Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Journalism

I find myself grinding my teeth every time I come across an article about Japan in mainstream western publications, because they are so concerned about translating every little part of the word and getting it all wrong.

I was reading an article about Japanese food (link is unimportant) and it was talking about hachinoko, which is basically just wasp larvae.
 The word for "wasp" is "suzume-bachi", and the word for "bee" is "hachi".
The article in question broke down "suzume-bachi" into its two components--swallow, and bee--and then made the claim that Japanese makes no distinction between bees and wasps.

this is dumb and you are dumb and you should turn in your press pass to me so i can start writing articles about how much of a dummy dumb dumb you are

Suzumebachi is wasp. Hachi is bee. A cursory glance at a dictionary or even Wikipedia is enough to clear this up, and Japanese people don't show apprehension when you mention hachis, but they will when you mention suzumebachis, specifically the species Osuzumebachi, because the huge crazy kind actually kill quite a few people every year.

By breaking down the Japanese language like this, so finely and so literally, it gives a further distance and further exoticism to the language that isn't there.


In short, this is not how language works.
An example in English: No one confuses that a lion and an ant lion are two different creatures. Or any of the other dozens of animals named after other animals.


I may do more of this, because I grow more cantankerous by the month. D:

8 comments:

Xelyna said...

Don't blame the journalists totally- my friend is a journalist who is very knowledgeable about Japan, but when she wrote an article, the editors messed with it and put a bunch of errors in:/

But yeah, it annoys the hell out of me as well when I read stuff like that!

Go said...

"By breaking down the Japanese language like this, so finely and so literally, it gives a further distance and further exoticism to the language that isn't there. "

Yanno where this also happens? Song titles (and lyric translations)! Makes the song seem so much epicly cooler with all those "to which the of that thing that does not"s...

Anonymous said...

You are not a grumpy old man; a five year old would grump at this stuff!

Tang said...

You know us Americans ;D
We like to think we know everything.


P.S.
Chinese people still kill their daughters. JK.

Go said...

How to identify a crappy article about Japan: if the first paragraph contains the sentence:

"Japan is a land of opposites/dichotomies/contrasts."

then IT'S CRAP. :)

Shizuka said...

Journalists should better ask... why the hell they are eating things like that...

Thennary Nak said...

I think the articles about Japanese pop culture are the worst as the authors always seem intent in showing how "weird" Japan is in those. They also tend to have the most errors in them as well.

Evan Benner said...

Dammit, Go. I have been plotting a blog post on the half-truths of Japan. Does that still fly? (Mostly personal observations, frustrations)