Obscure blog No-sword reported from Japan, was ignored

All you people should be familiar with the Language Log deconstruction of Dan Brown's anarthrologic opening-sentence style:

"Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

This use of a person's name preceded by the name of a job, without a preceding article (an anarthrous NP, as we grammarians say when chatting with our own kind in the secretive cabals that we sometimes hold) is odd because occupational descriptions like "fertilizer salesman" aren't normally used as titles. [...] It is true that noun phrases like "fertilizer salesman Scott Peterson" are found in newspaper articles [...] but I have never yet found anyone but Dan Brown using this construction to open a work of fiction. The construction sounds to me like the opening of an obituary rather than an action sequence.

Since you cannot visit a bookstore in Japan right now without finding yourself up to your pink, murderous albino eyeballs in Da Vinci Code merchandise, I thought I may as well see how respected Japanese translator ECHIZEN Toshiya (越前敏弥) handled it. My notes and a few websites indicate that the first sentence came out as:


I read fewer newspapers than I should, but I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm wrong, so I'm going to go out on a limb: although the bit that corresponds to "renowned curator" still comes before Saunière's name, this doesn't have the same journalismic ring as the original. For one thing, Saunière's age should be in brackets (and Arabic numerals) after his name. For another, though, I don't think Japanese journalists use apposition like that. Instead of saying "ルーブル美術館の高名な館長、ジャック・ソニエール", they would put it together as "ルーブル美術館の高名な館長のジャック・ソニエール" or something like that, explicitly linking the two bits of the sentence. (Actually, I don't think that 高名な (renowned) would be in there either, but we'll let that slide.)

But Echizen didn't have to go to great or even moderate lengths to avoid the journalistic tone. He didn't even have to fiddle with Brown's infodump-led structure. Although apposition isn't that big in newspapers, it's normal fiction, and more generally, "modifier precedes modified" is what Japanese is all about.

So, you see, Brown's much-maligned style is perfectly clear and natural after all. Once you get it far, far away from the Indo-European language family, that is.

(In fact, Echizen's front-loading is even more extreme than Brown's: Saunière's age, which Echizen puts before the name, isn't mentioned until sentence three in the original. I guess he thought that it was better to draw the character more fully as early as possible, rather than ration out information gradually over the course of what is after all an action scene.)

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I'm not surprised that his age was moved to the first sentence. Why are the Japanese so obsessed with age, anyway?

Gaijin Biker:

It turns out that "murderous albino eyeballs" yields zero hits on Google. You will be the first!


Max: Probably because the rigidly age-based politeness hierarchy is taking so long to fade out here, to the point where you occasionally see etiquette questions about how to handle a person who ranks lower than you at work but is a couple of years older.

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