Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Tag: Japanese

Japanese input on the iPhone

I don’t expect to do a lot of Japanese text entry on my iPhone, but I’m glad that I have the option, and I’ve been enjoying playing around with that feature.

Any Japanese text-entry function is necessarily more complex than an English one. In English, we pretty much have a one-to-one mapping between the key struck and the letter produced. Occasionally we need to insert åçcéñted characters, but the additional work is minimal. In Japanese, the most common method of input on computers is to type phonetically on a QWERTY keyboard, which produces syllabic characters (hiragana) on-screen—type k-u to get the kana く, which is pronounced ku; after you’ve typed in a phrase or sentence, you hit the “convert” key (normally the space bar), and software guesses what kanji you might want to use, based on straight dictionary equivalents, your historical input, and some grammar parsing. So for the Japanese for “International,” you would type k-o-k-u-s-a-i; initially this would appear on-screen as こくさい, and then after hitting the convert key, you would see 国際 as an option. Now, that’s not the only word in Japanese with that pronunciation—the word for “government bond” sounds exactly the same and would be typed the same on a keyboard. To access that, you’d go through the same process, and after 国際 appeared on-screen, you’d hit the convert key again to get its next guess, which would be 国債, the correct pair of kanji. Sometimes there will be more candidates, in which case a floating menu will appear on-screen.

The first exposure most English speakers have had to the problem of producing more characters than your input device has keys has come with cellphones. T9 input on keypad is a good analogue to Japanese input on QWERTY: you type keys that each represent three letters, and when you hit the space key, T9 looks up the words you might have meant, showing a floating menu.

The iPhone, of course, uses a virtual QWERTY keyboard for English input, which is pretty good, especially considering the lack of tactile feedback and tiny keys. It guesses what word you might be trying to type based on adjacent keys. It does not (as far as I can tell) give multiple options, and isn’t very aggressive about suggesting finished words based on incomplete words. For English, at least, I’m guessing Apple decided that multiple candidates for a given input are too confusing. In general, the trend for heavy English text input on mobile devices seems to be towards small QWERTY keyboards, despite the facility some people have with T9. I’m wondering how many people are put off by the multiple-candidate aspect of T9, and if that’s why Apple omitted that aspect, or if it’s simply that not enough English-speakers are accustomed to dealing with multiple candidates.

Japanese input on the iPhone is different. It is aggressive about suggesting complete words and phrases. It does show multiple options (which is necessary in Japanese, and which Japanese users are accustomed to). In fact, it suggests kanji-converted phrases based on incomplete, incorrect kana input. Here’s an example based on the above:

iphone Japanese input sample - 1

Here, I typed k-o-k-u-a-a-i (note the intentional typo), which appears as こくああい. It shows a bunch of candidates, including the corrected and converted 国際, a logical alternative 国内, and some much longer ones, like 国際通貨基金—the International Monetary Fund. Since it has more candidates than it has room to display, it shows a little → which takes you to an expanded candidates screen. Just for grins, I will accept 国際通貨基金 as my preferred candidate. Here’s another neat predictive trick: immediately after I select that candidate, it shows sentence-particle candidates like に が, etc.

iphone Japanese input sample - 2

Let’s follow that arrow and see what other options it shows:

iphone Japanese input sample - 3

I’m going to select を as my candidate. It immediately shows some verbs as candidates:

iphone Japanese input sample - 4

Here, 参ります is a verb I used previously, but 見 and 食べ are just common verbs—I’m guessing they’ve been weighted by the input function as likely for use in text messages (the phrase 国際通貨基金を食べ is somewhat unlikely in real life, unless you are Godzilla).

The iPhone also has an interesting kana-input mode, which uses an あかさたな grid with pie menus under each letter for the rest of the vowel-row. It looks like this:

iPhone Japanese input sample - 5

To enter an -a character, just tap it:

iPhone Japanese input sample

To enter a character from a different vowel-line, slide your finger in the appropriate direction on the pie-menu that appears and release:

iPhone Japanese input sample - 7

You can also get at characters from a different vowel-line using that hooked arrow, which iterates through them. I haven’t figured out what that forward arrow is for. It’s usually disabled, and only enabled momentarily after tapping in a new character. Tapping it doesn’t seem to have any effect.

This method offers the same error-forgiveness and predictive power as Japanese via QWERTY. I don’t find it to be faster than QWERTY though, but perhaps that’s just because I’m not used to it.

One thing I haven’t found is a way to edit the text-expansion dictionary directly. This would be very handy. I’m sure there are a few more tricks in store.

Also, a fun trick you can use on your Mac well as on an iPhone to get at special symbols: enter ゆーろ to get €. Same with ぽんど、やじるし、ゆうびん, etc.

Update Apparently the mysterious forward-arrow breaks you out of iterating through the options under one key, as explained here. Normally if you press あ あ, this would iterate through that vowel-line, and produce い. But if you actually want to produce ああ, you would type あ→あ (Thanks, Manako).

Translation and situation

I’m translating segments of a Japanese TV show right now. It’s very different from my usual work, and not what I consider a strong suit, but the client seems happy with my work right now, so I’ll take it.

This particular show is of the “physical challenge reality TV” variety. It’s sort of like the show Ninja Warrior that’s currently on U.S. cable, but much sillier and with recognizable Japanese TV celebrities as commentators and sometimes as competitors. The commentators are clearly trying to call the proceedings the way a sports announcer would, and as I go along, I’m trying to imagine how it would sound if Bob Costas were calling the games with my translation. But some of this stuff doesn’t translate. It’s not so much that I don’t know the words, or don’t know what the speakers mean by them (although that happens here and there), it’s just that they’re saying things that would never be said in the same situation in an English-speaking contest.

I just ran flat-faced into a perfect example. The game in question has the contestants trying to sit atop a gigantic ball and navigate it through an obstacle course. At one point, one of the contestants gets stuck in a hole and is rocking unsteadily and impotently, trying to get out. The commentator says “まるで現代人の日常の不安定感をビジュアル化したかのようだ,” which I have translated somewhat loosely as “It’s as if the malaise of modern life has been made tangible in his plight.”

And there’s the thing. No American sports announcer, no matter how literate, would ever say anything remotely like that in this situation. I’m content with the translation, but it’s undeniably weird to an American audience. Then again, the rest of the show is kind of weird.

Alfresco Whispers

Post-move, I’ve been cleaning out some old papers, and found this. I’ve decided to type it up and post it online for the benefit of future generations. This was originally typed up (and orchestrated) by Chris Poole. Although I’ve tried very hard to reproduce this in exactly the same form as Chris typed it up, it’s quite possible that I’ve introduced a few typos.

I don’t remember exactly which one of these I translated, but it was somewhere in the late 30s/early 40s.

At the closing luncheon of IJET-4 an exercise in consecutive translating was conducted, drawing on the expertise of the assembled translators and interpreters. A simple phrase in English was chosen as the starting point and a Japanese speaker was asked to translate it. This in turn was translated back into English, and then back into Japanese again and so on. People were asked to translate into their own language and were given sixty seconds to do so. No one saw anything but the previous version, and were therefore unaware of the subtle changes that were taking place.

It should be noted here that some difficulty was encountered due to people’s handwriting, but as the participants became aware of the overall objective, a guarantee of anonymity seemed to become more important. In deference to these numerous requests I therefore present the results typed up, with annotation where appropriate.

  1. Bridges between cultures are built on foundations of tolerance.
  2. 文化のかけ橋、忍耐を土台となる。
  3. Patience, indeed, is the foundation of bridges between cultures.
  4. 文化のかけ橋になるのは、忍耐しかありません。 “Foundation” component of metaphor disappears.
  5. The only cultural bridge is forbearance 忍耐 alternatively translated as “tolerance,” “patience” and “forbearance”. The latter perhaps confusing the translator, who finds refuge in an ambiguous use of the word 理解 which then of course becomes “understanding”. A very durable concept which lasts until 21.
  6. 文化は他を理解することで結ばれる。 “Bridge” metaphor disappears via 結び and “link”.
  7. Cultures are linked by understanding others.
  8. 他の人たちを理解することにより文化交流がなされる。 “People” are introduced through the ambiguity of 他.
  9. Cultural exchange is done by evaluating other people.
  10. 文化交流は、外国の人を理解することから始まる。
  11. International understanding begins with an understanding of foreign people.
  12. 国際理解は外国の人を理解するから始まる。
  13. International understanding begins with an understanding of foreign people.
  14. 国際理解は外国人を理解するから始まる。
  15. International understanding begins with the act of understading foreigners.
  16. 会得する、理解、始めに、その行動は外国人の行動を理解すること。
  17. Understand first that behavior is to understand the behavior of foreigners. Statement becomes rather incoherent imperative due to confusing layout of 16.
  18. 外国人の行動であるとまず理解すること。 Does not read 17 as imperative.
  19. To understand from the outset that this is the way foreigners behave. Seems to become conditional clause here.
  20. 外国の方はこういうふうに行動するものだと初めから理解すること。
  21. You must understand that this is how foreigners behave. Back to the imperative.
  22. 外国の方はこうなさいます。 Then back again to descriptive statement.
  23. This is the way foreigners would do it. “would do it” if what? Do what?
  24. これは外国人がよくするやり方です。 Solves above problem, but introduces question of frequency.
  25. This is what foreigners often do.
  26. 外国がどんあことをよく行いますか? Inexplicably becomes question. Also omits 人, leaving sentence to mean “what sort of things do foreign countries often do?”
  27. What kind of things do they like to do in foreign countries? In order to make sense of the above, invents identity/ies, not necessarily native to the countries, who now have a choice about “what they do”.
  28. その人たちは(かれらは)外国にいったときどんなことをしたいのでしょうか。 Good, if cumbersome, translation that makes it plain that “they” are visitors.
  29. What do you think they might want to do when they go overseas?
  30. 太りすぎたらどう対処すると思いますか。 Handwriting problem. Misreads “overseas” as “overeats”.
  31. If you are too fat, how do you handle the problem? Introduces value judgment on obesity.
  32. 太りすぎていたら、どうそれに対応しますか。 Female translator said she would rather not translate something like this. I emphasised that it was only a game so she obliged (but didn’t see obesity as a problem).
  33. If you were too fat, what would you do?
  34. ふとり過ぎていたら貴方はどうなさいますか。 Renders “you” as 貴方
  35. What will the lord do when he gets too fat? Mistakes 貴方 for 貴族 and renders it as “lord”.
  36. 神は肥りすぎたらどうするか? Reads “lord” as “God”.
  37. What do you do if God is too fat? 37, 39, 43, 47 all manage without a personal pronoun in Japanese. Personal pronounds cause problems on both occasions they appear in 34 and 40.
  38. 神様があまり太っていたらどうしますか。
  39. What would you do if god was too fat?
  40. 神が肥満過多だったら貴方は… Bases vague, open-ended question on condition that God were too fat.
  41. If God were too fat, what would you be? Good logical translation that deduces remainder of question.
  42. 肥りすぎの神様がいったらどう思いますか? Raises question of attitude rather than “being”.
  43. If there is an overweight God, what do you think?
  44. 太りすぎの神様がいるとすればどう思いますか。
  45. What would you think of a fat God.
  46. 太った神様をどう思もいますか。 Rumoured fat God lives!
  47. What do you think of the fat God.
  48. 神様太ったでしょう? Renders simple question as traditional Japanese greeting addressed to God.
  49. You look well God! Good translation.
  50. やあ、元気そうじゃないか! Supreme being departs as “God” is read simply as exclamatory component of greeting.
  51. Hello my lover. You’m be lookin’ fine today (Devonshire) Very ably translated into equivalent dialect.

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