In 2006, College Board, the company that operates the Advanced Placement Program®, began offering an AP course in "Japanese Language and Culture"
After participating at the margins of a few local activities with Japanese teachers, I received a commemorative T-shirt which lists the Kanji included in the AP examination. The T-shirt is labeled "AP日本語と文化" and is covered, front and back, with the Kanji characters.
That heading "AP日本語と文化" features an interesting problem in what linguists call modifier scope.
"AP日本語と文化" is a translation of the course title "Japanese Language and Culture."1
However, since the English title features scope ambiguity
, it is difficult to translate.
In the phrase "Japanese language and culture", the modifier "Japanese" might be seen to modify both "language and culture" (wide scope), or just the word "language" (narrow scope). In other words, the phrase could mean either
Japanese language AND Japanese culture
Japanese language AND (some unspecified) culture.
Of course, common sense (or what linguistic anthropologists call "communicative competence") tells us that the wide scope understanding makes the most sense.
However, in the T-shirt's translation, "AP日本語と文化", this scope ambiguity does not exist. That is because 日本語 is a single word that means "the Japanese language"2
. Therefore, 日本語と文化 means basically the same as a narrow scope reading of the English phrase, our second example above. Again, given our common sense understandings, it's clear that the 文化 most relevant to 日本語 is 日本の文化, Japanese culture.
It would have been possible to translate "Japanese language and culture" as "日本の言語と文化" (or if you prefer, "日本の言葉と文化"), the language and culture of Japan. This has the same scope ambiguity as the English original, but it introduces still another
ambiguity. Unlike English, where the difference between plural and singular must be indicated, Japanese does not typically mark this difference. Therefore 日本の言語 could mean either "the language of Japan" (日本語) or "the languages
of Japan". The latter could include Japanese, Okinawan and Ainu, as well as, arguably Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, English, and any number of other languages currently spoken in the country.
難しい。1The T-shirt was made by teachers and students, not College Board. In a Japanese press release, College Board calls the program "Japanese Language and CultureのAdvanced Placement Program®コース." You might call that a non-translation-translation.
2You could say 日本語 means "Japanese" in the sense of "the Japanese language". Unlike English, where the word "Japanese" could mean "the Japanese language", "Japanese people" or more broadly "of or pertaining to Japan", Japanese has separate, albeit related words for each of these (日本語、日本人、日本(の) respectively).