September 26, 2006

A Picture of my Father


A short story I wrote a while back has been published on the Popcorn Popping website. This story is, as they say, based on actual events: the Mormon chapel in Indian Hills (Glenville, New York) burning down. The fictitious town of "Galway Corners" is a combination of Galway (where my sister used to live) and West Charlton on Route 147. For a while, all my autobiographical stories took place in "Galway Corners," my Lake Wobegon. Indian Hills is not quite so out in the boondocks as Galway Corners, but not by much. The night of the fire, because of the way the winds were blowing, the fire was first reported by a patrol officer in the town of Scotia three miles away, who noticed "an unusual amount of smoke" in the air.

Incidentally, if you're wondering about the title of the website, it comes from a song that every Mormon kid learns in nursery school:

I looked out the window, and what did I see?
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree!
Spring has brought me such a nice surprise,
Blossoms popping right before my eyes.
I could take an armful and make a treat,
A popcorn ball that would smell so sweet.
It wasn't really so, but it seemed to be,
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.

It's one of those songs that's so deeply imbedded in my brain cells that the mere mention of the title will have the tune spinning around in my head for the rest of the day.

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September 21, 2006

The dirt under your fingernails


There's nothing like a good idiomatic expression to make a language utterly confusing. Try literally explaining the meaning of "I've got a bone to pick with you," or "the whole nine yards." Not even lexicographers are sure where the latter came from.

On the other hand, because idiomatic expression tend to be largely "transparent" to native speakers, encountering them in a second language can reveal the totality of their often grotesque beauty.

One such expression is 爪の垢を煎じて飲む (tsume no aka o senjite nomu). It is commonly translated as "to follow in someone's footsteps." It literally means "to boil (or brew, as in tea) the dirt under someone's fingernails and drink it." Okay, altogether now: Ewwwww.

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September 17, 2006

Afterword (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)


In the penultimate sentence of Youko's speech, I'm paraphrasing the last line of "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, which is actually quite close to the original Japanese (lit. "We are each the one and only ruler of the domain that is the self"). It is certainly a nice note to end on.

                        Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstances
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of change
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the year
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I'm also channeling a little "If" by Kipling.

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September 07, 2006

Boys over Flowers


Given all the brouhaha concerning the sex of Princess Kiko's child--namely, that the "first male born to the Imperial family in 41 years . . . will put off the succession crisis facing the Imperial family for a while, [as] the Imperial House Law allows only males with emperors on their father's side to ascend the throne"--as ironies go, this one's hard to beat:

According to Rikikazu Sugiyama, director of Sugiyama Ladies Clinic in Tokyo and an expert in obstetrics and gynecology, sex selection is a serious matter for many couples, not just royalty. The fertility expert noted that, unlike the Imperial family, eight out of 10 patients at his clinic desire a baby girl, believing they are easier to raise.

I am in no position to comment on the accuracy of that last assertion, but I am very happy for Princess Aiko, as the travails of her mother must provide convincing evidence that being Empress of Japan would have to be the worst job in the world. No doubt about it, when it comes to constitutional monarchies, much better to be the "spare" than the heir.

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September 06, 2006

I'm not that kind of cat


Here is another discussion of Japanese-English pronoun problems in translation. The title of Natsume Soseki's famous novel, Wagahai wa Neko de aru (吾輩は猫である), has long been translated as "I am a Cat." Literally correct, yes, but a great deal of meaning gets lost in the process of converting the pompous「吾輩」to the prosaic "I."

My suggestions: "I am Sir Cat," or "Call me Le Chat."

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September 05, 2006

Pronouns on Friends


As it turns out, there are sites that post samizdat English-Japanese translations of Friends scripts. (Episodes of most popular American television programs are available in Japan on DVD or via satellite.) A brief exerpt from one such script reveals some interesting translation choices. For the most part, though, as you will see below, most pronouns are simply eliminated in the Japanese translation.

Several interesting translation choices occur with the first-person and second-person pronouns in the conversation between Ross and Chandler. Ross refers to himself as boku while Chandler uses ore. This is clearly based on the translator's understanding of the difference between their characters: Ross is a professor, while Chandler--although a college graduate--is "one of the boys." He used to live with Joey, after all.

The one time Chandler does refer directly to Ross, he uses his name (Rosu) rather than a pronoun, suggesting that even though they are addressing each other as equals, Chandler is elevating Ross slightly above himself.

The one time that Ross's diction matches Chandler's is when he is "threatening" him. Previously, when he says, "I need to talk to you," he uses the more neutral kimi. In this case, though, he refers to Chandler using the second-person pronoun o-mae. This "guy talk" is clearly out of character for Ross, and given Chandler's reaction, is as funny in Japanese as it is in English.

The following materials were borrowed from the LA Tokyo website.

Monica: Do you realize this is probably the last time we'll all be here in the coffee house as six single people?ここで集まるの最後だね6人のシングルとして
Phoebe: Why?! What's happening to the coffee house?! (Monica looks at her.) Oh! (Realizes.)なんで?ここがどうした?!(モニカが視線を送る)ああ(気づく)

Chandler: Yep! From now on it's gonna be the four of you guys and me and the misses. The little woman. The wife. The old ball and chain.

だな!これからは君達4人とオレと妻女房奥さん昔ながらの恐妻
Monica: Old?昔ながら?
Chandler: The young hot ball and chain.若くてセクシーな恐妻
Monica: That's much better.よろしい

Rachel: (checking her watch) Oh! We gotta go! (The girls stand up.)

(腕時計を見て)あ!行かなくちゃ(女性郡が立ち上がる)
Ross: Oh, where are you guys going?どこ行くの?
Monica: We're gonna pick up the wedding dress then we're gonna have lunch with mom. (Joey stands up.)ドレスを受け取ってそれから母さんとランチ(ジョーイが立ち上がる)
Ross: Ah. Joey you're-you're having lunch with my mom?そうかジョーイもうちの母さんと?
Joey: No, I-I just heard lunch. But yeah, I can go. Sure! (They all exit.)ただランチって聞こえたでもまあ行けるよおお!(店を出る)
Ross: (To Chandler) Y'know what? Actually I'm kinda glad they're leaving 'cause uh, I need to talk to you about something.(チャンドラーに)あのさちょうどよかったかもに話があるんだ
Chandler: What's up?どうした?
Ross: Well this uh, this may be a little awkward.ちょっと言いにくいけど
Chandler: Listen, if you want to borrow money, it's kind of a bad time. I'm buying dinner for 128 people tomorrow night.金借りたいなら今日はだめ明日128人分のディナーおごりだからさ
Ross: No, it's…It's not that. Umm, now what I'm going to say to you, I'm not saying as your friend. Okay? I'm-I'm saying as it as Monica's older brother.違うあのさ今からが言うこと友達としてじゃないからなモニカの兄として言うぞ
Chandler: But you're still my friend?でもロスオレの友達?
Ross: Not for the next few minutes.今から数分は違う
Chandler: During this time . . . are you, are you still my best man?この数分間・・・まだオレのベストマン?
Ross: Nope.いいや
Chandler: Do I still call you Ross?まだロスって呼んでいい?

Ross: Okay! You guys are getting married tomorrow and-and I couldn't be more thrilled for both of you, but as Monica's older brother I-I have to tell you this. If you ever hurt my little sister, if you ever cause her any unhappiness of any kind, I will hunt you down, and kick your ass! (Chandler laughs.) What? I'm-I'm-I'm serious! (Chandler laughs harder.) Hey! Dude! Stop it! Okay? I'm-I'm not kidding here!

君達明日結婚するわけで本当に嬉しいけどモニカの兄として言わせてもらうの妹を傷つけたり悲しませたりしたらお前を探し出してぶっ飛ばすからな! (チャンドラーが笑う)何?マジだぞ! (チャンドラーがもっと笑う)ちょっ―おい!やめろ!冗談じゃないぞ!
Chandler: (smiling) Hey, I hear what you're saying, okay? And, thanks for the warning.(笑顔で)言いたいことはわかった忠告ありがとう

Ross: No problem.

いいえ
Chandler: So are we . . . friends again?もう友達に戻った?
Ross: Yeah.ああ
Chandler: Okay. (Pause) You won't believe what Monica's older brother just said to me!おぅ(間)びっくりするぜモニカの兄に言われたこと!

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