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Thread: True Semantic difference in tense in JP/En in present-flow narrative?

  1. #1
    Translator 下級員 / Kakyuuin / Jr. Member tradedaemon's Avatar
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    True Semantic difference in tense in JP/En in present-flow narrative?

    Lately, I've been questioning if there really is enough of a semantic importance with tense in a present flowing narrative, especially when translating (Jp->Eng). What I mean by this is, is there a really big difference between these two sequences:

    There was a house, set in a forest amassed with foliage. Around that house, a fury of ornaments decorated it colorfully, and made it striking in appeal. A game of cards was being played within the interior, with a group of aged men occasionally pulling and trashing cards with little chance.

    There is a house, set in a forest amassed with foliage. Around that house is a fury of ornaments decorating it colorfully and making it striking in appeal. A game of cards is being played within the interior, with a group of aged men occasionally pulling and trashing cards with little chance.


    To me, since the narrative is flowing from one "occurrence" to another in a very linear manner, it feels like both are being told about the same moment in time, just that the tense of some of the descriptions is different. Now this may well be individual, but is there really enough semantic difference between the two?

    This then comes up in translating for me. Since I don't distinguish between those two examples, when translating I tend to go with past tense since it sounds more natural to me, and since the narrative is flowing in a present tense manner, the past tense kind of seems to just meld into unnoticableness.

    本来ならば国の首脳や役人が殺される事態に国民は恐怖すべきであろう
    テレビを見てもマスコミが そう騒ぎたてている。 JP Source

    Keeping the tense:
    Whether the country's citizens should truly be fearful of the murder of government officials and important personages,
    the mass media is in an uproar over it.

    But since the flow in the narrative is implied present, I'd just as well translate it as this:
    Whether the country's citizens should truly be fearful of government officials and important personages being murdered,
    The mass media was in an uproar over it.

    Semantics in general is usually a pointless argument for me, but for some reason this keeps bothering me. (Though, this Japanese example might just well be implied past, and in that case, I'm just focusing on the grammar too much.)

    Anyone got an authoritative opinion?
    Last edited by tradedaemon; April 23, 2009 at 05:19 AM.

  2. #2
    MH Senpai 中級員 / Chuukyuuin / Member DrPepperPro's Avatar
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    Re: True Semantic difference in tense in JP/En in present-flow narrative?

    I don't have an authoritative opinion, but I do agree that that leniency often makes the story flow better.

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