Sunday, July 24, 2011

Got Milk?

Let’s say you went to a store and wanted to find out if they have milk. Most people would ask, Do you have milk? In English, framing a negative question (Do you not have milk?) is generally considered impolite.

Japanese is the opposite. You would ask, Gyūnyū ga arimasen ka? (literally, Do you not have milk?) Using the negative form is more indirect and polite, showing that you are prepared for a negative answer.

Singlish takes yet another approach. As Wikitravel notes:

[T]he local dialect with its heavy Chinese influences may appear brusque or even rude, but saying "You want beer or not?" is in fact more polite in Chinese than asking if you want beer, after all, the person asking you the question is offering you a choice, not making a demand.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tokyo, 4:25 am

I am in Japan only for another 48 days. I will be sorry to leave.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chiyoda-ku Area Street Map

There is something oddly touching about the translation.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is Language Log

The folks at Language Log use an amusing phrasal template in some of their posts:
This is Language Log, not X Log.

where X is a seemingly unrelated and often obscure topic.

This is usually employed when, after briefly discussing X, they introduce a linguistic angle. It is used often enough to be familiar to regular readers, but not so often as to be annoying.

As far as I can tell, it was coined by Mark Liberman way back in July 2005, with the innocuous This is Language Log, not Cycling Log. But then Geoff Pullum took the ball and ran with it as only he can.

Here are some examples.

This is not an exhaustive list; just a few of my favourites. But this is The World According to Sroyon, not the Let’s All Obsess Over Language Log Blog.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In the last class, my Japanese teacher reviewed my performance so far, and defined future goals. Her ‘strengths and weaknesses review’ was particularly entertaining. My weaknesses, according to her, are: (a) I am weak in kanji and (b) I have too many hobbies.

(b) of course is something neither she nor I can do anything about, but (a) can be remedied. So my targets, as set by my teacher, are to learn 300 kanji by November 2011, 500 by June 2012 and 1,000 by November 2012.

The Japanese writing system is a combination of three scripts; sometimes all three are used in the same sentence. Hiragana and katakana are phonetic systems with about 50 characters each; kanji is a logographic system with over 2,000 characters in common use. To make matters worse, a single kanji may, depending on context, mean different things; some common kanji have ten or more possible readings.

So far I have got by, knowing only hiragana and katakana. This enables me to read station names, signs written for children, my Japanese textbooks, foreign words written in Japanese, and most things on a restaurant menu.

Kanji is fiendishly difficult, and I am in Japan for only two more months after which I will probably never need to use Japanese. In view of this, a less harsh critic may have forgiven my kanji deficiencies. But my Japanese teacher is not a less harsh critic. Hence, the targets.

Kanji, to me, are like trees. I cherish their existence and I think the world would be a poorer place without them. I appreciate their beauty and their wealth of secret meaning. But apart from a few, very common ones, I cannot recognise them. When I see a kanji, I appreciatively say to myself, “Ah, a kanji,” and I leave it at that.

But last week, we started on a systematic programme of learning kanji. And pleasingly, the first one she taught me was 木, pronounced ki or moku, and meaning – perhaps you have guessed it already – ‘tree’ or ‘wood’.