28 February, 2017

Today's language mayhem

The person who came up with this translation "ship shortage",
might have been having a mayhem of a day too.  This was
the reason given for our flight back to Tokyo being
cancelled last June.
This morning I was head-down-tail-up trying to get all the articles for the next magazine issue finalised before going away again tomorrow.

Finalising an article means making sure every detail is taken care of before I hand the articles over to the designers: from the obvious mistakes the proofreader might pick up, to checking on communications with authors about details they are concerned about, to images I've received from authors or a myriad of other small matters that can become big matters if not dealt with at this point.

This is not my favourite part of editing. I prefer content editing where one is looking at bigger picture issues.

So in order to do this end of editing for the magazine I need to work myself into a certain focus. The sort of focus that doesn't allow me to quickly jump in and out.

This afternoon I had my semi-regular language exchange meeting. A time when I get together with two Japanese friends and we try to talk in Japanese and English, helping each other learn. 

Unfortunately I did not allow myself sufficient transition time. I jumped almost straight from editing onto the train and into chatting. My "Japanese brain" simply didn't snap into gear. Especially as they wanted to hear about our son's wrestling! And that is something that I almost never talk about in Japanese, so my vocab is pretty limited. Not to mention that they had a lot of questions about specifics that are challenging to explain, even in English.

So I went from thinking about a sentence like this:
US authors may object to “maths” being used in place of “math” in their writing, just as Commonwealth-background authors might protest about “cilantro” replacing “coriander” (the leaf, used in cooking) in something they’ve written. 
To trying to figure out how to explain "pinning" in Japanese (not knowing the word for shoulder blade and forgetting what verb I could use for "holding someone down").

Thankfully my language exchange partners are very forgiving and don't mind if we end up doing more English than Japanese. It is I who tends to beat myself up.

So we ended up talking about all sorts of things in a mixed-up way. Not the best for language exchange, but still fun.

Something that struck me later as I walked home, was the number of times I talked about "the feeling" of a word. Words like "seedy" and "balmy". Even talking about a "white elephant" and how it isn't just something that is useless, but it carries the feeling of an encumbrance.

The "feeling" of a word is very important. It's something that you only get when you are becoming familiar with a language. For example, when you put  the word I've used in the title of this blog post: "mayhem" into the thesaurus, you come up with words that are similar, but not necessarily quite the same. For example, "violence" and "destruction".

Similarly in Japanese. I only can think of poor examples, but I learned the word for energetic or lively: "nigiyaka" when I was at language school and applied it to my son, but was immediately corrected. "That is only used for events or situations, not people," I was told. The word "gambatte" is a Japanese word that isn't easily translated, but means something like "do your best" or "try as hard as you can". The feeling of the word is one of encouragement, with an edge of stoicism to it. Something you don't easily get with those English translations I've given.

So anyway, I've learned that I have good days and bad in Japanese. Probably I would have more good days if my job required me to work more often in Japanese. But I've learned to accept that sometimes I'll feel like I'm flying through and other times it is more like a less-than-graceful trek through a bog.

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