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Translating ``Natural Selection'' in Japanese: From ``Shizen Tōta'' to ``Shizen Sentaku'' , and Back?

Abstract : This paper focuses on terminological issues related to the translation of Darwin's concept of ``natural selection'' in Japanese. We analyze the historical fate of the different phrases used as translations, from the first attempts in the late 1870s until recent times. Our first finding is that the first part of the Japanese translations never changed during the period considered: ``natural'' was constantly rendered by ``shizen''. By contrast, the Japanese terms for ``selection'' have dramatically changed over time. We identify some major breaks in the history of Japanese translations for ``natural selection''. From the end of the 1870s to the early 1880s, several translations were suggested in books and periodicals: ``shizen kanbatsu'', ``shizen tōta'', ``tensen''. Katō Hiroyuki adopted ``shizen tōta'' in 1882 and he undeniably played an important role in spreading this phrase as the standard translation for ``natural selection''. The most common Japanese translation of the Origin during the first half of the 20th century (by Oka Asajirō in 1905) also used ``shizen tōta''. Adramatic shift occurred after WWII, from ``tōta'' to ``sentaku''. While a linear interpretation could suggest a move from a ``bad'' translation to a better one, a closer analysis leads to more challenging insights. Especially we stress the role of the kanji restriction policy, which specified which kanji should be taught in schools and thus should be used in textbooks: ``tōta'' was not included in the list, which may have led to the good fortune of ``sentaku'' in the 1950\textendash 1960s. We think the hypothesis of the influence of Chinese translations is not a plausible one. As to conceptual differences between ``shizen tōta'' and ``sentaku'', they remain unconvincing as both terms could be interpreted as a positive or negative process: there is no clear reason to prefer one term over the other from the strict point of view of their meanings or etymology. Then, turning to the way terms are used, we compare translations of natural selection with translations of artificial or sexual selection. First we turn to the field of thremmatology (breeders): there, ``tōta'' (sometimes spelled in hiragana instead of kanji) often bore the meaning of culling; since 1917, breeders often used ``sentaku'' as a translation for ``selection''. However, quite surprisingly, breeders used two different terms for selection as a practice (``senbatsu''), and ``selection'' as in ``natural selection'' (``shizen sentaku''). Finally, we compare possible translations for ``sexual selection'' and ``matechoice'': here again, there are some good reasons to favour ``tōta'' over ``sentaku'' to avoid lexical confusion.
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https://hal-univ-paris10.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02649620
Contributor : Antoine Dauphragne <>
Submitted on : Friday, May 29, 2020 - 12:22:37 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, June 11, 2020 - 4:33:46 AM

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Taizo Kijima, Thierry Hoquet. Translating ``Natural Selection'' in Japanese: From ``Shizen Tōta'' to ``Shizen Sentaku'' , and Back?. Bionomina, 2013, 6 (1), pp.26--48. ⟨10.11646/bionomina.6.1.2⟩. ⟨hal-02649620⟩

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