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2019.04.25

How to Describe Rain in Japanese

Article

Onomatopoeia normally refers to "the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named" (Source: Oxford Living Dictionaries). The English word beep, for instance, imitates the sound it denotes, and the word roar recreates the cry of a lion or a similar large wild animal.

There is a plethora of onomatopoeic words in the Japanese language. What makes these expressions so special, however, is their ability to convey a lot more than just sounds and noises. In fact, they can be divided into two large groups: giongo, i.e. words that mimic sounds, and gitaigo, i.e. words that mimic states of the external world. The latter group includes expressions that describe the way people laugh (e.g. nikoniko "to smile"), the way they sleep (e.g. utouto "to nod off"), or even the way they feel (e.g. gakkari "to be disappointed"). Gitaigo expressions are also used to depict natural phenomena (e.g kankan "scorching heat"), shapes of objects (e.g. dekoboko "uneven surface"), or movement (e.g. yochiyochi "to toddle").

For this blog post, I have decided to focus on a rather narrow category of onomatopoeic expressions that describe rain. Most of the words listed below can be classified as giongo, i.e. words that mimic sounds or noises. The list serves to demonstrate just how differently a particular sound can be perceived and reproduced in a different linguistic environment. (Also, the rainy season is just around the corner in Japan, so I think this topic is quite appropriate.)

1. Potsupotsu

This expression is used to describe the sporadic raindrops that you see (or feel) when it is just about to start raining.

2. Shitoshito

"Shitoshito" denotes a gentle rain, heavier than a drizzle but not quite as intense as a downpour.

3. Botabota

When rain falls in large drops, it rains "botabota." This word mostly refers to the repeated sounds the heavy raindrops make as they hit a surface.

4. Parapara

This onomatopoeic expression is used to describe raindrops that fall in scattered, irregular patterns.

5. Zāzā

As its sound may suggest, the word "zāzā" denotes continuous heavy rain.


Sources:
Kotobank https://kotobank.jp/
Oxford Living Dictionaries https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/

2019.03.22

Six Essential Japanese-Made English Words ("Wasei-Eigo")

Article

The lexicon of the Japanese language is quite diverse. There is a colorful mixture of Chinese loanwords, borrowings from European languages (mostly from English and Portuguese), and also the so-called "wasei-eigo," which literally means "Japanese-made English words." This is a large category of commonly used expressions that were coined from English and only exist in Japanese. They are not to be confused with loanwords such as "pen" ペン (from the English word "pen") or "pan" パン (meaning "bread," from the Portuguese word "pão"), and they must be carefully distinguished from their "real" English equivalents. Japanese native speakers with no proficiency in English will most probably not understand you if you replace a Japanese-made English word with an original English expression when speaking Japanese. Also, if you happen to be a Japanese-to-English translator, you need to be careful not to fall into the trap of simply transcribing a "wasei-eigo" word in English, since that will most probably result in a confusing and/or unnatural translation.
The list below provides a few typical examples you are very likely to come across in your day-to-day interactions with people in Japan.

1. Claim (クレーム, kurēmu) = complaint

In Japan, you do not make a complaint - you "make a claim." In English, the noun "claim" refers to "an assertion of the truth of something" or "a demand or request for something considered one's due" (source: Oxford Dictionary). While the "wasei-eigo" counterpart preserves the original form (and pronunciation to some extent) of the English word, it conveys an entirely different meaning.

2. Baby car (ベビーカー, bebīkā) = baby carriage

In Japan, baby carriages are referred to as "baby cars." Although this particular "wasei-eigo" expression may strike a native English speaker as unnatural, its meaning should not be too difficult to guess even if you have just started learning the language.

3. Cunning (カンニング, kaningu) = cheating (on a test)

The English adjective "cunning" can mean "having or showing skill in achieving one's ends by deceit or evasion" or also "ingenious" (source: Oxford Dictionary). The Japanese-made English expression "cunning," on the other hand, is used as a noun to denote the act of cheating on a test. Although the shift in meaning is quite drastic, it can be said that the "wasei-eigo" expression keeps some of the original undertone.

4. Salary man (サラリーマン, sararīman) = white-collar worker

This is arguably one of the most commonly used "wasei-eigo" expressions in modern Japanese. At first glance, it may seem like it refers to "a man who earns a salary," but it is in fact used specifically to denote a white-collar male worker. There is also a related expression, "office lady" or "OL," which refers to a female office worker.

5. Mansion (マンション, manshon) = apartment, flat

This expression can be a little confusing when you hear it for the first time, but if a Japanese person tells you they live in a "mansion," they are simply trying to say they live in an apartment.

6. Sharp pencil (シャープペンシル, shāpu penshiru) = mechanical pencil

In Japanese, "sharp pencil" is a term used to refer to a mechanical pencil.


Sources:
Oxford English Dictionary (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/)
Kotobank (https://kotobank.jp/)

2018.12.20

Five Reasons to Become a Translator

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Foreign languages have always played a very important role in my life. When I was in my late 20s, I decided to move to Japan, which made it necessary for me to speak and think in a foreign language on a daily basis. At first, the whole situation was a little stressful and quite surreal, but I got used to it eventually and even began to like it. Japanese can be a tricky language to learn, but I never got tired of it, and I did not do it merely out of necessity. It was also the excitement of trying to master a whole new language that pushed me forward.
I eventually decided to enroll in a graduate course in Japanese linguistics to analyze the language and get a better understanding of its structure and history. After graduation, working as a language expert felt like the most natural way to build my career, which is how I ended up becoming a translator. It has now been four years since I started, and I have decided to sum up my experience by analyzing five good reasons to consider starting a career path in translation.

Reason No. 1: To Capitalize on Your Language Skills

Learning a foreign language for its own sake is always fun, but why not put that knowledge to good use while you are at it? Although it is true that the AI used in machine translation is developing at an astonishing pace, it will take a while before human translators and (maybe even more so) interpreters become obsolete.
Needless to say, it all depends on your level, but you can always work on that. Also, there are other careers that require language skills (international sales, journalism, and diplomacy, to name just a few), but if working with the language itself is what fascinates you the most, becoming a translator is probably the way to go.

Reason No. 2: To Maintain Your Language Skills

Learning a language is a never-ending process. As a translator, you always need to keep track of the way your source language changes. You are constantly forced to look up new words and learn how to use them. You need to be able to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable linguistic resources in order to make sure the knowledge you possess is accurate enough.
In other words, the best side effect of becoming a translator is non-stop language training. Foreign languages are easy to forget (at least to some extent) if one does not actively use them, which is very unlikely to happen to a professional translator.

Reason No. 3: To Get a Better Understanding of Your Own Mother Tongue

This is partly related to the second reason I discussed above. Being a native speaker gives you a natural feel for the way your language works, but it does not automatically make you a language expert. It is very important for you as a translator to stay current on the trends that continue to shape your mother tongue. You always have to look for new and more innovative ways to express your thoughts. You also need to learn from more experienced language professionals to maintain the quality of your translations.
That is why working as a translator is a good way to learn more about your native language and take your writing skills to a whole new level.

Reason No. 4: To Learn More about the World

Unfortunately, translators are not omniscient. Thus, if you decide to work in this field, you will probably spend a good chunk of your time doing research. On machinery. Chemistry. Mathematics. Cars. Art. Geography. Music. Cultures. Law. You name it. Unless you specialize in one particular field, you will need to tackle a large spectrum of different texts, which will require you to look for information quickly and efficiently.
And while this may seem like a daunting task, it can in fact be quite rewarding. Every new text represents a challenge and demands a new approach. And (almost) every time you finish a translation, you feel like you have gotten to know the world around you just a little bit better.

Reason No. 5: To Get a Closer Look at a Different Culture

Describing the role of a translator as a bridge between different cultures may sound like an old cliché, but there is more than a hint of truth in it. Cultural sensitivity is of paramount importance if one wishes to evolve into a translator that the world will trust. Mastering the language you are translating from is a pre-condition that allows you to even start your career, but you cannot disregard the cultural context in which that language developed.
You will bump into expressions, figures of speech, and even text formats that only make sense in the environment where the language in question is used. This will encourage you to think outside the box and convey the notions hidden behind the words as seamlessly as possible.

2018.11.30

Translating 'Sumimasen' into English

Article

If you travel or even move to Japan, you will probably soon realize how important expressing politeness is in Japanese society. A relatively strict social hierarchy requires Japanese speakers, both native and foreign, to be always aware of the etiquette that dominates various aspects of everyday life in this country. There are a number of unwritten and unspoken rules that one simply needs to internalize by trial and error.

The cultural role that etiquette plays in Japan has also shaped the nature of the Japanese language. This is an agglutinating language with a relatively simple morphological structure, especially when compared to Latin-based languages such as Italian or Slavic languages such as Polish or Russian. However, what makes Japanese rather unique is its complex and highly nuanced system of politeness expressions, which can represent a significant challenge for learners. For example, the Japanese language distinguishes between the so-called "honorific" and "humble" speech. The former is used when you address or refer to the actions of someone who is older, more experienced, or enjoys a higher social status, whereas the latter is used when you refer to your own actions or circumstances.

The Japanese language abounds in phrases that are used to express gratitude, remorse, and similar notions. One such expression is "sumimasen," which can be directly translated as "I'm sorry." However, this seemingly simple utterance can take on other meanings as well. In this blog post, I would like to briefly discuss some of the most typical uses of the phrase and their equivalents in English.

1. "I'm sorry."

This type of use is quite straightforward. It is practically equivalent to the way "sorry" is used in English. When you want to apologize for being late, for instance, you should say, "Okurete shimatte sumimasen!" (lit. "I'm late and I'm sorry.") There are, of course, other expressions you can use in Japanese to say you are sorry. The rule of thumb is: the longer the phrase the politer the expression (although this is a very simplistic approach that may not always work).

2. "Excuse me"

Imagine you are at an izakaya (a Japanese-style pub) and you are running dangerously low on beer. All you have to do to get the waiter's or waitress's attention is yell, "Sumimasen! Biiru wo kudasai!" (lit. "Excuse me, one beer, please!") Again, there are politer ways of getting somebody's attention, but "sumimasen" will suffice in most social or business situations.

3. "Thank you"

You are on the subway in Tokyo, comfortably seated, surfing the web on your smartphone. The train stops at a station, and an elderly lady gets on. You decide to give up your seat for her, so you stand up. What she will most probably say to you next is, "Sumimasen!" You may think she is apologizing, but she is actually expressing her gratitude. In Japanese, it is quite common to use "sumimasen" when somebody goes out of their way to help you.

2018.08.22

Five Common English Words of Japanese Origin

Article

Over the centuries, the English language has been molded into its modern form through a rich cultural exchange between nations around the world. For instance, a large part of current English vocabulary came from Latin, mostly through French, and there are a number of commonly used loan words from Spanish, such as aficionado, embargo, and mosquito.
Common loan words also include bungalow, which was borrowed from Hindi, alcohol, which came from Arabic, and anonymous, which originates from Greek (source: Oxford Dictionaries).

In modern Japanese, on the other hand, there are a plethora of widely used English loan words such as kompyūtā (computer), baiku (motorbike), and sumafo (a clipped form of the word smartphone). The linguistic exchange seems to have gone both ways, since quite a few frequently used words in English are actually borrowings from Japanese. Here are a few examples.

Tycoon

The word tycoon was introduced into the English language in the middle of the 19th century. In Japanese, the word taikun means great lord. It was used in the Edo period to refer to the shogun in diplomatic correspondence. In modern English, however, it denotes a wealthy and powerful person in business (sources: Oxford Dictionaries and Kotobank).

Sudoku

This popular puzzle game, which requires players to fill out number grids in specific patterns, first appeared in Japan in 1984. Its name is actually an abbreviation of the phrase "Sūdoku wa dokushin ni kagiru," which literally translates as "digits are limited to a single occurrence" (source: Sudoku.com). This highly addictive game has retained its popularity for decades, garnering fans across the globe.

Rickshaw

The word Rickshaw refers to a two-wheeled passenger cart drawn by one or more people. It comes from the expression jinrikisha, which literally means human-powered vehicle in Japanese. The term came into use in the 19th century when rickshaws started becoming a popular means of transportation across Asia (source: Oxford Dictionaries).

Origami

The Japanese art of paper folding is well-known all around the world. The word origami is actually a compound that consists of two parts: ori, which means folding, and kami, which denotes paper. The simplicity of the term is contrasted by the breathtakingly complex shapes and figures created by origami masters.

Emoji

If you have ever owned a smartphone, you are probably familiar with the concept of emoji. The term was coined in the 1990s, and it consists of the words e, which means picture, and moji, which stands for character (source: Oxford Dictionaries). In the era of smart devices, the word emoji is arguably one of the most frequently used words of Japanese origin in English.