Posts tagged: rant

Translation Musings

I was re-watching a Japanese movie recently, and because the last time I saw it, my Japanese was still the self-taught variety, I paid more attention to the translation of the dialogue into the subtitles this time. Considering how ubiquitous this version of the subtitles was, one would normally assume that they had won out over the other crappy translations floating around, but with translations of Japanese material, it was entirely possible that this was simply the most widespread translation that got floated around more than other ones did. Turns out, the latter case seems more applicable. (I will also be making random comments about amusing lines and other thoughts I had during the movie, and not just about translations, in this post.)

One of the amusing lines was “耳落ちるぞ” [mimi ochiru zo], which was delivered in such a deadpan, indifferent tone that the subtitles just didn’t convey. Personally, I think it would’ve sounded ridiculous if it had been said in English.

I should point out to my Japanese classes that “どうしたの?” [doushita no] is a useful phrase: “what’s up?” or “what’s the matter?”, loosely. I should also point out to them two interesting sentence endings that I noticed and didn’t realize were usable. The first was when a girl used the sentence final particle “ぞ” [zo], which was explained to me, by a guy who lived in Japan until the age of 16, that it was the brutish-guy equivalent of “よ” [yo]. Karl likes to refer to it as the “yakuza particle,” but after hearing it in this context, I am really not-confident in the truth of that moniker. The second unexpected sentence ending was when the hospital security guard was speaking to the dark, empty room and said “誰がいます?” [dare ga imasu] with the inflection on “す” [su] that indicated a question. I had always thought that such a usage was fairly girly (and my Japanese 先生 [sensei] may have said as much, too), but maybe not? The guard did not seem particularly effeminate, at any rate.

One scene seemed particularly rife with interesting translations (or maybe I was just managing to pay closer attention, which seems likely). After saying that some previous situation was messed up, the detective then said “今こそ” [ima koso], which I would literally translate as “now too,” meaning that the current situation was also messed up; personally, I find this perfectly comprehensible in context as a translation. The subtitles, though, read “all of it.” Later in the same scene, one guy picks up the phone, hears the voice ask for another guy in the room, and hands the phone to him, at which point the guy who just received the phone says “変わりました” [kawarimashita], which is the distal perfective form of the verb “change,” to indicate that the speaker has changed. The subtitles, though, have been translated as “Hello?” (At some later point in the movie, the new speaker says “今変わりました” [ima kawarimashita] — literally, “now changed” — which gets translated as “Hi, there.”) Finally, in this scene, the verb “消える” [kieru] is translated as “lose,” while it should be more accurately translated as “disappear.” I think “does your connection disappear” makes just as much sense as “do you lose your connection,” and kind of fail to see why this particular choice in translation was made.

I’m also fairly certain that some of the numbers in the movie are mistranslated. A few times when the characters say “50″ the subtitles read “54,” and so on and so forth. And about ninety minutes in, a boy clearly says “あなたとあなたは” [anata to anata wa] which doesn’t get translated at all — the subtitles entirely skip this item in the boy’s list.

Last thing in this mini-rant/examination: when a computer screen displays “明日…のライブ会場に集まれ” [ raibu kaijou ni atsumare] it is translated as “…concert tomorrow” as opposed to “come to the concert venue tomorrow.” I … disapprove.

Asian Artists in America

So apparently BoA released an album in Japan in February, and I didn’t even notice. It’s been two years since her last studio album in Japan, and she’s planning to release an album in Korea later this year, which will be five years since her last album there. The reason that she’s been (relatively) “inactive”1 in Asia? She released an album in the States early last year.

She seems to have stretched herself quite thin, working in at least three countries. She collapsed after an awards show in Korea and was generally suffering poor health around 2006, if I remember correctly, because she was working too hard, promoting both “Girls On Top” and “Outgrow” at the same time.

How successful are these crossover attempts, though? When Hikki (宇多田光, utada hikaru) was about to crossover, back in 2004, she pointed out that there aren’t really any Asian artists in the U.S. Her first album, titled “Exodus,” was not the right album to crossover with, though. The melodies she used seemed like they wanted to be expanded instead of squeezed into one song together, in general; for example, “Kremlin Dusk” featured four lovely melodies, but consolidated into one song, the song felt less cohesive. She also used lyrics that were sometimes not what her fans were used to (many of the songs centered around sex) or not what fans of the American music industry might be used to (might I point out the lyric “I need someone who’s true, someone who does the laundry too”).

Her second crossover album (but not second studio album — she released an album, “Precious,” when she was just 15), titled “This Is The One,” released March 14, 2009 (three days before BoA’s album). It was much more well-suited for American audiences, featuring more R&B melodies and catchy hooks, although a few of the songs were still a little on the Hikki-is-still-trying-too-hard-to-stand-out-and-be-unique side of things. The lyrics were also more toned down, less explicit, but still had enough of the sex appeal that I think Hikki was trying to capture in her first album as a change from her Japanese albums written for her Japanese audience. She remarked, in an interview, that she was surprised that people really liked “Apple and Cinnamon” as much as they did; apparently many fans informed her that it was their favorite song off of the album.

Three days after the release of Hikki’s second crossover album, BoA’s first crossover album hit the market. It was not as heavily marketed as it could have been, but her fans generated a lot of interest and roped in many new fans in the U.S. (I actually showed one of the “Eat You Up” music videos to my lab partner who then became obsessed with it, and later he told me that he and some of his frat brothers watched the video on the order of fifty times in one night.) Her album was placed in the “dance” section at music stores when it hit the shelves, and that is definitely what it was: all of the songs had a pretty solid beat and would make pretty good dance music at a club or dance party. Her pronunciation was better than I expected, even in interviews (it’s easier to pronounce words correctly when singing in a foreign language than when speaking in a foreign language), but it’s unclear to me whether it was good enough to impress the American fans she was trying to woo.

(Personally, I think BoA is amazing. One, she’s a good singer. Two, she’s quite a good dancer. Her Japanese dance teachers, who are known for their strictness, have praised her talent and hard work, and the choreographers that have worked with her have expressed amazement at her dancing ability. Three, she’s fluent in Korean and Japanese, speaks conversational English, and has some understanding of Chinese. Four, she’s really hardworking and dedicated to her career.)

Interlude over: I should point out that Hikki has some sort of accent, although it is not Japanese. She is bilingual, having grown up in Tokyo and New York, but she overenunciates her English, which makes her sound non-native despite the fact that she is plenty fluent in English. Anyway, BoA’s album was fairly homogenous in its dance genre, and didn’t have the variety that her fans expected and wanted. Her Korean- and Japanese-language albums have ballads, upbeat dance songs, jazzy songs, R&B songs, etc, allowing her to showcase her singing ability. I think many fans were disappointed that she didn’t show more sides of herself on this album, and she really didn’t give herself a fair chance, marketing only one facet of her many talents.

I’m not sure whether American pop culture is quite ready to accept Asian culture just yet. Here, I feel the need to refer to Maurissa Tancharoen’s “Nobody’s Asian in the Movies”, but this brings us, perhaps, to a slightly different topic than the one I started out with, and it’s late, so I will take my leave and possibly continue this in a linguistic analysis next week.

1 For BoA, “inactive” means that she missed a year in releasing albums, seeing as she’s released a studio album in Korea once a year from 2000-2005, and a studio album in Japan once a year from 2002-2008.

Learn Chinese!

There are two parts to this post: Firstly, I would like to advertise the Chinese conversation group that we’re starting, similar to the Japanese Learners group, but with some key differences. The two big issues considered were how we wanted to split our time between practicing listening/speaking and reading/writing and whether the group should/could be open to beginners. After an initial meeting to discuss these questions, we reached the following resolutions:

It seems more feasible / easier to practice listening/speaking than reading/writing, but combining the ideas of “wouldn’t it be nice to have a children’s book that helps with reading/writing” and “let’s write a manhua” (a.k.a. “manga” in Japanese or “manhwa” in Korean), we may devote parts of our sessions to discussion of writing a children’s book that helps with reading/writing. Otherwise, our conversations will probably be us telling stories or what happened last week, etc (basically, random conversation around whatever topics we think of).

I think we don’t want to exclude people, but given that we don’t seem to have any particular idea on how to teach Chinese, the solution we came up with is to have the group be open to anyone, but just not make any guarantees about how much you’ll get out of it. I would be up for teaching a 1-2hour-long introductory foundational session on useful things to know about Chinese (like pinyin, characters/radicals, possibly some basic grammar, etc).

Essentially, beginners are welcome, and I will present introductory material whenever needed, so if you’re interested in learning Chinese, you should blanche yourself onto zhongwen and vote in the scheduling poll. I strongly encourage interested people to join, and not to let current proficiency level scare you out of joining, because the group really does have speakers at varied levels, and not everyone grew up listening to Chinese or anything like that.

For the second part, I would like to append the words “with fortune cookies … NOT” to the title of the post. See, the other night, a group of us went to dinner and received the following fortunes:

Old age is always 20 years older than you are.


All that we are is the result of what we have thought.

On the backs of these fortunes, though, the fortune cookies attempted to teach us Chinese. One fortune cookie claimed that “驚(jīng)喜(xǐ)” means “Surprise” and “猕(mí)猴(hóu)桃(táo)” means “Gooseberry.” Well, they are at least somewhat “right,” but they’re also somewhat wrong. The first phrase contains the word “喜” which is used in such expressions as 恭喜发 (the popularized pronunciation, “gung hay fat choy,” is Cantonese, and some of you may recognize that it is used around Chinese New Year), 喜欢 (meaning “to like”), etc. Basically, the word involves some expression of liking/happiness, and “surprise” in English doesn’t necessarily involve that. Thus, a better translation might be “pleasantly surprising.” The second phrase actually refers to Actinidia deliciosa (common name kiwifruit, usually shortened to “kiwi”), which is apparently also known as Chinese gooseberry. Well, gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa) and Chinese gooseberries are not the same thing. And I don’t know about you, but when I see “gooseberry” on a “Chinese” fortune cookie, I don’t immediately leap to the conclusion that I should be thinking about Chinese gooseberries. It makes me want to call up the company that makes these fortune cookies and tell them, “y’all’re right, but only in your own little world in your own little minds.” Honestly, neither of these translations actually involves any long and detailed background on the etymology of the characters/words. How hard can it be to get it right?

Biology BS Filter and … Why It Sucks To Be A Girl?

From my personal class (-i bio):

Me: I should have something better than a generic BS filter.
Ian: bullshit?
Me: Yes.
Me: I often can tell when people are bullshitting about basic biology, but asking me to spew it and remember terminology off the top of my head is somewhat more difficult. Then again, I learned most of that stuff >9 years ago, and last ~reviewed it >6 years ago, so … can I be forgiven for being rusty?

This seems like a similar problem to how Real Mathematicians tend to lose practice with arithmetic and are slower at it than an elementary school student might expect a person “who does math all day” to be. Over my years in the laboratory, I’ve spent more time dealing with immunology- and cancer-related terminology than the basic terminology taught in general/introductory biology classes, so while I can mostly remember what various terms mean when they’re being used to explain things to me, and thus can detect BS reasonably well, I probably couldn’t actually explain some basic biology terms the way that I feel that I ought to be able to.

I feel guilty about this, but it really is a matter of practice and common usage, I think. Most of that basic biology is stored in my implicit memory, so recalling it from no particular starting point is difficult. So while I feel guilty for not knowing basic terms/principles as well as I could, the only real solution is to use them more often, or else spend time reviewing them (which, in my opinion, setting aside chunks of time for is silly, since the time could probably be more effectively used and/or the material could be more efficiently reviewed).

I vaguely wonder if this is related to language usage. There is this common phenomenon that one remembers a foreign language much more quickly than might be expected when immersed in the environment, and I feel that it is similar (for me, at least, and probably for many/most other people as well) both with languages and different kinds of jargon. For example, I’m reasonably confident that it would take me some time rambling/thinking about immunology before I could just spew about it and use the jargon as fluently as I did when I was actually doing immunology work, but it would come back to me faster if I were inserted into an environment where other people were throwing around jargon (although it would take considerably less time in both cases for cancer terminology, I imagine).

Of course, this is just a specific area of general knowledge recall, I suppose, although I am inclined to say that knowledge recall is slightly more explicit than implicit. Then again, the split between explicit and implicit memory is probably not that distinct for specific topics (e.g. some of my biology knowledge is probably explicit, and some of it is probably implicit), and implicit memory can be analyzed to make it explicit, which is what teachers who are “experts” in a field but relatively new to teaching (e.g. me) do in order to be able to convey it to their students; for that matter, it is how people communicate ideas in general, to some extent.

Speaking of which, I’ve been asked to enumerate/expound upon the reasons “Why It Sucks To Be A Girl.” (Feel free to contribute additional reasons/comments or ask for clarification in the comments.) Having at it, then (disclaimer: I do not guarantee the veracity of the statements below, nor even that they accurately represent my opinions; spending time trying to figure out how to address every edge case or wording ambiguity is not part of the exercise here, nor is it something I’m willing to spend time on right now, and besides, these are very much intended to be broad, sweeping generalizations that don’t hold water in the face of anecdata) ….

Girls are generally expected to dress “better” than guys, or have a better fashion sense, or something. For guys, it seems more acceptable to dress casually, because they have more of a need for functionality, while girls are here just to look pretty. For example, guys can claim to need to carry tools around on their belts, whereas if a girl wants to, she meets more resistance. Another observation that has been made time and time again is that while wallets made for girls/women are at least the same size, if not larger than, wallets that are made for guys, the pockets in girls’/womens’ clothing are considerably smaller than the pockets of guys’ clothing. What does this mean? Essentially, girls are forced to carry purses (or backpacks). I don’t know about the rest of you, but personally, I rather dislike purses. What else…oh yeah, what’s with this whole high heel thing? There’s so much suggestion in the media that this/that is more attractive/feminine, but how it is practical AT ALL? Moving on to makeup…it really just gets everywhere. Do I really want lipstick smeared everywhere after kissing, or foundation smeared everywhere if I want to rest my head on someone’s shoulder? And eye makeup? Gets into your eyes and dries them out. Very irritating, both physically and otherwise. And how does this all play out in a work environment? I’ve been told that more attractive women get paid more and promoted more. While this is probably true for both men and women, it feels more excusable for men to be slightly more unkempt/disorganized. And don’t even get me started on things that are actually biologically-related…(although here I go anyway:) when women moved into the workforce and we finally got to the point where men stopped freaking out about it, society basically seemed to say, “Fine, you want to work and all that? You still have to deal with all of this childbearing/child-rearing crap.” (Yes, “crap” is probably not the word I want, or maybe I am using it to refer to the negative aspects of pregnancy and “womanhood” and such.) So prime time for reproduction for women falls somewhere in the twenties, which is also the point at which careers are supposed to be worked on heavily and possibly take off. What happens if you wait on one or the other? Waiting to work on one’s career generally works less well than in theory, because going back to school/work is *very* hard after children. Waiting to have kids is also less-than-ideal because of the increased risk of things going wrong in the pregnancy. And doing both at the same time…I think the solution of most women in such a position is to hire a (live-in) nanny, which, some of those mothers say, gives them less contact with their children than they might like. The other solution, of course, is heavier involvement from the father, but that depends heavily on the relationship. Anyway, this basically segues to the whole double-standard in society that so many people have remarked upon between men and women. Sure, sexism is much less prominent these days as compared to some number of decades ago, but the double standard is still there, and it sucks.

Linguistic Ambiguities

Over IAP, I have decided to teach an introductory Japanese class in addition to my general “Learn Asian” class. For those of you who haven’t heard of “Learn Asian” before, I provide a very basic background in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, and then cross-linguistically analyze them, pointing out similarities and differences. Personally, I found that knowing — or in my case, finding — these similarities and differences help when trying to learn any of the three languages, and especially so when trying to learn more than one.

Anyway, at some point, thinking about my lesson plans, I realized that I really wanted to spend more time teaching the Japanese part of the syllabus, hence the decision to register a new class. Many of you probably know that I listen to Asian music, which is actually how I first developed an interest in the Japanese language (unlike many others who discover Japanese through anime/manga/dramas). Because I am less familiar with anime/manga, I find it hard to bring it to the classroom to capture the students’ attention, so I try to use Japanese music instead. As a teacher, I try to be on the lookout for examples so I can catch them when they occur to me and I don’t have to spend as much time looking for them. Well, I’ve been listening to this lovely song (BoA’s new single, “まもりたい ~White Wishes~”) for some time now, and my brain occasionally latches onto a word or phrase and attempts to pick it apart. If I pick enough of it apart, I may just use it for the class.

I’m sure many of you are aware that the internet is a Big Place where many people post their thoughts and works, and that some of these works are translations. I set off in search of a translation of this song, and found that I disagreed with the translation in several places: one was a misinterpretation of a verbal conjugation, another seemed like the translator confused one word for another. That is, the translation was “I want to keep it, I will keep it,” while I would have translated those two words as “I want to protect you, I am protected.”

There are actually three discrepancies here. One is the verb “keep” versus “protect,” another is the use of the future tense versus the present tense, and the last is the use of active voice versus passive voice. Working backwards: I believe that the third discrepancy is a confusion of verbal conjugation, and the second discrepancy is due to lack of clearer distinction between present and future in Japanese; Japanese mostly distinguishes clearly between the present and the perfective aspect. Now the first discrepancy…that’s interesting.

…Actually, re-reading over the translation, I think there are more problems with it (of course there are). And so far I’ve only talked about translating two of the Japanese words, too…. Well, how about I just post the entirety of the translation and go from there?

01 On the day that I thought this would be the last,
02 Came a elevating start which I can talk about now,
03 My palms which your warmth spread and my empty heart,
04 I’m searching for the paths we walked together by connecting our hearts

05 I want to keep it,
06 I will keep it,
07 Even at times we can’t meet,
08 We are becoming stronger with every passing second

09 Like the accumulating sadness starting to melt,
10 Forever, forever

11 I want to keep it,
12 I will keep it,
13 Even at times we can’t meet,
14 We are becoming stronger with every passing second

15 I won’t forget it,
16 How i was reborn after meeting you,
17 I still believe it,
18 That’s why I want to keep it all,
19 I want to keep it all

I’m going to randomly pick this apart, where I am inspired to do so. So starting with lines 5 and 6 (the material I originally quoted above): the original Japanese is “守りたい, 守られてる”, which are conjugations of the verb 守る corresponding to the “I want to” form and the passive en train de form, respectively. Now, what is the meaning of the verb? Well…one translation is “protect,” but the original meaning (that is, the meaning of the word in Chinese, where the kanji was taken from) is something along the lines of “hold” or “take under wing” or “take in”, which makes this translation of “keep” plausible. The specific verb that is most appropriate in the translation thus depends on one’s interpretation of the verb within the overall context of the song.

…After some amount of time trying to figure out where in the world lines 9 and 10 are translated from, I think I finally figured it out: “降り積もる哀しみをそっと溶かすように, いつまでも, いつでも.” For line 9, I mostly have no complaints, but “そっと” does not play a role in the translated line, so the adverb “softly”/”gently”/”quietly” should be added in there. Line 10, on the other hand…I mean, even an individual who doesn’t know a whit of Japanese can tell, with some examination, that “いつまでも” and “いつでも” are not the same, so why are they both translated as “forever”? If the lyricist used slightly different terms that both approximately mean “forever,” a translator should strive to maintain a slight difference between the two translations so that the feel of the lyrics is preserved. Would you agree? With that consideration, I would translate the two phrases as “no matter until when”1 and “no matter when,” respectively.

Jumping back to lines 7 and 8, which are originally written “会えない時間(とき)もずっと, 一秒ずつ私達は強くなれるから,” the first thing that I notice is that the final verb is definitely mistranslated, because the conjugation is the potential conjugation (”to be able to”), and thus line 14 should be, at least in my opinion, translated as “Because each second we can become stronger” (you’ll note that the “because” is also missing from the translation above). Line 13 is missing a translation for the word “ずっと,” which means “forever.” (See, this is why I disapprove of the translation for line 10: because there are other words which are more appropriately translated as “forever” and therefore these nuances in meaning should be preserved in translation, especially when all of the terms are used in the same song/document/whatever.)

Anyway, I think I’m getting tired of picking apart this translation, so I will conclude with a rant about I simply do not understand why the website provides on-readings for kanji that do not appear next to other kanji, because kanji that stand alone like that are more frequently read using the kun-reading. This is clearly something that needs to be changed in their transliteration algorithm. Maybe I will send the webmaster an email.

1 I asked whether “no matter until when” was considered English on zephyr, and was told “no.” Soliciting suggestions didn’t seem to help, although we came up with the following “alternatives”: “It doesn’t matter until when” and “No matter for how long” (although the second is somewhat more of a freer translation/interpretation). Hopefully you can extract meaning from “no matter until when” given that it is similar to “no matter when”? They are really only subtly different.

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