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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Japanese Language

The Japanese language is good, bad and ugly. In and of itself it isn't a bad thing. In fact I think that universally speaking, it's a pretty easy language to learn, but I think that that knowing English may be my biggest obstacle to learning Japanese. In the Japanese language the verbs come at the end of the sentence so for instance, "I a cat have." There are no articles or singular and plurals so it would be " I cat have" but then they usually leave out the subject if it's been mentioned already or is obvious so it would be "Cat have." Lol!

Not conjugating verbs means I don't have to add to the million verb endings I already know between English, French, Spanish and Italian. They only things the do to verbs is make them negative and put them into past tense. So a verb has 4 forms: non-past affirmative, non-past negative, past affirmative, past negative. But there are also different ways of speaking, for different levels of politeness, so there a four endings in each of the forms (plain, polite, and business are all that I know of).

The adjectives also have similar "conjugations", and there are a lot of rules of what you need to do with adjectives. There are even two types of adjectives and the rule differs according to type. You can't usually tell the type right off, you just have to memorise them.

Then there are the counters. In Japanese the suffix you use for counting depends on what you are counting, so for floors you'd use one, for people another, animals another, Long thin things another, round things another, etc. Counters suck!

Something else I guess most people know about Japanese is the way the language is written, the Kanji. Apart from the Kanji there are two syllabic writing systems, the Hiragana and the Katakana. The Hiragana is used for Japanese words and to fill in any spaces that the Kanji don't cover and the Katakana is used to imitate foreign loan words. The Katakana is hilarious as hell. Most of the words come from English and those that don't generally come from Spanish or French, which I speak, yet I can never figure out Katakana words. The problem is that the Katakana only uses syllables that are represented in Japanese. The only consonant that can come next to another in Japanese is n. So any other consonant ends up getting a vowel stuck onto it which is why ice cream is "aa-su-ku-ri-mu." Then there are the letters that don't exist like v, f (although there is fu), and l (although hthe Japanese r sounds like an l anyway so really it's the r that doesn't exist). You can't get "si" or "je" in Japanese either so you get stuff like shi-ru-wa-zo-n. Alex laughed at me for not being able to figure it out. It's Silver Zone. It's the old people crossing. Yes we have an old people crossing. That should tell you something about my town's demographic.

Despite all this, my Japanese is still making some progress.Although I need to get in 25 hours thoretical study time every week to pass the exam I want to do in December. Lol! I'll get there because I am me, and languages and I have an understanding. (I hope!) Anyhow as I just said, I have a lot to cover so I need to get to some studying.

This weekend I head down to Morioka for yet another orientation. Who knows when I'll be online next. Janine and I are staying over in Morioka on Friday night to head out to Akita on Saturday for the most competitive, impressive and biggest fireworks festival in Japan, so I probably won't get back to Ichinohe until some time Sunday evening.

Small triumphs

Whoever first said it's the little things that count is one of the most brilliant minds the world has ever seen. Yesterday I had two little things happen that just made me smile. First off, we continued on our school tour. We were at Ichinohe Shougakkou, which is one of my elementary schools, and the principal asked my supervisor if we spoke Japanese. He replied Alex san speaks fluently and Claire san speaks a little!!! Yay!!! Japanese fluency, here I come.

After work I went to the itty-bitty store around the corner from me. I am out of juice and don't feel like walking all the way to ICO, the plaza where JOIS, the grocery store, is. The lady in the shop is under 4 feet tall. She is so cute. She said to me "Kaminoke wa kawaii desu", which for those of you who speak less Japanese than me means "Your hair is cute." Triumph 1: the fact that I understood what the hell she was saying. Triumph 2: the cutesy little old lady around the corner thinks my hair is cute!!! I am buying everything I possibly can in her shop from now on. In fact, I'm going there this afternoon for tomatoes.
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