I'm translating a book (from Japanese), and character A says the following line to Character B during the conversation shown at the bottom of this page.


The above can be translated into two events – let's call them X and Z – occurring along separate levels of time, because the している "to do" connects the past event to present time.  Event X occurred far in the past, and may have been on-going. but has now stopped.  Event Z occurred in the recent past and has effects that are still relevant in the present.  Event Z occurred (became true) because event X became false.  The sentence basically follows the structure of "As long as X (far-in-past event, now false) continued Z (recent-past-present event, now true) would not occur".

Put together, the following is a possible translation with the changeable section (that represents Event X's far-past-to-present connection) in bold:

"As long as you lived a peaceful life you wouldn't have discovered it."

The above also allows for the following translations. The parentheticals I retrieved during my own research on tenses and how they are used came from this answer.

"As long as you had continued living a peaceful life..." (at a point in the past; continuously)

"As long as you were living a peaceful life..." (at a point in the past; in the past in general)

"As long as you had continued to live a peaceful life..." (before a point in the past)

"As long as you continued to live a peaceful life..." (up to and including a point in the past, continuously)

Which of the above choices is the best in terms of representing the original sentence's time construct of "As long as X (far-in-past event, now false) continued Z (recent-past-present event, now true) would not occur"?

Conversation provided for context:

Character A: “As for an ordinary person, in that situation they almost without a doubt would have panicked. Placed in that situation one would attempt to understand it, and while in confusion they will be killed. But you were different. You dealt with the situation before you understood it. That is your talent.”

Character B: "That sort of thing……is absurd.”

Character A: "Certainly until now, you probably didn’t notice your own such talent. As long as you lived a peaceful life you wouldn't have discovered it.

  • 1
    None of these are really AmE. Rather you'd phrase it had you lived a peaceful life, you wouldn't have discovered your talent. I don't read or speak Japanese, but in AmE the As long as you, seems superfluous. – David M Sep 8 '19 at 1:11
  • I think “As long as you were living a peaceful life, you couldn’t discover your talent.” is good AmE, idiomatic, grammatical. – Xanne Sep 8 '19 at 1:26
  • @Xanne Does it also work in terms of connecting the past (living a peaceful life) to the present? (I think it does because the 'were' is past tense, and the 'living' is present-continuous tense) – Toyu_Frey Sep 8 '19 at 1:28
  • 1
    This is not a proof-reading service. – David Sep 8 '19 at 19:16
  • 1
    The OP is not asking for proof-reading. Their question is about how to convey the sense of a Japanese statement in English. The grammar of Japanese does not permit a simple translation. There is a technical question about English grammar, but a much larger question about what the speech appropriate for a social interaction in Japanese would be in a similar social situation between English speakers of similar relative status. It’s a totally appropriate question, and the people who see this as off topic really ought to reconsider. – Global Charm Sep 9 '19 at 2:18

Perhaps the real challenge here is to represent the mood of the Japanese writer, and to do this in a form of English that signals the writer’s social position and general attitude to life. There are many “natural” ways to express the thought in English, as of course there are equally in Japanese.

If the writer is expressing condolence, it’s common in English to address the feeling as well as the event, such as:

Jo: I wish I’d never moved here.

Mo: Look on the bright side. If you hadn’t moved to Seattle, you’d have never owned a real raincoat.

Bo: If you’d kept on living the quiet life back east, you wouldn’t be riding on this volcano.

Japanese speakers and English speakers have different ways of addressing another person’s emotions. In the case of a life changing event, a lot depends on whether it was caused by the person or by circumstances. Sometimes the speaker wants to soften the sense of agency and responsibility, especially if a personal decision has gone wrong. Similarly, the “after” that compensates for the loss of the “before” might be given greater emphasis.

So we need more context here. The “if you had...” construction has already been mentioned in the comments. However, in expressing condolence, a more passive construction is often better, and the event itself can be deemphasized. A change from passive to active can be used to signal increased self-awareness, as in this example:

“It was a peaceful life back then. But you know a lot more about yourself now, wouldn’t you say?”

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.