Not the Magazine You’re Looking For

I was just playing Dead Island: Riptide, a zombie game which takes place on a tropical island, and in one section you have to travel through some tunnels dug by the Japanese in WWII. While there, I found this bunker labeled “雑誌”, which, while technically meaning “magazine” in English, more specifically and exclusively means the paper magazines people read. So unless this is supposed to be a room filled with old editions of TIME, the word they were looking for was “弾薬庫”, which means “magazine” in the sense of a storage depot for munitions. I suspect the developers flipped open the nearest Japanese dictionary and used the first entry they saw under “magazine”. Needless to say, I encourage people to always use a professional translator, no matter how small the job.


Basic Japanese translation tips: Titles, names, “法律”

Needless to say, Japanese is a difficult language to translate into English. Just one of the many reasons for this difficulty is that generally there’s nothing to indicate that the title of a book, document, etc. is actually a title in a written Japanese text. Occasionally, titles are encased in quotes (「」), but this is usually only the case of book titles or other media, and even then not only is this rare, but quotes are also often used just to add emphasis.

Documents from large companies are often littered with references to other official documents, manuals, and applications. Often, these documents will already have an official English title. If you are in doubt as to where a particular block of text is a title or not, it’s best just to contact the client or agency you received the document from. At the very least, leave a translator’s note in the form of a comment in Word, etc., indicating your uncertainty and providing two separate translations (one that can be used if the highlighted text is an official title and one that can be used if it’s just a general phrase).

One type of title that is particularly easy to overlook if you haven’t encountered them before is the name of laws. Take, for example, “資源の有効な利用の促進に関する法律.” At first glance, this may look like a general phrase about “laws concerning the promotion of the effective utilization of resources,” but actually, it’s the name of a law which would be more properly translated as the “Act on the Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources.” (part of the tip off that this is the name of a law could be the stiffness of the phrase, but sometimes the style of the document is just as stiff).

The official source for “unofficial” English translations of Japanese law names is theJapanese Law Translation website operated by the Japanese government (from which the above translation comes). Any time you see the word “法律,” treat it with a modicum of caution and plug it and the phrase proceeding it into the site. Often, however, laws are referred to by common names shorter than the full, official title used by Japanese Law Translation, which frequently fails to recognize the shorter version. Even if you don’t get a hit on that site, it’s often a good idea to also try the excellent dictionary composite site Weblio or even just do a regular Google search to be safe.

As you should be well aware if you are a current or aspiring Japanese translator, Japanese personal names are simply impossible to translate without help. Even the characters used in common names can be pronounced multiple ways, never mind the increasingly creative pronunciations and character combinations given to the names of members of younger generations. Further, even if you are verbally told the pronunciation, you still need to know the correct romanization, since several romanization systems are currently in use. In a best case scenario, your client will provide you with a list of all personal names appearing in the document as well as their proper romanization before the project starts. If you didn’t get such a list in advance and run into a name you didn’t notice before accepting the assignment, email the client. If the client is difficult to reach or has specified so, you could also leave personal names untranslated with translator’s notes attached to each indicating the need to fill in its romanization. If you are working with a big company and they have a website that is available in both English and Japanese, you can try searching for pages on their site that contain the Japanese name and then look for the matching English page. If the site itself does not have a search engine, you can search their site from Google by first searching for the term you are looking for, clicking the gear button on the right side of the search results page and selecting “Advanced search,” and then typing the address of the site you wish to search in the “site or domain” field on the advanced search page.

Unfortunately, however, most Japanese companies do not translate every page on their website, instead offering a sort of mini version of their site in English. In that case, you can try searching their site for the Japanese name and looking for other relevant information about the person such as their job title or projects they worked on. Then search the English site using probable pronunciations of the person’s name, taking care to match any hits you find with the information you discovered about the person when searching the Japanese site. Even if this method yields results, always attach a translator’s note. Especially in the case of personal names, there’s nothing wrong with asking the client to check your information; as mentioned above, it’s simply impossible to know the pronunciation or preferred romanization of personal names without being explicitly informed of them.

Possible pronunciations of names can be found by searching with Weblio, but I find usingFirefox with the Rikaichan add-on and a blank text entry field such as this one is much more flexible and faster as well.

‘Leading linguist’ says mediocre communication is our future

According to a recent article in the Telegraph, ’leading linguist’ Nicolas Ostler has stated that English as a lingua franca will soon die out, to be replaced not by a new language of trade but rather by machine translation. I have no qualms with the premise that English will eventually cease to be the ‘global language.’ Languages, like people and civilizations themselves, eventually pass away. However, as I posted just a short time ago, I don’t see machine translation truly becoming ‘translation,’ mainly because without a true brain behind the wheel, it is quite literally impossible to accurately translate any sort of content. Of course, many people are pushing for the machine translation revolution, Google included. Unfortunately, however, without true artificial intelligence powering your machine translation, all you end up with is garbage data that gives you a vague idea of what the original content actually said, usually with mixed up negatives and literal translations of figurative expressions that can lead to serious consequences when used for actual communication purposes. Google Translate is the state of the art in the field and even theyadmit both that it’s just about reached its limit and should only be used for gisting, not actual communication. In other words, the ‘future’ of inter-language communication according to Ostler and others is already here and that future is mediocre at best, dangerous at worst. To give you a taste of this ‘glorious’ future, I’ve taken the liberty of translating this article into Japanese and back again using Google and posted the result below.


According to a recent article in the Telegraph, hostler Nicholas scholars “major languages” is not in the new language of trade English as a common language is not to soon be replaced by machine translation rather, there is to go extinct said that the funnel. English is the language I no pangs of conscience with the premise. “Global language”, as people and civilization itself, and eventually passes away to cease to be final. But I have posted a little while ago, I if there is no true brain behind the wheel, the main reason is literally impossible to convert any sort of content precisely, the machine translation it does not appear in the ‘translation’ really. Of course, it contains a lot of people are promoting the revolution of machine translation, and Google. However, without the need for true artificial intelligence unfortunately, to supply power to the machine translation of your After all, it is garbage data, or a literal of figurative expression may lead to negative is usually mixed when used for the purposes of the actual communication serious consequences give you an idea of what vague translation, the original content of what you said actually. Google Translate, and even a state-of-the-art field, they both admit that should be used to create only the gist of it is not only the actual communication, have about reached the limit. In other words, According to the hostler, “future” of inter-language communication, where its future is a commonplace in critical condition, the best of the worst already. In order to give you a taste of the future “of glory” this to you, I will use again and Japan, Google has posted the following results, a letter of translating this article.