Japlish (not Engrish): Translating Famous Passages into Japlish (2)

[Read the preceding post: ‘Japlish (not Engrish): Translating Famous Passages into Japlish‘]

Previously, 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?

Last month, I attempted an experiment where I translated 3 famous passages into Japlish (i.e. Romeo and Juliet, Mark 12:28–31, 走れメロス), 2 of which were ‘English-to-Japlish’ and the last ‘Japanese-to-Japlish’. I recorded several observations I made during the process, including the following:

  • I found myself using either English or Japanese more depending on the passage. When my translation was heavier on Japanese (i.e. ‘The Great Commandment’), 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.

Thus, I ended with the question:

  • 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?translation-studies-lp-banner

My friend Jonathan Love pointed out a possible reason and explanation for why I used English or Japanese prevalently on different occasions:

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.

Today, I’m going to examine Jonathan’s observation and suggested explanation regarding the importance of “translation mode”. And the way I’ll be doing that is taking the Bible passage I translated—Mark 12:28–31—and doing the same thing; except this time, instead of translating the English version of the passage into Japlish, I’ll be translating the Japanese version of the passage into Japlish.

Just to ensure better results (not that this is an accurate study), I’ve not looked back at my initial English-to-Japlish translation so I’m doing it from scratch. Let’s see how this goes.

‘The Great Commandment’ Mark 12:28–31 (The Bible, ESV) /「一番たいせつな命令」マルコ12:28–31(聖書、新改訳)

Japanese-to-Japlish translation:

CommandmentJapanese version:

律法学者がひとり来て、その議論を聞いていたが、イエスがみごとに答えられたのを知って、イエスに尋ねた。「すべての命令の中で、どれが一番たいせつです か。」イエスは答えられた。「一番たいせつなのはこれです。『イスラエルよ。聞け。われらの神である主は、唯一の主である。心を尽くし、思いを尽くし、知性を尽くし、力を尽くして、あなたの神である主を愛せよ。』次にはこれです。『あなたの隣人をあなた自身のように愛せよ。』この二つより大事な命令は、ほかにはありません。」

Japlish version:

One of the scribes が来て、he was listening to their argument だけど、when he saw Jesus was ちゃんと答えてる、he asked Jesus:「In all the 命令、which is 一番たいせつ?」Jesus answered: 「This is 一番たいせつ:『Oh Israel, listen. Our Lord our God is the 唯一の主。With all your 心、all your 思い、all your 知性、all your 力、love your Lord your God.』そして this is next: 『Love your 隣人 like you would love 自分自身。』These two より大事な commandment はない。」

Rōmaji version:

One of the scribes ga kite, he was listening to their argument dakedo, when he saw Jesus was chanto kotaeteru, he asked Jesus: ‘In all the meirei, which is ichiban taisetsu?’ Jesus answered: ‘This is ichiban taisetsu: “Oh Israel, listen. Our Lord our God is the yuiitsu no shu. With all your kokoro, all your omoi, all your chisei, all your chikara, love your Lord your God.” Soshite this is next: “Love your tonaribito like you would love jibun jishin.” These two yori daiji na commandment wa nai.’

English-to-Japlish translation (my initial attempt):

????????????????English version:

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 hitoriga 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.’

~

Let’s put the two Japlish passages side by side:

Japlish 1 (Japanese-to-Japlish):

One of the scribes が来て、he was listening to their argument だけど、when he saw Jesus was ちゃんと答えてる、he asked Jesus:「In all the 命令、which is 一番たいせつ?」Jesus answered: 「This is 一番たいせつ:『Oh Israel, listen. Our Lord our God is the 唯一の主。With all your 心、all your 思い、all your 知性、all your 力、love your Lord your God.』そして this is next: 『Love your 隣人 like you would love 自分自身。』These two より大事な commandment はない。」

Japlish 2 (English-to-Japlish):

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。」

Observations:

  • Jonathan’s observation about naturally going into “translation mode” can be seen very apparently here. Japlish 1 naturally meant the translation would be grammatically more English-based; Japlish 2 as Japanese-based (the opposite language of the original passage). This is especially evident in the first sentence where it’s more of a descriptive narration rather than dialogue.

I go back to my initial question: is it possible to find a middle ground? If I wrote an original article in Japlish (not a translation), would I have to stick to just one grammatical base, or would it be possible to switch back and forth between English and Japanese sentence structures? Or even more controversial: is it possible to switch within the same sentence?

  • Biggest similarity is probably the usage of the Japanese phrase「一番たいせつ or 一番大事」rather than the English ‘most important’—why did I choose to do this? Is there a more meaningful connotation attached to the Japanese phrase?
  • The last sentence is uncannily similar, almost word-for-word. Interestingly, this particular sentence is formed based on Japanese grammar, even for Japlish 1. Why is this?
    • A grammatically English-based Japlish sentence could be: ‘There is no other 命令 more 大事。’—this still sounds okay.
    • A Facebook commenter suggested another variation for this last sentence:「もっと優れた commandment はない。」

I think we can safely say there are various ways of speaking and writing Japlish, all depending on the person and their personal preferences. Maybe the next issue is this: are some Japlish phrases and sentences more natural than others, that just seem to work better? Are there unnatural ways of speaking/writing Japlish? I personally feel Japlish 2 is more natural than Japlish 1—but why is that?

All of these observations may seem silly—and admittedly, there are times it does feel as such—but it’s certainly helped me to consider the mechanics of the Japlish language I speak by examining it in written form. I guess the risk lies in the fact that if I overthink it, I’ll be extremely self-conscious whenever I do speak Japlish—you could argue the beauty of Japlish stems from its spontaneity. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

urlI’ve also realised how increasingly niche this whole Japlish thing is becoming. A Facebook commenter remarked how difficult it was for her to read the Japlish passages despite being bilingual and strong in each language individually. She describes an interesting phenomenon of how she has to keep toggling back and forth between the two operating systems of English and Japanese when trying to read something in Japlish—when the toggle gets stuck in-between the two, she cannot understand either. Fascinating.

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