“Two Roads Diverged ...”:
Making Good Choices in Japanese-into-English Translation
This is the first of four parts of a paper based on the standing-room-only presentation Jim gave at the 2015 ATA Conference in Miami entitled "Two Roads Diverged ...": Making Good Choices in Japanese-into-English Translation.
Every translator faces choices while working on a document. Some choices have serious consequences for the quality of the resulting translation. A “good” translation results from a series of “good” choices, but how does the translator know which choice is the “right” choice, the “best available” choice, or even a “good” choice? In order to make good choices the translator must have an understanding of individual words and phrases in both the source language and the target language, and the translator must have field-specific knowledge related to the content of the document. When a given word or phrase in the source language has multiple meanings in the target language, the translator must think carefully about context before choosing a particular meaning. The translator must also keep in mind the overall flow of information throughout the document. The content in different portions of the document must be mutually consistent, and word usage in later portions of the document should build upon information presented earlier in the document. In some cases the translator must combine information from multiple places in the source text; in other cases the translator must include information that is not present in the source text at all. The result of many good choices is a translation that is characterized by consistency in usage, content, and style; a translation that is an integrated whole; and a translation that conveys the intended meaning as accurately and in as natural a manner as possible. In this paper I will present guidelines for making good choices in Japanese-into-English translation, and I will discuss examples from a variety of fields to illustrate the use of those guidelines.
The following headline appeared in a Japanese newspaper:
The word 善玉 appears in a number of widely used terms, such as 善玉警官 (“good cop,” in the sense of “good cop-bad cop”), 善玉コレステロール (“good cholesterol”), and 善玉菌 (“good bacteria”). For this reason many translators would instinctively render 善玉ハッカー as “good hacker.” Although “good hacker” is perfectly understandable and is used on some occasions, the dominant term in the cyber world is “white-hat hacker.” The opposite of 善玉ハッカー is 悪玉ハッカー, which refers to a “black-hat hacker.” There is even an annual information security conference known as “Black Hat USA.” (The association of “white hats” with “good guys” and and the association of “black hats” with “bad guys” survive from their origin in American cowboy movies.) The term 対策 normally refers to “measures” that are taken either to achieve a desirable outcome (e.g., 安全対策 are “safety measures”) or to prevent an undesirable outcome (e.g., 公害対策 are “anti-pollution measures”) or more generally to “countermeasures.” In this particular instance we could consider サイバー対策 to be “countermeasures against cyber attacks” or simply “cyber countermeasures.” If we consider the intended meaning of the entire headline, the following translations could be considered:
“White-Hat Hackers” Hold the Key to Countermeasures against Cyber Attacks (1a)
Cyber Countermeasures: “White-Hat Hackers” Hold the Key (1b)
“White-Hat Hackers” are Key Players for Cybersecurity (1c)
Option 1a incorporates all of the necessary information, but it is a bit long. Because this is a headline for a newspaper article, space may be limited, and brevity is desirable. Option 1b incorporates a colon and more closely matches the rhythm of the source text. Option 1c varies from the literal wording in two respects: the phrase カギ握る (“hold the key”) has become “are key players” and the term サイバー対策 (“cyber countermeasures”) has become “cybersecurity.” The choice between “hold the key” and “are key players” is a matter of individual style, but the use of “cybersecurity” offers several advantages over “cyber countermeasures.” Not only is “cybersecurity” more concise, it is much less clumsy and is far more widely used. The process of considering and rejecting various options has led us to the following two choices, either of which could be used with confidence:
“White-Hat Hackers” are Key Players for Cybersecurity (1c)
“White-Hat Hackers” Hold the Key to Cybersecurity (1d)
The following paragraph appeared in the article under the headline that was used as Example 1:
Generally speaking, the term もろさ refers to the “frailty,” “fragility,” “brittleness,” or “vulnerability” of something. In the context of the Internet, “vulnerability” is certainly the best choice. (The phrase “security vulnerability” produced over 750,000 hits on a recent Internet search.) The verb 突く has many meanings, but in this context “to attack (something)” or “to take aim at (something)” seems most reasonable. The noun 技術 could mean either “technology” or “technique.” In this context “technique” is the better option. For the first sentence we could say,
Cyber attackers make good use of hacking techniques that attack/take aim at the vulnerabilities of the Internet. (2a)
Cyber attackers are well versed in hacking techniques that exploit/target the weaknesses of the Internet. (2b)
The pronoun これ certainly means “this.” However, as with any pronoun, in order to produce a good translation it is necessary to determine what noun is the antecedent. Because the text says we will 対抗する (“fight back against,” “defend against,” “counter”) this これ, we recognize that これ must be related to the attacks that were mentioned in the first sentence. In the hacker world the piece of software that is used in such an attack is known as an “exploit.” This is another alternative for これ. Yet another option for これ would be “intrusion,” which occurs each time an attack is mounted. The noun 手 literally means “hand,” but in this context 手 refers to the effort or the ability of someone to do something. If we put everything together, the second sentence could be translated as follows:
The assistance of white-hat hackers is necessary in order to fight back/defend against such attacks/exploits. (2c)
The skills of white-hat hackers are essential in order to counter/resist such intrusions. (2d)
The following paragraph appeared later in the same article:
This quote came from someone who is (or was) a hacker. The word きっかけ typically indicates a starting point. The first half of the first sentence could read,
“For me the starting point was becoming interested in computers when I was in high school. (3a)
“For me the first step was developing an interest in computers when I was in high school. (3b)
“For me it all started when I developed an interest in computers during high school. (3c)
The first two options follow the structure of the original Japanese sentence. In the third option the combination of a noun phrase (“the starting point” or “the first step”) and the verb “was” has been replaced by a clause. This type of substitution can be useful in order to vary sentence structure or to produce a shorter, more natural translation.
The phrase 手当たり次第 suggests that some action is carried out in a random or haphazard fashion, rather than being conducted in a well-planned or well-organized manner. Key words that come to mind include “whatever,” “however,” and “wherever.” In this example the action is described by the verb あさる, which usually means “to search for (something),” “to scavenge for (something),” or “to scrounge for (something).” In this instance that “something” is サイバーの情報 (cyber-related information). If we combine these three units of meaning, the remainder of the first sentence could be translated like this:
I poked around for information related to cyber wherever I could find it, and I studied on my own. (3d)
I dug up whatever cyber-related information I could put my hands on, and I learned on my own. (3e)
I scrounged around for cyber-related information any way I could, and I taught myself. (3f)
Any of these options would be acceptable, but the phrase “I taught myself” in option 3f suggests a greater focus on the self than would be the case with “I studied on my own” or “I learned on my own.” Keeping in mind the personality of someone who might become a hacker, this emphasis on self—rather than the recognition of some external source of instruction—might be more consistent with the “voice” of the person who made the quote.
The final sentence in this paragraph includes the word など. When a sentence contains など, the translator needs to consider whether it is really necessary to translate the word (“... and so on,” “such as ...”) or whether the word can simply be ignored. In this instance we may ignore the word, but there are still a number of ways to express the relationship between ハッカー (“hacker”) and 技術 (“techniques”):
There are no textbooks for the techniques a hacker uses.” (3g)
... the skills a hacker needs.” (3h)
... becoming a hacker.” (3i)
Option 3i does not contain the word “techniques” or a substitute, but the intended meaning of the source text is retained. It is worth remembering that we do not need to translate every word in order to remain faithful to the meaning of the source text.
(to be continued)
Jim Davis is Professor and Director of the Technical Japanese Program in the Dept. of Engineering Professional Development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.