The Linguistic Equivalent of the Egg and Chicken Controversy
. Heated debate over at Sua Lingua
. Did the Portuguese bring the word Arigato
into Japan by way of Obrigado
or was it the other way around, and more importantly, who cares ? Only the breed of people who have to watch out for brukarawakas and wakarawakas will feign a little interest.
Puzzled about the two words? Read on...
Two interpreters are in the booth, at a hotel in Miami, for a Human Resources conference. The speaker, Mr. Tomodashi from Tokyo is at the podium. He has sent a message before his arrival advising the organisers that he will address the conference in English and that no Japanese interpreters will be necessary; that his English version need only be translated into Spanish for the Latin-Americans in the audience.
His subject: Relationships between workers from different castes in Japan.
He smiles, clears his throat, takes a sip of water and speaks:
"Sank you werymoch. Ai mos provai you wi' a detaiurld (detailed) espranation of urelashoship betooeen brukarawaka and wacarawaka in Japan."
In the booth, the interpreter who has the microphone considers this first phrase and begins to interpret:
"Muchisimas gracias. Debo proveerles una explicacion detallada sobre la
relacion entre los." (aqui hace silencio y se pregunta: Que carajo es un brukarawaka y, ya que me lo estoy preguntando, que mierda es un wacarawaka!!!???) No hay tiempo para decifrar lo que pudiera ser. Su colega en la cabina ofrece sólo aquella mirada de labio inferior caido, hombros encogidos y palmas hacia el cielo, que dice "A mi que me registren!!!"
The speaker continues and is by now describing the daily, practical difficulties that HR managers in his country face when it comes to
brukarawakas and wacarawakas.
The interpreter has to make a decision, time is of the essence and his/her
short term memory is being tasked to its limit as he/she stores the information the speaker has uttered since the appearance of the
brukarawaka/wacarawaka brick wall. In fact, the speaker has not stopped speaking and is hurrying on with his dissertation.
Numbers, names of cities and governmental agencies roll off his tongue like bowling balls thrown by professionals at the world bowling championship trials. He has Power Point slides by the dozen, but none that would help the
interpreters decipher his meaning of these two fateful words. He barrels along, not at a clip, not at a considerable speed, but with abandon. A suicidal helter skelter, headlong rush towards self-immolation by verb conjugation. For all else, his presentation is complete, informative and well researched. He is very good and very fast.
"You mus unastan, brukarawaka urive this pa' Tokyo (points to the right). Wacarawaka urive this pa Tokyo. (points to the left). Brukarawaka haf much purobrem wi' Porice an wacarawaka, wer. no so much purobrem wi' Porice bot
much domesic wiorence."
At this point, the interpreter has decided, by default, that the brukarawakas and the wacarawakas are two ethnic groups in Japan who, to this date, were unknown to this interpreter. There can be no other explanation. Light! Illumination! Of course. O.K. Let's get to work, thinks the interpreter: The interpreter releases the cough cut button and issues this
Deben comprender que los brukarawaka viven en esta parte de Tokyo y los wacarawaka viven en aquella parte de Tokyo. Los brukarawaka tienen muchos problemas con las autoridades de policia y los wacarawaka, no tanto
problemas con la policia, sino mas bien problemas de violencia domestica."
The interpreter continues using this rendition for brukarawakas and wakarawakas throughout the speaker's address almost to its conclusion, but then, from another conference room at the same venue, a colleague stops by to say a quick hello to his friends. He stands behind the booth and listens to the rendition above. Brukarawaka, wacarawaka, Kobe, Hokkaido. He suddenly realises that his colleagues have mis-heard the speaker, that they been confused by a strong accent, and he quickly whispers a correction:
"No, no!!!" he whispers urgently, "Not brukarawakas and wacarawakas. It's Blue Collar Workers and White Collar Workers!!!".
There is nothing to be done for the gaffe. It's too late! The damage is done by now. All that is left is for the interpreter to let the audience know that a mistake has been made and that they should be advised that brukarawaka and wacarawaka should be understood to mean Blue Collar workers and White Collar workers. But, alas, the interpreter chooses the least appropriate moment to apologise to the audience for the error. The correction is made as the honourable speaker is leaving the stage and walking towards the steps. The listeners hear the interpreter say:
"Con el permiso de los asistentes, solicitamos nos disculpen por un error cometido y en lugar de brukarawakas y wacarawakas, sepan que el caballero se referia a trabajadores manuales u obreros, conocidos como trabajadores de cuello azul y a trabajadores de cuello blanco. Ofrecemos nuestras mas sinceras disculpas, gracias."
The audience, having sat through the presentation with the gravest of expressions on their collective faces, as if understanding what they were hearing through their recievers, for the last 30 minutes "the brukarawakas this and the wacarawakas that" a la "Emperor's New Clothes", realise the fools they have been and, all at the exact same time, burst into a loud, conference room-wide guaffaw. They're rolling in the aisles, laughing primarily at themselves. They slap their thighs, they wipe tears from their eyes and look at each other and laugh even louder than before.
The speaker cannot understand. 150 HR managers after having quietly sat through his dissertation, some even taking notes, all suddenly find his presentation so hilarious. He is irate and confused at the same time. His breeding does not allow expressions of outrage. Still wearing the lapel microphone, he asks the next speaker approaching the stage for an explanation. "Why dey uraf? Wha' so fonny??". No answer but the drooping lower lip, the shrugged shoulders and the palms to the sky. There is nothing to be done.
As the Beatles were fond of saying: 'A Day in the Life".
Or as the Mermaid says: People call me Weird, but I take it as a compliment.