"You really ought to laugh, but you can't," begins the article in Yukan Fuji (May 16). The topic is the English translations of the contents of local governments' home pages and signage on the streets. Which, it points out, are full of incorrect translations or non-idiomatic expressions.
For foreign residents and visitors, of course, this is nothing new. Since the 19th century, mirthful examples of bungled English have been observed in the Land of Wa. Including whoppers like "We play for MacArthur's erection." Or the sign posted above a urinal that read, "To stop drip, turn cock to right."
Yukan Fuji isn't laughing. It starts off with these four examples of mangled English: "No Entrance Bicycles," and follows this with "refuse stock," "book manager" and this mystifying expression, "doctor ryo engine." The correct English should read: No bicycles allowed; discarded waste; general manager; and medical facility.
The need for accurate English is all the more essential due to the current pandemic, when understanding can literally mean the difference between life or death.
A woman identified as Patricia Hayashi, who belongs to the committee of foreign residents in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, remarks, "The first materials posted on the city's home page regarding what to do if one develops symptoms of the coronavirus were incomprehensible."
While it's not always easy to determine which is which, the two underlying causes of Urayasu's erroneous English appear to be use of computer translation and arbitrary translations by city employees. Neither, needless to say, are subjected to checks by native speakers -- and hence the confusion.
Fortunately efforts are now under way to remedy the situation. Last November, Masayo Shiroki, holder of an MBA degree from New York's Columbia University, and former chair of the Urayasu International Friendship Association, and the aforementioned Hayashi, set up a working group to review English translations.
After reviewing 53 examples of translations, they determined about 70% were simply incorrect, and only two of the 53 required no corrections at all.
Shiroki was quoted as saying she was not opposed to computer translation outright, "because a lot of labor is required to translate everything." But workers have not put into place a system by which errors can be avoided.
Another problem is that particularly in Japanese, the language of the bureaucracy tends to be repetitive and packed with vague and specialized terms, posing added challenges for both human and machine translation.
This resulted in the city bringing in native English speakers to conduct periodic checks, as well as others who, during disasters, could produce materials in "easy Japanese."
It has also been observed that the home page operated by Kobe City relied upon machine translation from Japanese to Chinese, which among other problems led to incorrect conversions of kanji characters, even for the names of the city's ward offices. At least as far as urgent measures such as tackling the coronavirus pandemic, action was taken to bring in skilled translators, and pages were produced individually for each foreign language.
"Computer translation will become more accurate in the future," Professor Emi Uesugi of Meikai University in Urayasu and a member of the committee, tells Yukan Fuji. "To harness it efficiently when dealing with matters that impact on people's lives, however, it will be necessary to adopt a system by which workers check the translated materials."
Whatever the language, the article concludes, it's stating the obvious that contents need to make sense.© Japan Today