LOLIVER (runawayballista) wrote in linguaphiles,

historical present, specifically in japanese

So I've just started a translation project on a novel in Japanese, and though I've had plenty of practice translating and interpreting dialogue, obviously translating literature is a bit more difficult. What I'm mostly baffled by is the historical present -- not really its use in Japanese, but how I should be adapting it into English. The historical present in English doesn't really exist in formal narrative, and though I've encountered it a bit in Latin, the usage and tense switch in Japanese is much more rapid and frequent -- as in, tense switching two or more times within a given sentence. I understand that the historical present is usually employed to emphasize the action that's in the present, although I get the feeling that its use is a bit more nuanced in Japanese. The two most common places I see it are in dependent (usually relative) clauses that are part of longer sentences, which makes sense to me in a way that it maintains relative tense, and as the final (head) verb in much shorter sentences which are meant to be a bit more dramatic. However, in the second case, these sentences are often in the past tense as well, and the distinction between when to use the nonpast and when to use the past seem kind of arbitrary so far.

Just to give you an idea of what the text looks like, a few sample sentences from the first page or so:





I guess I'm just not sure how to adapt the instances of historical present here, because the rapid tense switching is just awkward in English, especially in third person narrative. Do I just translate them all into the past tense in English as that would be more natural, or is there a way I can incorporate the intended emphasis in a natural way as well? Additionally, if anyone has any good resources on the historical present in Japanese, that would be great. My Google fu has largely been useless in finding any resources on this matter.

Thanks in advance!
Tags: japanese, translation

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