Dec 18, 2017

ATA 58 Session Summary - J-6: “Bye, Felicia.” Tackling Allusions, Slang, and Pop Culture References

“Bye, Felicia.” Tackling Allusions, Slang, and Pop Culture References
Presented by Yoshihiro Mochizuki
University of Michigan
ATA 58th Annual Conference Session J-6
Saturday, October 28, 3:30pm-4:30pm 

Summary (Contributed by Shiori Okazaki):
This interactive session examined various examples of allusions and other references in both English and Japanese, and discussed how to best translate them. The session was originally conceived by Ms. Motoko Oshino Matthews. The presenter was Mr. Yoshihiro Mochizuki, a Japanese Lecturer at the University of Michigan.   
The session began with a discussion on the definition of allusions. Mr. Mochizuki explained that it is a “reference to another text” that requires “further interpretation . . . based on the meaning of the alluded-to text.” Allusions add layers to the text, allowing the reader to enjoy both the current text and what is being referenced; they make the text memorable, ironic, or funny; and by creating a shared secret between the writer and the reader, they provide a sense of mischief. On the other hand, the weaknesses of allusions are that not everyone understands them, and it may seem as if the author is showing off their knowledge.  
Translating allusions from English to Japanese and vice versa require a different set of skills and knowledge: allusions in Japanese draw upon poetry or idioms, appear more often in literature, and seek to be funny or playful; allusions in English draw upon the Bible or Shakespeare, appear more often in journalism, and are used to showcase knowledge or writing technique. When translators do not understand allusions, it may lead to literal—and incorrect—translations.  The best way to translate allusions is to replace the image in the source language with a similar image in the target language. This is easiest when similar expressions exist in both languages, e.g. “back to square one” and 振り出しに戻る. Other translators have sought to replicate the impact of the allusion by finding close alternatives. One translation of Soseki’s Botchan replaces a reference to Fukuda Chiyo-ni’s haiku with the better known “Old Pond” haiku by Basho. This is much more effective than a precise translation with footnotes that interrupt the readers’ thoughts.     
Following a workshop, where the audience divided into small groups and dissected the allusions of various English and Japanese passages, the session concluded with a discussion on resources and methods for translating allusions. Resources include 日本語俗語辞書 and Urban Dictionary. Recommendations for translators are: thoroughly look up words and phrases, even if you think you understand them; consult multiple sources; and keep abreast of modern expressions and contemporary culture with movies, television shows, music, and social media.

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