Hey all! I wanted to feel around for some opinions on translating "politeness" from Japanese. There's a lot of phrases in Japanese that, in my opinion, don't actually mean anything and exist mainly to create a 「雰囲気」of politeness. Kind of an exaggerated example: 「いや、ここはおひとつ、どうかご容赦いただいて!恐縮でございます!ぜひ後ほどもよろしくお願い致します」。Know what I mean? How do you guys go about translating those? I see three options:

1. Translate them literally. Probably a poor choice. I received feedback from a senior translator once for creating a translation that was "too obsequious" for English norms, which I totally understand.

2. Try to capture the 雰囲気 in English. In my opinion this is the most natural way, but it makes me uncomfortable to deviate so much from the original text. For example, I might make 恐縮でございます "thank you for your understanding" or something along those lines. You know, like something a real person would write. Is this an okay thing to do?


3. Omit the phrase entirely. This also makes me uncomfortable but seems to be necessary sometimes. Ex., I might translate my entire first example phrase as "Thank you for your understanding. We ask for your continued support." Sounds pretty clean, pretty "American", and captures the basics, but it's a totally different phrase, both in length and actual meaning.


Funny tidbit I noticed: I recall that when a job gets cancelled the customer gets a bilingual notice from Gengo, the Japanese saying something like 「全額返金させていただきます。ご迷惑をおかけして申し訳ございません。」whereas the English just says something like "You will receive a full refund," with nary a word of apology in sight!

Anyways, I guess overcoming these sorts of cultural barriers is the whole point of a translator, so sorry for a long nitpicky post but I'm really interested to hear people's experiences with this. Hope everyone's having a good day.


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    Thanks for posting about such a great topic. All of the points you bring up have been on my mind a lot these days while I've been translating. I think unfortunately it's one of those things that is always going to be a case by case situation, but I think out of the three options you pointed out, 2 and 3 are pretty typical approaches for me. I think you're right that translating literally for polite language is usually a bad choice, though I'm sure there are situations where it is preferred. As you mentioned, going for terms that fit the original 雰囲気, even if they differ considerably, seems to be a good way to go. At the same time, however, I think omission can be a good approach as well. Sometimes if you don't omit you might end up with a paragraph of sentences that all start off with "Please," or end with "if you could?"

    Anyway, I could really go on about all of this, but like you I'd also like to hear what other translators think and what suggestions they might have. Thanks again for your awesome post.

    - Evan

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    I'm Japanese and this topic is really interesting for me :)

    Well, I think 2 or 3 is good. 

    Now I do only English to Japanese translation, but sometimes there are cases I have to communicate in English. While I dealing with these cases, I realized some funny tidbits as you felt. When I communicate with English using customers, I only have to write "Hi," or so, but when it comes to Japanese customers, I have to start like  "お世話になっております。", and conclude like "(大変お忙しいところ申し訳ありませんが) よろしくお願いいたします。" It is really ridiculous for me, but I always do like this because this is a job :( Living like a Japanese is such a hard thing to do!!

    I once added "申し訳ございません" to a sentence which had no such a depiction in it, to make polite "雰囲気" "ニュアンス" which is really natural and common in Japanese when I dealing with a web localization job or so. Because when I don't do so, Japanese would fell the sentence is not polite enough and not natural. But I'm not sure if senior translators are agree with it. Anyway I do as just I believe.

    もしも上記の英語が完璧でなかったなら大変申し訳ございません!! lol

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