Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adventures in Japanese - III

To slowly, slowly improve my ability to read Japanese, I have been translating a book of short stories that my conversation partner bought me on one of her trips home. This is not "literature." The author, Hirao Okuda, is appealing to a popular audience. Nevertheless, the book contains sentences that are well beyond my ability to turn into English. For example:

絵里 は 鼻 の 奥 が つんときた。

Stick with me for a moment, and we'll go through it. 絵里 is a girl's name, Eri. 鼻 means "nose." 奥 means "inside," so 鼻の奥  means "inside [her] nose." つんときた  means "to become irritated" or "struck by a pungent odor."

So, my translation, which made some sense in the context (Eri is talking to her brother in his hospital room): "A pungent odor was in Eri's nose."

Google Translate's version: "Eri the back of the nose was Tsunto come."

My native-speaking Japanese conversation partner says the sentence means, "Eri felt she was about to cry." (The irritation in her nose is the precursor to crying.) Who knew? 

Notice that the only word in common between the original and my partner's translation is "Eri."

What all this means is that not only am I slowly learning to read, I continue to increase my respect for the scholars—Donald Keene, John Nathan, Ted Goosens, Philip Gabriel, Jay Rubin, Juliet Winters Carpenter, and more—who are able to translate Japanese into lively English. What they are able to do is astonishing.

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