Presented by: Etsuko Yashiki Good
Etsuko Yashiki Good has a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Doshisha University and master’s degrees in linguistics and international affairs. In 1998, she established Japan Business Center, where she has been working as a professional Japanese>English interpreter and translator. Her clients have included the U.S. Department of State, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, U.S. Steel, Westinghouse, and Carnegie Mellon University.
Summary Written By: Tamara Latham Sprinkle
Right of the bat on the final day of the ATA 59thAnnual Conference, Estuko Good, a prominent Japanese interpreter, gave a presentation entitled Interpreting English Figures of Speech:The Importance of Finding Themes or Main Ideas.While figures of speech are a rich colorful aspect of language, which personally have always captivated me and drew me in to study linguistics and foreign languages, interpreting or translating them often feels like pulling teeth or trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Determining how to handle these expressions can be difficult for relatively similar language pairs such as English and German, let alone languages as different as English and Japanese, which evolved out of an unrelated history and culture. Estuko Good handled these issues adeptly in a well-organized, methodical, and interactive session, which displayed her background in linguistics. She began this talk with the benefits of using these expressions, which include emphasizing your point, clarifying an idea, adding imagery, and establishing familiarity with the listener.
She then discussed eight categories of figures of speech with example sentences or phrases in English and in Japanese. Four of these were types of comparative expressions: 1) 直喩(Simile) — which is expressed with “as” or “like”, as in “He was busy as a bee.” 「蜂のように忙しい。」; 2) 隠喩・暗喩(Metaphor) — which is expressed as “XX is Y”, as in “Laughter is the best medicine.” 「笑いは最高の薬です。」; 3) 換喩(Metonymy) — which is a figure of speech that illustrates a point by substituting a word with an intimately related concept, as in “I am all ears.” 「しっかり聞くから」; and 4) 提喩・代喩(Synecdoche) — which is a figure of speech using part of a group to represent the whole or vice versa, i.e. “breadwinner” 「稼ぎ手」or “hired hands” 「従業員」. She went on to explain the final four figures of speech: 5) 擬人法(Personification) — which attributes human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects, i.e. “Opportunity only knocks once.” 「逃した好機は帰ってこない」; 6) 擬態語・擬音語(Onomatopoeia) — which is an expression that imitates sounds of animals or objects, and conditions, as in “The sky echoed with the bang and boom of fire.” 「空は花火の激しい衝撃とドカーンいう音で炸裂した。」; 7) 誇張法(Hyperbole) — which exaggerates an idea to stress a point, such as “He is on top of the world.” 「彼は有頂点になっている。」; and 8) 慣用句・熟語(Idiom) — in which its meaning is divorced from the individual words used in the expression, such as “I decided to bite the bullet and start exercising again.” 「私は我慢してまた運動することにした。」.
After laying the foundation for the linguistic categories for these figures of speech, Ms. Good went on to discuss the challenges they pose for interpreting, such as how familiar the interpreter is with the listener and whether explaining a culturally specific phrase will inhibit understanding. Furthermore, she went on to explain limitations on the interpreter, one of which being time. In a conference or meeting, the interpreter may not have the time to explain a concept. There may also be issues with hearing the speaker due to them speaking quietly or mumbling or poor audio quality, not to mention if the interpreter is not a native English-speaker, they may be unaware of that particular expression.
She then clarified the process of interpretation for these terms, dividing it into whether there is a clear image or not. When one can clearly see the imagery of this expression, it’s best to search for an equivalent in Japanese and describe the meaning of this expression, which can increase the listener’s cultural understanding. Also, if you already have these phrases tucked away it will leave your clients impressed by your skills. On the other hand, when one can’t clearly see the imagery of the expression, it’s best to cut it out— she referred to this as damage control. At the end, she stressed that these figures of speech are something that artificial intelligence is incapable of understanding, so as language professionals we should expand our knowledge of them.
At the very end she opened the floor to an audience-led group discussion on approaches to translate eight example sentences. Quite often my general inclination when put on the spot is to simply omit figures of speech or reduce them to their basic meaning, so it was fascinating listening to veteran interpreters give creative examples for these phrases. During this group discussion, the audience mentioned the App「英語・ことわざ」and a book currently in production about Japanese/English metaphors by a professor at Michigan State University. As a fellow linguistics major, I appreciated the way Etsuko Good laid out her speech and enjoyed this review on the figures of speech. While I mainly associate these phrases with literature and creative writing, people do use them generously in day-to-day conversations and this speech inspired me to start learning more of these phrases in my native English and in Japanese.