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なるほど!英訳塾 ~ビギナー編~





This week, I am going to discuss an example of bad translation I found at a check-in counter in Haneda Airport recently.

(1) 中国へご出発の愛煙家の皆様へ


(2) All passengers departing on all international flights from China. Since April 7th 2008, matches and lighters are prohibited to carry on as carry-on items and also unable to accept as check-in luggage.

First, note that the first line in (1) addressing the target recipients of this message is missing in (2). “All passengers departing on all international flights from China” is actually a translation of “中国を出発する全ての国際便” in the main text. I can’t imagine why the translator chose not to translate “中国へご出発の愛煙家の皆様へ”. I think it should be included otherwise it’s a bit odd to have a message addressed to “passengers departing from China” when we are in Haneda and not Beijing. Also, this line should be put on a separate line just like in the original. Otherwise, it looks really sloppy.

Next, the time phrase 2008年4月7日より is translated as “since April 7th 2008”. We all know that より can mean “from” or “since”. Both indicate a starting point, but when “since” is used, the main verb is usually in the present or past perfect tense. In (2), the main verb is “are prohibited”, which is not in the perfect tense, so “since” sounds awkward. It is better to use “from” if “are prohibited” is to be retained. I guess the next question is why not change the verb and keep “since”? I will address this point later at the end.

“Matches and lighters are prohibited to carry on” sounds unnatural because of the combination of “prohibit” with “carry on”. Usually, people but not inanimate objects are prohibited from doing something. So, we say “Passengers are prohibited from carrying matches and lighters onboard” or “Carrying matches and lighters onboard is prohibited”. If you want to keep the focus on an inanimate object, you can say “Matches and lighters are prohibited from being carried on”. But this sounds rather clumsy. It’s better to keep it simple with “Matches and lighters are prohibited from carry-on luggage”.

“To carry on as carry-on items” is repetitive. I guess we have all been told from day one in school to avoid unnecessary repetition in any kind of writing.?

The last part of (2), “unable to accept as check-in luggage” is not grammatical because “unable” doesn’t go with an inanimate subject. Compare the examples below:

(3) a. The older Boeing models are unable to fly non-stop from Asia to America (???)

b. The older Boeing models cannot fly non-stop from Asia to America.

Therefore, it is okay to say “We/The airline are/is unable to accept matches and lighters in checked luggage” but not “Matches and lighters are unable to accept as check-in luggage”. To retain the same inanimate subject, it is necessary to change not only “unable” but also “accept” to the passive form as in “Matches and lighters cannot be accepted in checked luggage”.

How should we translate (1)? I would like to suggest 3 different versions.

(4) From April 7th 2008, it is no longer possible to carry matches and lighters onboard or to check in these items.

This is a fairly direct translation. It retains the essence of the original verb in (1) 出来なくなっています which describes a change of state with respect to two actions.

The next version answers the question I raised above about the possibility of retaining “since” and changing the verb.

(5) Since April 7th 2008, matches and lighters have been prohibited from carry-on luggage and have not been permitted in checked luggage.

“Since” with the present perfect tense focuses on the duration of time from the point of view of an end-point in the present time. (5) would be very appropriate in a situation where for example, after the ruling went into effect, further changes have been made so that now particular types of matches and lighters are actually allowed.

Here is the third version:

To smoking passengers departing on flights bound for China
Please note that from April 7th 2008, matches and lighters cannot be carried onboard and neither will these items be permitted in checked luggage on all international flights departing to China.

I prefer this one because it keeps the focus on matches and lighters just like in the original version and unlike (5), it reads like an authoritative statement. It simply states clearly what you can or cannot do and that’s it, period.

That’s all for this week. If you have any questions or bad examples you would like to share with us, please write in.



本コーナーでは、みなさんからの質問やお便りをお待ちしています。変だとは思うけどどこをどう直せばいいか分からない、英語ネイティブのアドバイスが欲しい、などなど、みなさんからの様々な悩みをソーキン塾長がわかりやすく解決します。ぜひ こちらまでメールをお送りください。



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ンー・ソーキンさん:Ng Soh King