盗作 (とうさく) is a pretty straightforward compound; a literal reading provides “stolen-work”, and from there it’s easy to extrapolate to actual meaning – plagiarism.
Perhaps plagiarism is too harsh a charge, but however you measure it, the Japan Times seems to have poached research from a Néojaponisme article I worked on. Roger Pulvers uses Dimitry Kovelenin’s mistranslation of kumozaru in his Counterpoint column today. It’s awfully similar to the Néojaponisme piece, even down to the use of the monkey proverb:
Dmitry Kovalenin, the excellent Russian translator of the works of Haruki Murakami, once tripped over the translation of kumozaru, meaning the spider monkey that is native of Central and South America. Kovalenin assumed, it seems, that Murakami was referring to a mythical animal, so he used a bizarre made-up equivalent of "spider" and "monkey" in Russian. Another Japanese proverb tells us that "even monkeys fall from trees"; and Kovalenin was man enough to bring this particular fall to light himself by acknowledging it publicly.
The worst part is that Pulvers gets it wrong; as far as I know, as far as the transcript reads, Kovalenin did not in fact “man up.” He boasted about the clever translation and was then called out by other translators at the convention.
I guess there’s a chance that Pulvers came up with the research independently, but there are only three hits for "Dimitry Kovalenin" and "kumozaru" on the Internet (make that four) and judging from the rest of the article, he doesn’t seem that creative: the column is a mish-mash of anecdotes, held together by the general theme that “bad pronunciation can make you say funny/rude things”. He sprinkles this with two suggestions – face the speaker when interpreting and use common sense.
I wish the Japan Times would pay me to write stuff like that.