Thursday, October 11, 2007

Transcription rules in Japanese political writing

I am not sure there are any.

Looking back at yesterday's post, I notice I had forwarded a decent example of what is for me still a rather startling phenomenon--the alteration of quotations by the major dailies.

In the text I cited The Mainichi Shimbun's version of the Prime Minister's quote on use of the word "faction":


"Honestly, it is disheartening that even now they are being called 'factions'. I would prefer to call them 'policy research groups'"

but I linked to The Asahi Shimbun's version of the quote:

"Honestly, it is disheartening that even now they are being called 'factions'. I would prefer to hear them called 'policy research groups'"
One can argue whether or not the translations capture the nuances of the different wordings. One could even argue that there are no significant differences in nuance.

Undeniable, however, is that there are two different versions of the same quote--from testimony made in a Diet session. Any Hiroshi or Akiko with time on his or her hands can go to the Diet website and hear what was actually said.

So why are the Asahi's and the Mainichi's (and the Nikkei's, for that matter) versions of the quote different? Are they not supposed to all be "papers of record"?

As for quotations from speeches for which there is no accompanying raw video, the revision and multiplication disease runs amok. In order to get some idea of the speech former prime minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō gave to the Machimura faction last Thursday, only a bit of which was carried on NHK Thursday night, I photocopied the reports on the meeting from the five major dailies the next day. I then compared the quotations from each. All over the map, they were. In the end I could not bring myself to directly quote from or link to any one daily. Instead I offered in translation a best-effort, synthetic, median quotation...

...all of is a roundabout way of saying that anyone relying upon a fine-grained interpretation of the linguistic nuances of a particular word used in a quote found in a newspaper is setting herself up for a fall. The data set is flawed--the politician or whomever it is may have never said the key word at all.


Anonymous said...

呼んでもらいたい and 呼んでほしい have the same meaning. the difference comes only in the use of the honorific in the former. although it's right to point out the *quotation* is different, as you do, in this example at least it doesn't detract from the meaning in any way.

it is true though that the papers commonly put paraphrases in quotation marks. perhaps the lack of journalism schools in japan?

MTC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MTC said...

anonymous -

Thank you for your clarification.

I prefer to see the difference in the two expressions as reflecting a difference in the severity of the desire expressed, which we then interpret as appropriate to persons of a particular status or a particular status relationship.

Jun Okumura said...

もらいたい is a little politer than ほしい, but is not an honorific expression.

As for the use of parentheses, I once watched an incommunicative baseball pitcher being interviewed after the game on TV and giving yes and no answers only. The morning newspaper I subscribed to at the time rewrote the interviewer's question as the interviewee's answer and ran it as a quote.

Anonymous said...

Good observations. It happens with TV subtitles as well - obviously edited for length, but frequently different words are used. Things get left open to interpretation...there was no Kiyoaki

WDSturgeon said...

Digital recorder anyone?

MTC said...

Colonel -

What are you doing up at this hour?

Jun Okumura said...

His wife keps him busy during normal hours, so this is the only time he can go online.

Anonymous said...

Jun, you example of the ballplayer, above, reminded me of a similar case.
I've heard a story, recounted in a few places (I most recently saw it in the book A Public Betrayed), that when sportswriters in Japan were unable to secure interviews with Nomo Hideo after he went to LA, a group of editors met to decide on what he would have said had they interviewed him, then ran that as a quote.

The same book (which is primarily about shukanshi) documented instances in which 週刊新潮, while tarring and feathering Kono Yoshiyuki (the first suspect in the 1994 Matsumoto sarin gas attack b/c it was launched from a lot next to his house, thus making him the first to report it), quoted his wife to damn him. Only problem? His wife, who fell unconscious after inhaling sarin, remains in a vegetative state to this day.

I don't mean to put the more reputable dailies in the same category as the weeklies or sports papers (even though I sort of just did), but it seems that, everywhere you look, misquoting, or even deliberate quote alteration, is par for the course. Just be glad we're not seeing entirely fictional quotes (of which we know, anyway.)

I agree with you, though - nuance isn't the point. The point is that a direct quote is a direct quote. I think we're just looking at sloppy journalism.