Kyodo: Reuter vs. AP

by Doreen Simmons

Lovable Aunt Eva once again unsheathes her kindly old claws to tackle something on your behalf.


Dear Aunt Eva,

I am a Japanese translator with a doctorate in communications from an American university. Although I know that it is preferable to work from a foreign language into one’s own, I am often not able to do this, and so I have my work checked by a native speaker. One of my jobs is to draft letters to people at a pretty high level of importance, so I’m quite glad to have the input of a second person. My work is not always mechanical translation; often my chief gives me the outline only, and I flesh it out with some ideas of my own.

Usually the checker makes very few changes, but recently there have been some that made me wonder. In a letter to a British politician who was a former journalist, I glossed Kyodo: “a news agency similar to AP.” The British checker changed this to “similar to Reuter.” 

On a previous occasion, too, when writing about the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), I explained it as “modeled on the American Peace Corps.” This was changed by the same checker to “similar to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).” Surely even the British have heard of the Peace Corps, and don’t need to have everything translated in terms of British institutions! Aunt Eva, doesn’t this sound like cultural imperialism to you?

Nesshin Tadashi

Aunt Eva answers:

Maybe so; but on whose side? And what does your employer hope to achieve with his letter? If you are explaining a Japanese institution by likening it to a well-known foreign one (and, by the way, Aunt Eva thinks this is a very good idea on your part),  it is politic to try to relate to the one that is best known to the person who receives the letter.

To be sure, Associated Press is a large news agency that everyone’s heard of;  but the world’s oldest news agency is Reuter, which was founded in 1851 in London by a German Jew. Since your employer presumably wanted to arouse friendly feelings in this important London-based ex-journalist, isn’t it better to try to see things from his point of view? No person of international class is going to get really miffed by an American bias in a letter from Japan—but he’ll notice it. Likewise, the Peace Corps is famous worldwide, and rightly so; but most British people of the older generation would consider that the Peace Corps was modeled on the VSO, which had been running successfully for some time before President Kennedy announced the plan for the Peace Corps.

It is likely that,  for you as for most Japanese in your position, most of the people you write to will be Americans, and your studies in the U.S. were the most valuable preparation you could have had for such work;  but if you and your employers are in the business of persuading, making friends with,  and influencing people who are Indian,  or German, or Australian,  or anything else besides American, then you need to do some homework on their background. This is why it is good to be constantly upgrading your general knowledge of other countries, especially those to which your letters are addressed. A man in your position must have lots of opportunities to meet and chat with employees of foreign embassies and trading companies; and the daily TV satellite news programs from around the world are an excellent way to give yourself a feel for the attitudes and interests of people of other countries.

Eva Hartupp

Quickie Question:

Is it all right to say, “I could of danced all night?”

Aunt Eva answers: No.

QQ: I know it’s a quickie, but could you expand just a little?

Aunt Eva answers:

If you insist. About three generations of English teachers ago, it went out of fashion to teach children the grammar and syntax of their own language. “Let it come out naturally,” said the pundits, “let the children express themselves freely. Writing corrections all over their compositions discourages the creative instinct.”  Although this has never been proven, and indeed the people who appear to get the most satisfaction out of expressing themselves are those who have been taught to write with precision, we have now had two generations of students (and future English teachers) who lack the language of grammatical discourse. Since “I could have danced” is usually pronounced “I could’ve danced”  it sounds just like the nonsensical “I could of danced”; and people who have never been taught the tenses can’t tell the difference. They may never find out until they are teaching English in Japan and are invited by a Todai graduate to parse the verb. (This, incidentally, is why so many Todai graduates are under the impression that their knowledge of English is superior to that of native speakers in general.)

Eva Hartupp

From Newsletter Number 74 (March 1997)