Most Western translators of Japanese do not have quite a perfect understanding of the language. Some linguistic features of the Japanese language and its use by the Japanese also make it more difficult to translate than most other languages : its elliptic nature, its less than explicit logic, its grammar which provides few indications as to relations between nouns and noun clauses and few indications regarding time, its rapidly changing vocabulary and the rather loose way in which the Japanese tend to pose problems in translation . A third major problem for translators working from Japanese in the West is the lack of Japanese documentation and the difficulties encountered whenever they try to find Japanese resource persons to help them out with difficulties.
Consequently, analysis is a must in translation from Japanese. Lexical analysis is mainly morphological in the case ofKango and phonological in the case of Gairaigo. Logical analysis of texts is necessary in testing meaning hypotheses, as the apparent "linguistic" meaning of text segments may be quite different from their true meaning. For complex, long or seemingly "agrammatical" or "illogical" sentences, the so-called "block analysis", which consists in identifying "blocks" encompassing noun phrases, identifying relationships between them, then streamlining sentences structurally and semantically until problems are pinpointed or solved, is an efficient analysis tool.
In spite of large-scale and ever-increasing translation activities in Japan, professional translation is an uncertain, non-lucrative, socially not highly regarded occupation. Most free-lance translators do translation as a secondary activity. The situation may be changing with the growing number of translation schools that have opened in recent years, which may increase the number of professional translators.
Most of the free-lance translation work is done through translation agencies in the technical and industrial fields, though young translators aspire to do literary translation. Other translators work for publishers who provide a significant amount of work, since foreign novels and other books are translated in very large numbers. Harlequin and Harlequin-like series also provide translation opportunities through publishers, though their quality is not up to literary standards. A significant part of translation work for publishers is actually done by "shitayaku", "sub-contractors" of the translators, whose names generally do not even appear on the book covers. These shitayaku eventually become full-fledged translators themselves.
Japanese translators work mostly in isolation, though some translation school students'groups survive graduation and continue working collectively for a time. Atany rate, the image of the independent translator working little, earning much and enjoying a leisurely life is not quite true.
In spite of the difficulties that young translators have to surmount and their rather uncertain professional and financial prospects, translation has a significant cultural role to play in Japanese society.
Few Westerners have sufficient proficiency in Japanese for conference interpretation. The major stumbling block in their acquisition of Japanese as a passive language resides in vocabulary enhancement.Japanese vocabulary consists o/wago, kango and gairaigo and their compounds. Each category has different characteristics in terms of learning. While learning gairaigo is rather easy for the Westerner, wago proves more difficult to memorize, and kango poses special problems due to the small number of distinct syllables in Japanese as opposed to the large number of kanji used.
The large number of words used in Japanese compounds the difficulty, especially as compared with the acquisition of a Western language where the large proportion of words having common Greco-Latin roots that can be recognized even at first sight, reduces the number of new words that actually have to be learned.
These facts provide one explanation for the difficulty Westerners have in reaching an adequate level of comprehension of Japanese for interpretation purposes. They also raise questions as to the soundness of the philosophy interpreters' schools and their methods in developing high-level linguistic skills. Up to now, this question has been dealt with on the basis of" common sense " and the instructors' personal experience. Data obtained through scientific research may significantly contribute to an improvement of the situation.
Since the end of the sixties, numerous Japanese contractors have been active in heavy industry work in Algeria and other North African countries. This has opened a large market for Japanese-French liaison interpreters. Such interpreters are hired by specialized agencies in Europe and Japan. With one or two exceptions, they are Japanese nationals. Most of them are young and have no previous experience as interpreters. Neither are they properly briefed before they are sent to the site, but they become proficient in their work with experience. Their tasks range from interpreting at various levels to translation and even participation in negotiations and report drafting. Material working conditions are comparatively good, but the duration of contracts is short and long-term stability of employment is uncertain. The precariousness of interpreting jobs and the temporary nature of the Japanese companies' contracting work in North Africa make this activity a provisional and highly volatile one. Japanese liaison interpreters in North Africa do not feel like professional interpreters and do not aspire to become professionals.
This article is the written text of a presentation made at a workshop on cooperation between authors and their translators at a symposium in Nice in November 1983 on the subject "French, a foreign language". Part of the author's ideas are based on his experience in translating the works of Michel Butor.
Language imposes a certain vision of the world on speakers, but not in a rigid and non-modifiable way. In this respect, translation has always played and continues to play an important role in shaping Japanese culture through experimentation with new styles and new approaches. In Japan, translation of literature is considered as participation in literary creation : most translations of literary and theoretical texts are done by academics, critics and writers, and the translated text of a book is generally followed by a rather long essay by the translator. In France, translators are generally not considered as literary personalities and their social status is accordingly low, in spite of a number of significant exceptions. And yet, translation forces one to innovate conceptually and linguistically, and therefore culturally; hence the positive nature of its contribution to the host culture, in particular through cooperation between authors and their translators.
Japanese publications on translation are markedly more numerous than Western publications. They are aimed at the general public rather than at professionals or academics, and few are truly scientific or academic. They deal with the Japanese context, with hardly any reference to foreign publications, authors, ideas or translation activities. They are also short-lived and disappear from bookstores and publishers' stocks within a few years.
Theoretical translation texts are "philosophical" rather than scientific. Didactic texts are often aimed at language learners rather than at would-be translators. Linguistic translation texts are more interesting for the insight they give into the Japanese language and its use than for their contribution to translation theory. Texts that criticize published translations are numerous and very popular, something which is rather unique in the world. Many translation books are highly personal and contain numerous anecdotes from their authors' lives. Interpretation books are interesting, as they are more pragmatic than Western texts on the same subject, and address questions that Western publications seldom or never refer to. Machine translation articles are becoming increasingly popular. They tend to be confined to superficial explanations of the operation of systems and to descriptions of commercial products. Truly scientific papers on MT also exist, but their circulation is limited to academic and technical circles.
There are a few periodicals dealing with translation. Most of the articles they carry are written by the same authors and have the same characteristics as the texts described above. On the whole, they are more interesting than translation books, as they are shorter and therefore denser. Articles on translation can also be found in countless books and periodicals on the Japanese language, on linguistics, sociology, public speaking, etc., as well as in weekly and monthly magazines and in other publications.
This paper is followed by a list of Japanese texts on translation and by a list of Western language texts on translation of Japanese or on subjects relevant to the understanding of Japanese translation problems.