May 2, 2016

Words and 言葉 by Jim Davis

“Two Roads Diverged ...”:
Making Good Choices in Japanese-into-English Translation
(Part 2)

This is the second 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.

Example 4
This brief paragraph immediately followed Example 3 in the original article:

サイバーで求められるのは型にはまらない軟らかな頭脳だ。これはなかば才能であり、育てるのは難しい。                                                                                                        (4)

The term サイバー literally means “cyber,” but it is important to recognize that in the first sentence the term actually refers to “the cyber world,” in the sense of the world in which programmers, application developers, and hackers operate. (Another option would be “a career in cyber.” With this option the addition of “a career” indicates the reference to the world of cyber-related work.) The noun 頭脳 usually refers to “head” or “brains.” However, in this instance we have two modifiers (型にはまらない and 軟らかな) that must also be taken into consideration. The adjective 軟らかな often means “soft” or “gentle,” but it can also mean “flexible.” In this context either “supple” or “nimble” could also be used for 軟らかな to describe the kind of mind or brain that is desirable. The idiomatic expression 型にはまる carries the meaning “to fit the mold.” Two options for the first sentence follow:

What is needed/required for the cyber world is a mind/brain that is flexible/supple/nimble and                                  doesn’t follow/stick to a fixed pattern.                                                            (4a)
                        is not wedded to routine.                                                                             (4b)

If we place one of the attributes before the noun, we could produce something like this:

What is needed/required for the cyber world is a flexible/supple/nimble mind/brain
                        that is unconventional.                                                                                (4c)

Thus far, we have focused on the literal meaning of 頭脳 as a physical entity. In this context we could also consider the action carried out by this physical entity: thinking. This rendering introduces additional possibilities. Although the verb はまらない is a negative verb, the attribute 型にはまらない could also be expressed in the form of an affirmative adjective or an affirmative phrase:

What is needed/required for the cyber world is
                        flexible thinking that breaks new ground.                                                   (4d)
                        flexible and unorthodox thinking.                                                                 (4e)
                        flexible thinking outside the box.                                                                  (4f)

The phrase “outside the box” has become something of a cliché. It deserves consideration, but it may not be the best choice. If we look back at the various options (4a-4f) we can see that the process of thinking about different elements of the sentence in this specific context has led us from a more literal rendering to options that are more idiomatic. Options 4d and 4e may not look like the original text but still convey the intended meaning. It is, after all, the meaning that we must replicate—not the form.

The final sentence contains the pronoun これ, and we must once again decide what this pronoun refers to. The word 才能 normally means “talent” or “ability.” If so, the phrase なかば才能 could refer to “something a person must be born with,” “partly natural talent,” or “largely a gift.” In this context the pronoun これ must refer to the kind of mind or thinking that was mentioned in the preceding sentence. Depending on our choice of “mind” or “thinking” the second sentence could read,

That kind of thinking is something a person must be born with—it is difficult to teach.         (4g)
That kind of thinking is partly natural talent—it is difficult to cultivate.                                  (4h)
That kind of mind is largely a gift—it is difficult to cultivate.                                      (4i)
Example 5
This brief paragraph appears later in the same article:

安保を担う人材づくりは戦前から課題だ。旧陸軍は陸軍大学校で幹部を養成した。だが「模範解答が決まっている問題を解かせる教育が中心であり、異能な人材は育ちづらかった」。                                                                                                                            (5)

The term 安保 is often used as an abbreviation for 安全保障 (“national security”) or for the日本国とアメリカ合衆国との間の相互協力及び安全保障条約 (also abbreviated as 日米安保条約) (“Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan”). However, in many instances 安保 means “security” in a general sense that may include national security as well as security against other types of threats. (For example, 食糧安保 refers to “food security.”) The article in question mentions サイバー攻撃 (“cyber attacks”) and サイバー戦 (“cyber war” or “online warfare”) in nearly every paragraph. However, the article also refers to threats against “政府や国内の企業、大学” (“the government or domestic companies and universities”). In this context it would be reasonable to translate 安保 as “security matters.” That translation would indicate the serious nature of the issue, but would not restrict the scope to “national security.”

The topic of the first sentence is 人財づくり (“developing/preparing/training people”) for a task. The task is described by the modifying clause 安保を担う. The verb 担う usually means “to assume responsibility (for something)” or “to be in charge (of something).” A fairly literal rendering would lead us to one of the following:

Developing people who can assume responsibility for security matters                                   (5a)
Preparing people who can be responsible for security matters                                      (5b)
Training people who can take charge of security matters                                               (5c)

However, another option would be to shift our point of view and think in terms of positions—rather than the people who occupy those positions. This line of thinking would lead us to

The preparation of people for responsible positions in security matters                      (5d)

We often talk about “responsible positions” within an organization, so option 5d is a perfectly reasonable alternative. This option reads more smoothly than any of the others. Now that we have a topic, we need to consider what information the first sentence provides regarding that topic. The remainder of the sentence reads 戦前から課題だ. A fairly literally translation would be

has been an issue since (the time) before WWII.                                                              (5e)

However, this is rather clumsy. If we think about the intended meaning of this portion of the sentence, we could say

was an issue even in the prewar period.                                                                            (5f)

This is certainly true, and it reads more smoothly than option 5e, but an even better alternative would be

is a task that predates WWII.                                                                                             (5g)

This option is the most concise and fits together well with option 5d. The second sentence is fairly straightforward:

The Imperial Japanese Army developed its senior leaders/elite officer corps at the Army War College.                                                                                                                                 (5h)

In a company or a government agency 幹部 would usually refer to “senior leaders” or “leadership team.” However, because this sentence refers to the highest ranking officers in the army, “elite officer corps” would probably be a better choice. The first portion of the final sentence could read

However, “That education was based mainly on solving problems that had predetermined answers/solutions, and ...                                                                                                            (5i)

The second portion of this sentence contains a topic, but we must decide exactly how to describe this topic and what—if any—subject to combine with 育ちづらかった. The subject could be “the system” or “the school,” or we could adopt passive voice and dispense with a subject completely. The noun 人材 generally refers to “human resources.” However, the goal of the Army War College was to develop 幹部 for the army, and the thrust of the entire article in which this paragraph appeared was the need for modern Japan to develop more hackers or people who can compete against hackers. Thus, in this context we may assume that the person who made the original statement was referring to “individuals.” Moreover, these are not ordinary individuals; they are 異能な individuals. Keeping in mind all of these ideas, the second portion of this sentence could be rendered as some combination of the following:

the system struggled to develop                       individuals with exceptional ability.”              (5j)
the school produced few                                  individuals with unusual skills.”                     (5k)
it was difficult to produce                                uniquely talented individuals.”                        (5l)
(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.

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