Archive for March 30, 2010

“Star Trek” in Japanese

One of the Trek news sites that’s been linking to the Star Trek DTI announcement here on Written Worlds, according to my blog control panel, is this one from Japan.  Now, my Japanese from college is very rusty, but I still have my dictionary to let me transliterate the katakana (the Japanese syllabic lettering system used for titles and foreign words, sort of the equivalent of italics in English, if italics were a completely separate alphabet).  And I was surprised by how the title Star Trek is being transliterated.  Japanese is a syllabic language; consonants are almost never found in isolation, but are always followed by a vowel (N being the one exception).  However, the U sound is usually slurred to the point of virtual nonexistence.   So in foreign words with consonantal blends or consonants at the end of a word, the Japanese transliteration will typically insert a U after the consonant, although occasionally it’s an O or something.  The way I’d expect Star Trek to be transliterated, therefore, is “sutaa tureku,” which would be スタートレク.  (The dash-like shape represents  stretching the duration of the vowel sound to double length, corresponding roughly to the British way of pronouncing “ar.”)  However, it looks like the title is being transliterated as スタートレック, which apparently is “sutaa turetsuku.”  Or “Star Tretsk.”  Which is very puzzling.  Why is that extra “tsu” in there?

Of course, this isn’t the only name ST has had in Japan.  Now, there’s a myth circulating on the Internet that the Japanese name for the show is Sulu, Master of Navigation.  That just goes to show that some people don’t know how to recognize a joke, because that was a gag from William Shatner’s monologue on Saturday Night Live ages ago (the same episode with his infamous “Get a life” sketch — another thing that many fans failed to realize was a joke — and the delightful “The Restaurant Enterprise” sketch).  So let’s dispel that myth right away.  The Japanese name for ST, at least the original series, was Uchuu Daisakusen, which translates pretty much as “Big Operation in Space.”  Which is probably about as close as they could come to a literal translation; “Star” in the title is pretty much being used as synecdoche for “space,” and a trek is a type of massive operation, a large-scale movement.  (I think sakusen can have the meaning of a military operation or maneuver, which would probably explain why a fanzine article I read ages ago mistranslated Uchuu Daisakusen as “Outer Space Big Battle.”)

But apparently the movies have just had their titles transliterated phonetically.  Except somehow that extra syllable has gotten inserted.  I’m sure I’ve seen movie posters that rendered the name in katakana without the added “tsu.”  Was that added to the new film’s title to distinguish it from the rest?  Except that site linked above uses it consistently, not just for the new movie.  It’s confusing.

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