Taking context into account when translating is important regardless of language, but it’s especially important when translating from a high-context language like Japanese to a low-context one like English. English has much stricter requirements on what needs to be specified in a sentence to flow naturally and make sense, but in Japanese, you can essentially drop any information or words that the listener is likely to already know.
For instance, let’s say you’re going to school. Instead of saying an entire sentence of “I’m going to school” (watashi wa gakkou ni ikimasu), if it’s obvious you’re the only one who’d be going to school, you could just say “going to school” (gakkou ni ikimasu), or you could even just say “going” (ikimasu) depending on the situation if the other person already knows you’ll be going to school anyway.
As you can probably imagine, this property of the language is used a lot in song lyrics, where phrases are often intentionally vague. In general, a translator’s many responsibilities include analyzing context and filling in context when applicable.
An interesting situation came up recently with inabakumori’s song “Loneliness of Spring” (ハルノ寂寞), which at first seems to be a song that uses some rather violent imagery, but was recently revealed in a Real Sound interview (which I translated earlier here) to actually be about a school bag, not a human. Since this information changes the context behind the song completely, I thought it would be interesting to use the song as a case study of how much “context” alone can change a translation.Continue reading “Let’s look at the difference “context” can make in Japanese-to-English translation! (feat. inabakumori’s “Loneliness of Spring”)”