What’s up with English? (New Murakami Novel)
Many European languages have already seen the publication of the translation of Murakami’s latest novel. I can start reading the Spanish version today but I have to wait eight months for the release of the text in English.
Why is that?
English is almost universally taught in Japanese schools. There are many, many people who are bilingual in Japanese and English. There are even more who do not consider themselves bilingual because of rusty conversational skills yet read and write English with no problem whatsoever. You would think then, that English translation would be the first translation achieved. For better or for worse, it is the most commonly used world second language.
Translation into the world’s top five languages should not just be a priority, it should be easier than for lesser-spoken languages for the simple reason that there is a greater statistical chance of finding a competent Japanese translator into that language.
Since Spanish is one of the world’s top five most spoken languages, it is no surprise that there is already a translation ready.
Some languages are “book devouring”. That is, there is a great hunger for books in that language. French is one example that comes to mind. While there are many more Arabic speakers than French, more books are printed in France in a month than in the Arabic-speaking world in a year. So that might explain the lack of an Arabic translation and the existence of a French translation.
Publishing a work in what a country deems a “minority” language might be the reason for a political delay to await translation into the dominant tongue. But there do not appear to be any political issues with respect to a translation into English.
Could there be legal issues? If say, a British publisher were to claim that it had North American rights this could slow down or halt release of a work while the squabbling went on in the courts.
Or is something else going on? I read that the English version of 1Q84 has 25,000 fewer words than the Japanese version. Putting aside the concept of “word” as it applies to East Asian languages, this is a novella-sized chunk of text that is missing from the English. Given that Murakami is a translator himself, is he taking an active role in the English translation, a role so active as to constitute a partial revision of the text? This would certainly explain the delay. If Murakami is indeed so involved, then it would be worthwhile to wait for the English version. Otherwise, the Spanish version (or the French, or the German, or the [fill in blank]) is just as good, for after all, none of these languages can measure up to reading the text in the original Japanese with all of its nuances.