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I've been struggling with the word わけ which is taught as meaning reason, but I am not convinced "reason" is its true meaning because it doesn't make sense, especially with the the expression わけがない, sentences become nonsensical. I have done some research and found that わけ or 訳 is used to mean translate, translation, interpretation. If I see わけではない and わけがない from the perspective of "translation/interpretation" these expressions make more sense.

Am I correct?

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Disclaimer : I'm not a native speaker, not even an advanced learner, this is just my current comprehension of the わけ-expressions.

訳 can mean two very different things. When it is read やく, it's translation/interpretation, but when it's read わけ, it actually really means reason (as well as meaning/cause/result, it's kind of connected). And it makes perfect sense, I don't understand why you think it doesn't.

Dictionary check.
reason : a statement offered in explanation or justification, a rational ground or motive, the thing that makes some fact intelligible, a cause.

1. ...わけだ

This one is complicated, and has been thoroughly analyzed here : How to end a sentence in わけ
But just looking at the keywords in the graph there is "reason, cause, know fact, result". It all stem from わけだ meaning "it's the reason/cause for..." and has been extended in all kind of direction.

2. ...わけがない

there is no reason for ... (No rational grounds, no logic, out of common sense)
It's a strong negation of a reason for someone to do something or for something to exist or be in some state. If a friend keep insisting that Santa Claus is real, at some point you can get annoyed and say :

サンタクロースがいるわけがない !

There is no reason for Santa Claus to exist ! Santa Claus can't possibly exist ! There can be no Santa Claus!

3. ...わけにはいかない

The reason for ... won't go. (The reason for ... is not acceptable)
One cannot do something due to external pressure, usually common sense/society rules. Often translated "I can't afford to ..." to stress that we can't do something because it's not reasonable.

隣の部屋で今、赤ちゃんが寝ているので、ピアノを弾くわけにはいかない。 I can't afford to play the piano because the baby is sleeping in the next room.

So here clearly it's not because I lack the competence that I can't play the piano, it's because it's common sense to not wake up a sleeping baby, so "the reason for playing the piano won't go" (is not acceptable).

4. ...わけではない

Mildly deny the previous (and sometimes the following) statement.
Literally previous statement is not a reason for...

A:「天気予報によると明日は晴れるだろう。」
B:「雨は降らないわけではない。」

A: The weather forecast calls for clear skies tomorrow.
Literally B: (this statement is) not a reason for "rain won't fall"
More natural B: It doesn't mean it won't rain.

This was a quick tour and I'm sure I simplified and misrepresented a lot of things. The わけ-expressions are now idiomatic expressions, so they have been extended in all kind of way and the root meaning can be sometimes a bit blurry. Still I think all of them can be reasonably (^^) traced back to 訳 meaning reason.

Edit : By the way, I would like to add that this post is heavily based on the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, as well as this amazing blog post (a must read IMHO) https://nihongodaybyday.blogspot.com/2014/05/blog-post.html

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  • In the following example 訳 means translation, however. あなたの訳を彼の訳と比べてみなさい。 = Compare your translation with his. I still feel "reason" is a misleading translation of the word. Perhaps "reasoning" is better or also "deciphering" and more related to both concepts translation and interpretation. 訳 translated as "reason" may be circumstantial but not its genuine meaning... – Leafur Nov 29 '19 at 17:58
  • In your example 訳 is not read as わけ. It's read as やく. They share the same kanji but it's clearly different words, with different etymology so I'm not sure how much we can blend the two in each other. Also I think in modern japanese わけ is rarely used as a noun by itself anyway, it's more used in set expression like 言い訳 (excuse) or the わけがない/わけではない stuff so it's probably better to get a feel for all of them separately. – Thomas Petit Nov 30 '19 at 7:24

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