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ジェフリー・A・クロフト先生のコラム [1998年-現在] フリーランス・社内翻訳者
学術文献・研究論文・技術機関紙等の翻訳、契約書等の法律文書の翻訳、説明書・規格書等の技術文書の翻訳、手紙・通信文・企業案内・広告・ホームページ等の翻訳に精通。
[2001年-2002年] フリーランス通訳者
日英・英日同時または逐次通訳(主な顧客:富士通, ソニー, TBS等)
[学歴] 学士号:カリフォルニア大学、バークレー校 修士号:モントレー国際大学

第3回:『In a word? No』

As Bekku (1979) states, adherence to word-for-word translation from L1 to L2 is nonsense:
Even to translate a single word, one must consider the context: The sentence, occasionally even the entire book. Suppose you take a single word―for example, in an advertisement, a poster, or a title―and translate it. There will be context that is not expressed in the [L1] word itself. [In translation] there simply is no other way but to think broadly. (p. 128)
*翻訳読本: 初心者のための八章:別宮貞徳 sadanori Bekku

Bekku is referring specifically to translation, but he calls attention to a fundamental difference among languages that influences language learning at every level. As words have more than one sense and can vary subtly or wildly depending on context, the notion of word-for-word equivalence between or among languages is a fallacy. As McCarthy and Schmitt (1997) observe, languages distribute meanings into words differently, “and so a word in language A may have various equivalents in language B depending on exactly what is meant” (p. 157). If an inappropriate equivalence is selected, however accurate it may appear in the dictionary, the result may range from vaguely odd to downright embarrassing.

There are, of course, cases when equivalent words or phrases do serve the purpose of communication. When a traveler prepares to visit a new country and learns her first phrases―greetings maybe―she may find that she can get by assuming that thank you, is effectively equivalent to gracias (Spanish), merci (French), and arigatou (Japanese), for example. But even mere greetings may require more attention to the range of possible nuances, more language awareness, than a cursory substitution.

The Thai phrase mai ben rai is not adequately expressed in the phrases I used as equivalents, including: No problem (English) , and Está bien (Spanish). This single Thai phrase may require more than one phrase in other languages (possibly closer to three Japanese phrases, for example. Word-for-word equivalents in the native and target languages, then, may be useful in some cases when the language is relatively simple (e.g., hello ), to build a base by connecting features of the target language with existing knowledge. As I have shown, however, there are significant limitations to assumptions of equivalence even at the word or phrasal level: Equivalence between words or phrases in L1 and L2 may not be assumed, even comparing simple greetings.

Language is not a color-by-numbers, cut-and-paste affair. Analyzing different senses of words, which can alter the meaning dramatically in context, sheds light on the complexity that may be involved in even the simplest of phrases. Larson (1984) offers examples of primary―“ meaning suggested by a word when it is used alone”―and secondary “[meaning] dependent on the context in which a word is use”―senses of words (p. 109). For example, Larson shows that the primary sense of the English word key would be translated into Spanish with llave (of a lock). But she goes on to show that secondary senses of the English word key include the Spanish words clave (of a code), and tecla (of a typewriter). Further, the Spanish word llave corresponds not only in the primary sense with the English key, but also in secondary senses with faucet , and wrench. Thus, as Larson demonstrates, “the process for discovering the various senses of words is rather complicated but can be … crucial for … learning a second language, and may also be helpful … when no dictionaries are available which give an adequate description of the senses of words in the language” (p. 111). Of course, the importance of connotative meaning―the additional meaning, beyond the central meaning (Richards, et al., 1992, p. 78)―of a word in a given language is not limited to single words. Set phrases such as collocations (e.g., a great deal of effort, but not a large deal of effort), idioms (e.g., as easy as pie, a piece of cake) and figurative expressions (e.g., bull market, beat around the bush) may be peculiar to their own culture, and may not translate simply from L1 to L2.

Idioms and other figurative senses of words are also culture-specific, and they present a challenge in understanding the intended meaning of expressions in another language. As opposed to referential meaning, or the “real-world object or concept described by language” (Finegan, 1999, p. 187), idioms are taken as single semantic units, and often simply do not make sense interpreted literally. Neither the English, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill (don’t make a fuss about nothing), nor the Japanese 十人十色 / juunintoiro / ten people ten colors (to each his own) are intelligible at face value. Deeper analysis of the language, and further analysis of the text―by consulting some form of authority on the language, e.g., a dictionary, native speaker, etc.―may be required.

The tragic example of a young Japanese person who was studying in the US was shot and killed when he had failed to understand the command freeze starkly underscores how much can be packed into a single word. The student had attempted to go to a Halloween party, mistakenly knocked on the door of another house in the neighborhood, and continued to approach the owner of the house, after the owner had drawn a gun and ordered the student to freeze. The incident prompted a great deal of discussion in Japan, of course, shedding light on similar terms that might not have appeared in the average textbook: Stick ‘em up, and the like.
The relentless pursuit to facilitate clear and smooth communication requires that we carefully choose every word, making sure that it is the most natural and appropriate, and the beauty as well as the added difficulty in doing so is that it can be nearly impossible at the word-level.

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