Are English and Russian different? Well, I believe most people from Europe or America would say “Yes”. To me, from a Japanese perspective, they are very similar. Grammatically they are pretty similar. They have singular and plural. We don’t. They have prepositions. We don’t. Some words even sound similar: water and voda, day and den. In Japanese these are mizu and hi.
When you study foreign languages that are “totally different” from yours, you usually find both similarities and differences. When you compare English and Japanese, you find only differences. The cultures are so fundamentally different that you cannot find some of the most common words and phrases of English in Japanese.
Japanese has no swear words?
Let’s be honest,ne of the first thing many people want to learn is how to say the curse words in a foreign language. However, in Japanese they may find themselves disappointed. There is no “f word”, so to speak. The closest equivalent is “stupid”. Even a less vulgar swear word like “shit” only appears in the context of “shit happens”. You can walk around the street and not hear any obscenities at all, even in the streets of Tokyo. To be fair, we have swear words but, the only place you might come across one is in the red light district, Kabuki-Cho or in Japanese cartoons called “animes”, so they are not really equivalent of English swear words.
Japanese people don’t say “bless you” when they sneeze
Unlike in English there is no phrase that everyone says when someone sneezes. One might say, “Are you ok?” “Do you have an allergy?” “Did you catch a cold?” But you could just as easily say nothing. There’s nothing like “bless you” that everyone is expected to say.
Japanese people don’t ask each other “How are you?”
Similar to “bless you” they don’t say, “How are you?” If it’s someone you’ve seen recently there’s no need for small talk to ask them about their wellness. On the contrary, for someone you haven’t seen in a while, for example, for a year, it is possible to say, “How have you been?” The answer to this would be “genki”, which means physically and mentally well. It’s not just about health. If you are tired or sad, you wouldn’t be “genki”. Additionally, when asking someone if they are well, the subject is omitted and the interaction looks something like this: “Genki?” “Genki.”
Japanese doesn’t have words for “Yes” or “No”.
Lastly, Japanese don’t say yes or no. Japanese say hai and iie, and they are not equivalent of yes and no. To answer a question you say “right” and “wrong” or “true” and “false”. “You’re not a musician?” “Hai (True), I’m not a musician.”
Japanese have so many words for “I”
On the contrary, we have so many words that do not exist in English.
We have “Watashi”, “Atashi”, “Boku”, “Ore”, “Watakushi”, “Uchi”, and “Jibun” which are used in ordinary situations, as well as “Shokan”, “Chin” and more.
|Normal||Jibun, Boku, Ore, Watashi, Washi, Atashi, Atai, Wate, Wai, Uchi, Oi,|
|Business||Touhou, Honkan, Shoukan, Honshoku, Shoushoku, Toushoku, Heishoku, Gusou, Gutoku|
|Organization||Tousha, Heisha, Toukyoku, Kochira|
|Old-fashioned||Wagahai, Soregashi, Chin, Maro, A, Wa, Yo, Shosei, Gojin, Gusei, Asshi, Achiki, Warawa, Sessha, Midomo, Temae, Yatsugare, Watakushime|
How do you translate words that do not exist?
One obvious question is “How do you translate movies and novels?”
We cannot really translate those things.
Some English to Japanese translators don’t care about nuance and context and just translate literally which results in “translationese”, weird phrases or out of place words that make you want to shout, “Who says that? Nobody says that.”.
Some translators care about the quality of the translation so much and are creative, thus they can TransCreate (translate + create) a text in order to make it sound natural, while also ensuring not even the most miniscule details get lost in translation to Japanese.
This article covered only a few examples of cultural differences and their impact on language that I can articulately put into words. However, there are many more differences and many of them are very convoluted and hard to explain.
A good translator must be able to take all of these nuances into account. As a result, a translator’s task can be likened to hopping between two contrasting frames of mind, hardly an easy task. A majority of translators, unfortunately, will fall short of being able to translate at this level and although programs such as Google Translate have made many improvements, they still lack this ability, too.
Edited by Christopher Manning.