Japlish (not Engrish): Translating Famous Passages into Japlish

© SE Develop

© SE Develop

I’m going to try an experiment, which I suspect hasn’t been attempted before. In my previous posts, I talked about speaking Japlish as a hybrid language of Japanese and English, as well as the tragic gift of being bilingual or multilingual. Now so far, and understandably, I’ve described Japlish as a language we speak, verbally. But what about using Japlish in a non-verbal manner, in other words, writing it? What would that look like? How easy, or difficult, will it be? Is it even possible?

Be warned: I’m delving rather deeply into the issue of Japlish. As we’d say, it’s going to get 超マニアック (gairaigo for ‘maniac’)!

In my first post, I related my desire to write a novel entirely in Japlish (and in all likelihood, it will be the first of its kind). I can see how writing dialogue could work—what about narrations and descriptions? But before I examine in-depth the speaking vs writing issue, I decided first to try my hand at writing Japlish so that I can relate what I learnt and observed from my experiences.

Today, I’ll be trying (emphasis on trying) to translate 3 famous passages into Japlish. I’ve picked a passage from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Bible, and a famous Japanese short story「走れメロス」太宰治。I’ve included the original passage in English or Japanese, followed by my attempted Japlish translation, then finally a rōmaji version for those who cannot read Japanese.

Without further ado, here we go! (Warning: might result in an unsatisfactory mess.)


Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 33–36 (William Shakespeare)

JulietOriginal version (English):

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Japlish version:

O Romeo, Romeo! なんで Romeo なの?
自分の father を忘れて、そして name を変えて;
Or if not, 私に love を誓って、
そしたらもう I won’t be a Capulet.

Rōmaji version:

O Romeo, Romeo! Nande Romeo nano?
Jibun no father wo wasurete, soshite name wo kaete;
Or if not, watashi ni love wo chikatte,
Soshitara mou I won’t be a Capulet.

‘The Great Commandment’, Mark 12:28–31 (The Bible, ESV)

????????????????Original version (English—yes, I know, the original is in Greek; humour me):

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Japlish version:

そして scribe の一人が来て、色々 argue しているのを聞いて、それに対していい感じに answer しているのを見て、彼に ask した:「一番大事な commandment は?」Jesus answered:「一番大事なのは『聴け Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. そして the Lord your God を心、魂、mind and 力の限り愛しなさい。』二番目に important なのが『自分の neighbour を自分みたいに愛しなさい。』These commandments より大事な commandment はない。」

Rōmaji version:

Soshite scribe no hitori ga kiteiroiro argue shite iruno wo kiite, soreni taishite ii kanji ni answer shite iruno wo mite, kare ni ask shita: ‘Ichiban daiji na commandment wa?’ Jesus answered: ‘Ichiban daiji nano waKike Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Soshite the Lord your God wo kokoro, tamashii, mind and chikara no kagiri aishinasai.Nibanme ni important nanoga “Jibun no neighbour wo jibun mitai ni aishinasai.” These commandments yori daiji na commandment wa nai.’

走れメロス (Hashire Merosu // ‘Run, Melos!’) (太宰治 // Osamu Dazai)

2009063016172568dOriginal version (Japanese):

「いいえ、乱心ではございませぬ。人を、信ずる事が出来ぬ、というのです。このごろは、臣下の心をも、お疑いになり、少しく派手な暮しをしている者には、 人質ひとりずつ差し出すことを命じて居ります。御命令を拒めば十字架にかけられて、殺されます。きょうは、六人殺されました。」

Japlish version:

「The King kills people.」
「なぜ kill するの?」
「He has an evil heart, でも no one should have such an evil heart.」
「たくさんの people を kill したの?」
「Yeah, first the King’s 妹の husband. And then, his heir. そして his 妹。そして that 妹’s child. Then the empress. Then the advisor アレキス。」
「びっくり。Is the King mad?」
「No, mad じゃない。He just doesn’t trust people. 最近 he doesn’t even trust his advisor. しかも he wants to take hostages from 派手な lifestyle の人たちから、and if they refuse his orders, 十字架に hang され、殺される。今日 six people も殺された。」
メロス exploded with anger after hearing this.「呆れた王だ。He mustn’t live.」

Rōmaji version:

「The King kills people.」
Naze kill suruno?
「He has an evil heart, demo no one should have such an evil heart.」
Takusan no people wo kill shitano?
「Yeah, first the King’s imouto no husband. And then, his heir. Soshite his imouto. Soshite that imouto‘s child. Then the empress. Then the advisor Arekisu.」
Bikkuri. Is the King mad?」
「No, mad jyanai. He just doesn’t trust people. Saikin he doesn’t even trust his advisor. Shikamo he wants to take hostages from hade na lifestyle no hito tachi kara, and if they refuse his orders, jyūjika ni hang sare, koro sareru. Kyou six people mo koro sareta.
Merosu exploded with anger after hearing this.「Akireta ou da. He mustn’t live.」


Well, that was most interesting. I don’t know what you made of it. I don’t quite know what to make of it myself.

These were several observations I made during the process of translation:

  • I did have to voice out phrases and sentences verbally in order to determine what seemed most natural and likely.
  • I had the tendency to choose the shorter and concise words or phrases for efficiency;
    • e.g.「妹」(imouto) instead of ‘younger sister’
  • I chose a word or phrase in a certain language when I couldn’t think of its equivalent in the other;
    • e.g. I translated ‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength‘ into「心、魂、mind and 力の限り愛しなさい」because I couldn’t think of a good Japanese equivalent for ‘mind’.
  • I wasn’t consistent with several words because I could see myself using either/or;
    • e.g.「大事」(daiji) and ‘important’;「殺す」(korosu) and ‘kill’
  • I found myself using either English or Japanese more in my Japlish translations—Japanese for the Bible passage and English for the short story. I can see why that would result if you were talking to someone whose stronger language was either/or. But why does it occur when writing?
    • When my translation turned out heavier on Japanese (i.e. ‘The Great Commandment’), every now and then, I included English words that were simple, short and easy to understand. But the overall grammatical and sentence structure was more Japanese.
    • The opposite happened for「走れメロス」where simple Japanese words were inserted into a translation based predominantly on an English sentence structure.
  • So regarding words/phrases vs grammatical/sentence structure: do you need to base the latter in one language and tweak the former, or can the structure also be mixed? If possible, how do you find a middle ground?

For fellow Japlish speakers, what did you think? Was it easy to read Japlish? Did you find certain phrases or sentences particularly natural or unnatural? Would you have phrased it differently? What do you think are the differences between speaking and writing Japlish?

[UPDATE: Read my next Japlish (not Engrish) post here: ‘Japlish (not Engrish): Translating Famous Passages into Japlish (2)‘]


3 thoughts on “Japlish (not Engrish): Translating Famous Passages into Japlish

  1. I find it interesting that the originally English texts became more grammatically Japanese, and the Japanese text became English-based. I was wondering if maybe the fact that you entered “translation mode” made you more naturally tend to make a complete switch – that is, you see a Japanese text and subconsciously think “this needs to be Anglicized,” and vice versa.

    In fact, I feel it would probably be pretty tough to “translate” an English text into a Japlish that has predominantly English grammar without sounding like you just swapped out a few words for their Japanese equivalents (e.g. “O Romeo, Romeo! なんで art thou Romeo? Deny thy 父 and refuse thy 名…” doesn’t sound like a translation at all); – switching the grammar system gives you more freedom of expression. This may be something that changes as you get more practice in translating into Japlish and better understand your own Japlish writing voice.

    Though there are other possible explanations too, of course. For instance, the first two texts were more monologuey and the last was a dialogue. So it may be that you tend towards an English grammatical structure for conversation, and to Japanese for deeper truths or personal affection. Or it may actually be the other way around: that you feel English has better “deep” words and Japanese has better sentence-connecting conversational words, and so you end up more in the other grammar system because it brings more of an emphasis to these words (e.g. in “一番大事な commandment は?” I take special notice of “commandment,” while in “And then, his heir. そして his 妹。そして that 妹’s child” the “そして” stands out).

    Could be a lot of things. The only way to figure out for sure what’s going on is to keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you noticed that—I did as well, I just didn’t know how to word/explain it, so thanks! I think it’s natural since translation is a process where your finished product must be distanced from the original language in order to convey it most effectively in another. After posting this, I actually got an idea of translating the same ‘The Great Commandment’ passage into Japlish, but this time using a Japanese text as the base. We’ll see how close or different it is from the translation I came up with here.

      Thanks for your in-depth thoughts! I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface, and at times what I’m doing seems ridiculous, but I know there’s a potential for some very interesting observations and maybe even studies. At least, it’ll lend me a greater appreciation and understanding for both English and Japanese.


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