Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Greeting from the Village Mayor: English is Polite

Portrait of the Mayor at Work: Click on the Photo to Access the Kazamaura Homepage


Thank you very much for having the homepage of this village accessed today. Since Kazamaura-mura enforced the village system in April, Meiji 22, it has seen 115 years by the end of this year. It is the intention which saw the 21st century, and whole-village people concentrated power and was wrapped in beautiful natural environment of being rich, living and trying hard further for the purpose of "the production of good vitality ある Village" taking advantage of the characteristic of this area. Now, widely, in order for you to understand the present figure of a village in this homepage, it established it. I am pleased if you experience and enjoy fully the nature, culture, history, etc. which surely ご来村, taking advantage of this opportunity, and is full of the charm of Kazamaura-mura.

It is easy to understand from the above sample why computers will not be displacing their human rivals in the translation business anytime soon. When I approach the Japanese paragraph above, I do so with human intuition—a marked advantage over the computer program embedded in “excite.” However, I must then make a seemingly unending series of decisions; choices in style, vocabulary, and the interpretation of obscure meanings. All these choices are shaped by my mood, experience, attitude towards the source material, and an infinite number of other variables unique to my own person. There are, of course, professional standards, but in the end these are merely artistic guidelines. In the following version I have focused on simplicity and clarity of meaning.

Thank you for visiting our village homepage today. Kazamaura Village was incorporated in April, 1889 and celebrated its 115th anniversary this year. As we enter the 21st century it is our intention to endeavour all the more to attain our goal of a prosperous and pleasant to live in community through the practice of “village-building with vitality.” This will be accomplished by mustering the strength of the entire population and by capitalizing on the characteristic beauty of the natural environment enveloping the region. We have commissioned this homepage in order that the present-day character of this village might be more widely understood by everyone. We would be delighted if you would take this opportunity to come and experience to the full the overflowing charm of Kazamaura Village's nature, culture and history.

While I am sure that the above paragraph appears sufficiently formal to the average Western eye, the seeming lack of styalized stock phrases in English for expressing courtesy often provokes an attitude in some Japanese people that the English language is an inadequate vehicle for good manners. There are few things that irritate me more in my life here—except maybe the fact that many ex-pats residing in Japan lend substance to this stereotype on a regular basis. The most extensive roots of Canadian culture reach back to nineteenth century Britain which was a society very similar in some respects to the archetype “good old” Japan invoked so often. It, too, was a highly regimented society with numerous hierarchical levels of speech and the corresponding linguistic expressions of pomp and ceremony. We would do well to examine our own heritage if only to counter the disempowering claims made on behalf of what I would term the Japanese myth. Why should we give it anymore credence than the American myth of “manifest destiny,” the imperial myth of Britannia or the myth of medieval chivalry when it is equally guilty of “colonizing” marginal persons domestically as well as abroad? Out of the many available resources addressing the subject of understanding and teaching polite English, I would like to share a link to an article by Professor Anne McLellan Howard of the Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (in Hokkaido) entitled “Politeness Is More Than ‘Please’.” Another valuable link is’s "Sample Business Letters."

I had initially intended to deliver here an extremely formal translation of the mayor's greeting in the old English style. I have determined, however, that this is unfortunately beyond my ability in the context of an evening’s labour and I have therefore substituted a sample portion of a genuine sixteenth century letter (reference, Britannia: Britain’s Historical Documents).

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, to Mr. Hawkyns the Ambassador at the Emperor's Court; upon the Divorce of Queen Catherine, and the Coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn. 1533.

In my most heartie wise I commend me unto you and even so, would be right glad to hear of your welfare, etc. This is to advertise you that inasmuch as you now and then take some pains in writing unto me, I would be loathe you should think your labor utterly lost and forgotten for lack of writing again; therefore and because I reckon you to be some deal desirous of such news as hath been here with us of late in the King's Graces matters, I intend to inform you a parte thereof, according to the tenure and purport used in that behalf.