My bookshelf

Like the title says. These are some of the paper references I use in my work as a translator and editor. (The links take you to pages on the things.) Of course I do plenty of research and look up lots of terms online, but Wikipedia and Google and so on have yet to replace the dead trees in my life.


J-J dictionaries

大辞林 – I have this in paper, as well as in data for use in Logophile; I even bought the iPhone app too since it’s so nicely done there.

広辞苑 – This is considered the “standard” J-J dictionary, but I don’t like it as much as things like 大辞林 and 大辞泉 (another one I have at home) since it lists definitions in their historical order, so you have to wade through a bunch of archaic meanings before you get to what words mean today. (See what lexicon whiz Tom Gally has to say about this in his very informative page on Japanese [国語] dictionaries.) That said, it’s a classic reference and as such it has a place on my shelf, as well as in data form in Logophile.

Some good 漢和辞典. These seem to have fallen by the wayside to a greater extent than anything else in my collection, but I do browse through them from time to time.

The 日本国語大辞典 by Shōgakukan is one I use at the office. I don’t have my own copy because it costs nearly ¥200,000 to assemble all the volumes; that Amazon link is just for volume 1. But this is the Japanese answer to the OED, basically: the biggest out there.

Also in the “have it at the office and lack shelf space for it at home” category is the 日本大百科全書, or Encyclopedia Nipponica. I do have this in data format as well. It came with a Sony electronic dictionary my wife was kind enough to get for me for my birthday some years ago. It is also searchable via Logophile, which makes it very handy indeed.

J-E dictionaries

Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary – This is called the “green goddess” by translators for its cover color; it’s a standard reference. (The E-J version is the “brown behemoth.”) The fifth edition is a fantastic improvement on the fourth and deserves a place on the serious learner’s bookshelf. A CD-ROM version is also available. You can also purchase online access to a frequently updated version.

The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary – The best-known of all the 漢英 Japanese resources. This (well, the second revised edition) is the book I used in my university days to pound kanji into my head.

Bungo Manual – This little book is a great one for advanced learners who want to puzzle out the meanings of some older forms in the language. Classical Japanese isn’t something you need to be able to read on a daily basis, but exposure to its forms will help you decipher a lot of the things that you do see in use in Japanese to this day.

A Dictionary of Japanese Food – This slender volume has come in handy a number of times. Nice to have as a general reference when living in Japan, even if you aren’t a translator.

E-E references

Webster’s New World College Dictionary – This is our desk dictionary at the office; that means it decides how we spell things for our publications (unless a client tells us otherwise). We use this in conjunction with the Webster’s New World Speller/Divider, which is a small book with sturdy pages for rapid flipping. A much better choice when you’re proofing a layout and want to quickly confirm a word’s spelling or a hyphenation choice. Perhaps not so useful to people not in the publishing industry, though.

The Chicago Manual of Style – Our house style guide at Japan Echo Inc. It looks like the 16th edition will be coming out later this summer. We have an additional guide about 10 pages long to set down our rules for things not covered in Chicago; many of these match the rules you can find in . . .

Japan Style Sheet – This little style guide is put out by the Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators and is worth owning if you do any writing on Japan.

Battle scars

Other style guides. One major client prefers that we use the Associated Press Stylebook (AP just came out with a new edition that I need to pick up). I also have the Economist and New York Times manuals for my own reading pleasure.

There’s also a handy little book called 和英翻訳データブック put out by the Japan Times. This one, and its predecessor (英文ライターのための和英翻訳ハンドブック), have largely been replaced by the Web when it comes to searching for the official English name of some government department or whatever, but when I’m translating a text that refers to the central bureaucracy as it stood in the 1990s, say, these are lifesavers. If JT ever puts out a new version I’ll likely get it too. Handy little Japan references for translators and reporters.

7 thoughts on “My bookshelf

  1. As language changes quickly, do you buy new dictionaries on a regular basis? Or do you rely on the Internet to make sure you use the most up-to-date terminology? In my work, I find that language shifts constantly and that new terms are constantly being created, especially in the field of international development, and so I couldn’t solely rely on paper dictionaries.

  2. Ahh, the Green Goddess and Brown Behemoth. Fond memories of those from my days at the newspaper.

    I go back to the Economist style guide every once and a while for yucks. Witty and interesting.

  3. @ Céline: I don’t purchase new reference books all that often. When new editions of the things I already use come out, I get them (will be adding new versions of the AP and Chicago guides this summer), but I’m no lexicographer and I don’t have endless bookshelf space in my Tokyo apartment! And yes, the Web does have lots of the answers I need, although sometimes when I’m dealing with an essay on some obscure historical topic Wikipedia can’t help me, while the books in the library across the street can.

    @ Daniel: Yeah, I’ve never had to use it for a job but I do like browsing its pages for some fresh input from time to time. Plus I got it as part of some combo deal with an economics primer that’s helped me get up to speed in some areas I never studied at school, so that’s all good.

  4. How did you even get started in being a translator? Do you have to have a degree in it? Years of experience? What do entry level jobs require?


  5. @ Jenny: I got started by getting a job at the publisher where I now work. My university major was Japanese, but I’d never studied translation specifically. Have a look at this post for more info on this sort of stuff.

  6. I love that you have a bungo reference. I took a class on bungo in college (in the US) and it was wildly enlightening. So many obscure grammatical constructions suddenly made sense! I highly recommend a bit of bungo study for any intermediate-to-advanced learners out there.

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