April 2008. Volume 3 Issue 1
The Asymmetrical Relationship Between the
Active and Passive Voice: Implications for Teaching Japanese-to-English Translation of Specialized Scientific Texts
Tokyo Denki University, Japan
Yasunari Fujii has taught at universities in both Australia and Japan, including the University of Canberra and Tokyo Denki University. He holds an MA in linguistics from Sophia University and a PhD in linguistics from the Australian National University. His major research areas include conversation analysis, sociolinguistics, second language acquisition, and translation theory.
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In scientific writing, the validity of using the passive voice has been firmly established. Use of the passive voice is often preferred and frequently necessary to accurately report scientific research results. In Japanese-to-English and English-to-Japanese translations, however, the issue becomes complex. Often, when the passive voice is used in a Japanese source text, the English translation will read better if the translation uses the active voice, and vice versa. To date, little research into this asymmetrical relationship between the syntactic voice in Japanese to English translations of scientific material has been conducted. This article reports on a quantitative and qualitative study of the translation of a set of specific scientific texts completed by Japanese university students pursuing science and engineering degrees. An analysis of the research results identified specific problem areas, such as complex passive constructions and prepositional phrases, that hinder learners’ success. This study concludes by describing pedagogical considerations to help learners acquire a higher level of competence in this particular aspect of language use.
Keywords: active and passive voice, scientific text, L1-L2 translation