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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Politeness translation in Japanese texts


Politeness translation in Japanese texts

Japanese is reputed for the number of grammatical structures made to express politeness.  These expressions and structures are known as honorifics, or Keigo in Japanese.  There is also a specific vocabulary items used for this purpose.  The use of honorifics often requires longer sentences and more extended structures.   This posits a problem for translators providing Japanese translation services, in some contexts.   For example, if someone speaks to his superior in a formal setting:

聞かせていただけると嬉しいのですが。

This can be translated as:   I will be glad if I can, however, have the permission to ask a question.

However, writing a sentence in this structure and style may look very strange for Westerners. 

What makes them special is that they are obligatory on some specific social contexts.  In pragmatics, these expressions are used to express rank differences and intimacy between speakers.  So, polite speech is not a pragmatic attempt to express closeness or distance between people, the way it can be in other contexts.   In fact, the Korean language also has a similar system.   In Japanese translation services, these expressions render the translated text a bit awkward, sometimes, especially in western settings.  The reason is that expression what can be viewed as exaggerated politeness may seem in contrast with respecting one’s dignity and guarding one’s prestige.  The translator has to observe the meaning intended in the target language cultural context.  People whose linguistic forms of interaction often require direct messages and intimate speech forms, even with distant relations, usually find it difficult to understand the usefulness of complex structures used in some societies.

The main challenge in Japanese translation services provision is dealing with extreme politeness forms.  The issue here is related to what constitutes a form of extreme politeness from a cultural perspective.  From reflecting a polished self-image to showing consideration to others, the concept of politeness remains with the Western parameters of behaviour.  In Eastern societies, politeness ranges between expressing respect to an older or highly positioned person to showing a humble and modest self.  Therefore, the first step is to determine what kind of behaviour lies behind the expression of politeness in the original (Japanese) language.   The context of social behaviour reveals the reason for the choice of extreme politeness.    The way a professional translator handles the issue is not usually purely linguistic.  Cultural parameters are to be respected for an accurate transmission of the message into the target language. 

Some translators just accommodate the original message within the normal settings of a text/conversation in the target language.  This also results in the loss of the originality flavour.  Translating a text from Japanese into English, for example, loses the forms of sophisticated politeness as they should show in the Japanese context.  Japanese translation services are therefore expected to find a suitable grammatical and stylistic form which results in the same intended meaning.  If this is not possible, changing the structure to maintain the gist of the meaning desired is also possible.

Almiaad Lingua offers the best Japanese translations through a team of the best professional translators working from different location.
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