Translation Don’ts – 〜をはじめ、

In the spirit of avoiding mistranslations, here’s another translation don’t.

〜をはじめ、 is a JLPT Level 2 pattern. Maybe a Level 1 pattern. I can’t remember. Whatever.

Here’s a Japanese example sentence:


Read that and think about it for a second.        Okay?

Please, whatever you do, don’t translate it as “beginning with ~”, in this case “beginning with nihonshu.” Sure, it’s got the 始まる in there, but that’s really not what it means at all. Step away from your previous knowledge of the language, and put the 直訳 down. What you should be paying attention to is when it is used.

I always remember it from the graduation ceremonies at the junior high school. The whole auditorium was full of 200-something first and second year students. The third years parade in, a bunch of important people give speeches, some kids cry, and then they leave. But before all that happens, the big wigs slowly make their way in and sit on the side of the hall. The mayor, the superintendent of education, principals of elementary schools, members of city council. All the important guys. These are the designated “invited guests,” and they get respected. But there are too many to thank personally, so when people give speeches, they thank the invited guests with the phrase 町長をはじめ、. (Notice that I’ve left the comma there.) I’m kicking myself now because I can’t remember the exact phrase, but it’s something like 山口町長をはじめ、招待者の皆様、ありがとうございます。 Something like that. Or maybe there’s a 感謝を申し上げます in there.

Basically it’s saying, “I’d like to thank the mayor and all other invited guests.” (Actually, you can see that exact phrase in action from a congratulatory message to incoming students at a JHS.) Just as the sentence above really means something like, “In Japan, people drink nihonshu as well as other booze from around the world.”

I was thinking about it at work the other day and likened it to a very, very soft もちろん. Of course you’re going to thank the mayor, and of course people drink nihonshu in Japan. It’s just a softening of that italicized emphasis that you get so often with “of course.” But there’s no need to translate that into English.

So get used to it, and learn how to use ~をはじめ、 to shorten long lists of people and things.