Saturday, June 09, 2007

Lost in translation

Attending Japanese project meetings is often a bit frustrating, to put it mildly. Part of this is due to them being in Japanese, so although I can get the gist of it these days (especially with the help of the presentation) I can't understand the nuance or contribute significantly to the discussion (I could - and occasionally did - say something in English, but it's hard to be sure that it hadn't already been covered adequately). When the project is closely related to my own interests, it's particularly frustrating, but I have to just shrug and let them get on with it. The quid pro quo is that they generally let me get on with what I want to do too.

This new project that I'm involved in seems to have as its overall aim "Motivating the public to take action on climate change based on correct scientific information". I'd have been much happier if this had been written as "Supporting the decision-making process through the best available science". The official version sounds rather too much like "Instilling patriotism though a correct view of history" which is what the J-govt is trying to do through its censorship of history textbooks and the like in schools these days. Combine that with re-writing their "outdated" constitution that currently forbids military aggression, and it adds up to scary stuff for Japan's neighbours, but that's another story. I'm assured that in this case "correct scientific information" (direct translation of 正しい科学的情報) really does just mean "best available". Time will tell...

It's mildly amusing to play spot-the-loanword in Japanese discussions. Of course all languages have borrowed words from others, usually to describe new concepts that are not already adequately covered (such as the French, who as Bush once famously didn't say, were missing the word for "entrepreneur"). Of course a lot of Japanese originally came from Chinese, but more recently there have been Western imports such as "erebeetaa" (elevator) and "bataa" (butter) that presumably came together with these products. Jules and I noticed two loan words in particular that came up regularly in the discussion of the project plans: management and communication. I hope they catch on :-)

No comments: