I absorb language
I can spot innacuracies in anime
subtitles. Whenever it happens, I examine the phrase, turning it over in my mind. Was it a cultural difference
that got lost in translation
? Should it have been done better?
I've never studied Japanese
On more than one occasion, I've found myself correcting a student of the Japanese language in conversations about said language, or about anime. Each time, I feel my skin burn, I feel awkward. What am I doing?
I can't be right; they're actually learning the language and I never have.
And I'm proven right.
Before I became interested in anime, I used to do karate
. I knew the names of the techniques after a handful of weeks. Some time later, a few aspiring black belts were reading over the syllabus of techniques which they would be tested on at the upcoming black belt grading
. The list was in Japanese only, in English characters. They were struggling. Incredulous that they didn't know what the techniques meant, I poked my head in and translated for them.
I was some four or five ranks lower than them. I was absolutely correct each time.
I don't know why I'm able to do it, although I'm beginning to see how I do it. It always feels strange, because it's not difficult at all. I can't understand why other people can't do it. I don't just wave my arms, chant under my breath, and suddenly the alien words become familiar.
"Kono machi no kihon kouzou wa"
, goes the song. The subtitles flash English words. "That's not what that means," I say to my sister, and receive a skeptical look in response.
"No, really," say I. "It means 'this city's basic structure is...', which isn't what that said at all. That's what said in the translation of the lyrics I read, but I can tell that pretty much myself anyway." The skeptical look deepens, but she's curious.
"Look, it's not all that complicated. In karate, the drills for the techniques were called 'kihon', which means 'basics'. That's right out of the book they gave us. 'Machi' is easy too, that's 'city'. Remember that other song? 'Sayonara fuyu no machi
'? The translation said it meant 'Goodbye, city of winter'. And you remember from that other song, ' banana no kawa de koronde mo
', and the translation read 'even if we slip on banana peels
'? Well it's a fair guess that 'banana' means 'banana', 'kawa' means 'peel', so that means 'no' is like 'of', except the order is reversed..."
Her eyebrows are raised, now.
"...so that means in 'fuyu no machi', 'fuyu' is winter and 'machi' is city. So, 'kono machi no kihon kozou wa' - 'kono city of (except it's swapped) basic kozou wa'... I guess we can replace 'of' with 'apostrophe S', so 'kono city's basic kozou wa'..."
All traces of cynnicism are gone now.
"...I'm pretty sure that 'kono' is 'this'. I don't remember where I picked that up from, but I'm pretty sure that's right. And 'wa', well - 'watashi wa insert-name-here desu' is pretty much 'I am insert-name-here
'. Either 'desu' or 'wa' must be some kind of sentence organising word like 'is', and in context it doesn't make a whole lot of difference since they're used together a lot of the time. So we're left with 'this city's basic kozou is'. 'Kozou' I don't know. From the other translation, it's the only word left over so it's more than likely 'structure'.
"'This city's basic structure is: EASY LOVE! EASY COME! EASY GO!
"Wow. You weren't kidding, were you?"
"I told you. I can absorb languages."
Checking now on various online Japanese tranlators, 'kozou' comes up as 'Buddhist priest'. I check again with 'kozoo' - after all, they pronounced it 'ko-zo-oh' in the song, not 'ko-zo-ooh'. This time I get 'to do things in a group; way of doing things'. Sounds like 'structure' to me.