General Comments for All Finalists
All six finalists did a good job of conveying the overall meaning of the contest passage, and we wish each finalist success in his/her translation career. These comments will be devoted to specific words and phrases in the passage that proved to be difficult for several finalists.
The first paragraph includes the word 対談. This term often refers to a dialogue or a discussion between two individuals. This kind of debate is normally moderated by a third individual. Many Japanese magazines include articles with titles of the form “Topic Topic Topic: Aaaa Bbbb vs. Cccc Dddd.” In this particular instance, an Internet search reveals that the article referred to by the author of this article was “「民主主義の抑制」が問われる21世紀の政治思想.” The people who presented their thoughts were “東 浩紀 × 山本龍彦.” Thus, the author was a “participant” in a discussion, as indicated by E08, E42, and E57. The author did not “take part in an interview” (E07) or “attend a lecture” (E41). The phrase “appeared in a discussion” (E25) would be fine for radio, television or an Internet video, but seems out of place in the context of a magazine article. The same paragraph also contains the word テーマ. The Japanese word テーマ is certainly derived from the English word “theme,” but in the context of a discussion or a dialogue, such as the one we are dealing with here, the most natural translation for テーマ would be “topic” (E41, E57) or perhaps “focus,” but not “theme” (E07, E08, E42). (E25 described the topic without translating テーマ explicitly.) In both of these instances context plays a very important role as we translators decide how to express the author’s intended meaning.
The second sentence in the first full paragraph on page 19 is quite short: 感覚の麻痺が怖いからだ. The individual words are easy to understand; the challenge here is to determine what information is missing, so we know what must be added to the translation in order to accurately convey the author’s intended meaning. In this sentence the author is explaining why he feels 強い危機感 with respect to この状況, which he stated in the preceding sentence. The phrase この状況 probably refers to the situation described by the author in the previous paragraph—the absence of widespread criticism regarding policies that may infringe on personal freedom and privacy. Thus, we may assume that the 感覚の麻痺 mentioned in this sentence does not refer to the author as an individual but rather to society as a whole. If so, “desensitization to issues like this is frightening” (E25), “the paralysis of our senses frightens me” (E41), “I fear this state of apathy we find ourselves in” (E42), and “it is frightening to see our collective senses growing numb” (E57) would all be good options. Each of these translations makes clear to the reader that the failure feared by the author is a failure on the part of society as a whole, even though no explicit reference to society appears in the source text. Knowing when to add such information is an important element of a Japanese-into-English translator’s skill set.
The explanation of 生権力 in the first full paragraph on page 19 is central to the reader’s understanding of the entire article. In the fourth sentence of this paragraph the author uses the two verbs 管理して and 「生かす」 in succession in his description of the 権力 exemplified by 生権力. We need to consider how to translate each verb and how to express the relationship between the two words. The term 生権力 is the Japanese translation of “biopower,” but the concept of “biopower” is sometimes expressed as “power over life.” (E42 used the latter phrase explicitly in her translation.) In this context, if 管理して is associated with the idea of “managing (a herd),” then 生かす could be associated with “controlling lives (of the members of the herd).” The fact that 生かす appears within 鉤括弧 suggests that this is the primary action, while 管理 is the means by which that primary action is accomplished. Taken together, these two verbs represent the essence of “biopower.” With this thought in mind, the portion 統計的かつ生物学的に管理して「生かす」権力 could be translated as follows: “the power to control the lives of the members of the herd by managing the herd statistically or biologically.”
Specific Comments on Individual Translations
Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd (E07)
E07 produced several well-crafted phrases but struggled with a few points. The author begins the third sentence of the second paragraph on page 18 with the phrase 去る四月十日には. E07 wrote, “On April 10th, which now seems so distant.” It is true that the verb 去る can carry the meaning “to be distant,” but in this context 去る simply refers to the most recent April (i.e., two months prior to the publication of this article). In essence, E07 added meaning that the author did not intend. In our translation we can ignore the verb 去る; “On April 10th” would be sufficient.
In the last sentence of the first full paragraph on page 19 the author makes reference to この生権力が全面化した状況. E07 rendered this as “a situation in which biopower has become truly generalized.” It is true that 面化 is listed in some glossaries as “generalization,” but what does 全面化 really mean in this context? As translators, we certainly encounter sentences that we do not understand at first glance. Pulling together information from various sources to solve such problems is an important aspect of a Japanese-into-English translator’s work. In previous paragraphs the author described efforts to use smartphone apps to monitor the spread of the coronavirus. In this paragraph the author linked such efforts to the concept of biopower. If we put this information together, we may conclude that in this context 全面化 probably refers to the widespread use of biopower to combat the coronavirus, as E07 indicated in the first half of this sentence. If so, the phrase この生権力が全面化した状況 could be expressed as “a situation in which this concept of biopower is being applied more widely” or “a situation in which this concept of biopower appears at every turn.” Either of these options would mesh well with the information from the previous paragraph and the information in the following paragraph to produce a consistent narrative. Translators often need to expand or modify a definition that we find in a dictionary or glossary in order to make that definition fit a specific context. This is one example of that process.
In the last sentence of the final paragraph of the article the author uses this phrase to describe the current state of affairs: 欧米と中国の差異が無効になった. Generally speaking, 無効 tends to be used for something that is “ineffective” or “invalid.” In the world of computer science 無効 often indicates that something is “invalid.” Otherwise, something that is described as 無効 is usually “ineffective” or “not useful.” In this instance the author is telling the reader that differences or distinctions (regarding personal freedom or privacy) that existed in the past no longer have any meaning. However, E07 described this state as “the neutralization of differences.” The word “neutralization” is generally used in a situation where opposing forces or qualities are combined to produce a state that exists somewhere between the initial states. That is not the situation here. (In this instance the author seems to be suggesting that 欧米 has become more like 中国.) Better options include “differences ... have faded” (E08), “with distinctions less valid” (E25), “differences ... have become insignificant” (E42), and “negligible difference” (E57).
Jennifer Smith (E08)
E08 captured most of the author’s intended meaning, but a few awkward or misleading phrases mar an otherwise very good translation. For example, the first sentence in the second paragraph reads, “A system first implemented by Singapore has been attracting significant attention among those measures.” The content is correct, but the prepositional phrase “among those measures” seems out of place. This phrase should serve as a transition from the previous paragraph to this paragraph. Also, when the word “among” appears following the noun “attention,” the reader expects to find information about those who are paying attention (e.g., “... has been attracting attention among industry observers” or “... has been attracting attention among political junkies.”) Thus, a more natural word order would be, “Among those measures, a system first implemented by Singapore has been attracting significant attention.”
For the second sentence in the first full paragraph on page 19 (感覚の麻痺が怖いからだ。) E08 wrote, ‘..., rooted in the fear of growing numb to it.” This translation implies that it is the author who is “growing numb” to the potential invasions of privacy described in previous paragraphs. As mentioned in the General Comments section, the author is concerned because he believes society as a whole is “growing numb” to the danger. If so, a better alternative would be, “rooted in the fear that society is growing numb to these issues.”
In the same paragraph E08 translated the verb 生かす literally: “It refers to the power over allowing people to live, managing them statistically and biologically as a large group.” Based on the understanding described in the General Comments section, this sentence could be rewritten as, “It refers to the power to control the lives of a large group of people, managing them statistically and biologically.”
The first two sentences of the last paragraph read, コロナ禍が終わる日は必ず来る。そのとき感染症の恐怖のまえに自由もプライバシーも議論されなかったという「実績」は、大きな傷になって残るだろう. E08 expressed this sentence as follows: “There will come a day when the coronavirus crisis ends, but the results of not arguing for freedom and privacy over the panic of infection will likely leave a painful scar when it does.” Expressing the phrase 感染症の恐怖のまえに as “over the panic of infection” is troublesome. On the first page of the article the author expressed the opinion that plans to track the movements of individuals using a smartphone would have drawn tremendous criticism had they been announced prior to the pandemic but he also acknowledged that such plans drew almost no criticism when they were unveiled during the pandemic. The author is suggesting that fear of infection has silenced potential critics of such plans. Keeping that information in mind, the phrase 感染症の恐怖のまえに could be expressed as, “in the face of the fear arising from the pandemic.”
The author ends the article with this sentence: 欧米と中国の差異が無効になったいまこそ、情報技術のありかたを落ち着いて考えるべきではなかろうか. E08 rendered this as, “It is precisely now when the differences between the West and China have faded that we should consider the state of information technology, not after things have calmed down.” The noun ありかた can certainly refer to “the (current) state (of something)” or “how things are,” but it also carries the meaning “the way (something) ought to be.” If we step back for a moment and consider the flow of information through the entire article, we realize that in this final sentence the author is summarizing everything he has said in the article. The author is challenging the reader to think carefully about something. That “something” is the fundamental choice that appears first in the title of the article and again in the first sentence of the second-to-last paragraph. In this context, it appears that the author is looking for a better alternative to the present path. If so, 情報技術のありかた represents “the way information technology ought to be used,” so society can make a “good” choice between the two alternatives mentioned by the author. When the verb 落ち着く appears by itself, it does mean “to calm down” or “to settle down,” but in this sentence the author uses the combination 落ち着いて考える. The two actions are so closely linked in the mind of the author that we can express this combination in English using a verb and an adverb (e.g., “calmly consider” [E25]), a verb and a prepositional phrase (e.g., “reexamine ... with an objective eye” [E42]), or two closely linked verbs (e.g., “take a step back and reassess” [E57]). If we put everything together, this final sentence of the article could read, “At the very moment when the differences between the West and China in this regard have essentially disappeared, shouldn’t we calmly discuss what we consider to be the proper use of information technology?”
Keyon Talieh (E25)
E25 used some excellent phrases (e.g., “proof-of-concept testing” for 実証実験, “label failures in group management as failures of individual action” for 群の管理の失敗を個人の行動の失敗に読み換える, and “how information technology ought to be used” for 情報技術のありかた) in his translation. However, a few other phrases missed the mark.
In the second paragraph on page 18 the author describes several efforts related to contact tracing via smartphones, although the author does not use the term “contact tracing” explicitly in this paragraph. The final sentence in this paragraph reads, 去る四月十日にはアップルとグーグルが共同開発して近日中に OS に組み込むことを発表した. E25 expressed the sentence this way: “On April 10th, Apple and Google announced they would work together to incorporate them into their operating systems in the near future.” The issue here is the word “them.” What exactly does “them” refer to? In previous sentences within this same paragraph the author mentioned two specific efforts: a cellphone app that is used in Singapore and a similar app that will be tested in Japan. We know the app that will be tested in Japan is similar to—but distinct from—the effort in Singapore, because the author uses the word 似た to describe the Japanese app. E25 probably believes Apple and Google will incorporate the two apps mentioned in those previous sentences, and that is why he chose the word “them.” Unfortunately, that is not correct. The author uses the verb 共同開発して to describe the Apple/Google effort, so we may assume that Apple and Google are “jointly developing” their own technology—technology that is different from either of the other efforts. (E25 did not account for this verb in his translation.) We do not know exactly what the result of the Apple-Google collaboration will be, but the author tells us this result will be incorporated into the two companies’ respective operating systems. If so, the product of the collaboration could be system-level “capability” or system-level “functionality,” but it will not be an app. (Apps are not incorporated into operating systems.) Based on this understanding, this sentence could be modified to read, “On April 10th, Apple and Google announced they would work together to develop functionality that they will incorporate into their operating systems in the near future.” This translation makes clear the distinction between the first two examples, which involve apps, and the Apple/Google collaboration, which does not involve an app.
In connection with the explanation of 生権力 in the first full paragraph on page 19, E25 stated that biopower “refers to the maintenance of humans in a group through statistical or biological management.” The phrase “ maintenance of humans in a group” probably represents the phrase 人間を群と捉え, but the intended meaning of the Japanese phrase is more like “thinking of humans as members of a group” or “regarding humans as members of a herd.” The fact that humans are “regarded” in this way makes it possible to analyze their behavior using statistics. (The field of statistics, after all, deals with large numbers of data points, not individual data points.) More importantly, neither the verb 「生かす」 nor the noun 権力 is represented in E25’s translation. These words do not need to be translated literally, but the meaning that lies behind each word must appear in the translation somehow. The fact that 生かす appears within 鉤括弧 indicates that this word—or the concept behind it—is an important element of the explanation. Thus, some reference to “life” or “lives” and some reference to “power” must appear in the translation. One approach to this sentence was described in the General Comments section. If we put everything together, E25’s original wording could be modified as follows: “regards humans as members of a group and refers to the power to control the lives of the members of the group by managing the group statistically or biologically.” This translation includes all the necessary information and presents the information in a way that is easy for the reader to grasp.
In the following sentence the author tells us that biopower 発達した together with medicine and public health. Generally speaking, the noun 発達 could refer to “development” or “growth,” and E25 translated 発達した as “has grown.” However, in the next paragraph the author tells us that the concept of biopower originated in livestock management. This suggests that after being applied to farm animals for some period of time biopower “has developed” or “has evolved” into a concept that is now being applied to human beings. Either of the latter options would be a better choice in this specific context. Drawing information from different parts of a document can help the translator make good choices when confronted with several possible meaning for a word or a phrase. (The answer to a particular question may lie in a previous section or a subsequent section. This is one reason why it is important to read the entire document and understand the content of the document as fully as possible before beginning the translation.)
Alyssa Fusek (E41)
E41 also had several good phrases (e.g., “we are now living in a completely different age”), but E41 overlooked several key points.
The second sentence in the third paragraph on page 18 begins, 両社のスマホは世界で五〇億台を越えると言われ. E41 began the sentence this way: “Both companies are reputed to have sold more than five billion smartphones worldwide.” This English sentence tells the reader that each company sold that many smartphones on its own. However, the use of 両社 indicates that the quoted figure applies to the two companies taken together. Alternatives such as “between the two companies” (E07), “between these two companies” (E08), “the two companies ... combined,” (E42), or “combined, Apple and Google” (E57) would give the reader the correct information.
The final sentence in the same paragraph begins with the phrase, 感染症の恐怖のもと. E41 translated 感染症 quite broadly as “infectious diseases.” Generally speaking, the noun 感染症 does refer to “infectious diseases” or simply “infections.” However, the author mentions 新型コロナ or simply コロナ multiple times in this article, and it is clear that in this context 感染症 refers specifically to COVID-19. If so, the most natural translation would be “the pandemic.”
The third sentence in the third full paragraph on page 19 begins with the phrase 他方で個人からみれば. Unfortunately, E41 misread 他方 as 地方 and expressed this phrase as “If seen from the perspective of an individual in a rural area.” In this instance, 他方 indicates that the author is making a contrast between the content of the previous sentence and the content that will appear in this sentence. Thus, the phrase could be translated, “However, from the standpoint/viewpoint/perspective of an individual.”
The second sentence of the final paragraph reads, そのとき感染症の恐怖のまえに自由もプライバシーも議論されなかったという「実績」は、大きな傷になって残るだろう. From the overall content and tone of this paragraph, we may assume that the author places the noun 実績 within 鉤括弧 as a gesture of irony or sarcasm. E41 translated 実績 as “achievements” and kept the quotation marks, thereby conveying the intended irony/sarcasm. E42 translated 「実績」 as “accomplishments” and kept the quotation marks, also conveying the intended irony/sarcasm. In contrast, E07 and E25 translated 「実績」 as “fact” but did not include quotation marks. E08 used “results,” also without quotation marks. The latter three translations are on the right track, but in each case the author’s desire to express irony or sarcasm over society’s failure to address the stated issues has been lost, and the English translation seems somewhat “flat” compared to the Japanese original. When translating a document of this type, the translator’s primary goal is to convey the author’s intended meaning to the target-language audience. That intended meaning includes both meaning that is stated explicitly (i.e., content) and meaning that is implied. The meaning that is implied may represent additional content or it may take the form of tone or emotion. In this instance E41 and E42 successfully conveyed both types of meaning. Additional thoughts regarding this sentence appear in the comments for E57.
However, E41 expressed the first portion of this sentence as, “Our ‘achievements’ from not discussing neither freedom nor privacy.” E41 seems to have lost track of her negatives. One option would be, “Our ‘achievements’ from not discussing either freedom or privacy.” Another option would be, “Our ‘achievements’ from discussing neither freedom nor privacy.”
Linda Liu (E42)
E42 incorporated a number of phrases (e.g., “the world has been rendered unrecognizable,” “I fear this state of apathy we find ourselves in;” “it is the power over life”) that elegantly captured the author’s feelings as well as the author’s words. However, E42 missed a few points.
In the last sentence of the first full paragraph on page 19 the author describes 生権力 as 医学や公衆衛生と結びついて発達した権力. E42 stated, “Biopower is wielded through medical practices and public health institutions.” The verb 発達した suggests a “development” or an “evolution” of this concept over time. That element of time is missing from E42’s translation. Rather than “is wielded through,” wording such as “was developed with a close link to” (E08), “has developed in conjunction with” (E41), or “has evolved in conjunction with” (E57) would provide the missing element.
In the same sentence the author states that 世界がコロナ対策で一色になったいまは、まさにこの生権力が全面化した状況だといえる. E42’s translation of this sentence reads, “Accordingly, today’s world, which has been homogenized by coronavirus countermeasures, could be viewed as the result of a metamorphosis caused by the exercise of biopower.” The clause 世界が ... 一色になった certainly suggests that every country in the world is moving in the same direction or that all countries are engaged in similar efforts. However, describing the world as “homogenized” may be an overstatement. Similarly, “a metamorphosis caused by the exercise of biopower” is a wonderful phrase, but it deviates from the author’s intended meaning. As mentioned above in the comments for E07, the clause この生権力が全面化した suggests that “this concept of biopower is being applied more widely” or “this concept of biopower appears at every turn.” The author’s focus in the first half of this sentence lies on 世界, but in the second half of the sentence the author is focused more narrowly on 生還力. More attention is being paid to biopower at this point in time than at any time in the past, and many efforts to control the virus can be interpreted as examples of biopower, but referring to a metamorphosis of the world seems excessive. If we put all of these thoughts together, this sentence could read, “At this time, when the entire world is united in efforts to combat the novel coronavirus, this concept of biopower appears in full force” or “In the current situation, as the entire world is engaged in efforts to combat the novel coronavirus, this concept of biopower appears at every turn.”
Kevin Yuan (E57)
E57 did an excellent job with many of the difficult words and phrases discussed in these comments. The phrase “a dramatic turn of events fundamentally reshaped the conversation” in the opening paragraph serves as an excellent lead-in to the points the author will introduce in subsequent paragraphs.
In the first sentence of the second paragraph E57 used the term “contact tracing” in his translation, although the author simply used the word システム. There is no doubt that “contact tracing” is the name we would apply to the “system” described by the author in this sentence, and the author himself uses the term 接触追跡 in the third full paragraph on page 19. In this paragraph the author is focusing on the “technology” or “functionality” of the various options he describes, so it may be better to stick with “system” in this paragraph and reserve “contact tracing” for the subsequent appearance of 接触追跡.
In the second sentence of the final paragraph the author states, そのとき感染症の恐怖のまえに自由もプライバシーも議論されなかったという「実績」は、大きな傷になって残るだろう. E57 wrote the following: “When it does, the consequences of not having set aside fears of infection to discuss freedom and privacy will be vast.” E57 has captured the broad terms of author’s message; the issue here is one of degree. The word “consequences” is a relatively mild term, with a connotation that ranges from neutral to somewhat negative. Even when the consequences of some action are “vast,” the English translation does not really convey the intensity we find in the Japanese original. Given the author’s use of 鉤括弧 around the word 実績, we may assume that the author is using the word 実績 as a gesture of irony or sarcasm. Given the location of this sentence—the final paragraph of the article, where the author is bringing together all the threads laid out in previous paragraphs—we may also assume that the author wishes to emphasize to the reader his deep dissatisfaction with society in this regard. If so, we need a strongly negative translation for this phrase in order to capture the author’s strident criticism. The author uses 傷 to illustrate his dissatisfaction. Unfortunately for translators, the word 傷 covers a broad range—from “cut,” “scratch” or “nick” to “(emotional) hurt” or “hurt feelings” to “stain (on someone’s reputation),” “dishonor” or “disgrace.” E57’s translation (“the consequences ... will be vast”) focused on the noun 実績 and the adjective 大きな but did not really incorporate the noun 傷. E07, E08 and E41 chose “scar” for 傷. E25 opted for “a large stain on our record.” E42 referred to “a wound left behind in our history.” The latter two translations accurately convey the author’s intended meaning. There are at least two different approaches for dealing with this sentence as a whole. We could translate 実績 literally and enclose our translation of this word with quotation marks, thus maintaining the author’s use of sarcasm. Another option would be to replace 実績 with a negative word—a word that is the exact opposite of 実績—and abandon any attempt at irony. In either case we would need to choose an appropriate translation for 大きな傷 to illustrate the degree of dissatisfaction on the part of the author. One example of the first option would be this: “When that day comes, our ‘achievement’ of not having debated issues such as freedom and privacy in the face of the fear arising from the pandemic may endure as a major stain on our record as a society.” One example of the second option would be this: “When that day comes, our abject failure to discuss issues such as freedom and privacy in the face of the panic arising from the pandemic may be remembered as an absolute disgrace for society.” In the first option our retention of the quotation marks around “achievement,” taken together with the phrase “major stain,” clearly indicates to the reader that the author does not think this is an achievement at all. In the second option the combination of “abject failure” and “absolute disgrace” serves the same purpose, but with no sarcasm. The first option hews more closely to the author’s writing style and is more subtle; the second option is more direct and thus has more “punch.” Either option would suffice.
This year’s contest passage was an opinion piece from Chuo Koron. The piece is a recurring feature entitled “時評2020 –Column on Current Events.” This installment of the column was written by Hiroki Azuma, a well-known scholar, literary critic, and media figure. The column discusses the trade-offs between safety and freedom as something called “biopower/biopolitics” comes into play via smartphone contact tracing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The column presents translation challenges in two distinct subject areas. The description of smartphone contact tracing is aimed at the lay reader but requires the translator to be familiar with the concepts and certain events described. The descriptions of biopower were extremely abstract and hard to translate in some places. While English-language descriptions and definitions of biopower can be readily found in sources such as Wikipedia, at least one part of the author’s Japanese-language discussion of biopower seemed to defy translation. The column is also extremely eloquent in many places, challenging the translator to write English of equal quality.
The 92 entries in this year’s contest yielded a very tightly packed group of six finalists. Although there was a clear winner, four of the six finalists produced translations of very similar quality. I will focus my comments on the winner (Kevin Yuan) and runner-up (Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd) and comment on the other finalists in the order of the numbers assigned for blind judging. Many of the comments on Kevin and Hannah will apply to all translations. This piece was extremely challenging to translate and each finalist rose to a daunting challenge.
Kevin Yuan (E57)
The winner was Kevin Yuan. Kevin showed the best balance of good writing and accuracy, having substantially fewer errors in transfer of meaning than other finalists.
The translation of the first paragraph was clear, accurate and propels the reader on to the thought-provoking discussion. The original text did not mention the term “contact tracing” until the second from the last paragraph. Since English requires subjects and direct objects, Kevin used “digital contact tracing” in the first sentence of the second paragraph, while the text simply referred to a system. Kevin also streamlined the English in this sentence, taking a little license, but conveying all of the meaning by removing the awkward dependent clause “when a new coronavirus infection is confirmed” and replacing it with “anyone who newly tests positive…”) He seemed on top of the digital technology, although the use of “log” for “record” may have been overkill in this non-technical piece. “Piloting an app” was a pleasant-sounding rendition of 実証実験, an expression which could easily lead to an awkward translation. However, Kevin seemed to cut a corner on a term requiring research: いち早く, referring to when Singapore adopted the technology. Did Singapore adopt the technology swiftly or first? It could have been either according to English glosses of いち早く, but Singapore’s government website claims that they were the first to adopt the technology. However, that piece of information took some time to find.
In the third paragraph, Kevin crafted the first two sentences into a longer sentence that read pleasantly. However, letting the first sentence stand alone, as many finalists did, also sounded good. (“This is quite an ambitious plan.”) Kevin kept straight when users and when phones were in proximity or contact in the second sentence. Some finalists seemed to mix this up. Kevin also handled the “いつだれと” of “ユーザーがいつだれと一緒にいた” succinctly (“when and with whom”). This phrase is so short in Japanese, but often ended up as a mouthful in English. Kevin also streamlined 実現したら影響は絶大だ (“if realized, the plan would have an enormous impact”) as “meaning their partnership has enormous implications.” This version isn’t necessarily shorter, but the single clause keeps the reader moving forward, even if there is some license with the meaning. The contrast in attitudes about surveillance before and after Covid-19 is also vivid, if a little free: “非難の大合唱” and “批判がない” was conveyed vividly as “a wave of outrage” and “lack of pushback.” In the last sentence of Paragraph 3, Kevin skipped over the finer shade of meaning, which is repeated throughout the text. He said the debate over freedom and privacy “regressed” until “the difference between the China and the West has all but vanished.” However, the sentence says that the debate has taken a backseat (receded) until the differences between the two have become meaningless (are no longer important, not non-existent).
Paragraph 4 contained the biggest stumbling block in the form of the single term 生かす in the description of biopower, even sending some of the judges seeking outside help. 生かすwas described by some native speakers as meaning “allowing people to live (exist)” in this context. Some finalists chose to bulldoze over this term and seemingly used existing English definitions of biopower. In addition, 「生かす」was emphasized in quotes by the author. The original sentences read:
Kevin combined the senses of “管理して and「生かす」to say that biopower “aims to govern populations by regulating human life,” incorporating 生かす in the form of the noun “human life,” as follows:
The expansion of surveillance we are experiencing is deeply tied to the concept of biopower, an idea formulated by French philosopher Michel Foucault to refer to a form of power that aims to govern populations by regulating human life using statistical and biological standards.
As did several other finalists, Kevin nicely combined these two sentences, saying “the concept of biopower, an idea formulated by…” Kevin also observed the English-language convention for non-academic writing of mentioning both of a person’s names in the citation of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, although the Japanese text only mentions the last name. There was a variety of reactions to the term 全面化, the pithiest rendition perhaps being Jennifer Smith’s “the new normal.” However, Kevin was very close to this with “has permeated our society.”
In the fifth paragraph, the use of “nefarious” for 悪struck me as odd and outdated, but I see from Google’s NGram viewer that usage of “nefarious” has increased in the present century after showing a steady downward trend during the 20th century and may not sound strange to readers any longer. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci just called the coronavirus “nefarious” as I was writing this. The phrase 妊娠をやめろ also presented a problem to native English speakers. It seems to basically mean “don’t get pregnant,” but also may encompass terminating a pregnancy. Kevin chose the latter meaning. Kevin translated 特定の集団の女性 as “women belonging to a particular group” rather than “a particular group of women” which makes more sense in this context as the wielders of biopower may target minorities.
In the sixth paragraph, Kevin uncharacteristically got something backwards, a common problem in J-E translation, although it was not of great consequence. He translated 提案されている新しい監視、そしてその背後にある感染症対策の思想 as “The new forms of surveillance being proposed, in addition to the policy goals of disease control with which they align.” Here, the そして means “and the policy goals … in addition to the idea of surveillance” or simply “and the policy goals,” indicating the precedence of “surveillance” over “policy goals” in this statement. Of greater, but still not crucial, consequence was calling 感染症対策 “policy goals.” Here, 対策 seems to refer to measures such as lockdowns or curtailing business hours, rather than the policy goals of eradicating the virus. However, the surveillance is related to policy goals and the measures are means of achieving policy goals, so the reader is not misled to a great degree in this instance. In the clause 私たちはあるていど自由に行動できる, I believe Kevin captured the author’s intent to a greater degree than some other finalists: “the freedom to act as they wish.” In other words, we can do what we want. Renditions such as “act freely” seemed too clinical or legal sounding or just plain literal and seemed they would be off-putting to the reader. In the sentence “the ideas behind digital contact tracing falsely label a failure of population management as a failure of individual action, and risks depriving people of that freedom,” the translation of “falsely label” (and “label” or “blame” by other finalists) clearly expressed the meaning of 読み替える to the English reader, while the meaning of the phrase may not really register as well with the English reader with more literal translation. However, using the expression “risks depriving” (or “potentially deprives” as other finalists did) in the second part of the sentence deprives the reader of the mood the author infused into the piece with 秘めている (masks or conceals the danger of depriving).
Most of the finalists put a lot of interpretation and rewording into their translations. Given the differences in Japanese and English diction, this is usually a good idea. Also, it’s kind of like the basic trick question of a translation contest – the contestants are being dared to show how well they rearrange things. However, many of the author’s expressions were very palatable when translated unadorned into English and could well have been left alone. A salient example is the last line of Paragraph 7: けれども問題はそれほど単純ではない, which was elegant in its simplicity: but the issue is not so simple. However, Kevin, understandably in this contest situation, embellished it as “the issue is not such a simple dichotomy.”
In Paragraph 8, Kevin translated …「実績」は大きな傷になって残るだろう as “the consequences … will be vast.” This might be a reasonable way to localize this piece, since this manner of expression is so far divorced from English. But 「実績」most likely represents an idea equivalent to “track record.”
Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd (E07)
Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd was this year's runner-up. After Kevin Yuan, four of the finalists showed a similar balance of accuracy and good English-language writing, but Hannah’s rendition stood out in that it was pleasant to read overall and didn’t sound translated. Examples of natural English include “(an article that) ran in the April edition,” “societies will come to take on,” and “begrudgingly prefer (safety over freedom).” At the same time, pretty much all of the author’s intended meaning was conveyed to the reader.
Some areas for improvement might be the following. In Paragraph 2 Hannah said that Singapore introduced the system early instead of first. For “last (去る) April 10,” said “April 10th, which now seems so distant.” In Paragraph 4, Hannah gave a good description of biopower, but didn’t seem to account for 生かす, although this eluded almost everyone.
The biggest “preventable” error was in the somewhat abstract and disorienting sentence with 読み替えるin Paragraph 6. “But, as stated earlier, the idea behind contact tracing is that a failure in herd management can be reinterpreted as a failure of the individual, revealing a hidden danger of that freedom being stripped away.” It seems like the idea behind contact tracing would be to stop the spread of infection, not to reinterpret. And, the structure and literal meaning of the sentence is “the idea behind contact tracing conceals the danger of robbing people of this freedom by reinterpreting….” So, this rendition ended up being a non sequitur (the idea behind contact tracing is reinterpretation) as well as not conveying the meaning, although the human brain of the reader could probably piece the intended meaning back together from the translation. However, it should be noted that this was the only large error of this type. Also in Paragraph 6, Hannah left the “every” out of “every route of infection,” a seemingly small error that kind of took the steam out of the sentence “being able to trace the route of infection means having the capability of mapping every single human relationship.” As a final quibble, Hannah translated the troublesome 実績 in the last paragraph as “implications” in a rendition that made sense but skirted the meaning of the original. Nonetheless, the entire translation overall sounded very much like the piece was originally written in English and was free of “translationese.”
The following comments are in order of the numbers assigned for blind judging.
Jennifer Smith (E08)
Jennifer’s English sounded a little more translated, but she had some great insights into the meaning. Oddly, Jennifer also had a couple of surprising errors in meaning transfer considering how well she understood the rest of the text. One feature of Jennifer’s translation was that she nicely recombined clauses from different sentences to make the logic flow in English.
Things that Jennifer did well include saying that Singapore was the first to implement their system. She realized that 妊娠をやめろ meant not getting pregnant in the first place. Jennifer accounted for 生かす, although perhaps not in the most natural way “allowing people to live.” She used the phrasing “Biopower itself is not an evil thing, but it should be handled with care,” combining the two related sentences and eliminating the use of “points” in English. She translated 全面化 as “the new normal.” Jennifer translated ここに政権力の難しさがあるas “and herein lies [the challenge],” the English that this phrase was begging to be translated into. In Paragraph 6, Jennifer translated 秘めている as “(the idea) masks (the risk) and 読み替えるas “blaming [one type of failure for another],” taking some license, but transferring the meaning vividly.
Among things that could use some improvement, in Paragraph 2, Jennifer seemed to have a cohesion problem with “It is said that Japan will be testing a similar application, and it was announced on April 10th that this will be co-developed by Apple and Google, then incorporated into their operating systems in the near future.” To my English-speaking ears, it sounds like Apple and Google will be developing Japan’s system. In Paragraph 3, Jennifer said “as differences between the West and China fade” rather than the significance of the differences fading. She said “I recall (a sense of dread” for 覚えている, rather than “have” or “feel.” For 落ち着いて考えるべきin the last sentence, Jennifer said we should consider “[the state of information technology now], not after things have calmed down” rather than something like “should take a step back and consider.”
However, this was overall a very insightful translation.
Keyon Talieh (E25)
Keyon Talieh was one of the four finalists who were pretty much tied for the same number of errors and notably good renderings. His translation was extremely pleasant to read. One particularly nice phrase that was unique among the finalists was saying “the infection control measures behind it seem to be setting us on a course towards the use of…” for “思想は、...適用を目指している.”
Most transgressions were extremely minor. However, a few areas for improvement include the fact that Apple and Google seemed to be incorporating someone else’s app into their operating systems. “In the face of the fear caused by infectious disease” sounds like people are prudently motivated by disease in general when the motivating factor was a last-minute panic in reaction to Covid-19. In “ordering each woman to abort their pregnancy would not be tolerated” the word “should” should be used because we are judging such action from our current perspective (what we should and shouldn’t do). The danger is that if biopower was used to run our lives, such things would be tolerated. The following sentence contained both some potentially questionable usage but also a great translation of 実績: “When it does, the fact that, when confronted with the fear of infectious disease, issues of freedom and privacy were not disputed may become a large stain on our record.” Although this usage of “disputed” is consistent with the dictionary definition, “dispute” has a feeling of arguing against something, rather than debating it, to my ear. On the other hand, “stain on our record” was great way to handle 実績 and傷 to me, illustrating Keyon’s deft handling of Japanese-to-English translation.
Alyssa Fusek (E41)
Like the other finalists’ translations, Alyssa’s translation was pleasant to read. However, Alyssa seemed to have less experience reading Japanese-language texts and made several more mechanical and meaning-transfer errors than the other finalists.
One intriguing translation Alyssa provided was “To begin with, the fact that every infection route can be tracked means every human relationship can be tracked. There is also the question of whether it's really appropriate to develop such technology” for そもそも、あらゆる感染経路が追跡できるとは、あらふる人間関係が追跡できることを意味するが、本当にそんな技術を開発してよいのかという問題もある。The other finalists stuck “after all” in the beginning of the first clause, left そもそも out entirely, or reversed the order of the clauses so that そもそもwas at the beginning of the second clause. In that light, the logical sequence created by leaving everything in its original place is quite eloquent.
Alyssa got a great deal of the meaning out of this demanding text and came out near the top of more than 100 contestants. The more Japanese that she reads, the more her Japanese comprehension will improve.
Linda Liu (E42)
Linda had the most errors of the four closely bunched finalists, but she also had 50% more examples of good writing than the other finalists by my count. For example, the “world has been rendered unrecognizable” by Covid-19. Countries were adopting location information “into their arsenals.” Other good phrasing includes, “biopower’s roots lie in,” “retain a certain degree of freedom in our actions,” and “wanton cruelty.”
However, there were a few large errors. Notable are “Accordingly, today’s world, which has been homogenized by coronavirus countermeasures, could be viewed as the result of a metamorphosis caused by the exercise of biopower.” Here “homogenized” is used for 一色, which refers to everyone performing taking the same measures and “metamorphosis” is used for the admittedly confusing 全面化, which was translated by others as a new standard or normal condition. Another example is “along with the underlying philosophy that individuals themselves should take measures to protect against infection” for a phrase that meant “the idea of infection prevention measures behind it.”
Linda offered a particularly interesting interpretation: “Biopower is wielded (rather than “developed”) through medical practices and public health institutions.” It is definitely true that biopower exists because someone is wielding it and it is wielded through the massive amounts the medical and public health data that have been accumulated.
With Linda’s insights into the subject matter and good writing style, she demonstrated clear potential for growth if she should choose to pursue translation or further endeavors involving the Japanese language.