I know that when I read sites like Wikipedia and there are foreign words they will often give the name with the original alphabet and spelling as well as a phonetic and a literal translation. So for instance the entry for Tokyo has (東京 Tōkyō, "Eastern Capital") next to the first use of Tokyo.

I had this thought because I was debating on how to translate the name of a place near where I live. It's called Little Italy (think China town but Italian). I was going to translate it phonetically as リトルイタリア but I think that loses some of the meaning so I was going to add 小さいイタリア with the specification that it was a literal translation.

So my question is how do I indicate that something is a literal translation not a phonetic translation?

  • Little Italy is just a metaphor; There is no other Italy than Italy. Its literal meaning is not 'small Italy'; it's origin is. When it comes to proper nouns, you should not consider its origin as the literal meaning. Your idea of translating it as 小さいイタリア is as rediculous as translating New York into Japanese as '新しいヨーク. If you feel 新しいヨーク` is strange but 小さいイタリア is not, then I must say that you have some kind of bias with languages.
    – user458
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 4:02
  • @sawa: For that matter, I think it'd be 新ヨーク ;-)
    – Dave
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 5:01
  • 4
    While I agree that 小さいイタリア sounds very strange, it seems a little over the top to start accusing people of bias again, doesn't it? There are reasons one might give a literal translation. For example, in explaining how NYC got its name, 新ヨーク might reasonably be used, might it not? Lots of literal translations sound odd. That's kind of the nature of the beast. Also, there is more than one Little Italy, as well as Little Japans, Little Koreas, etc., so the "little" is descriptive even if the "New" of NY no longer is. 小さいイタリア or 子イタリア might give a flavor of how we name such places in English.
    – rdb
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 5:14
  • 1
    You know what sounds slightly less strange? 小さなイタリア. Google results also suggest that it's orders of magnitude more common than 小さいイタリア. Same for the descriptive phrase "小さなイタリア人街" vs "小さいイタリア人街". Wonder what that's about.
    – Matt
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 5:44
  • 1
    @sawa I wasn't going to call it 小さいイタリア the entire time I was talking about it. I simply wanted to add some clarification to the phonetic translation in a similar way to the Wikipedia example I listed. I agree it would be ridiculous sounding to say 新ヨーク whenever you refer to New York. As much as referring it Tokyo as the Eastern Capital all the time would be. But if you were introducing something to a person who had never heard of it and giving some background then I think providing a literal translation is quite valid. rdb had the idea of where I was coming from. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


First of all, I think you'd be better off with "リトル・イタリー". Second, I think most Japanese are familiar with "リトル", so it might be better to forgo the literal translation and include something descriptive instead. "イタリア系の人が多く住む地区" or "イタリア料理のレストランが多い地区", depending on what kind of Little Italy you mean. If you must, "直訳:小さいイタリア" would indicate that it's a literal translation.


Not sure what the point of a literal translation is here, as there would be many better ways to explain what "Little Italy" is without resorting to "小さいイタリア".

Beside the perfectly fine katakana transliteration, you could always take example on similar neighbourhoods in Japan:

"Chinatown" (aka "Little China") in Yokohama is 中華街, so "Little Italy" could be イタリア街 or even 伊街, if you want to make it really obscure.

  • Good suggestion. You can also say イタリア人街. But becareful that usually only nationalities can be used. Thus, Little Tokyo will translated to 日本人街, not 東京人街.
    – user458
    Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 17:14
  • I probably should have been clearer in my post. My goal was not to sum up the entire place by providing a literal translation, it was to augment the description I was already going to be giving. So I would be using the literal translation in much the same way that the Wikipedia articles use it. Name (literal translation) - explanation However, I do like the tip about using 街 after a nationality name. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 18:30

You must log in to answer this question.

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