Enganese? (Japlish seen from the other side)
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 94 12:33:22 PDT
Subject: Enganese? (Japlish seen from the other side)
Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: email@example.com Wed Aug 31 17:44:00 1994
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Charles Forsythe)
As I was preparing to finish the Japanese Language version of my display
driver, and was enjoying the novelty of a Japanese editor, I decided to
provide a Japanese language README file explaining how to install and use
my new driver.
The README file for this driver is very important because it is intended for
use on laptop computers and there are issues relating to the ability of the
laptop to display both on the LCD panel and an external CRT Monitor.
Specifically -- for reasons I won't go into -- the driver must determine what
display modes are available at install time. If you don't attach an
external monitor when you install, it will not be able to use the external
monitor properly after install. This is not a big problem, because the
LCD panel will work fine and CRT-capability can be added later by attaching
a CRT and re-installing. Did you follow that? It's hard to explain clearly
in English. I decided to try Japanese.
Adding to my problem is that, although I am fairly well versed in Japanese
grammar, my small vocabulary -- mainly sushi terms -- renders me far from
fluent in the language. In addition, I am essentially illiterate. So,
having decided to write something I could barely formulate and wouldn't be
able to read when I was done, I sought the help of a Native Speaker of
My friend Yuki (short for Yukinobu) was more than happy to help out. After
I offered to help him write love letters to his American girlfriend, he
had been wanting to return the favor. This seemed like a great opportunity.
Yuki works as a sushi chef at one of Dallas' most popular sushi bars,
Sushi on McKinney and he arrived at my apartment as soon as he had finished
cleaning up from work; this was about Midnight. Now I would explain to him what
I'd written in English and he would tell me the Japanese. OS/2 would
cleverly convert my romaji (phonetic Japanese using roman characters) into
Kanji and Yuki would tell me whether the conversion was successful. Soon,
I imagined, I would have a README file which looked as if it was generated
by a literate, native speaker.
I now know that among the things which distinguish technical people who are
competent writers from people who are competent Technical Writers is the
foreknowledge that "explain" is not a verb to be taken lightly. Specifically
that even a simple declarative sentence -- even one using small words -- can
be utterly incomprehensible to someone who doesn't understand any of the nouns
or verbs in the sentence.
The first step in the installation, for example, was to "Open an OS/2 Window
or Full Screen session." The Japanese for "OS/2 Window session" and "OS/2
Full-Screen session" was printed right under the icons and it was easy to
show Yuki what they did, but "Open"? How would you translate "Open"? We
discovered, after searching gobs of on-line documentation neither of us could
fully understand that the correct verb is (drumroll please) "open suru"
("to do open").
The nice thing about technical Japanese is that it is mostly transliterated
English. The problem is that you never really know what English words they
will choose. The word for pager is "Beepa" (slang) or "Poketu Beru"
("Pocket Bell"). It is not, as you would hope,"Pejiya" ("Pager"). I
knew that "computer" was "conpyuta", so I guessed that "laptop computer"
was "raputopuconpyuta". One on-line file revealed the proper word to
be "notobuku" ("notebook"). Read and learn.
I succeeded in communicating the key points of the documentation with a
hands-on demonstration. Yuki failed to debunk any stereotypes regarding
the Japanese ability to assimilate technical knowledge. Despite somewhat
weak English skills (not to mention my piss-poor Japanese) and the fact
that this was his first contact with computers at all, he quickly grasped
the issues involving OS/2 display driver installation -- a feat which
eludes many, if not most, software developers. Now we were getting somewhere.
At this point we started having some fun with it. The translators at IBM
Yamato had chosen the verb "yeru" as their translation for "to install".
This verb means "to get" or "to obtain" implying that this was the result
of a choice. We decided the verb "toritsukeru" meaning "to setup for
use" was a much better translation and Yuki claimed it was more commonly
used. Our foray into the subtleties of meaning ended abruptly when we
reached step 3:"Insert the diskette into drive A:"
While Yuki pondered an equivalent, I invoked some example text by triggering
a window in which I knew the computer was asking for a disk to be placed in
drive A. "What about this, Yuki?" Yuki read. "Ehhh?" he responded with
the traditional Japanese Locution of Bewilderment. I demonstrated the act
of stuffing a diskette into the floppy drive. "Sonna koto ga..." I started
and he cut me off,"Yesyesyesyes," the Japanese always start sentences with
the word "yes", "I understand," he continued. "What?" I responded with
the tradition English Locution of Bewilderment. Yuki grinned, "That verb.
Is bad word."
It turns out that the verb being used for "insert" ("sonireru"?) is
commonly used to denote sexual penetration. "I would not use this word
in front of women!" Yuki spouted a mixture of astonishment, outrage and
amusement. I certainly didn't want to use this word in front of my clients,
even if it IBM felt it appropriate to do so. We began searching for an
alternative. "tsukkomu?" I ventured, having found a candidate in a small
dictionary. Clearly alarmed, Yuki quickly shot back,"No! That's much
worse!" We pored over reference material for nearly an hour. It seems
that generations of horny Japanese, saddled with a language painfully bare
of unambiguous sexual slang, had co-opted every term for insertion as
a double entendre.
Faced with no decent -- in more ways that one -- alternative, Yuki pointed
out that in context of the computer, a well-educated person would understand
that the word was to be taken at face value. I introduce Yuki to the
English word -- and Pennsylvanian municipal moniker -- "intercourse". Like
the troublesome Japanese verb, it too usually referred to sex and was not
used in polite company, but could be used in formal circumstances without
I wanted to print a copy of our final masterpiece, but the printer drivers
that ship with OS/2J only support Japanese-language-capable printers. Hmmm...
maybe I could work on that next...
© 1994 Peter Langston