In English, programming projects (and large systematic projects in general) typically take their descriptive cues from well-known manufacturing/construction industry jargon, i.e. "blueprint", "assembly", "infrastructure", "building", "attaching", "extending"...the list goes on, but the essential metaphor is one of a physical structure like a building or vehicle.

From what I've looked at in WWWJDIC, the nuance doesn't seem to line up exactly (not that WWWJDIC spends much space on describing nuance)--if I want to say, "construction of/building the system component", reaching from the dictionary, I have to make a choice from among 建築、造作、構築、建設、建てる(の), among many others. On the other hand, none of these entries contain clues as to whether or not I'm even barking up the right tree.

So the question is, what is the core metaphor for (programming) project development, and what kind of word choice am I looking for when I want to express a sentence like the above?

  • For reference, I went with 「実装」 as the sentence topic, but that's dodging the issue entirely. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 4:19
  • 1
    The sure way to go is to make the discussion a brass tacks, maximumly technical, discussion. Japanese programmers definitely know the 外来語 necessary for a precise, and easily understood, correspondence. Metaphors are absolutely impossible to translate.
    – davewp
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 4:27
  • 1
    To be honest, I hate 外来語・和製英語 and try to minimize its usage where appropriate. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 4:40
  • @TrevorAlexander but Japanese often love 外来語 for this sort of case.
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 5:21
  • 2
    If that can help you, I have already seen used by Japanese programmers the term 構築 in the context of software architecture, but not the other words you're giving in your question.
    – wip
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 14:54

2 Answers 2


This might be an overkill, but this book is dedicated to the subject: http://amzn.to/1fbjwj4

Published by the IPA Information-technology Promotion Agency to standardize the terminology used throughout the software life-cycle. Many big Japanese SIers dig it.

But that book is huge, so I'll give you some translations that we use (I've worked at Japanese SIers):

"blueprint" -> 設計書
"assembly" -> not sure, maybe 結合
"infrastructure" -> 基盤
"building" -> 構築
"attaching" -> 添付?
"extending" -> 拡張
  • It's an overkill....
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 13:11
  • wow, overkill, but definitely answers on this side of the spectrum are welcome. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 23:27


I don't believe you will find wide-sweeping solutions to your problem by, for example, using construction-related words.

From my experience in translation, it seems to me that the Japanese word chosen is the word that most accurately describes the action, and not necessarily based on a metaphor. My personal opinion is that Japanese writing, based on Kanji, lends itself more to 'recombination' of meanings than 'borrowing' from a theme. To me, this is a major difference between word-based and character-based vocabularies.

For instance, my wife is a medical translator, and I've noticed that words that are extremely hard to understand in English are incredibly simple in Japanese because they are based on combining meanings. For example 'ozostomia' is 口臭 (mouth + stink). peribronchitis is 気管支周囲炎 (windpipe+around+inflamed). Don't even need a dictionary to understand them.

I know the argument can be made that these are based on Latin or Greek, and one can trace the etymology. I think demonstrates the inherent need in English to 'pull' from the past. Pull from Latin, pull from Greek, pull from similar-meaning words in other contexts and adapt them. Whereas, Chinese and Japanese have, for lack of a better word, a lego-block vocabulary. And since the need to pull words from the past is not needed, I don't believe this mindset to use metaphorical themes is prevalent.

I've digressed a bit here, but what I'm trying to say is that it's very easy to make new words in Japanese, and not so much in English - so in English we tend to look for 'parallels' and adopt an existing word into a new capacity. We can't expect the same perspective from Japanese language, which I think is what you are looking for.


However, if you are not sure what word to use, the best thing to do is check example sentences, rather than the words in your dictionary. Your probability of success making a metaphor-based guess of the words listed in your dictionary will not, in my opinion, allow you to use the word confidently, or even necessarily provide you the proper word.

I recommend checking any of the many online resources, (weblio is good these days) by typing the word in question, and comparing the meaning you 'want' against the sentences. For example, if you type 'architecture' you will see sentences that talk about the architecture of a building, and others that are about '16-bit architecture'. Compare and choose the most obvious and common words.

If I am translating a document with uncommon, obtuse, or difficult words, I will usually try to find some established use in patents. WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) is one good resource for this; with 2.2 million patents on file, you are sure to find something. Abstracts of Japanese patents are usually in Japanese and English on the same page, so it's easy to establish a usage history.

I hope this can help you when you're stuck, even though it may not have been the wide-brush answer to your problems you may have hoped for.

  • I appreciate the contribution very much, but I think the modular character of Japanese technical compounds and the effect of technical metaphors on vocabulary groupings are orthogonal issues. For instance, ozostomia is just as combinatoric: [From Greek ozostomos, having bad breath : ozein, to smell + -stomos, mouthed (from stoma, mouth).] What lends strength to Japanese compounds there is that Chinese characters are already naturalized; not so with Greco-Roman terminology. (For that reason, and others, I think Japanese should be the language of academia, not English.) Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 20:08
  • 1
    I think my medical reference is not a good reference because it makes readers focus too much on those words. I know they are generally Greek and Latin based. But in other fields, like electronics, we don't try to base them on Greco-Roman terminology, but look for 'metaphors' that carry similar meanings. In Japanese, since they don't have this constriction, I don't believe they have the mindset to use a theme-based vocabulary base - there's no need to. And therefore, you are unlikely to find a common theme. That is what I wanted to express. Thanks for the comment.
    – Kirk
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 2:09
  • Trevor, I updated my answer to incorporate my reply. You may or may not agree, but I hope at least the part on finding the right words is useful for you.
    – Kirk
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 2:45
  • @Trevor, I tend to agree with Kirk here and don't think the two issues are unrelated. Your question assumes there is a metaphor underlying terminology by saying "what is the core metaphor for (programming) project development" when Kirk's explanation is that your assumption may be faulty because of the language differences.
    – jmac
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 6:01
  • Assumes? I'm perfectly okay with an answer that says one does not exist as long as it is accompanied by supporting sources, as described in the bounty text. I'll agree that my question is optimistically phrased, but I only like it that way because it promotes discussion ;) Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 8:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .