Remu Ogaki, Esq., Senior Project Manager, The CJK Group
During litigation involving foreign languages, there’s a common assumption that translation is simply matter of “correctly” changing the language from A to B. Especially in a legal context, this is an extremely unfortunate misunderstanding.
It can be very common that there are multiple potential translations of a given phrase, sometimes with polar opposite meanings that can radically influence the outcome of a case.
In other words, there can be room for debate in deciding what is the “correct” translation, and if there are multiple valid translations, you need a support team there to help you press for the most advantageous interpretation.
In Japanese, much more so than in English, the rules of grammar permit you to omit the subject, verb OR object of the sentence and leave it implicit. This can make sentences extremely ambiguous, allowing for multiple interpretation.
For example, this single Japanese phrase can be interpreted to mean opposite things:
Someone who teaches you [the fun of] the wrong thing is the best of friends
i.e. “You can become best friends with someone who’ll do bad things with you,”
Someone who teaches you [what is] wrong is the best of friends
i.e. “someone who teaches you right from wrong can become best friends with you”
The bold text is the part which does not appear explicitly in the original sentence, but either of the translations (without context) would be a “correct” translation.
Become the person who steps forwards to do the thing nobody wants to do
i.e. do what other people won’t want to do
Become the person who steps forwards to do the thing nobody wants [you] to do
i.e. do what makes other people uncomfortable
Certainly, not every sentence provides room for radically different interpretation, and it can also often be the case that the context of the conversation leaves only 1 valid interpretation of the sentence.
However, what these examples demonstrate is the possibility that what may otherwise look innocuous in one possible interpretation could be extremely damning or highly legally significant with a different interpretation.
It’s important to be able to rely on your foreign language eDiscovery experts to alert you to any such issues in a real-world case.