Why translation/interpreting is not easy…

Take a look at this:


The above picture was posted by Japanese tweeter Kazuto Sazuki, along with the comments:

Kazuto Sazuki no Tweet

“‘Hungry’ is an adjective… Are you okay, Pizza Hut? Your head office will be mad…”

As English speakers, we might laugh at this, but chances are we’d make the same kinds of mistakes in another language, and have done so.

Rocket News 24 gave a very good explanation of what happened here:

If you look up “hungry” in an English/Japanese dictionary, it’ll tell you that “onaka ga suku” is the Japanese equivalent, and that’s completely correct, as far as the meaning goes. The pitfall, though, is that “onaka ga suku” literally means “(my/your) stomach is empty,”and making things trickier is that suku” isn’t just the adjective “empty,” but a complete-package verb that means “be empty.”

So if you were a Japanese copywriter with only a limited command of the English language, but you know that you’re supposed to use “do” for questions with verbs, you might end up with “Do you hungry?” instead of “Are you hungry?”

Moving to the backside of the pamphlet, “at that time,PizzaHut!” is a pretty good translation of its accompanying Japanese text, “Sonna toki [w]a Pizza Hut!
Pizza Hut Japan asks customers “Don’t you hungry?” 【Why does Engrish happen in Japan?】, Rocket News 24

When we use another language, our tendency is to fall back on grammatical structures from the language we’re used to. So, we often end up using the foreign language words in the sentences that mirror our native language.

I can give one example that that sticks with me. I once saw a hearing person signing to a Deaf person: “We can’t account for one.” This person used the sign “accounts” (as in, business accounts). The connection between the two words is an English one that does not carry over into JSL. (Case in point: I asked the Deaf person if they understood. They told me no.)

That is why translation isn’t as easy as people think it is. It’s not just a matter of knowing the words of two languages, it’s knowing how these words come together to form meaningful sentences. Interpreting is even worse. Interpreters (especially in simultaneous interpreting) don’t have time to Google words and grammar forms. Your brain is constantly working, searching for the appropriate ways to express the concepts between languages.

It’s a lot of work.

People often look at me and ask me if my arms aren’t tired after a particularly long terp session. (I was once given the nickname “Signs and Wonders after a few hours interpreting by myself.) But believe me when I say it’s not my arms that get tired.

It’s my brain!

So; I understand, Japanese Pizza Hut. I really do.

This entry was posted in Interpreting, JSL, Languages, 日本語 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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