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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.

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Un qui aime et un qui se laisse aimer

So, the whole Trump-Putin bromance thing. What’s that all about?

Brokeback Mountain

No, not that.

During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s marathon annual news conference on Thursday, the controversial leader heaped praise on Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, calling the candidate “tremendous,” “very bright,” and “talented without any doubt.”

By Thursday evening, Trump had released an equally warm statement that would seem to belie the current state of affairs between Russia and the United States:

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.

I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

Link.

It’s not the first time that Trump has expressed his admiration for Putin. And, counter-intuitive though it may seem, it’s a solid electoral strategy on his part. We know that people who like maverick, nationalist, right wing populist leaders are remarkably colour-blind when it comes to nationality.

What Trump is effectively saying here is “If I was President, I’d be just like Putin.”

He wouldn’t, of course, which brings us to our second point.

Why is Putin apparently willing to play along with the charade*, providing Trump with an endorsement which he knows will play extremely well with his key electorate?

Well, it could just be that he thinks Trump would be a lousy President and he’s looking forward to eight years of playing against the US on a low difficulty setting. But then, if the Obama administration has taught us anything, it’s that Hillary Clinton’s terrible at foreign policy too. Realistically, there’s little to choose between them.

However, if you’re going to have to face off against one or other of the two then Trump is by far the better bet. Why?

Because he’s predictable.

This may seem like an odd thing to say about someone whose success is based on being a wacky eccentric, but this is, in fact, what will make his foreign policy easy to anticipate and counteract.

The foreign policy of the Obama administration has been more or less impossible to predict, as the Nobel Peace Prize committee will testify. Even with benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to explain. Not because it is being designed by the mind of a subtle and devious chess grandmaster (as the Atlantic seems to believe) but because it isn’t. There’s no unifying intelligence behind it. Instead, it’s the product of thousands of wonks, pollsters, bureaucrats and diplomats all focused on their own particular bugbears and all screaming at once “YOU HAVE TO DO THIS AND YOU HAVE TO DO IT NOW.” The level of entropy in the system is such that no one, not even the individual at the top, is capable of working out the direction in which it will lurch next. Just like no computer is sufficiently powerful to predict the evolution of chaotic systems, no foreign opponent – however smart – can predict what Obama will do next, largely because neither he nor anyone else in the system knows. There’s every indication that Clinton would be exactly the same.

Trump, on the other hand, tends to ignore advice and go his own way, and outwitting one guy is far easier that outwitting total randomness.

As for which option is best for the US as a whole, I couldn’t possibly say.

*If you want an idea of how the Russian leadership really feels about Trump, try Russia Today.

Hillary Clinton: #DNB?

Clinton Putin

Do not want.

U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has joked that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to be confident in being re-elected is attractive, but at the same time made her feelings about the Russian leader clear in a critical remark about him.

“I don’t admire very much about Mr. Putin, but the idea you can stand up and say ‘I will be your next president’? That has a certain, you know, attraction to it,” the former secretary of state joked during a question-and-answer session following her address on the Iran nuclear deal at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Sept. 9.

Russia Behind the Headlines

Sure, it was intended as a joke and a dig at Russia’s sketchy electoral practices. In fact it’s a big mistake, and say much more about Hillary and her campaign than she would probably like to acknowledge. There are two reasons for this:

  1. There are a million bored web content providers out there (they like to think of themselves as journalists, but we all know the truth) who are going to jump on the presence of “Putin” and “attractive” in one sentence and write cheeky articles, much like that one above. I’ve done this job. I know how it works.
  2. There is, in fact, only one thing preventing Clinton from announcing to the US electorate that she will be the next President: her own inability to control the narrative.  Sure, it’s lovely to be self-deprecating if you’re a retired healthcare activist and grandmother. If you’re hoping to be President, however, you need to own the discourse, something that Hillary is terrible at doing (Donald Trump – sometime tv clown and trust fund baby – is justifiably confident that debating Clinton will be “easy”). You can bitch all you like about Russian electoral irregularities, but even the most objective poll data has Putin hovering consistently around 80% – and that’s largely because of his success in controlling the political narrative. And this raises subsequent questions. When President Hillary has to negotiate tariffs and subsidies with the Chinese, will she stand up and say ‘you will accept our offer’? Or is she just going to phone up Vladimir Putin and ask him what she should do?