Glass Houses

1200

Japan’s reputation as a nation of uptight, overworked weirdos has been overstated internationally, but make no mistake, the Japanese language is indeed a polite one. Any second-year student of Japanese can tell you at least three ways to say “I’m sorry” with varying degrees of formality, and a quick way to get yourself labeled an idiot foreigner is to use excessively informal language when speaking to a superior. It’s also a language that’s poetic in its grammatical simplicity, two things that might help explain why interpreters are struggling to translate Donald Trump’s bigoted comments and stream-of-consciousness ramblings into Japanese at all.

“He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid,” professional interpreter and translation professor Chikako Tsuruta tells The Japan Times. Trump’s presidency has stirred presumably exceedingly civil debate amongst the country’s interpreters, who are divided over whether to polish Trump’s phrasing in translation or interpret it exactly as it falls out of his little orange mouth. The problem isn’t the difficulty of the words themselves—a study conducted last year by Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute put Trump’s vocabulary at a seventh-grade level—but rather the fact that when they’re not offensive, they make no goddamn sense, and translating that while maintaining your professional dignity can be difficult.

But as retired interpreter-turned-university professor Kumiko Torikai puts it, although she would personally struggle with repeating Trump’s misogynistic and xenophobic comments, “As an interpreter, your job is to translate the words of a speaker exactly as they are, no matter how heinous and what an outrageous liar you find the speaker to be.” She adds, “If Trump is not making sense, you don’t get to make sense, either.” Explaining what the hell is going on with his handshakes can’t be an easy task, either.

http://www.avclub.com/article/donald-trumps-nonsense-cant-be-translated-japanese-250852?utm_content=Main&utm_campaign=SF&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing

Which is ironic because Trump is a model of concision and lucidity compared to 99% of Japanese political speeches.

Because Japanese is a such a polite, contextual language, and because Japanese politics is almost entirely uninterested in policy (not joking: studies have been done), most Japanese political speeches are largely filler. And by this I don’t mean inane inspirational statements of the hope-and-change-make-America-great-again variety, I mean it in the linguistic sense – filler words and phrases: “actually”, “on the other hand”, “if you think about it” etc.

As Takeo Doi put it back in the 70s:

That the Japanese language is so constructed as to be particularly conducive to the effect of ambiguity is well known. For instance, Japanese verbs come at the end of the sentence. Therefore, unless and until you hear the whole sentence, you wouldn’t know where the speaker stands. This apparently gives him a psychological advantage, as he can change his position in anticipation of your possible reaction to it. However, it may happen that you are often left wondering whether he really means what he says. Also, there is the case of numerous auxiliary words in the Japanese language, which primarily function as adhesives of other words and sentences. Since I am not a student of Japanese grammar, I cannot adequately explain them except that they roughly correspond to conjunctives, interjections or auxiliary verbs in English. Contrary to English, however, those Japanese equivalents have a very unique feature of faithfully reflecting the speaker’s reaction to the changing situation. That is why we can do without pronouns in everyday conversation, a fact which may occasion ambiguity at times. Other factors too, create ambiguity. Take conjunctives, for instance. In English they provide logical connections. Not necessarily so in Japanese. Rather, more often they serve only to cement and induce the speaker’s free associations. At the same time, they may help to hold the audience’s attention. So, whether spoken or written, Japanese communication is usually quite loose in logical connections. You can go on talking for hours, even gracefully, without coming to the point. That is why it is sometimes extremely difficult to render a Japanese speech or article into English.

It’s that man again

Ladies and gentlemen: Vladimir Vladimirovitch Le Pen.

Here she is flying a helicopter, riding a horse and steering a boat. Love her or loathe her, in terms of production values and fulfilling the communications brief, this ad is A1. If the sight of her yanking gubernatorially on a windlass doesn’t stir your patriotic inklings, then you clearly have no patriotic inklings to be stirred.

Translation:

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always felt a passionate, visceral attachment to our country, and to its history. I love France. I love it from the depths of my heart and my soul: this ancient, indomitable nation, its fiery people who never give up. I am a woman. And as a woman, the restrictions on individual freedom that have spread across our country via the growth of Islamic fundamentalism feel to me like an outrageous violation. I am a mother, and like millions of parents, I worry every day about the state of the nation and the world that we are leaving to our children. I am a lawyer, and my years spent at the bar left me with a deep attachment to civil liberties and a special awareness of the situation faced by victims when crime goes unpunished. In essence, if I had to define myself, I think that I would say that I am simply, intensely, faithfully, proudly and clearly French. If anyone insults France, it is as if they were insulting me personally. Whether it’s a question of the insecurity, the violence or the poverty that afflict too many of our compatriots, I feel the suffering endured by the French people as if it were my own. The choice that you will make in the upcoming Presidential election is crucial, essential. It’s the choice of a civilisation. Either you go forward with those who have lied, failed, betrayed, who have led the people astray and set France on the wrong path, or you make the decision to put tidy up the mess that France has become. Yes. I want to put France back together, I want the French people to be able to live free in an independent France. I want the French people to be able to live in safety, in a France that is respected. I want the French people to be protected, in a prosperous France. I want the French people to be united, in a proud France. I want the French people to live well, in a sustainable France. I want the French people to be able to live out their dreams in a fair France! This is what I stand for, it’s what I’m fighting for, and it’s the project that I’ll work towards as head of state in your name, in the name of the people.

I’m not being lazy. She really does say ‘France’ that many times.

Compare and contrast with: overly-dramatic Putin presser intro.

 

But does he still have more fun?

gettyimages-459671238-1-820x550

We’ve covered the fact that despite the nation’s much-vaunted Confucian respect for age, a glossy dye-job or even a straight up wig is standard issue for Chinese politicians.

Of course, the same thing is true in the West to a certain extent, but it seems like even the least likely people are getting in on the act:

There has been speculation for a while that Boris’s fabled mop may have had a touch of the Marilyn Monroe to it. Last year, celebrity hairdresser Heinz Schumi claimed it was a ‘forgery’. ‘I’m telling you, it’s bleached,’ he told the Daily Mail. ‘I went to see him give a speech, and when the spotlights shone on his hair, it was kind of orangey — it doesn’t go light enough. Also, when hair is bleached, the follicles are broken so you manipulate it how you like — this is what Rod Stewart did, so I am absolutely certain he bleaches it.’

Yet no confirmation had ever come from Boris as to whether this was true. Indeed his own father told the Mail that it was ‘100 per cent nonsense’. ‘I remember when he was born in New York, I nipped off to get a pizza and when I returned he was swaddled with all the other babies — but quite distinguishable by this shock of white hair. So I can reassure the nation, it’s quite genuine,’ he said.

Well, now it seems the truth has emerged. In today’s Sunday Times Magazine, during an interview with Tim Shipman, Boris admits that he does in fact rely on the bottle. When conversation turns to Boris’s ‘bird’s nest of platinum hair’, he is keen to point out that ‘This is the real thing. It’s all natural.’ But when pressed as to whether or not he dyes it, he admits that ‘Yes’, he does. As Tim puts it, it is ‘real but enhanced, a little like the public personality.’

Link.

Rumour also has it that Boris deliberately musses his hair up before going in front of the cameras. Gotta protect the trademark, after all.

 

 

Only Disconnect

neo-bullets1

The Singapore government is about to disconnect civil servants’ computers from the internet. They will still have email and be able to surf on their own devices. The reaction has been predictably measured and thoughtful.

https://twitter.com/codedweller/status/740943153281273858

Let’s all take a moment to laugh at how backward and authoritarian the Singapore government is. There now, done?

In fact, it’s common practice in most countries for computers in security-sensitive offices to be cut off from the internet (email excepted). It’s also common practice to ban staff from bringing their own devices into the office and to oblige them to clean all USB keys before use (whether they actually follow these rules, on the other hand…). The Russian government has gone a step further and reverted to typewriters for some of its functions, with Germany possibly following suit.

While the official line is that this is for security reasons only, it’s worth remembering that there’s little conclusive evidence on whether internet access makes workers more productive, but the workers themselves seem to think that the effect is generally negative. (Thought experiment: look at the first page of your inbox. Which of those messages would you still have received if someone had to type them out on a manual typewriter and deliver them?)

Obviously the Singapore government can’t actually say that they think that their employees are a bunch of time-wasting slackers, and prefer to endure a few days ridicule for being paranoid and out of touch rather than offend their homies.

Which is rather sweet.

Edit: This just in, Patient Zero in this initiative was our social media-loving PM, Lee Hsien Loong.

The first person to volunteer not to have any direct Internet access on his work computer was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He took on the challenge at the beginning of the year after security experts advised that it was necessary to shield the public sector’s IT systems from cyber attacks.

Relating his experience yesterday to reporters in Myanmar, where he is on an official visit, PM Lee said: “It’s a nuisance, it takes some getting used to, but you can do it.”

Link.

Which other world leaders are famous for deliberately avoiding connectivity? Yup.

He probably puts the milk in before the tea, too

Foreign Policy has taken a break from its usual schedule of Hillary: She’s Less Awful Than You Think pieces, to tell us about a heinous crime:

OLY-2014-RUS-RUSSIA-PUTIN-POLITICS

Vladimir Putin Doesn’t Actually Care About Saving Leopards 

A high-profile, Putin-backed campaign to protect the habitat of Persian leopards has been quietly abandoned, clearing the way for the country’s richest man to expand his ski resort…

Link.

Now I’m about as pro-fluffeh as political analysts get, but I’m still not 100% convinced that when Putin finally stands before the Pearly Gates, his attitude towards Persian leopards will be the number one item on St. Peter’s charge sheet. It may not even feature in the top five.

Which is a moderately interesting reaction in and of itself. If I had run into this same article on one of the many animal rights sites to which I subscribe (I wasn’t kidding about the pro-fluffeh item – you should see the amount that poorly battery hens and downtrodden milch cows have had off me over the years), I would – right now – be searching for the “donate” button with suspiciously watery eyes.

Reading it on FP, however stirred not a shred of sympathy for the sadly afflicted kitties, merely cynical irritation at the idea that someone felt this was high-quality negative PR.

Seems like Facebook feels much the same way:

Alas, poor leopards. Choose your media outlets more carefully next time.

(P.S. If the political fannying about hasn’t soured you on the idea, you can donate to the leopards here: https://ptes.org/grants/worldwide-projects/persian-leopards-in-iran/ or here: http://www.worldlandtrust.org/projects/armenia/save-caucasian-leopard)

Don’t you ever change

The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore currently has an exhibition going on to do with the idea of the scholar in Chinese culture. (Long story short.)

Among the exhibits is this:

ACM Confucius crib sheet

Doesn’t look very interesting, does it?

ACM analects crib sheet

If that’s too small to read, here you go:

Crib sheet with the Analects of Confucius
China, 19th century
Ink on silk

In order to cheat on the Imperial examinations, the Analects (论语) have been written in tiny characters on both sides of this piece of silk, which could easily be smuggled into the exam room.

Bearing in mind the fact that Confucius was pretty much the origin of the Chinese obsession with the idea of scholarly virtue, and the exams themselves tended to feature a preponderance of questions on that same broad topic, the discovery that such a proof of subversion exists made me ridiculously happy.

 

Who wore it better?

Park Geun-hye ice hockey

President Park Geun-hye playing iceless hockey (?) at the Daegu Athletics Promotion Centre.

Leaving aside the oddly surreal fact that an Athletics Promotion Centre apparently features as its key attractions ice hockey without the ice and a virtual reality ski-lift (neither I nor the original article have a convincing explanation for either of these things), what do you think of when you look at this picture?

Was it this?

Putin ice hockey

It’s not as if Putin’s the only politician ever to have played hockey. Nevertheless, what’s interesting here is the way that – whether you approve of his PR or not – he’s raised the macho bar for everyone else.

If he didn’t exist, I would have scrolled wearily past that Park shot as one does with all the millions of pictures of politicians gamely missing easy football penalties that seem to have become an obligatory part of public discourse these days. However, because he does exist I couldn’t see the picture of Park – who, incidentally, is an entirely serious and competent politician – without automatically making a comparison.

In rather the same way that (as Borges tells us) Kafka created his own precursors, politicians create each other, simply by acting as points of comparison. If you’re up against someone wacky, you’ll look duller by comparison. If you’re up against someone stupid, you’ll look smarter by comparison. The audience isn’t making a conscious choice at any point in the proceedings, they’re just situating you within your environment.

Alexander Wendt described the process of identity creation for states as a sort of ongoing battle between their own perceptions of themselves (or how they wish to be seen) and the way that others see them. Seeing Park – who, incidentally, is an entirely serious and competent leader – lining up this shot, it struck me that individuals face the same struggle.