なぜなら Translation question

So I’m working on a passion project and also my first translation effort.

The first two sentences (it’s a picture book) are: その村には魔女がいた。なぜなら魔女は言葉を話せなかったからだ。

The なぜなら part is giving me a bit of a hard time. My currently translation is “In a certain village there lived a witch who couldn’t speak in words.”

Or “In a certain village there lived a witch. The witch couldn’t speak with words.”

But neither really has the nuance of “because” … any suggestions on how to work that in there? Or is it ok as is?

I can’t think of something else that would mean なぜなら and also not basically mean “because.”

It explains a cause or reason for what comes before it.

It’s literally なぜ plus なら, or “if you were to say なぜ”

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You’re missing a part, it’s supposed to be:

その村には魔女がいた.名前は知らない.なぜなら魔女は言葉を話せなかったからだ

So her name is unknown because (なぜなら) she can’t speak

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That certainly makes more sense on its own. I just presumed what followed would give it more context.

In that case, “That’s because…” seems like a reasonable English segue, while keeping a child-like voice–“No one knew her name. That’s because…”—but it’s worth noting that for other translation efforts, Japanese tends to indulge more in “because” statements than English, and sometimes it’s okay to not include them in a natural translation.

(So I’d probably keep this one in, but in my own translation projects I’ve learned to cut “because” phrases with abandon, if the connection is already clear in English without it.)

In general, too, although this is unsolicited (sorry!), try to be careful with transliterating. A translation is your own, and deserves your own approach to the writing, but consider whether something like “couldn’t speak” wouldn’t do the work in English (rather than “couldn’t speak with words”) more naturally than bringing over every piece of information in the Japanese. This applies to switching subjects and passive/active voice when need be too. There’s an example in this thread already with 名前は知らない, which, yes, could be translated perfectly servicably as “her name was unknown,” but isn’t it more natural in English to make it active and say “No one knew her name”? Just pointing this out as the two languages rarely line up on this logic/what structure and perspective is natural. This is something I’ve also had to learn by doing, but don’t fear rearranging sentences or dropping bits of explicitly stated information if doing so leaves you with a more natural sentence in your target language.

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Sorry to nitpick, too. :sweat_smile: Perhaps this was a typo, but just in case; transliterating and translating are two different things.

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Because does sound a bit clunky. How about:

Her name is unknown, for she cannot speak.

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@MissMisc OMG you’re right! I skipped a sentence somehow!!!

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This is something I definitely struggle with! I don’t know if it’s a common problem, but I find my English morphing when I’m around my Japanese friends, and particularly if they ask “how would you say this in English?” I have a hard time finding the line between being faithful to the work but also, like you said, wanting a natural sounding sentence in the target language. If you have suggestions on how to improve in that, I’m all ears.

Also, thank you for permission to drop bits of sentences for the sake of a clearer sentence; somehow, hearing that from someone else reassures me it’s not a sloppy, irresponsible practice.

@LucasDesu, you’re right, but I think @iansacks was trying to make a point that simply translating literally every word or phrase in a sentence from one language into another is not the same was translating the concepts/ideas in a way that reads naturally.

That’s interesting, I don’t think I’ve seen だ follow the から particle before.

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I knew what they were doing, but we have to take care about terminology we use since this thread is searchable via Google. Although you may understand, people accessing this thread outside of this community may not. :wink:

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Oops! No, I was just mistaken. I’d seen it used before to describe trying to directly translating words and phrases between languages without regard for practical meaning/nuance. Happy to be corrected.

I completely understand that fear, and have felt it myself. There’s always a worry that someone could hold your feet to the fire for inaccuracy, but it’s something you have to balance with conviction against winding up with English that makes it feel as though someone is reading Japanese in translation, rather than … just reading English.

A really helpful practice is to scrutinize existing translations you admire. Compare them to the originals and you’ll be surprised how often information explicitly included in Japanese is omitted, or how often sentences are rearranged, in favor of more natural–though still accurate to the intent–English.

You’ll find people saying that successful translation is more about mastery of the target language than the source one, and I think that’s true. Obviously fluency in both is helpful in terms of recognizing the flavor of writing in the original, but at the end of the day it’s your ability to render effective writing in the target language that shows, and where knowledge gaps can’t simply be covered on the fly.

Here’s a really good article from The Comics Journal by an award-winning manga translator discussing the “Rule of Rubin” (stemming from a Haruki Murakami translator who considers work in translation to primarily be the writing of the translator, rather than the original author), as well as some of the techniques he used for his own practice (such as translating the already-published-in-English Dr. Slump and then comparing his takes to the published version).

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Thanks! That’s great advice to scrutinize existing translations; I never thought of that but it’s such a great idea.

Thanks for sharing, that was a good read. I’ve only done hobbyist translation for practice, but most of what he says mirrors my own experiences. It’s also a big part of why I began to learn Japanese in the first place. I got tired of having that extra layer in there, that extra person between me and the author.

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Yep. If you give the same phrase to ten different translators, you’ll wind up with ten different sentences, and all that. To me, personally, translating really does feel more like an exercise in English, because that’s where you’re stretching your muscles, once you understand the meaning and nuance, whereas reading Japanese without thinking about translation feels like the Japanese exercise.

If that makes sense.

Which isn’t to say that you’re not experiencing the original author if you’re reading something in translation. It’s just an acknowledgement that, unless you’re dealing with two languages that are 1:1 in terms of structure, logic and vocabulary (which English and Japanese definitely aren’t), there’s a whole lot more creative decision-making going on than just plugging in one word or phrase for another. Translating is creative writing, no two ways around it.

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