Have you ever read a book in English and you noticed a typo or spelling mistake? Perhaps it was a grammatical error that threw you off. Or else, it could have been an incorrectly punctuated sentence. Either way, small mistakes in a language are very easy to spot and they tend to leave a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. This is because lack of proper proofreading can result in poor quality of the work, loss of trust in the source, and can also alter the meaning of a written text. This is irrespective of whether you’re reading a novel, a piece of marketing material, subtitles in a film, or something else. Hence, proofreading is crucial in any language translation. Especially so with Asian languages. So, what are the types of errors that one should look out for when proofreading work in an Asian language? Let’s start with Japanese proofreading.
Proofreading Japanese texts once translated is crucial. This is not only to detect minor spelling or punctuation errors, but also because the nuances of the language mean that an incorrect meaning can be conveyed. In fact, Japanese has two words that reflect a distinction in proofreading. The first is kousei (校正), which refers to basic grammar and spelling checks. Meanwhile, kouetsu (校閲) is used for a more detailed checking of the meaning of what is being discussed. In English, this is generally called copy-editing.
So, what types of errors can you encounter when proofreading Japanese? Let’s take a look.
Firstly, it’s important to identify the fact that Japanese written characters are a combination of three categories:
- hiragana (Japanese syllabary characters)
- katakana (Japanese syllabary characters used exclusively for loanwords from other languages), and
- kanji (highly intricate Chinese characters with multiple readings and meanings).
The interaction between these characters is what is crucial. And typically, when typing on a computer in Japanese, one is given the option of predictive text. When typing in the desired hiragana character, for example, you’ll also get the option of using a kanji character. The difference between these two character types, however, could result in a complete change in the meaning of the words used.
Homophones are another troublesome issue as many Japanese words look and sound the same but have different meanings.
A further proofreading problem stems from okurigana, which is kanji with hiragana appended to them to show which reading of those kanji should be used. If used incorrectly, the entire meaning of the characters is altered.
Next, we come to the issue of honorifics. In Japan, it’s crucial to know which audience you are addressing to convey respect and honor for the party being addressed. For example, the word “I” in English can have five different variations, which will ultimately depend on the addressee or the context of the conversation. What’s more, is that English personal pronouns are often omitted from translations to ensure a smoother and more natural flow of the language.
As a final point here, it’s vital to keep in mind the fast-paced nature of the Japanese language. It happens almost every month that new words and expressions are added to one’s daily vocabulary and therefore, it’s not only crucial to use local translators but those who have remained in the region in order to keep up with and recognize the new language developments.
We now come to Chinese proofreading. Here, it’s also crucial to pay attention to specific linguistic peculiarities to ensure one does not offend and that the intended meaning is not lost.
It’s vital to remember that Chinese is a language that has four different tones. So, what does this translate into? It basically boils down to having one sound that can be pronounced in four different tones, which will completely alter the sound’s meaning.
Furthermore, it’s very common for Chinese people to express themselves using indirect and metaphorical expressions, whereas those in the Western culture tend to be more literal and direct. One example of this is announcing that someone has passed away. In Chinese, for instance, instead of announcing the death, one would say “riding a bird crane to the heavens.”
Another example of where proofreading Chinese is important is that there are no personal pronouns in Chinese. There are also no specific grammatical rules related to tenses and, therefore, expressing the timing of events can be tricky.
Finally, understanding Chinese culture plays a big role in accurate translations and accurate proofreading practices. There are some Chinese expressions that simply cannot be directly translated without having a cultural context provided first.
Korean proofreading also requires careful attention to be paid to the translated language. There are several reasons for this, the first of which is the issue of honorifics. In Korean, there are, for instance, six different sentence endings that one can use to display the necessary levels of respect and to indicate the speaker’s relationship to the subject and/or audience. Korean also reflects the subject’s superiority using honorific nouns and verbs.
Other areas where proofreaders need to be careful is with cultural sensitivities. For example, North Korea and Japan’s relationships with South Korea are considered sensitive. This is why, the Sea of Japan should rather be translated to the East Sea, Liancourt Rocks to Dokdo Island, South Korea as Han-guk, and others.
And lastly is the point about grammar. Korean typically marks subjects and objects with participles and these give more information about the function of the word and are generally added after the given word. In addition, these participles will change depending on whether the words after which they’re placed start with a vowel or a consonant. Therefore, a simple sentence like “Eva dislikes John” or “John dislikes Eva” will look and sound completely different due to these participles.
Hindi proofreading needs to take into account that the language borrows quite extensively from Persian and Arabic, borrowing over 5,000 words. Although this may be considered a plus in that the vocabulary of the language is significantly enhanced, it can cause a lot of confusion. One such example is the use or misuse of a small dot called the Nuqtā. It is a sign that represents a certain sound in a word. Used, misused or not used at all can change the entire meaning of a word.
Other factors to take into account when proofreading in Hindi are the great variations due to regional dialects. This is why it is common to recognize a translator’s or Hindi proofreader’s origin or regional influence simply due to the way in which they translate Hindi.
The final language which we are going to explore is Thai, which is a language that is laden with double-meanings, subtle requests, indirect disagreements, and much more.
Some proofreading aspects to consider when checking Thai texts include the fact that most Thai speakers end their sentences with a particle that will depend on the gender of the person being addressed. While it is -ka for women, it is -krab for men. The same goes if you are thanking someone. Without this particle, the phrase is simply incomplete.
In Thai, there are also certain words, some of which relate to emotion, which do not have a direct translation.
Honorifics also play an important role here and the layers of complexity when choosing words are intense. Seniority is serious and must be respected as well as accurately conveyed in both written and spoken Thai.
Furthermore, Thai doesn’t have a “to be” verb and this is generally omitted from the language altogether, posing further proofreading and translation challenges.
The dialect of the region in Thailand where one comes from also affects the meaning and ways in which words are used.
And much like Chinese, Thai has five tones instead of four, and getting this part right could mean a completely different meaning being conveyed.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re proofreading Bahasa in Indonesia, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean, or Hindi – the important aspect to remember is that proofreading is critical to the quality and value of any piece of work. Asian languages have many intricacies and nuances and especially cultural and honorific elements that need to be taken into account for an accurate rendering of the translation into the target language. This is why proofreading plays such an important part in providing an accurate Asian language translation.