Every which way but you's (OK, that was terrible)

ButterflyBlue has a cool post about people's tendency to assume that names in their preferred language are "real", a phenomenon for which she has coined the word "bilasu".

It's an interesting question, and I wonder if she or I have any legally-oriented readers who can tell us how these things tend to work on the "official" documents. I also have to admit that a quick glance at drinks in the supermarket didn't turn up any counter-examples to her "English-labelled products in Japan are also labelled in katakana" observation, except for DAKARA (which I already mentioned).

I have occasionally wondered what the generally accepted way to handle things like book titles is -- when referring to a Japanese book in English, there are often many layers of title to choose from:

  1. A Japanese title (which may include Roman characters) (『蛇にピアス』)
  2. The Japanese title in Romaji, with English loanwords left in Japanese pronunciation... (Hebi ni Piasu)
  3. ... or normalised (Hebi ni Pierce)
  4. An English "alternate title" included for good measure on the cover but not on the copyright information page, which may or may not be an accurate translation of the Japanese title (Snakes and Earrings)
  5. An English title which is a more accurate (but usually clumsier) translation of the Japanese title (Snakes and Piercings)

Since I'm a nerdy completist and this is my blog (dammit), I usually try to include as many of these as I can -- but I wouldn't try to get away with that writing for a newspaper or something.

Popularity factor: 11


I had some issues with this when I was finishing my thesis a month ago. It's kind of frustrating...there's really no system. As long as you are consistent, you can do basically whatever you want...at least that's what I was told.

In text I did something like this:

Translated Title (Romaji, Kanji).

My tutor suggested that I use this throughout even though I wanted to do something like Romaji (Kanji, Translated Title) for books and stories that have not been translated, since it would be impossible to search for the book under the translated title.



By the way, Matt, when I looked out the window today and the ground and the trees were sort of wet from the rain, I had this pang of realization that I miss Japan. And, you know, I wasn't there that long, but it's sort of like kissing a girl once and completely falling for her, and then there being no definite prospect of doing it again. If you will.

I think mostly it was the food that hooked me. I blame it on you, and also Freshness Burger. Best. Menu. Ever.


I didn't really understand BB's post. Uh, yeah, Japanese people read bilingual signs in Japanese and English-speaking people read them in English. This is news? And the dramatic conclusion ("The good thing about this word is that it sounds pleasingly like 'bias'. Which it is.") seems utterly perverse to me. So reading names in your own language, and thinking that, say, "Baskin-Robbins" is the "real" name of the company (which, by the way, it is, whatever your language), is somehow equivalent to, say, discriminating against people not of your own race or creed? I don't get it.

But the title thing is an interesting problem. Obviously from my point of view the more versions the merrier, but I guess in a non-academic English-language publication you'd eschew kanji and give a transliterated version in parens. Unless it hasn't been translated yet, in which case I agree with Daniel -- the romaji version should come first, with a translated version in parens and maybe single quotes, just to get the point across. Clarity, I want clarity!



ButterflyBlue wasn't saying there is discrimination going on. Just tendency. Rather like people tend to instinctively swear in the language they're most comfortable with. Doesn't mean the person is thinking that swearing in their native tongue is best.

Also "bias" doesn't necessarily mean "discrimination". After all, you're exercising a bias when you put on the right leg first of a pair of pants. Should the left pant leg feel slighted?


Oh, and to actually discuss the post... I wonder if the people that handle books care less - what if numerics are more important than the language? ISBN #, CAT # and all that. Which might be why there isn't some hard rules. You can sell a book with some confused titling, but you're screwed if it doesn't have the ISBN# in order.


Yeah, I don't mean to speak for BB and Ali has already commented on this, but I doubt she means that people are all monolingual xenophobes. Just that some things have more than one name and it's interesting which one people assume is "real" and which is the gloss.

If I saw the Japanese release (with J. subtitles) of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", which in all PR materials is entitled simply "エターナル・サンシャイン" (etaanaru sanshain, "Eternal Sunshine"), would it be correct to say that I had seen "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"? Or have I just seen "Eternal Sunshine"? (Or "etaanaru sanshain"?)

It's splitting hairs in that particular case, but I like splitting hairs.


Splitting hairs is good! I think in that case it would be infinitesimally more correct to say you had seen "エターナル・サンシャイン" (etaanaru sanshain).

I'm aware of the various meanings of "bias," but I didn't see the point to the dramatic use of it unless it was meant in a bad way. I could, of course, be wrong.


I think it depends on what language you are using. Since your blog is in English, I think you would have to say "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". When I talk about Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase, I don't go around saying Adventure Surrounding Sheep or Hitsuji o meguru bouken unless I'm talking with someone in Japanese or if, for some reason, I want to emphasize the Japanese title.

If you were writing in your Japanese blog, on the other hand, I would go with the Japanese.

Oh...and the only steadfast rule in English (as far as I know) is that in romanized titles the first word is capitalized but none of the others are unless they are proper nouns.


other interesting examples:-Proust's book title being retranslated...can't remember what it is, heh.-Murakami's 『世界の終わりとハードボイルドワーンダランド』(In translation the title is equally lenghty, but the two are switched in order, I assume, to make it sound better.


Ohh, so it should really be Hebi ni piasu (for example)?

IIRC the Proust titles were "Remembrance of Things Past" and "In Search of Lost Time". Although of course if you're going to name-drop Proust you might as well go all the way and just give the title in French. ;)

Oh, Patrick: yes! Japan is the greatest. I'm sorry I don't have anything more insightful to say. When I anthropomorphise my relationship with Japan, it tends to be in terms of me as an occasionally abused ("sneaky thieves", anyone?) but nevertheless devoted wife.


Of course, in Japanese usage piasu usually means 'earring' rather than 'piercing', so translating it that way is probably more "accurate".

I wouldn't mention this except because it illustrates why I really hate the "normalised" ebi ni pierce option: once a worldhas been borrowed into a language, it behaves no different from other words. If we "normalise" English loanwords into English spellings, shouldn't we also normalise Chinese loanwords in Japanese booktitles to pinyin?

Or to look at it from the other side. According to Amazon there exists a book called Typhoon Island. Should this be katakanaized into 台風アイランド? (Come to think of it, given the "cool" image English has in Japan, it doesn't seem unlikely that a publisher would choose to do just that.)

Vilhelm S


True that it usually means earring, but in Hebi ni piasu the vast majority of the piasu are not in ears, so...

I have to admit also prefer the non-normalised versions, except for things like names.

Comment season is closed.