I’ve been doing my best to avoid going public on the hostage issue this week, but I did talk about this yesterday to a former government official who had worked in the Prime Minister’s Office, and managed to overstate the case against the original MOFA translation. So this is a correction of sorts.
First, read this Daily Beast article by Jake Adelstein. Got it?
MOFA (J): パレスチナでは、保健医療、水道整備や西岸とガザの難民支援など、民生安定に役立つ施策を明らかにします。
MOFA (E): In Palestine, I will set out measures that will help enhance the stability of people’s livelihoods, in areas such as healthcare, water supply, and assistance for refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.
Pro: In Palestine, we will put measures in place to help provide stability for the citizens’ livelihoods, in areas such as healthcare, water supply maintenance, and refugee aid in the West Bank and Gaza.”
So far, the MOFA version is clearly better. MOFA refers to the Palestinians in Palestine as “people” while the professional translator uses the word “citizen.” The latter translation would make Palestinians and more broadly the Arab world very happy, since they would consider it a tacit if unwitting recognition of Palestinian statehood by the Japanese government. By sticking with the more natural “people,” MOFA avoids a major diplomatic gaffe. On a more technical matter, the use of the word “maintenance” is inaccurate, since “整備” is broader than mere “維持,” which is the better analog for “maintenance.” I’m okay with the way that MOFA treats it, but if you insist on explicitly translating the word “整備,” go with something like “maintenance and improvement.”
MOFA (J): イラク、シリアの難民・避難民支援、トルコ、レバノンへの支援をするのは、ISILがもたらす脅威を少しでも食い止めるためです。地道な人材開発、インフラ整備を含め、ISILと闘う周辺各国に、総額で2億ドル程度、支援をお約束します。
MOFA (E): We are going to provide assistance for refugees and displaced persons from Iraq and Syria.
We are also going to support Turkey and Lebanon. All that, we shall do to help curb the threat ISIL poses. I will pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million U.S. dollars for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on.
Pro: In order to help reduce the threat ISIL poses, we will offer our support to Turkey and Lebanon and also provide aid to the refugees and displaced persons of Iraq and Syria. To those nations struggling with ISIL, we pledge a total of 200 million USD to aid in the development of human resources and infrastructure.
They are both flawed, albeit in very different ways. But first, let me give you a better translation (though I wish that someone will come up with something better than “prosaic”):
We are providing assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Iraq and Syria and assistance to Turkey and Lebanon in order to curb the threat that ISIL poses as much as possible. We pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million U.S. dollars including prosaic human resource development and infrastructure for those countries nearby that are struggling with ISIL.
We are providing assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Iraq and Syria and assistance to Turkey and Lebanon in order to curb the threat that ISIL poses as much as possible. We pledge prosaic human resource development and infrastructure and other assistance of a total of about 200 million U.S. dollars for those countries nearby that are struggling with ISIL.
MOFA makes the inexplicable decision to split the paragraph in two in the translation, leaving it to the reader to figure out that the “assistance for refugees and displaced persons from Iraq and Syria” are not separate from the support for “Turkey and Lebanon” “to help curb the threat ISIL poses,” opening the door to the claim by Mr. Adelstein that “it is clearer [in the Pro version] that Japan is not offering military assistance, but rather, donating money to purely help the refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria and Iraq.” That said, note that the Pro fails to translate “を含め,” for which MOFA uses the awkward (in this case) “and so on” and I go with the shorter “including.” Now, one of the annoying features about many a Japanese list is the casual “等” or “など” tagged on at the end just in case something has been missed. Sometimes, it is better to dispense with the “etc.” or “so on” altogether in the translation and dare the writer of the original to come up with a reason to maintain it. But this is not such a case. First, this may not be a legal document, but it is a prime minister’s speech. You better have a good reason for omitting any piece of it. Second, “を含め” is being used here, carrying a little more weight than the end of list “等” or “など.” Here, there is clearly a “there” “there.” Thus, a faithful translation makes it less clear to the untrained ISIL eye that “Japan is not offering military assistance” or more indirectly assisting the war effort. There are other omissions, but they are immaterial to my take.
So, was the omission deliberate, in order to allow Mr. Adelstein a better case for his accusation? Possible. But I am giving the Pro the benefit of the doubt. It is my experience that non-native speakers of the language being translated tend to produce more fluid but less accurate text—I proofread the draft translations for last two Japanese translations of Ian Bremmer’s books, one of them by a professor of U.S. and British poetry (Canadians, Aussies, and Kiwis need not apply) and found numerous errors minor and egregious, so I know what I’m talking about—while non-native speakers of the language being translated into have the opposite problem. Absent evidence to the contrary, I assume that this was also the case with the Pro here.