Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bimyo na Nihongo - The Delicate Japanese?

At the same time as writing articles and editing them for the website I automatically do some JPN-ENG translations because the base data for these articles are in Japanese, and every time I try to write something very Japanese I hit a wall of language differences. For more professional translators and interpretors this wall of language differences (and I say wall, not a barrier... I feel like they're somewhat different) is probably close to nothing, but for a person like me who understands both languages pretty well but not well enough to accomplish the task without almost no difficulty, the little things about the language differences bother so much. The differences of the languages are the differences of cultures and I can't be adding footnotes everytime I do translations. I feel this especially strongly when translating sentences that have to do with senses of beauty and comfort.

Good examples (which means I have to deal with the following rather frequently) are as follows:

- yuugen: subtle and profound, ethereal
- mugen (yumemaboroshi) : illusory, dreamy
- shimpiteki: mysterious, unearthly
- gensouteki: fantastic(al), magical, translunar(y)... (it's more... dreamy and nice)
- iki: chic, edgy, nifty, stylish
- shareta: chic, classy, fancy, stylish
- joucho yutaka: exotic, emotional... (I don't think this's right)
- fuzei no aru: taste, flavor, appearance, attractive
- joushu afureru: sentimental, spicy... (haha! "spicy")
- okuyukashii: discreet
- ryuugi: style, way, fashion, tradition
- yuusou: gallant, valiant
- hanayaka: gaudiness, pomp(ous), gorgeous
- jojou: lyric(al)
- yuruyaka(na): mild, gentle, relaxed, moderate
- miyabiyaka / jouhin / yuuga: elegant, refined, ethereal
- seijaku: quiet, tranquil(ity), composed, relaxed, silence
- wa: Japanese
- kokoro: heart and mind
- kyoushuu / natsukashii: nostalgia, nostalgic, reminiscence

The nastiest one for me personally is "kokoro" which according to the dictionary is "heart and/or mind". It's not wrong, but it's neither exactly heart nor mind, nor is it feelings, emotions or spirit. It's like a mixture of everything mentioned but is indescribable in other words. Kokoro is kokoro.

The other ones that are hard to tell are those related to other-worldliness like yuugen, mugen, shimpiteki, gensouteki, etc. There was a translation in the dictionary, "ethereal" but because I've never really used that vocablulary in my daily life when I lived in the States, I have no idea what it means exactly. Can somebody tell me if it's an appropriate word to describe other-worldy beauty, or the quiet and profound atmosphere that makes you feel a sort of sacredness???

Shimpiteki is another tricky one that I can't completely agree with the dictionary. The kanji says, "god(s) - secret" and the Jpn-Eng dictionary gives "mysterious" as the English translation, but it's a twist different from mysterious. It certainly implies mysteriousness, but it also carries the meanings of sacredness or holiness. Something sacred and holy, something that makes you feel the presence of the gods is mysterious. I think that point is more or less common in any culture or religion. Well, the traditional Japanese religion (Shinto) believes that there are gods in pretty much everything existing in this world and worships especially the nature. Therefore the term "shimpiteki" is used many times with descriptions on nature, scenery, art and atmosphere. When the term is used it does denote holiness, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a sanctuary that the outsiders are prohibited connection. It's just the description of the atmosphere.

So. My point. How much of these translations are credible? Most of the above, I have been using every once in a while because I cannot find alternatives, but honestly I do doubt if they're actually correct. They are Japanese-unique expressions that perhaps can be translated better into Chinese and Korean more than English because we share part of the writing systems as well as having similarity in the cultures. How can I tell precisely the most delicate nuance of the difficult language in a different language?

If there's anyone out there who understands both languages perfectly, I am dying for your suggestions!