Japanese government takes a bite out of wonky translations

One little-publicized project being undertaken by the Japanese government right now is to write official English translations of the most important Japanese statutes. This is being done by a special Conference for Examination of the Implementation and Foreign Translation of Laws (法令外国語訳・実施推進検討会議), which has met several times over the past few years (see the Cabinet Secretariat website).

As part of this project, the government is creating an official Japanese-English legal glossary, and trying to end the practice of using awkward English translations for Japanese legal terms. Some of the changes, as reported by the Asahi Shimbun:

  • 法律, which has previously been translated as “Law,” will now be translated as “Act” or “Code.” This is a really, really good change. The translation “Company Law” for 会社法 has always made me chuckle: my American legal ears expect it to be called “Corporations Code.”
  • 株式会社, glossed in most dictionaries as “joint-stock company,” will now be translated as “business corporation.” This is an awesome change. I don’t think native English speakers have talked about “joint-stock companies” since the days of Queen Victoria.
  • 法人, previously called “legal entity,” will now be called “juridicial person.” I really wish they would just call it a “corporation.” ALC seems to back me up on this one.
  • Here’s a real stinker: 時効, the Japanese equivalent of what Americans refer to as a “statute of limitations,” is going to be called a “prescription.” WTF? This word has so many meanings in English, and it’s hardly ever used in this sense.

5 thoughts on “Japanese government takes a bite out of wonky translations”

  1. Those translations mostly are a big WTF to me. I mean, Juridifical person? I bet you not 1% of the population would understand that. And even moreso for “prescription.” And, for what it’s worth, I really like the sound of the phrase “joint stock company.” Booo to pointless modernizations of appropriate terms.

  2. “Juridicial person” gets worse the more I think about it, because it’s actually used in company names. Lots of news lately, for instance, about ヴォーダフォン日本法人 (Vodafone Japan Corporation). Then you have things like 社団法人 and 財団法人 that should also be called corporations if they’re called anything at all. Boo indeed.

  3. That article said they would make a web page of translations “in the next fiscal year” (or whatever the official translation of nendo will be), but I don’t see anything yet. Lazy asses!

  4. Quote from a comment above me:
    (法 should really remain “law” if for no other reason than that’s what I’ve been using all this time! Changing everything to “act” will be such a pain)

    Not to be rude, but WTF? So, because the “standard” practice has so far been to use a direct and silly translation, we should continue with this annoying practice. Great. So, anyone working in J->E translation and trying to improve the quality of English used should (according to an apparently native speaker, no less) simply not even try but instead regurgitate all of the mistakes and wonky English dreamt up in days gone by. And why? “Because that’s what I’ve been using all this time!” (with an exclamation mark, which is obviously necessary because this is such a convincing and rational argument.) Hey, I’m holding a book burning this weekend. My Chicago Manual of Style and my Merriam-Webster will be the first two upon the flames.

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