Japanese Dialects

Japanese Dialects

Tom
Tom

February 6th, 2013, 4:25 pm #1

I seem to remember hearing or reading some time back that many Japanese (naval) records from WW2 are written in a different (older) dialect than what many Japanese speak today. Apparently this makes them somewhat more difficult and time-consuming to accurately translate. Does anyone know if this is accurate..or did I misundestand?
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John Melmoth
John Melmoth

February 6th, 2013, 6:31 pm #2

Tom,

1.) One important key is the nomenclature frequently used in official documents--Many abbreviations & contractions (almost like portmanteau words) are utilized, and of course nautical terms, etc.
My first translator--an American of Japanese descent educated under Alvin Coox--for example, looked at a track-chart from "Senshi Sosho" and saw '17dg' written on it and translated it as "seventeen degrees"...but of course in IJN primary source docs this means the 17th Destroyer Division (what we call DesDiv 17).
First Destroyer Squadron (what we call DesRon 1) would be shown as 1Sd, if I'm not mistaken.

Here is an example of the contracted words/abbreviations often found:
"Shicho" = is a naval writer, someone who would write up documents aboard ship, or a ship's newsletter, etc.
The term comes from a combination of two words: Shihan gakko, which means Teachers College, and Chohei, which represents conscription or to be drafted...

2.) A number of the better-educated men of the period--especially officers--wrote in a classical Chinese language known as Kanbun, which is horrendously difficult for modern Japanese to read or understand properly, let alone translate.
I went to very great lengths to obtain a copy of an extremely rare book written in 1960 by an IJN officer who was a major factor in the drive to war & the Southern Advance, only to find that it was entirely in Kanbun!
My translator--who is superb--has had fits with it. So, now I still own the entire book, but getting a good translation is a double-nightmare.
When I mentioned Kanbun a couple of years ago to a Japanese guy visiting friends here in the states, he shuddered & grimaced as if a vat of cold fish oil had been poured over him...

Nothing in the translation of Japanese docs like these is easy, still less cheap.

FWIW,

"JM"



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Tom
Tom

February 6th, 2013, 9:07 pm #3

Yes, this sounds pretty much like what I had heard before. My info may have come from you via this message board in the past. I'm trying to determine if I want to try and some translation of documents and maps on my own. I've got some folks who can translate, but I don't think any of them have experience with this kind of material.
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John Melmoth
John Melmoth

February 6th, 2013, 9:33 pm #4

Tom,

Yes, I have gone over this before on this forum.

Ya pays yer money & ya takes yer chances re those translations...I have not seen any good JPN materials translated properly by any but JPN citizens, and best of all, veterans. Though there are certainly JPN scholars at work with excellent English-language skills. There's a guy at a university in Singapore, for example, who has done some fabulous research & his English is just fine. On the other hand, one of my connections who is an IJN expert (in a specialized field), teaching in Japan as a professor, and who has provided some wonderful material for me, does not have those language skills really.

The saving grace--if there is such--may be that operational military records are much simpler to decipher, say, than a personal account by an individual participant who may have good reasons to shade or color his memories, etc. That is, if the sentence merely says, "On Sept 21, 1943 we spotted such-and-such a ship at a distance of 15,000 meters. We fired 10 rounds of 20cm shells at it..." that's not too problematic.
If it is an account of the intimate workings of the Imperial Army & Navy's innermost cabals as they plotted & struggled with warplans, in which each player had a strong "territiorial imperative" of his own, and you're trying to understand these turf wars which had fabulous subtleties involving everything from personality clashes to financial schemes to profound clan loyalties (or, in some cases, even familial issues), then every bloody little nuance in the translation becomes critical.

Nonetheless, it's one thing to get translations for 15-20$ per page and find them to be of mediocre quality. It's quite another to be spending 35-40$ per page* and discover that the work is not satisfactory. I simply could not afford that.

"JM"

* I am told that professional translators in large corporate jobs or something such as the aviation industry get even higher rates; perhaps twice as much again!
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Tom
Tom

February 6th, 2013, 10:38 pm #5

The devil is in the detail, as the old saying goes. No matter what the language. I can read a great deal of Dutch fairly easily, but only as it applies to military topics; I still struggle with daily newspapers and general magazines. Like you said, straight-forward topics are very easy, but I'm not a good enough translator to detect what someone is trying to "infer" just by writing a line of text. The company I work for has two translation firms that we work with and I'm staying away from both of them. Waaay too much dinero for what I want to accomplish.
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