I decided to write an article about the Japanese language for while my page deals with Japanese stuff it was developed for English-speaking audience. It’s obvious that many people haven’t started learning the language or find it a rather stupid idea since English is an international language and will allow to communicate in any country you could find yourself in. Well, knowing a foreign language is surely a nice thing and would be a good addition to your education. Why Japanese? Because it’s really cool. For anime lovers it’s the only choice I guess. I personally intend to learn in with the aim to use it for work. Hobbies are fine and playing games/watching anime/listening to the songs is a good way to know more of the language and culture especially for ppl like me who didn’t happen to get acquainted with a Japanese person.
Here I wanted to focus on the study process without going into details assuming the entertaining purpose of my site.
Studying Japanese is not easy. Studying it as a 3rd language seems even worse to me but I cope with difficulties since I’m a real fan of it. As it is with any subject, you need a teacher. The best way is to learn it as a part of your academic studies though of course there are other opportunities.
What to begin with. The first thing to do is to memorize 2 syllabaries (sort of alphabets). If you’re past this point, congratulations. The second thing is to learn kanji (hanzi in Chinese) or else you won’t be able to read. Kanji are ideograms that represent a notion but don’t give you pronunciation. In cases of Japanese each kanji has 2 or more readings (音 and 訓). In some cases you can find kana above kanji which is called furigana ・振り仮名・in this case. It makes things much easier. For example the manga ツバサChronicle and other CLAMP series have furigana. This way I managed to read 10 vols (need to buy more) while Im not really eager to start reading xxxHolic where there’s no help for kanji reading. The next discouraging moment is Japanese grammar and words. It’s really exciting to learn but looks disappointing when comparing your progress with the effort spent. I could learn much more French for the same amount of time. So for a Eur opean person there’s no association in regard to words or grammar patterns for the Japanese language belongs to a separate linguistic group. Say if you ever feel like learning French assuming your native language is English you’ll find out that many words are identical in both languages, especially those ending in –ence and –tion (difference, preference or information, situation etc.). You just need to put stress on the last syllable and say it the french way. Funny as it may seem I use an English-Russian dictionary most of the time when reading a French text (mine has more word entries). For further reference please check this link. An American wrote an awesome book of his experience in learning French. I learnt a lot of new features.
As for Japanese, the only foreigners who have considerable advantage over all others in learning it are Chinese guys since they understand all the kanji. I must point out still that in Japanese there’s no simplified form (like in Cantonese) and some kanji are used or written differently from the hanzi a person would use. All in all for effective memorization of words and kanji try to write down new words on a sheet of paper like this and do some translation exercises. The more kanji you know the easier it gets to learn new ones. It's important to know that kanji are not some abstract pictures. They all consist of radical which are kanji themselves and can be used separately. They have their own meaning. Complex kanji consist of simple radicals so knowing simple kanji will allow you to easily write complex kanji. Say 糸(a thread, string) and 東 (east) put together gives you 練 (gloss). 協 [きょう] – cooperation – contains 10 (十) and 3 forces (力) . The verb 燃えるmoeru consists of 2 fires (to the left and below), something like ‘ta’ katakana and a dog (犬). The order is also very important. For example the kanji for ‘busy’ and ‘to forget’ have the same radicals but the first is written as 忙 and the second 忘. Lastly, I wanted to mention some funny things. You can consider this part the only worth reading. Japanese seems to have more homonyms that European languages but I can be wrong to say that. Anyways it gives a lot of opportunities for pun. Say in ST you’ll come across the famous 歌劇団 and 華撃団. In ST 3 when Soretta and Reni come to visit Oogami in Paris they will help fight some evil guys. So they were discussing the details of a spy mission when Soretta mentioned Reni’s lip-reading skill. it was 読唇術 and Cocliquot asked Oogami to explain what sorta thing that was. You could tell that it was when a person lives unmarried (as a bachelor). H e said 独身術. Soretta was shoked. That’s about all I wanted to say. For translation of the Japanese words I used please check a superb online dictionary here: http://www.nihongoresources.com/
It occurred to me that perhaps I missed one of the peculiarities of the Japanese language, which could be of interest to a learner of Japanese. A big specialist will of course find this article extremely dull because it is aimed at a broad English-speaking audience. I've already spoken about the general complexity of grammar structures and the difficulty of memorizing kanji but there's one more thing I wanted to mention, I mean Japanese pronouns. You know that pronouns are not of obligatory use when you want to say smth about yourself, him etc. Still I find it remarkable that Japanese language has a great variety of pronouns which can be used in different situation and which will determine your attitude and relationship with the person you refer to. So there are formal, informal, extremely polite as well as extremely hostile words to say 'you', 'him' etc. I've browsed thru a number of sites with pages dedicated to the matter but the complete list can probably be found only in some Japanese sources. How ever, I did find quite a lot of examples of often and rarely used pronouns in Wikipedia (wikipedia.org). There are several pages on the topic. Interestingly, I found the page with the discussion of man and woman speech differences much more to the point than a separate page covering this particular topic.
I'll present a compilation of information I found. I must say I miss a great deal of communication with native speakers, you'll have to do with examples from anime and manga as it is a primary source of info for me. They can be rather inaccurate so consider yourself forewarned.
Pronouns - meaning - 'I'.
- 1.私、わたくし - Extremely formal but most suitable for business talk. Otherwise used by women. Say, Sumire who considers herself a perfect girl (and she is except for bad temper) refers to herself none other but this way.
- 2. 私、わたし - Same kanji but pronounced 'watashi'. Can be used on many occasions. It is the safest way to say 'me' but still rather formal for friend talk. Ok for women. It is highly recommended to use by students just to be on the safe side.
- 3.僕 - 'boku' is used by boys (more info below) in informal speech. Here I thought to say 僕のページへようこそ but then decided to change for 私. Smb could get offended by my being excessively familiar.
- 4. 俺 - Can be said by boys and older men. It’s a favorite expression of Ohgami and Yoneda.
- 5. 自分 - Literally 'oneself'. Can be a substitution for the above. Used by males.
- 6.乃公 - Pronounced 'daikou' 'naikou' 'ore'. Supposed to be slang, I need to check on this. I think I came across it in ツバサ.
- 7..我 - While standard for 'I' in Chinese in Japanese, it sounds very colloquial. As my teacher said, it’s used in the army. In ST games this term is used by 'evil guys'. The plural is 我々or 我ら 7.あたし Used by girls. Expected to be said by megakawaii girls, as it is extremely feminine way to say 'me'. In ST it’s used by Sakura and Iris. 8. あたい Said by Kanna like person (she's 207 cm tall and a master of karate)
- 8. うち - From what I heard this pronoun is very often used by ppl speaking Osaka-ben
- 9. わい - Another example of Osaka-ben, very informal.
Words expressing the meaning of 'you'.
- 1. あなた、貴方 - Normally hiragana is used but in literature you'll most likely come across that kanji. A polite way to say 'you' but in fact the sphere of use is almost as broad as that of its English equivalent
- 2. 君 - When pronounced きみ it means 'you'. Would mostly be used toward a girl who you are on good terms with (like close friends).Also you can address small children this way. The same kanji but with 音 reading which is くん is attached normally to a last name or a first name with the meaning of Mr/Ms. To tell the truth Japanese honorifics are another topic with many peculiarities to discuss. Oh, I’ve figured a new pun, it refers to this particular kanji. Here, ‘on is kun and kun is kimi’.
- 3.あんた - A short of あなた and it has a negative connotation. Considered potentially offensive.
- 4.お前 - This is a colloquial form, may be said to close friends since in other situations sounds offensive. Normally heard from boys toward boys.
- 5.手前 - See above.
- 6.てめぇ - A rude way to say 'you', possibly a variant of ‘temae’ Say, Kurogane in ツバサoften uses this word when quarreling with Fai or Mokona.
- 7.貴様 - A particularly offensive word. I heard it used by 'bad guys' in ST5.
- 8.己 おのれ - This word means you as well but it intends to insult the addressee.
Words referring to the 3rd person.
- 1.あの方 - Literally means 'that person'. It’s a respectful way to refer to him/her. Said when you speak about an elder person or who is higher by social status.
- 2.あの人 - Literally means 'that person' as well. It is a neutral word recommended to use by students.
- 3. 彼 - Means 'he'. It can occasionally mean a boyfriend.
- 4.彼女 - Means 'she'. It can occasionally mean a girlfriend.
- 5. コイツ、あいつor 彼奴 - Literally 'that guy'. The expression is colloquial and refers to him or her. It’s very common in tsubasa manga.
Now the interesting part. You can miss the above because if you've read through the whole list you must be a real fan of Japanese and you've probably discovered some flaws and words missing in the list. What I’m gonna speak about is Sakura Taisen girls. Not all of them but those boy-like girls who the developers seem to be fond of. In the original ST game it was absolutely ok with girls but then ST2 appeared where Reni was first introduced. Since she's quite young and her favorite clothes are a suit, you can never tell her from a boy at first sight. Neither did Oogami until the episode with swimsuits. As it was written on a French site, 'c'est une fille malgré les apparences'. The feature was used in all the following installments. The distinct features of these girls are the deliberate use of 'boku' for 'I'. ST5, the latest game in the series, is far more advanced than its predecessors in many aspects including this. There are 3 persons who refer to themselves as 'boku', those are the protagonist Shinjiro, Gemini and Subaru. For Shinjiro it’s only natural to say 'boku' being at his age while I’d expect Gemini to say 'atashi' as she's quite sexy. Still, she is a samurai girl and that explains her way of speaking. Again, Subaru is difficult to tell from a boy. In the beginning of the game you even have a choice to ask ‘actually, are you a boy or a girl?’. What amuses even more is how Japanese guys try to depict these characters. It is shown in the writing style of the subtitle text and to be precise, the use of kana in place of kanji and vice versa. In that way, when Subaru's speaking her 'boku' is written in kanji (僕), in case of Shinjiro it’s hiragana and in Gemini's it’s katakana. That's really something, don't you think? I just can't help but wonder how to translate this variety into English. Using the simple “I” in all cases in no way expresses the original meaning. As a variant the first thing that comes to mind is to precise in brackets smth like "(says with a demonic smile)". Ok at this point I fall short of ideas so I guess i'll stop here.