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Translation Services Japan - Is a Picture Really Worth a Thousand Words?

“A picture”, as the saying goes, “is worth a thousand words”.

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And, the question of how many words corresponds to one picture is a subject close to the heart of professional translators translating to and from alphabetical word-based languages, like English, and hieroglyphic-based languages such as Japanese, when it comes to being remunerated for their work.

Using the example of Japanese to English translation, the translator will set different rates depending on if they are billing based on source character or target word, implying that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the two. This tends to be set somewhere in between 1.5-2 chars for every word. Therefore, if, for example, you are charging $0.04 per source character, you might charge between $0.06-$0.08 per target word. 

Of course, the Japanese translator often is not given a choice on whether to charge based on source or target, as this may be determined based on the convenience of the end user i.e., the client.

For the end user, there are benefits to both. Calculating based on source character allows them to have a precise cost before starting the work whereas calculating on target words generally makes counting simpler (particularly in case of source formats for which software-based character counts are not readily available, such as PDF or image files).

Further, there is a feature of Japanese that makes finding a fair equivalence between source and target rates more difficult than other hieroglyphic-based languages, such as Chinese. This is the phenomenon of “kana”. If we take the translation of a kanji character pair, such as “keizai” (2 kanji characters), this will normally be translated as “economy”, so the 1 word:2 character ratio mentioned above is satisfied. Now consider the katakana word “jibuchiruhidorokishitoruen” (13 kana characters), which translates as the chemical compound “dibutylhydroxytoluene”. Instead of a 1:2 ratio, you are looking at a 1:13 ratio. If you were translating this word, would you rather be charging based on source or target?

For this reason, I know of end users in fields such as medicine, where there are a lot of borrowed words (the main source of kana), who refuse to accept billing based on source character. The moral of this story? If you are billing based on source characters,  kana (katakana) is your friend.

About the Author
Simon Way is a contributing author to SAECULII YK, the owner of Translation Services Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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