Translation Lost

Any translation between English and Japanese is a challenging task. Translating Japanese lyrics into English is even tougher.

For example, my translation of words from "Rasen" went like this:

And by forgetting about you
I reach the heavens

But the second like may be:

You reach the heavens

because the original Japanese line does not include any subject word. In fact, many Japanese sentences do not have any subject. Therefore, the second line could be written like this:

[I / You / He / She / It / They] reach(es) the heavens

or using a placeholder:

[insert whatever you like here] reach(es) the heavens

or even a wildcard:

* reach(es) the heavens.

But unfortunately, none of these are readable.

In Italian or Spanish, in which subject words can also be omitted, you can tell whether the subject is first-person or second or third by the ending of the verb in question. But in Japanese, this kind of inflection never occurs.

Similarly, Japanese doesn't distinguish singular and plural nouns. Therefore,

To become branches and a stem

can be

To become a branch and stems.

In short, a Japanese-to-English translator has to determine the subject word at his/her own discretion. And by doing so, the translator is obliged to deprive you of the freedom of interpretation that you should be allowed. As a translator for this site, I'm awfully sorry for that. Please note that my translation is based on just one of many possible interpretations.

Incidentally, Japanese has developed a set of "suffixes" that add a shade of different meaning to sentences. For instance, "Ii tenki." (It's nice weather.) can be suffixed in this way:

Ii tenki-da.
Ii tenki-ne.
Ii tenki-da-ne.
Ii tenki-yo.
Ii tenki-da-yo.
Ii tenki-da-wa.
Ii tenki-yo-ne.
Ii tenki-da-yo-ne.

Each of these sentences has a tone that is slightly different from each other. And it's extremely difficult to translate these nuances into English.

Japanese used to have two faces: male language and female language. Now Japanese is going unisex—more and more Japanese girls are accustomed to use the male language. For example, "Ii tenki-da-wa.", a feminine expression, is now nearly obsolete. "Ii tenki-da." used to be considered more likely to be used by men while "Ii tenki-ne." by women. Japanese women use both of them these days.

Chihiro never used "-ne"—a rather feminine wording—in her lyrics but she does use "-yo".

For example, part of "call" goes like this:

Seigi ya genjitsu nado imasara
Nannimo naranaitte
Kizuite kyoki wo misete-yo

(Find out that neither justice nor the reality
Is of no use now when it's too late
And show me your insanity).

Although "-yo" is not reflected in the above translation, it has to be "misete-yo", not "misete-ne". It's because although both of the two suffixes are used to lay emphasis on the preceding words and are often interchangeable, "-ne" is used affectionately while "-yo" is used in a more or less detached manner.

Interestingly enough, she uses "-wa" in, and only in, two numbers included in her debut CD: "Shine" and "BACK DOOR".

(All quotations are given from respective works listed above. Original text copyrighted by Chihiro Onitsuka. Translated and quoted by Folia in compliance with the Japanese Copyright Act. The above translations may be superficial rather than deliberate, and are intended for your information only.)



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