International Mother Language Day 2010

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1 International Mother Language Day 2010 Revealing How Japanese Translators view their own social roles By TANABE Kikuko, Kobe College, Japan International Symposium: Translation and Cultural Mediation, UNESCO H.Q., Feb. 23, 2010 Good morning. First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this symposium for giving me an invaluable opportunity to talk to an international audience and to exchange ideas with people from various cultural backgrounds. My name is Kikuko Tanabe and the college where I teach translation is situated in Kobe in the central part of Japan where a big earthquake took place in 1995, which caused devastating damage as well as human losses. So, I would like to take this opportunity to express my most sincere sympathy to the people of Haiti and extend to them my hope for their country s prompt recovery and return to normalcy. In today s presentation, I am going to report on what contemporary Japanese translators think and feel about their role, and what kind of attitudes they typically take toward translation. As historical background to contemporary Japanese translation, I will show the phases of transition that the Japanese translator community has gone through. The modernization, or Westernization, of Japan started in the late 19th century, and it granted high status to translators. Even today, Japanese professional translators enjoy more visibility than western translators and play a significant role in society as cultural mediators. On the other hand, if you listen to the voices of younger translators today, they seem to be caught up in the age-old debate over style, that is, literal vs. free and awkward translationese vs. natural Japanese. At the end of the presentation, I will briefly state my opinion about how the Japanese translation community should develop in the future. Before going into the main points of this presentation, I would like to explain very briefly the present state of the translation industry in Japan. The scale of the Japanese translation market is hard to measure, but the market is estimated to consist of 3% of book and audiovisual translation and 95% of technical translation including IT, sci-tech, patent, business, and medical translations. According to other sources, the estimated market scale is \ billion, or $1-2 billion, for technical translation, \2 billion, or $ 20 million, for book translation, and less than \1 billion, or $10 million, for movie subtitling. Although it isn t included in the slide, a huge-scale translator training market exists in Japan. Although it is a bit old data from Yamaoka Yoicih, while the market scale of book translation is \2 billion, or $200 million, one major translator training school alone earns more than that amount! The significance of the translation training 1

2 market will be further discussed later. As for the language pairs, the most frequently translated language in Japan is obviously English, and it is worth noting that Japanese-to-English translation is almost on a par with English-to-Japanese translation in terms of volume. Although English-to-Japanese translation is seen by Japanese people as the prototypical and most important translation, the opposite direction, Japanese-to-English translation, is an emerging and promising area, but unfortunately, few attempts have been made so far to explore what translators in this area think and feel about their job. Now, going back to the first point of my presentation, I would like to explain the historical importance of the Japanese translation tradition. Recently, I attended an international conference held in Kyoto, entitled Translation Studies in the Japanese Context. In one of the sessions, a Chinese student studying in Japan stood up and called Japan a translation culture. I think that is quite a good naming. Here are the several reasons why translation has been, and still is, so important in Japan. Historically, Japan has actively translated from foreign languages to Japanese. It started with the translation of Chinese texts in the 7th century CE, followed by Latin, Portuguese, Dutch and finally, in the modernization period in the 19th century, English. As one proof of the sheer range and scale of the translation activities during that period, Eva Hung and David Pollard say, [Chinese] intellectuals realized that Western thought and skills had to be made their own [and] Japanese became the chief source language, both for original works in that [Japanese] language and also for Japanese translation of Western works. The reason for this was that Japan was a generation ahead of China in its absorption of Western knowledge and culture. Another good example provided by Yamaoka that shows the significance of translation in the modernization process comes from a samurai called Murata Zoroku, whose portrait is shown here and features a protruded forehead that may be meant to indicate high intelligence. During the war between the feudal Shogunate army and the promodernization rebels, he translated Dutch military manuals into Japanese so that the rebel officers could give commands in Japanese. Because of this, the rebel army defeated the superior Shogunate forces who used the original French terms on the battlefield. This episode testifies to the intrinsic importance of translation in Japan s Westernization process. Along with this critical role played by translation, the Japanese language itself was also influenced by translation. Again, revolutionaries wanted to change Japanese language and to modernize it. They tried to do this under the influence of Western languages. More specifically, Japanese translators coined new words, experimented with new expressions, and shifted from the traditional written Japanese to a new vernacular writing. Some examples of new words were society, philosophy and science, which were concepts totally foreign to people of that age. The use of pronouns and the relative clause were also new imports. Borrowing the words of Inoue Ken, these influences of translation caused an everlasting wavering between the Westernized writing and traditional writing in the Japanese literary world as well as in the translator community. Many Japanese writers and poets were also translators, and they often incorporated awkward translationese into their writings in order to differentiate themselves from conservative writers, who tried to go back to the traditional Japanese style. Today, Japanese translation studies are often criticized for being too linguistically oriented, but 2

3 it is very difficult for Japanese translation practices to be free of this eternal problem of conflicting styles. Thanks to the critical role played by translation during the modernization era, the status of translators has been consistently high. In fact, many of the translation activities until the 1970s were done by academics, or university professors. But, as one participant of my research pointed out, the global social change during the 1970s impacted the translation landscape. As self-awareness and egalitarian ideals enhanced the creativity of individuals, translation came to be seen as an unoriginal, uncreative endeavor. This led to a demographic shift in the translation community, where academics and university professors quit translation because it was seen as non-creative work. The resulting gap was filled by newly-emerging professional translators. Therefore, professional translation was, from the very beginning, destined to be considered as an unworthy profession, especially by intellectuals. Thus was created the metaphor that compares the translator with kuroko, the stage assistants found in Japanese traditional theater, dressed in black, and shown on the slide. The metaphor of kuroko translator is very similar to the concept of invisible translator, which is one of the most frequently discussed topics in Western translation studies. Now, with this historical background in perspective, I would like to move to the main topic of this presentation, my recent research into how professional Japanese translators themselves see their profession. The method I used in this research is called PAC analysis, which is a semi-structured interview method developed by Tetsuo Naito, a Japanese psychologist. Participants were nine professional translators with career lengths ranging from five to 30 years. Two are technical translators and six are book translators and one does both. They were asked about what they think is good translation. I won t go into the details of this method, but after computer-aided cluster analysis and long interviews with participants, I went through the transcripts and tried to find possible patterns in what participants think and feel about their profession. As a complementary research, I also analyzed a dozen books on translation written by professional translators and checked if similar patterns could be found. Based on the results of the two avenues of research, I investigated three possible patterns. They are: opposing norms of adequacy and acceptability, voluntary subservience or invisibility of the translator, and cross-cultural commitment of translators as mediators. The first, adequacy and acceptability are the two types of translation that originated from the concept of translational norms. According to the concept of norms posited by Gideon Toury, translation practices are governed by various norms, and those subscribed to the source culture are called adequate translation, and those subscribed to the target culture are called acceptable translation. The research participants, especially less-experienced young translators, showed strong concerns regarding such conflicting norms. Next is the equally famous translational concept of voluntary subservience that comes from Daniel Simeoni, a researcher who analyzed Western translators attitude based on Bourdieu s concept of habitus. This phrase also seemed to work well in describing Japanese translators attitude. The third possible pattern, cross-cultural commitment of translators, refers to cross-cultural social actions that is in contrast to the above two attitudes, which happen largely inside the translator s inner selves or the translator community. Unlike the first two attitudes, cross-cultural commitment was especially noticeable in the attitude of more experienced translators. 3

4 Now, I would like to move on to the comments of the participants. This slide shows some comments that mention the two types of translation, adequate and acceptable translations. In the cluster analysis of what participants believe is good translation, adequacy-related words such as loyalty, faithfulness and sincerity, and acceptabilityrelated words such as readability and natural Japanese were most frequently mentioned by young translators. This suggests that conflicting stylistic norms such as adequacy vs. acceptability and literal vs. free translation is the biggest concern, especially for young translators. The first comment, I am always troubled over whether to translate in my own style or to use a neutral style, shows the confusion of this young translator. The second comment shows a clear preference toward a certain style, but again, the third comment contrasts the constraint by the original and transfer of the author intention, although the translator was not decisive about which side to take. Now, let s move on to the research participants comments showing subservient attitude. One participant said, Clients are gods. Another said, My job is not creative and I think of myself a code-switcher. The third one said, Translators are kuroko. These are obvious examples of subservient or invisibility-oriented attitude. The last quote is from a famous literary translator in Japan, Shibata Motoyuki. He says in his book that when he translates, I become almost a servant or slave and listen to the master s voice. This may sound masochistic, but I think his words represent well one aspect of many Japanese translators attitude. Now, here are some of the translators comments on their cross-cultural commitment. According to the social identity theory, the first two patterns, stylistic concerns and subservience, represent some aspects of personal identity rather than social identity, because these attitude do not happen cross-culturally but largely inside the translator s inner selves or inside the translation community. As you can see, these translators were conscious of their role as cultural mediators, just as translators in the modernization era were. The first one said, Translation brings about different values and perspectives [to the target culture]. The second one said, Translators mediate foreign cultures into Japan. They should think seriously about their role as cultural mediators. If they mistranslate, everyone misunderstands. And the last one says, Translators are shamans, they are mediumistic. This last quote is from a famous Japanese writer and translator, Murakami Haruki, who uses a more poetic expression to describe the translator s role. Importantly, unlike the first two patterns, all these comments are from experienced veteran translators. They never reported linguistic or stylistic problems, and were proud of choosing what they translate. A Canadian researcher, Isabelle Bilodeau, who interviewed Japanese and French translators also points out that Japanese veteran translators are much more visible than French translators in that they write a foreword to the book they translate and put their names on the cover. She also says that they are often consulted by editors and publishers for suggestions on what to translate. From these comments, I would suggest that Japanese translation today can be represented by the shape of pyramid, and is a uniquely Japanese situation. On top of the pyramid, there are experienced translators who are cross-culturally active mediators. At the foot of the pyramid, there are less experienced translators who are subservient to everyone from the author to client to readers, and stylistically confused or indecisive. In addition, a huge number of translation learners gather around the lowest level of the 4

5 pyramid. The translation school boom began in the 1970s and is a huge market. In these translation schools, students are often trapped between the conflicting styles, and taught clichés such as kuroko translator that are handed down from generation to generation to enhance a subservient attitude. More recently, Japanese universities has starting setting up translation courses and gradually replacing these vocational schools. According to Naganuma Mikako, there are 108 universities offering 395 translation courses in Japan. In summary, the Japanese translator community seems to consist of two orientations: A socially-independent, select-few cultural mediators who are cross-culturally committed on one hand, and a socially-subservient, younger generation of translators and learners who support the translator community at the bottom on the other. So, how should the translator community react to this uniquely Japanese situation? Should we deny the translation pyramid and close the door to amateurs? Or should we try to transform them? In my research, some translators criticized translation schools for using advertisements to lure young people into dreaming of becoming professional translators. They claimed that a small number of competent translators is enough for Japan. As a professional translator and translation educator myself, I would suggest that we make strenuous efforts to improve the situation rather than simply denying that it exists. The large number of learners certainly supports the reputation of the translator community, as well as offering a good source of income for veteran translators. Making these learners and amateurs aware of their role as cultural mediators will be effective in engaging the entire pyramid into cross-cultural actions. Japanese translators in the past did a tremendous job in making modernization happen. Translators today can do the same if they change the current situation for the better. Thank you for your attention. References: Bilodeau, Isabelle (2010). Literary Translators in Japan and France: Different Invisibilities. Presented at Translation Studies in the Japanese Context. Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan Hung, Eva and David Pollard (1998, 2009). Chinese Trandition. In Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds.). Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. 2 nd ed. London: Routledge. Inoue, Ken (2005). Daisan no Bungaku toshiteno Hon yaku Bungaku: Kindai Nippon to Hon yaku.[translated Literature as the Third Literature: Modern Japan and Translation]. In Hon yaku wo Manabu Hito no Tameni [Anthology for Learners of Translation]. Kyoto: Sekaishisôsha. Japan Book Publishers Association (ed.). An introduction to publishing in Japan, Japan Book Publishers Association. Japan Translation Federation (ed.) nen Gyôkai Chôsa Hôkokusho [Translation Industry Report 2005]. Japan Translation Journal. No.222. Kondo, Masaomi and Judy Wakabayashi (1998, 2009). Japanese Tradition. In Mona Baker and Gabriela Saldanha (eds.). Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. 2 nd ed. London: Routledge. 5

6 Mizuno, Akira (2007). Kindai Nippon no bungakuteki tagen sisutemu to hon yaku no isô chokuyaku no keifu [The literary polysystem and translation in modern Japan the literalist tradition]. Invitation to Translation Studies in Japan. The Japan Association for Interpreting and Translation Studies. Murakami, Haruki and Motoyuki Shibata (2000). Hon yaku Yawa [A Casual Talk on Translation]. Tokyo: Bungeishunjû. Naganuma, Minako (2008). Ankêto ni Miru Nippon no Daigaku Hon yaku Kyôiku no Genjô [Present State of Translation Education in Japanese Universities from a Questionnaire Survey]. Interpreting and Translation Studies. No.8. Japan Association for Interpreting and Translation Studies. Naito, Tetsuo (1997). PAC Bunseki Jisshihô Nyûmon [How to Use PAC Analysis: An invitation to New Scientific Method for Single Cases]. 2d ed. Kyoto: Nakanishiya. Simeoni, Daniel (1998). The Pivotal Status of the Translator s Habitus. Target 10:1. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Tanabe, Kikuko. (2009). Japanese Translators Roles as Cultural Mediators A Personal Attitude Construct Analysis. 3rd Conference of the International Association for Translation and Intercultural Studies (IATIS). Monash University, Melbourne. July 9, 2009 Tanabe, Kikuko (2009). A Personal Attitude Construct Analysis from the Experiences of Japanese Translators. Kobe College Studies. Vol.56. No.2. Toury, Gideon (1995). Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Pub. Yamaoka, Yoichi (2001). Hon yaku towa Nanika: Shokugyô toshiteno Hon yaku [Translation as a Calling]. Tokyo: Nichigai Associates. 6

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