:: About lyric translations and transliterations

These are some things to keep in mind when referring to my transliterations and translations. Every person who does translation work has their own style. This can be confusing to Japanese learners who are trying to figure out what’s the proper way to render a phrase in roomaji or what a translation means.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a linguist or Japanese scholar. I may use terminology for grammar and linguistics inaccurately. I am only trying to explain my general way of romanizing Japanese. That being said, if I wrote anything blatantly untrue with regards to grammar or Japanese, please contact me to have it fixed.

I use a Hepburn-derived system with my own personal modifications when transliterating lyrics. I’ve developed these notations over the years as I learned Japanese and wrote roomaji in ways that helped me understand the relations between words and letters. They are meant to balance two goals: (1) to make Japanese more easily read by English speakers and (2) to reduce ambiguity. By this I mean that you should be able to translate my roomaji texts back into hiragana/katakana without losing any phonetic information. There are too many idiosyncracies to document here, but here are some of the main points:

– Hepburn is more of a phonetic than a systematic way to transcribe Japanese sounds and characters. Whereas the Japanese goverment approved systemrenders 「しょ」 (“shi” followed by a small “yo”) as SYO, Hepburn spells it as “SHO”, which I use because it’s closer to the actual sound. IMO, people who are searching for romanizations of their favorite songs would prefer phonetic guides to how they’re sung, especially if they are unfamiliar with Japanese.

– Particles are a class of words that, to oversimply things, often function in Japanese similar to the way prepositions (“under” “by” “for” “of”) function in English. I usually translate particles phonetically:
「は」 “wa” (instead of the official “ha”)
「へ」 “e” (instead of the official “he”)
「に」 “ni”
「の」 “no”
「も」 “mo”
「で」 “de”

EXCEPTION: I translate 「を」 as “wo” (a particle that tends to appear between an object and its verb), instead of “o,” which is how it’s usually pronounced. This is to distinguish it from the letter 「お」”o.”

– I add apostrophies in words with 「ん」 (“n”, achieved by typing the ‘n’ key twice in roomaji input) if not doing so would confuse it with other letters usch as “na”, “ni”, “nu”, “ne”, or “no.”
  EX: Pon’yo = pon + yo, to distinguish it from Ponyo = po + nyo

– write extended vowel sounds as their kana equivalent. EX 「こうどう」 = koudou. NOTE: this is pronounced more like “koh doh” with both o’s drawn out, NOT like “koe doe.” Some systems use umlats (ô) or lines above the vowel, but these characters are not supported by every program or browser, so I prefer a more universal transcription approach.

– PLEASE NOTE that spacing between words is highly subjective and there are billions of variations on how people do this. In the Japanese language, words are not separated by spaces. Not spacing words in English letters would make things pretty unreadable. The question is, where should one separate sounds to make the romanization the most readable? I have differing opinions about where to put spaces, and you may see me inconsistently separate words in one lyric and keep them together in the next. A few guidelines I generally follow:

– separate particles from other words. Some people attach particles to the end of a word; I like to clearly separate them. EX: “tooku e” instead of “tookue” or “tookuhe”

  Exception 1: the particle is at the end of a verb, or is part of a verb conjugation
    EX: “kaetemo” (from verb “kaeru”) instead of “kaete mo”

  Exception 2: the particle (most often “ka” and “mo”) is commonly attached to the end of a noun, especially a pronoun or a question (who, what, where, why, how) noun.
    EX: “nanimo” (from noun “nani” = what) instead of “nani mo”; “nanika” instead of “nani ka”

  Exception 3: the particle is in the middle of a phrase that is considered a word itself
    EX: “tenohira” (palm of the hand) instead of “te no hira”
    EX: “maniau” (to make it in time) instead of “ma ni au”

– connect the roots of conjugated verbs and everything that comes after them
  EX: “tsuzukete” instead of “tsuzu kete” or “tsuzuke te” or “tsuzu ke te”

  Exception: the verb is followed by a noun, adjective, particle, or other distinguishable part of speech
    EX: “irarenai no ni” instead of “irarenainoni”

  Fuzzy areas:
  1. the verb is followed by any commonly used phrase, which takes precedence
    EX: the verb-phrase “kaerunda.” (“kaeru” + “n” + “da”) If the verb is used with the questioning phrase “darou”, I would write it as “kaerun darou” or “kaerundarou”, but not “kaerunda rou”

  2. The verb is in the “te” form, followed by another verb, particularly “kuru” or “iku/yuku”
    EX: “tokete” + “yuku”; I would write this either separately or together, depending on my mood and the total length of the verbs if joined together.

  3. Spacing between type 3 verbs and their “noun” roots
    EX: “benkyou suru” or “benkyousuru”
    EX: “aisareru” or “ai sareru”

– add hyphens between words that I feel are too related for a space, and not related enough to be jammed together.
  1. before honorifics (“sama” “san” “kun” etc) EX: Hikari-kun, ore-sama
  2. before group suffixes, except “ra”: EX: “watashi-tachi”
  3. after honorifc prefixes except where they have become part of the word (“go” and “o”) EX: o-kashi, go-sotsugyou

– Transcribe katakana in capital letters. Although this is a weak analogy, katakana is often used to show emphasis. Capital letters are sometimes used in a similar way for English.

Monday, February 27th, 2012 About

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