Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Translating the Titles of Government Officials

I intend to do a one-by-one follow-up of what I hoped were educated guesses about the personalities in the Hatoyama administration as well as the relationship between the Prime Minister and Ichiro Ozawa. I don’t think they’ve been that far off the mark, though some of the actual incidents have caught me by surprise.

In the meantime, for your amusement:

The Prime Minister’s Office’s lists of the English-language titles of cabinet and sub-cabinet political appointees, specifically the Ministers (大臣), Senior Vice-Ministers (副大臣) and Parliamentary Secretaries (政務官) here. Note the MOFA (and MOFA-only) substitute of the preposition “of” with “for”. MOFA has subtly distinguished itself in this and other ways with regard to its English-language titles, but has really gone overboard on its own website, where it calls its Senior Vice-Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries “State Secretaries” and “Parliamentary Vice-Ministers” respectively. I’m not sure how long MOFA has been doing this, but I do recall that an across-the-board Parliamentary Secretary-to-Parliamentary Vice-Minister upgrade was set in motion during the Koizumi administration when METI Parliamentary Secretary Satsuki Katayama (Lower House) reportedly complained that she would be mistaken for a “secretary.” When the authorities were slow to respond, she took the matter into her own hands and bestowed the “Vice-Minister” title on herself. Soon, all the “Parliamentary Secretaries” were calling themselves “Parliamentary Vice-Ministers.” I looked in fairly recently to find that they had for the most part reverted to “Parliamentary Secretaries” but that the Ministry of (not “for”) Foreign Affairs had retained the upgrade and given its “Senior Vice-Ministers” an additional twist. (Or had things always been so there?)

METI, incidentally, substitutes “of” with “for” in the case of its Parliamentary Secretary but not the Minister or Senior Vice-Minister. I understand the logic behind it— “of” and “for” are used discriminatingly for the non-political appointees as well for basically the same reason.

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