Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Gets Lost in Translation: Struggling with "Suddenly"

Blue Suddenly, Mira Schor drawing,

Anna Zielinska-Elliott writes:

As I am working on the translation of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, I am reminded of what Edward Seidensticker wrote once in an essay titled, On trying to translate Japanese (in J. Biguenet and R. Schulte, eds., The Craft of Translation [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989]):

         I have spoken of oh's and ah's and blubbering. They bring us to the
         essential fact that Japanese is a very wordy language. Let anyone
         who does not think so try reading one of the bracket-school
         translations: he will find innumerable drones wandering free. "Now
         that is a fact" at the end of every sentence is one example; the
         remarkable number of adverbs, the nearest English equivalent to
         which is "suddenly," but which actually do not mean anything at
         all, is another. (152)

While there are no "oh's" and "ah's" in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, I am finding myself struggling with how to translate the many different suddenly's.  Unlike Edward Seidensticker, I am not suggesting that they don't mean anything, but simply that compared to Polish, Japanese has a lot of words meaning "suddenly." This means that many nuances of different "suddenly's," unexpectedly's" or "abruptly's" must get lost when translated.  It must have been the case in all the books I have translated before, but for some reason I have only fully realized it now. Checking one of the online dictionaries,, after putting in "suddenly" we get this impressive list:

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