his paper "Principles of Translation as Exemplified by Bible Translating" published in 1959 in Reuben A. Brower's anthology On Translation.
    The second phase ranged from his "Principles of Translation as Exemplified by Bible Translating" in 1959 through Toward a Science of Translating in 1964, to The Theory and Practice of Translation in 1969, and this phase encompassed Eugene Nida's years of greatest involvement and those in which he proposed what has become his ‘distinctively Nida' approach to translation, namely the communicative approach, with its hallmarks being the exposition of ‘dynamic equivalence' and ‘similar receptor reaction' as the ultimate goal for the translator.
     In the 1970s and 1980s, Eugene Nida began to shift from an emphasis on the communicative model to a sociolinguistic and sociosemiotic perspective, changing his previous ‘dynamic equivalence' to ‘functional equivalence' and emphasizing the role of sociosemiotics in the process of meaning and its interpretation. Representative works in this phase mainly include Signs, Sense and Translation (1984) and From One Language to Another (in collaboration with Jan de Waard; 1986).
     What is dynamic equivalence? Well, it means that the relationship between a reader and message in the target language must be substantially the same as the relationship between a reader and message in the source language. In other words, a translator seeks to translate the meaning of the original in such a way that the target language wording will trigger the same impact in its readers that the original wording had upon its readers. We all want a reader to understand the same meaning as did readers of the source text.
     For example, the King James Version (KJV) exclamation "God forbid" of Romans 6.2 and numerous other verses in the KJV is dynamic equivalence translation. It is not literal translation of the original Greek, me: genoito "not may it be." Instead, it is a strong English exclamation using God's name, a translation which the KJV translators felt was more natural in English and which has an impact which is presumably, closer to what the impact of original had upon its readers than the literal "May it not be" would have on English readers. With this dynamic equivalence rendering, the KJV translators place a higher priority upon how the original meaning will come across to the English readers (that is, "reader response") than they do holding to the literal form of the original.
     Functional equivalence translation, on the other hand, is a subcategory of what many call idiomatic translation. The translators of the God's Word (GW) English version describe this philosopy of translating (which they call function-equivalent translation) as follows;

A newer theory of translation is function-equivalent translation (often inaccurately called paraphrasing). In this type of translation, the translator tries to make the English function the same way the original language functioned for the original readers… However, in trying to make the translation easy to read, the translator can omit concepts from the original text that don't seem to have corresponding modern English equivalents. Such a translation can produce a readable text, but that text can convey the wrong meaning or not enough meaning. Furthermore, function-equivalent translations attempt to make some books readable on levels at which they were not intended. For instance, Song of Songs was not written for children. Paul's letter to the Ephesians is very sophisticated and not intended for novices.

  Judging from the example given above and other examples in similar articles that can be retrieved on the Internet, the above two approaches in translation, namely Dynamic Equivalence and Functional Equivalence, seem to be to be more concerned with the choice of equivalent words, phrases or sentences that express the meaning of the source text for translation into the target language consistently with the deep structure or flow of thought contained in the source text. And I believe that neither Dynamic Equivalence translation approach nor Functional Equivalence approach approves very radical changes in the structure of sentences going beyond the deep structure or flow of thoughts contained in the source text, including the restructuring of paragraph shown above or other changes in the structure of sentences or paragraphs.

     Yet it is true that sometimes clients request or anticipate well-written translated texts that may deviate from the normal translation process. In such cases, non-direct translation may be undertaken in close consultation with the clients. Therefore, I would like to propose to create a new translation theory consisting of the following points:

(1)  The translator should share the expressions, thought, and spirit of the author. He should translate in the way that the author would have written if the latter were able to freely express himself in the target language. He also should translate by going back to the era of the author and should not express his subjective views in translation.
(2)  Translation should be a process of faithfully communicating the specific expression, meaning, intent and spirit of the source text in the target language, and should not be that of simply replacing the words of the source text with particular words.
(3)  The qualification of a translator worth reading must be a mastery of the language he translates out of, and the one that he translates into. A translator who wants to write with any force or in the spirit of the original must never dwell on the words of his author. He ought to possess himself entirely, and perfectly comprehend the genius and sense of his author, the nature of the subject, and the terms of the art or subject treated; and then he will express himself as justly, and with as much life, as if he wrote an original; whereas, he who copies word for word, loses all the spirit in the tedious transfusion.
(4)  Order of things, whether fact or reasoning, must in be respected, because that order is the same in all languages. This is a natural consequence of the deep structure concept of Chomsky and the dynamic equivalence translation theory of Eugene Nida, as interpreted by the KJV translators. 
(5)  Translators must take into account differences in culture or life-style.
(6)  The whole translated text must be coherent as a document.
(7)  Translators must take into account the readers to whom their work is directed.
(8)  The following rules of Technical English Writing can be included as they are in the new translation theory.

(a) Rules on numerals, units of measurement, symbols, equations, hyphenation, punctuation, acronyms, and capitals
(b) Rule on parallelism or parallel sentence structure.
(c) Rules on conciseness, emphasis, and clarity of ideas.
(d) Rules on the use of active mode.
(e) Any other rules that do not relate to the structure of sentences or paragraphs.

(9)  The following rules of Technical English Writing may sometimes conflict with items (1)-(5) of the conventional translation theory and therefore should be excluded from the new translation theory unless they are applied at the request of or in close consultation with the client. In other words, these rules and principles can be applied only when the client requests their application or the translator explains the pertinent problems and obtains the approval of the client.

(a)  Rules limiting the number of words in a sentences, the number of sentences in a paragraph, and the like.
(b)  Rules on the development of an argument or the order of paragraphs. Such rules may be based on the order of generality to specifics, the order of chronological description, the order of spatial arrangement, the order of listing up, and the order of importance.
(c)  The rule of one topic for each paragraph; in other words, the idea that each paragraph should discuss only one topic, and should not include any secondary or supplementary topic in the same paragraph.   

It should also be kept in mind that the above rules of Technical English Writing may be applied only at the drafting stage of documents and that they should never be applied indiscriminately in any definitely established and published documents such as laws, regulations, corporate articles of incorporation, official speeches of the Head of State, or government white papers.

    I have many more topics on which I would like to comment including in particular the application of Technical English Writing to patent translation. However, alas! the time limit has come, and I am obliged to stop here, deferring discussions on such matters to another occasion.

    Finally, I would like to add that the second translation shown above of the regulations of a Japanese association concerned with investment funds is based on my own theory called "top-down Japanese-English translation method." I firmly believe that this translation method is good for translating long and complicated sentences, because it follows the deep structure or the flow of thought hidden behind the source text. But this method is not of course exclusive. Other appropriate methods can be applied as long as the meaning of the source text can be correctly expressed in the target language. I would like to explain on these specific translation methods in other appropriate forums and media.

     Thank you for your kind attention.