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Translating Japanese in British English

Whereas, in Japan, American English is more common in everyday usage, a translator may be specifically requested to deliver their translation in British English. 

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This article provides a quick guide on what you will need to focus on in order to comply as closely as possible with the client/translation company’s request, as it goes beyond simply setting your Microsoft Word spell check language to “English (United Kingdom)”.

 There are, of course, commonly-known spelling differences, such as the “-re” ending (“theatre” not “theater”), “our” ending (“behaviour” rather than “behavior”), and “yse” ending (“analyse” not “analyze”), to name a few. However, as these will be caught by the spell check, I will concentrate on other areas that may be harder to detect.

 Firstly, you should be aware that the same word can have very different meanings when used in US or British English. “The man went into the shop to buy suspenders” would have very different connotations in America, where suspenders refer to the straps used to hold up your trousers (“braces” in British), to the UK where it alludes specifically to a garter belt.

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 There is also a difference in usage when it comes to collective nouns. US English always uses the singular (e.g. “Apple is launching the new iPhone today.”). In British English, you can use either the singular “Apple is…” or plural “Apple are…”. Normally, you can play safe by always using the singular form, but certain collective nouns such as “police” always use plural, so watch out for those.

Punctuation is generally the same, but there are four key differences. In US English, the date is written as month/day/year, whereas British people write the date as day/month/year. Whereas dates, such as December 25th, where the day is above 12 do not cause any ambiguity, if you read 07/08/2017 you would need to know the system being used to know the correct date. Safest thing is to write out the date as August 7th etc. Secondly, American English places a period after titles (“Mr.”) whereas British English does not. When denoting time, the British system uses periods (“12.00”) rather than the American colon (“12:00”).  Finally, we have quotation marks. In the UK, quotes are in single quotes whereas any quotes inside them are in double quotes, and the US does the opposite.

 As noted above, when a translator is asked to translate in British English there is a tendency to focus on spelling. However, attention to the above points will enable a more complete response to the request.

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

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