Japanese Language and Culture: How Do You Say “Edit” in Japanese?
Nikki Littman interviewed by Renee Antebi
Key Words: Nikki Litman, Israel Association of Japanese Studies,
Nikki Littman was born in Manchester, England in 1968. She earned a BA in Japanese studies from Oxford University in 1992. During this time she spent a year researching Japanese early twentieth century women’s history at Hiroshima University. She completed her MA in Japanese Studies at the Hebrew University in 1998. Nikki has been teaching the Japanese language at the Hebrew University since 1994 and at Tel Aviv University since 1996.
Since she completed the Editing and Editorial Analysis Course at David Yellin College in Jerusalem in 2010, she has been working as an editor in the humanities and social sciences, not always connected to Japan or Japanese culture.
Q: How did you become involved in Japanese culture?
In school I was very interested in languages and having learnt some European languages (French, Spanish, Italian –and of course the compulsory Latin!) I became interested in non-European languages. As this was the 1980s, Japan was booming at the time and Japan was the country that caught my eye. I read some translated literature and this fuelled my interest. As a result, I decided to study Japanese at university …and the rest is history!
Q: How did you become an editor?
My first ever editing jobs (unpaid) were my friend’s MA thesis, which I agreed to do as a favor—unaware of her extremely poor level of English despite her being a native speaker, and a book on Jewish travel that my husband wrote.
After finishing the certificate program at David Yellin College, I felt ready to take on paid work and I edited a series of very complex articles in the field of linguistics. Amazingly, I got this job after an academic overheard a conversation I was having with a friend in a Jerusalem cafe about starting to look for work! …I am not sure that linguistics is my favorite field to edit, but it certainly set off my editing career with a bang!
Q:. Do you edit anything besides articles on Japan or Japanese culture?
Yes. I MOSTLY edit articles that are unrelated to Japan. In the field of Japanese studies, I edit for some of my university colleagues in the field and for the Israel Association of Japanese Studies (a newsletter and a small online journal).
Q: Do you think it is necessary to be an expert in the field in which you are editing?
Absolutely not. Also, Japanese studies fits into many disciplines – humanities, social sciences etc. – so I don’t think that my knowledge of Japan is always relevant. However, it is certainly helpful when it comes to names and places and the original language from where quotes are taken. A lot of my work is academic articles and books, and it is true that I have been around universities and the academic world most of my professional life…so from that point of view I am well placed to be an editor. However, I have no specific familiarity with most of the subjects I edit—which range from Jewish thought, the Holocaust, anthropology, education etc.— and I do not feel that this puts me at any disadvantage. Most importantly, I am and have always been a serious reader and am used to reading academic material, so I usually can feel how the writing should flow and fit together.
Q: What other types of editing have you done?
In the wide range of editing work I do (in addition to the academic stuff, I have also edited some fiction, memoirs, blogs and promotion materials), the only areas where I felt at a disadvantage and where I think experts are needed are in the fields of philosophy and linguistics. Here I really felt held back by my lack of knowledge, and I would question editing anything else in those fields.
Q: What is the best part of an editor’s job? What is the worst?
I really enjoy the different types of material that I face on a daily basis. I find it constantly challenging and enriching. I take great pleasure in helping a writer sound exactly as they wanted to sound.
My most frustrating work is when I am editing text which is a bad translation from Hebrew. I find this irritating firstly because it is impossible to hear the voice of the writer (and thus I need to work from the original Hebrew text as well) and secondly because I don’t understand how so many people who lack the skills are passing themselves off as translators!
Q: What advice do you have for someone just starting out as an editor?
- Try your hand at all different kinds of texts—don’t be put off by technical jargon!
- Don’t be frightened to price yourself fairly, take advice from experienced editors and don’t undercharge as it has a knock-on effect on all of us!
- Read, read and read.
- Always have at least one other copy of a document you are working on backed up in the cloud or on an external drive!