It’s common in foreign language classes for the teacher to check students’ understanding of the material presented in class by having them translate all or part of it into their native language. One time in a Japanese class in college, I translated something naturally to English, and my teacher said, “Mm, that’s the good translation. Now translate it so the others can understand what the Japanese words are doing.”
For the life of me, I can’t remember exactly what the phrase was, but it was basically something where the sentence structure ended up being completely different in English from the original Japanese when translated naturally. It was probably a relative clause. In any case, that distinction remained clear in my mind: natural translations vs. translations that accurately reflect the structure/mechanics of the original language. I don’t know if this is what other people mean when they say “translationese,” but it’s what I mean when I use that word.
When I first ventured to post a Japanese–>English translation online in 2009, I was still a bit stuck in the mode of translating to reflect what the Japanese words were doing on a grammatical level. Partly, I was worried about people who could read a bit of Japanese saying “that’s not what’s written there” if I translated more naturally. But these days, while I think there’s a place for such translationese in the beginner levels of foreign language classes (a small place, preferably), my stance now is that there’s no place for that when writing translations outside of a language learning environment, such as the GACKT translations on this blog. If the people reading these translation are English speakers, why present them with unnatural English that is bound by the grammar rules of Japanese? If the readers haven’t studied Japanese, they won’t even be able to recognize the underlying cause of the unnatural English, so what’s the point of doing that?
When writing in English, I now think, my loyalty should go to the English language, not Japanese grammar. Of course, I must convey the meaning of the original Japanese faithfully. But whereas in the past I’d get caught up on such minutiae as trying to make sure verbs were represented by verbs, nouns by nouns, and so forth, now my main goal is to write something that looks like it was originally written in English. In other words, the readers should forget that what they’re reading, is, in fact, a translation. It’s kind of like suspension of disbelief. A good movie makes you forget you’re watching a movie, even if there’s aliens or talking cats on-screen. So, that’s my goal for the translations on this blog.
Speaking of which, I hope to post a GACKT-related translation soon. I just finished reading the novel Kirin no Tsubasa by Keigo HIGASHINO. It was good! Started dragging in the middle a little, but I couldn’t put it down for the last 100 pages or so. I think that should fill my quota of non-GACKT related Japanese reading material for a while, so I’m gonna go ahead and go back to reading old GACKT stuff for a little bit. Ahaha….
On the topic of translation, I recently found the blog Legends of Localization, which is about the localization of video games. Really interesting stuff, whether you read it as a gamer, translator, or both!