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In the video game Mother 3, there is a group of beings called the Magypsy, who are rumored to be very old. While talking to humans, one of them says the following:

人間なんて生きるにしても死ぬにしても精々たった100年。

Note: The game's text is in almost all kana; kanji are mine. The original text is, 「にんげんなんて いきるにしても しぬにしても せいぜい たった100ねん。」

While my guess is that this means something along the lines of, "A human life, from beginning to end, lasts at best a hundred years", I'm wondering about the exact meaning of the 「~にしても」construction. Jisho translates 「にしても」as "even if", but I can't find a way to phrase this sentence like that - "... even if they live, even if they die..." doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

Is this some grammatical form I'm not familiar with, or is it perhaps my interpretation of the sentence that's the problem?

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This page has examples of this 「AにしてもBにしても」 structure: jplang.tufs.ac.jp/int2/bu/17/bu-9.html –  naruto Aug 4 at 11:35
    
Is that a typo 「経った100年」? I would think たった as in 唯【ただ】? –  Brandon Aug 4 at 13:15
    
Searching online I find it written this way: 「人間なんて、生きるにしても、死ぬにしても、せいぜいたった100ねん。」 –  snailboat Aug 4 at 13:21
    
@Brandon The game text is almost all in Kana; so while I'm sure it's たった, I might have selected the wrong Kanji. I forgot to mention this in the question, will edit –  waldrumpus Aug 4 at 14:11
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"たった" here is the 連体詞 which means only, and usually is written in kana. "経った" (passed) is not really relevant. –  naruto Aug 4 at 14:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The sense of both verbs is active rather than passive sense. In that case "live or die as they might" could be a closer interpretation.

It may refer to the fact that humans barely live longer than a hundred years despite their best efforts, and nothing that they do lasts more than a century (thus the "die as they might" part).

As for 「~にしても」, it might make more sense if you interpreted it as "even if one (actively does an action)", rather than the simplistic "even if". It pertains to the consideration of the performance of some action, rather than referring to the action happening.

For considering the passive happening of some action, 「~としても」would be your ticket. For example, 「雨が降るとしても、天気が晴れるとしても、俺は傘を持っているから問題ない。」 would mean "Whether it may rain or it may be sunny, I've got my umbrella so there's no problem."

If we were to substitute 「~にしても」for 「~としても」, it would anthropomorphize the weather by giving it some sort of "will", as in "Whether the rain chooses to fall, or the weather decides to be sunny..."

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The best English phrase that I could think of that would retain the nuance of the original is:

"whether they live or die".

You do not need to translate 「にしても」 twice just because it is used twice in the original. What is more important is how things sound in the target language.

The first 5 characters 「人間なんて」 already tells us that the speaker looks down on humans pretty badly. The rest of the sentence only reassures that fact.

"Humans, whether they live or die, we're only talking in the order of 100 years at best."

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I can't disagree about the "best English phrase" especially if we want to be close as possible to the original Japanese but, based on your explanation, but if this were for the official English version of this game, then the OP's suggestion seems as natural as anything a native would say(?) –  Tim Aug 4 at 12:58
    
@Tim I agree with 非回答者's proposed translation; mine was not intended to sound natural, but rather to depict my understanding of the phrase's meaning –  waldrumpus Aug 4 at 14:14
    
Why does 人間なんて imply that the speaker looks down on humans? I assume it's the なんて part, but I thought that just meant "and the like" or "et cetera"? –  Ataraxia Aug 4 at 15:05
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@Ataraxia Making reference nonspecific when there's no literal reason to do so is often taken as disparaging or belittling—you can do it with なんて, なんか, など, たり, だの, とか, etc., though the association is especially strong with なんて. If you want to read about the topic in detail, Satoko Suzuki describes it in Pejorative Connotation: A Case of Japanese (1996). –  snailboat Aug 4 at 15:12
    
@snailboat, interesting! This has to be a cross-linguistical phenomenon. "Guys like him" has pejorative connotations in English as well. –  dainichi Aug 5 at 1:08

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