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TooBen Creative Writing Based on Translation

Since 2006. Last update July 2, 2021. Copyright (C) TooBen. All rights reserved.
Any reproduction or use of the contents is prohibited.

TooBen Creative Writing Based on Translation

Since 2006. Last update July 2, 2021. Copyright (C) TooBen. All rights reserved.
Any reproduction or use of the contents is prohibited.

Differences Between English and Japanese

Japanese Love for Passive Tone

Who’s the Operator Behind the Scene?

Even though English passive sentences often get scolding by writing authorities, they may be no match to operation manuals produced in Japan.
  • SD mode can be set with the remote controller. It will be applied when the set temperature is reached.
  • When the power button is pressed, the menu window will be displayed.
  • (Creation based on real cases)
So, who would set the SD mode and apply it? What would reach the set temperature? Well, probably the translator who has rendered the original Japanese sentences can’t answer. That’s why they use the passive voice in the first place; they don’t know who or what would do things because they can’t find that in the original. Hence, such ghosty sentences.

Then, the next sensible question may be: “Why the translator can’t find such basic information?” The answer is simple: Japanese sentences don’t always require subjects or owners of actions. As I explain in Japanese as a Topic-Prominent Language, Japanese is a theme-oriented language. Therefore, “who” or “what” as the doer is not the issue. Instead, the audience should focus on the event: the button pressed or the window displayed, not who or what presses the button or displays the window.

However, as far as technical materials are concerned, 5W1H information can be essential to the accuracy of the entire document. As this awareness of communication precision grows, manual production in Japan is gradually changing (hopefully).

Who Creates Peace And How?

Let’s talk about peace. How do you think peace is made by whom? You would say that’s efforts by all related parties — namely, mutual understanding, constant negotiation, close communication, etc., based on tolerance and patience. Indeed, from a western point of view, peace never exists without rational thinking and action.

For the Japanese, on the other hand, peace has been there by default. It’s not something you must earn by working on it. Like the sun, sea, and sky, it has been there since the beginning, and it continues to remain there unless you try to disturb or stir it up. The Japanese attitude toward peace is like that of “letting sleeping dogs lie”.

To maintain that calmness, people restrain from bold, aggressive actions or remarks, loud and clear eloquence, claims, assertions, or whatever might wake a sleeping dog. Sounds terrible? Even though it’s a mere narrow-angled viewpoint, I think it explains a lot about Japanese passiveness in speech and action.

From Where Do Babies Come?

Of course, it’s not about the birds and the bees. But, it’s about how people try to hide human doers of things.

Suppose your relative or friend has a baby, and you tell the news to people. You would probably say, “My sister has a baby” or “The couple have a baby”. On the other hand, they say, “A baby is born to my sister (the couple) in Japanese”. Even though the doers (and what they did) are apparent, they try to hide them as if a baby had come from somewhere or a stork had brought it.

So, again, “who” is not important, and the topic of a baby born is the focus. Thus, by eliminating action ownership, a Japanese sentence tries to sound as if the happening were the result of nature’s design. The following shows similar examples:
  • It decided itself (or It was decided) at the meeting” instead of “We decided it at the meeting”.
  • The answer found itself (or The answer was found)” instead of “I found the answer”.
  • A good idea has emerged” instead of “I have a good idea”.
  • My skill has improved” instead of “I have improved my skill”.
Technically, the above examples use intransitive verbs rather than the passive voice, but it’s still not the active voice where an animated doer acts on objects. Such Japanese sentences often turn in the passive voice when translated into English.

A wildflower field spreading itself

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