The Japanese Language

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The Japanese Language

Greg Sam 6 Sept 2014 Catanzaro Italy Greg Sam Catanzaro 6 Sept 2014

ここに えいごおはなせるひとはいますか。   Koko ni eigo o hanaseru hito wa imasu ka.   Does anyone here speak English?

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Nihongo        Japan language

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Ni                                   hon                          go

Chickie, 25, singing in Los Angeles after the war.

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Kanji_-_Max_Clarke(2)

All license plate photographs are courtesy of Max Clarke.

For native English speakers, the Japanese language is one of the hardest languages to learn.  It is difficult for us to learn to speak well, because it is unlike English in almost every way.  Yes, the writing is very difficult, but the thought process itself is almost the complete reverse from English.  These facts make Japanese a fascinating and interesting language to study.

awa

Japanese is quite similar to, of all languages, Latin. Both idioms are heavily inflected, so there is often no need for pronouns. Pretend you are sending a telegram where every word costs a lot. So you are going to try to say something meaningful with absolutely as few words as possible. That’s Japanese.  You don’t say ‘I bought,’ you say ‘bought.’  ’I bought a book’ becomes ‘bought book.’  You don’t say ‘I love you.’  You say ‘loving.’ This isn’t slangy or colloquial. It is built into the language which is telegraphic in the extreme.

ami

writing system

awata

There can be, and often are, four different writing systems in one Japanese sentence, anyone of which would be sufficient to write the entire language: kanji, hiragana, katakana and Romaji (Rome letters, which is what the Japanese call our alphabet).

fujita

charactersystems

Or, as one of the early Jesuits in Japan, probably Matteo Ricci, put it, one hesitates for an epithet strong enough to describe a language where a separate writing system is required to explain the existing writing system.

ama

ikebukuro-subway-sign

Three different writing systems on one subway sign.  Any one of these systems would be capable of writing Tokyo Metro Ikebukuro Station.

sayaka

japanese-wa

Japanese has cases like Latin or German or Russian. There are small one syllable words to mark what case it is. This word wa can mark the nominative case.

  • は wa for the topic which can be different from the subject of the sentence.
私は寿司がいいです。 Watashi wa sushi ga ii desu. (literally) “As for me, sushi is good.”   or   I like sushi.

 hiroko

Yesterday I book bought.            Yesterday book bought.      The word order is like Latin. Subject, Object, Verb.

dwelling

大和言葉      yamato kotoba     wago 和語       The words the Japanese use for their original, native language before the adoption of so many Chinese words which came along with the Chinese writing system.

naomi

ikura

I ku ra   (how much?):   Until you get a feel for how Japanese is stressed, it is probably a good idea to put equal stress on every syllable. Count 1,2,3 and listen to how you say each number very evenly. Then try to accent the Japanese the same way.  1  2  3   i  ku ra. Give the last syllable as much stress as you do the second syllable. 1  2  3. I ku ra.

ata

I ku ra. I put ra in italics, because for English speakers, there is a strong tendency to swallow or minimize that last syllable, I ku (ra), but in Japanese it is as strongly pronounced as the other two syllables. 1 2 3.  I ku ra.

med span janaína

Remember to ‘roll the r’ so to an Anglophone the word will sound like i ku da.

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English speakers like to accent the penultimate syllable, so for the airport name in Tokyo, Narita, what English speakers say is something like ‘Na REE da,’ (same stress pattern as I need a…) which no Japanese is going to understand. Say Narita like 1 2 3   Na dee ta  1  2  3 and at least you will be understood. Be sure and pronounce the T as in Tom, and roll the r.  Because your giving equal stress to each syllable, it will sound to you, an English speaker, as if the last syllable is the one stressed but it is merely being given equal stress which you are not used to hearing.

med span laura

If you say Na dee TAH, you will be much closer to the actual Japanese pronunciation of this airport name.

Yukiko_Hirohara

Here is an example of two phrases that we use that have three equal parts with almost equal stress. They are:  coup d’état and ‘stay on top.’

med span ramada

If you say Narita with even stress on each syllable, as in coup d’état, it will be much more comprehensible than the Na REE da that rhymes with ‘Juanita.’

ara

1  2  3    Na  ri  ta.  Stay on top.

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head good

Head good. Atama ii.     She’s smart.    She has a good head.   See how telegraphic the language is?  In English, we say ‘Smart,’ and that gets the idea across, but ‘smart’ is colloquial, laconic.  Not in Japanese.  In Japanese ‘head good’ is a perfectly normal way to say ‘she’s smart.’

caliente

b526You are smart.  (As for you, head good.)

uj-9

Japanese has a stress system that sounds to us like a metronome. Very even and, to us, unaccented.  Our language is so stressed, so accented that imPORtant SYLlables tend to LEAP OUT at you. UnderSTAND?  Japanese is much more even.

jaq

When you hear a Japanese speaker speaking quickly, the speech can sound like those syllables that Indian tabla players say. Japanese can sound like a drum solo.

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こちらは田中さんです    Kochira wa Tanaka-san desu      This is Ms./Mrs./Mr. Tanaka.

papa

ta na

田中さんは、お金持ち、かっこよくて、魅力的ですね。
Tanaka-san is rich, handsome, and charming, isn’t he?         

ta na ka

jap sachi

Different ways to address someone, male or female, who is named Tanaka. The first vertical line of characters on the left is Tanaka-kun. This is the way young people address each other.

jap shiho

The second vertical line above reads Tanaka-chan, and this is an imitation of the way babies pronounce ‘san,’ so it is used to speak to infants and small children or someone very familiar to the speaker.

jaq elena

The third line is Tanaka-sama. Sama is an honorific title, almost like saying ‘reverend,’ or ‘honored.’

jap superfly

The first vertical line on the right above is Tanaka-san, the usual way of addressing someone named Tanaka.

jap yasuda

Dative case:         田中さんにあげて下さい。 Tanaka-san ni agete kudasai        Please give it to Mr. Tanaka.  

face

takuya body

jap fukuda

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Yatta!     やった!    Did it!      He doesn’t see the need to say ‘I.’

Supongi_Bobu_wa_kakkoii_da_by_donphan

彼がやった。        Kare ga yatta.            He did it.

jap densha

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kakkoii cool

It’s cool.   Kakkoii.

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Urayamashii!     羨ましい!         Jealous!       I, you, she, he, it, we, they  The pronoun is unspecified and depends on the context. Japanese is a very ‘telegraphic’ language. If someone says in English, “What are you doing?” you can say “Thinking” because the context makes it clear who is thinking.

jap bruna

It’s the same in Japanese, only more so.

fond_yukata教えてもらった 

Oshiete moratta    She explained it to me.

chiune

Oshiete ageta (教えてあげた)     [I/we] explained [it] to [him/her/them]

snow

驚いた彼は道を走っていった。Odoroita kare wa michi o hashitte itta.      The amazed he ran down the street.  

jap aiko

This isn’t said this way in English but it is in Japanese. I suppose it’s more like  Amazed, he ran down the street.

henna gaijin geisha

Ablative case:     日本に行きたい。 Nihon ni ikitai ”I want to go to Japan.”

a party

パーティーへ行かないか。      pātī e ikanai ka?      Won’t you go to the party?

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Genitive case:         私のカメラ。      watashi no kamera        my camera         

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スキーに行くが好きです。        Sukī-ni iku no ga suki desu      (I) like going skiing.

shira

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  • を o for the accusative case.     Not necessarily an object.           何を食べますか。 Nani o tabemasu ka?      What will (you) eat?

oishii delicious     Oishii.       Delicious.       You hear and say this word very often in Japan.

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genius       Genius.

otanjoobi

bib

aishoka bibliophile       Aishoka         bibliophile

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hon (本)    book, books        There is no plural.     It’s like ‘sheep’  or ‘deer.’           Every noun in Japanese can be singular or plural.

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人        hito        person   or  people

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ii desu (いいです)     It is OK.                ii desu-ka いいですか。Is it OK?

namae

お名前は?      O namae wa         (What’s your) name?.

ayako

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Pan o taberu パンを食べる。 I will eat bread or I eat bread

kazu

Pan o tabenai  パンを食べない。 I will not eat bread or I do not eat bread   Pan o tabenakatta  パンを食べなかった。  I did not eat bread.

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変なひと          hen na hito          a strange person

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Photo:   Max Clarke

henna-gaijin

gaijin

Gai jin:    We are often called this when we are in Japan.       henna-gaijin_122x33        henna gaijin  weird foreigners

goodbye_japanese

The first rule of saying “you” in Japanese is that you don’t say “you” in Japanese.  That’s only a slight exaggeration.

tomoko

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It is worth noting that the word you isn’t in any of these three sentences. In day to day speech there are very few pronouns in Japanese.

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君の名は希望             Kimi no Na wa Kibou     Your name is hope.         kimi ”you” (君 ”lord”)    Kimi is a word for you used by boyfriends for their girlfriends.

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貴方     Anata ”you” (あなた ”that side, yonder”)    Married women use this ‘you’ when speaking to their husbands.

chizuko

It then comes to mean something like the American affectionate term ‘honey.’  If written 貴女 (anata), the person addressed is female.

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お前 (omae) – your pet, someone very close to you or someone you hate. It literally means in front or facing.

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己      onore          Someone you really hate

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貴様          kisama          This is a you that you really don’t like.

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汝      nanji            thou

miho and daughter

sonata

其方         (sonata)         archaic and similar to thou

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てめえ              temee           Someone you really hate

yakuza

You might be yakuza you hate them so much.

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お宅               otaku                 someone emotionally distant and unknown to you

me

Pronouns are not much used in Japanese. In fact, they may be less used than anywhere else in the world. Here are, however, some pronouns for I/me and what they say about the speaker.    The most common word for I is 私 watashi.  Japanese often point to their nose when we would point to our heart to say “Me?”

untitled

Once again, try to keep the syllable stress equal until you get a feel for the accent.  The stress really is there, but it is much more subtle than in English, so try to say 私 watashi the way you would say 1 2 3 with equal stress on each syllable.    wa ta shi 1 2 3.

meg

Listen carefully to how a native speaker says the word.

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atashi  Almost the same word as watashi and it is written the same but this word is used by girls and guys-who-want-to-be-girls only.  Yoko is saying atashi here. How do I know? Because those little tiny characters to the right of 私 say atashi.  Those small ‘letters’ are called furigana and they are what I was talking about earlier when I quoted the Jesuit who said something like ‘one hesitates for an epithet strong enough to describe a written language that needs another written language to explain it.’ Furigana are often used, as here, to give the ‘alphabetic’ (actually ‘syllabic’) rendering of a kanji. They are often used in childrens’ books and in texts for non Japanese speakers. It seems very out of character to me that Yoko would call herself atashi. She seems a much stronger character than that, although atashi perfectly renders the English Just me! The middle line says Ono Yoko in katakana. So here you see on one signboard four systems of writing, kanji, hiragana, katakana and romaji.

watakushi

watakushi, first person pronoun used by rich old men, butlers and princesses.

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boku has the literal meaning servant.    Used by female or male prepubescent children or young boys.

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ore        This is the rough, tough I.  Truck drivers, lumberjacks and other manly men use it.

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ora   How farmers and other rural people say ‘I.’

can

nanda project

Japan 1960

donatadesuka who is it        Who is it?

Iba

I have a friend named Yukiko but I am not sure what kanji she uses to write her name.  There are several choices.

Yuki  happiness, fortune

    Yuki      will, intention, motive

American speakers say her name like Yu KEE ko to rhyme with ‘you freako,’ but Japanese say her name like 1  2  3. Yu Ki Ko to rhyme with ‘don’t you know?’  The Ko is as important as the Ki. More important actually, since Ko has a separate meaning. Yukiko’s husband Peter calls her Yuki. It’s a more grown up name.

P73_motoya-yukiko

Yukiko means Yuki girl, or even Yuki child, so there has been a feminist movement in Japan to drop the Ko after women’s names.  The woman’s name becomes Yuki, or Yo, or Nori, instead of Yukiko, Yoko or Noriko.

I have a teacher, a 先生, on Okinawa. Her name is Nao, but she was probably born Naoko. Nao has several meanings. This kanji means big, large, great.  Not the most flattering name for a woman.

   This nao can mean furthermore/still/yet/more/still more/greater/further/less.  Rather abstract for a woman’s name.

  This nao means what it looks like:   direct/in person/soon/at once/just/near by/honesty/frankness/simplicity/cheerfulness/correctness/being straight/night duty.  I could see this word being used for a woman’s name.

    Or this?   I’m just guessing because I did not see Nao-san’s name written when I was on Okinawa.

Nao JJ Remy Sam Elise 2011 October

     Nao-san, left above, was my 先生  sensei, teacher on Okinawa.  These kanji read ‘Naoko,’ but she dropped the ko and became Nao.

Sam-Andrew-Nao-sensei

Photo:   Wesley Freeman

konkai

  in hiragana is   and in katakana is    and in romaji is Naoko.

SailorMoon-PrismTime-01              TheCherryProject-01

Nao’s name may be written several different ways in kanji alone.  She can be or or or and several other ways as well.  Sometimes a person will change the ‘spelling’ of her name for many different reasons at different stages in her life.

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hito ga ii goodnatured

Hito ga ii.     Good person.   Good natured person.

Japanese medicine

2010-07-16

sho

暑い atsui ”to be hot”) which can become past (暑かった atsukatta ”it was hot”), or negative (暑くない atsuku nai ”it is not hot”). Note that nai is also an i adjective, which can become past (暑くなかった atsuku nakatta ”it was not hot”     ご飯が熱い。 Gohan ga atsui. ”The rice is hot.”     熱くなる atsuku naru ”become hot”.

Takayama_Jinai

Takayama Jinai       Japanese name written with four characters.      Takayama means ‘high mountain.’

No Parking Within 100 Years

あの山      ano yama      that mountain

Back Camera

scene

日本の国の美しさが心に沁みた。

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美しい景色を見ていると心が慰められる。   Utsukushii keshiki o miteiru to kokoro ga nagusamerareru.

ae

Looking at beautiful scenery is a consolation to me.

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Bullet train.    Shinkansen.     Photo:  Max Clarke

omoshiroii amusing

la machine infernale

Omoshiroii.        Interesting, funny.

guilliotina

omoshiroi

miyuki

She doesn’t think so.

phrases

The phrase under the images means Ten common phrases that stump Japanese students of English

japanese language school

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This gentleman will pay for everything.     この人が全部払います    (konohito ga zembu haraimasu)

aoka

nagata yoichi

永田陽一         実際にあったことだ。     Jissai ni atta koto da.        It actually happened.

erika

ayaka-shiomura

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Calpis Pocari Sweat

In Japan there are soft drinks named sweat and piss.

aieko

shigoto

donnashigotooshiteiruno job?

Donna shigoto o shite iru no.

car dismember

What kind of work do you do?

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彼女は写真より実際のほうが美しい。

yamada

Kanojo wa shashin yori jissai no hou ga utsukushii.      She is prettier than her picture.

apa

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彼は変わり者だと評判だが実際そうだ。  Kare wa kawarimono da to hyouban daga jissai sou da.      He is said to be eccentric and he really is.

boats Okinawa

ana

a cool uke

akarui cheerful

Cheerful.       Akarui.

beauty, Okinawa

masuda-san

clever

Clever.     Kashikoi.

aca

Massan

doushita no what's the matter

What’s the matter?   (Doo shita no.)

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I spilled coffee in my car.

Japanese fans

bar scene
だいじょうぶです。      Dai joobu desu.    That’s all right.

baba

You hear the question だいじょうぶです Dai joobu desuka? a lot in Japan. Everyone is trying to reassure each other. Is it OK? Is it allowed?

masuda

魅力的。 みりょくてき。   attractive

Okinawan by Larry Henson

ada

Elise Sam David Hicks

sorewaitsudattano when was that

wes,elise,gary, bert

When was that?

keizo

Keizo

miho

greet5

aba

Sam Michel Kyoto 1995

Sam Andrew                                        Michel Bastian          Kyoto     1995            Photo:   Keizo Yamazawa

Sam Andrew 1995 Kyoto

きょうとにいったことありますか。      kyōto ni itta koto ga arimasuka.          Have you ever been to Kyoto?

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