で… ここが まことのへや
ああ、ちゃんと にもつ とどいてますね
いやいや、女の子は こんなもん ですよ
so… this ! Makoto ‘s room
ah, good-condition packages arrived, right?
um-hum, so what-is though
not-at-all, girl ? this-type reason is !
so… this is your room.
ah, my boxes arrived fine
um-hum, so it seems
you have a lot
not at all because this is for a girl!
is that so?
じゃ、(ひる めし)の じゅんび して くっ から
ひとだんらく し たら きて
well… noon meal’s ready do come because
getting-to-a-point-where-one-can-rest when if-so come!
well… I’m going to get lunch ready
come when you get to a break
チトさんは 大じょうぶ ですか
ヘェー、けっこう たいりょく ありますね
a-bit tired, right?
Chito Mrs.? to-be-ok is ?
eeh, pretty resilience is, right?
a bit tiring, right?
Chito, are you ok?
I see, you are pretty strong.
じゃ、あとで かいもの いきますけど
もー… ほんとうに でぶしょう なんだから
また ふとっ ちゃいますよ
well… later shopping go though
together shan’t we go ?
really! true-ly stay-at-home what is because
again, gain weight, isn’t it? !
in that case… let’s go shopping later
do you want to go together?
really! you truly like staying home
aren’t you going to get fat again!
じゃ、なにか かって きましょうか
well… something buy go-let’s?
then… let’s see what I can get you?
To listen to a word in Japanese, highlight it and press the speaker icon.
perfectly; punctually; in good condition
luggage; baggage; package
to be delivered; to arrive
many; much; plenty; a lot
(exp) not at all!
preparation; arrangements; getting ready
一ばん = number one; #1; best; most; first
comfort; ease; relief; (at) peace; relaxation
indicates supposition; if … then; when; after
to get tired
stamina; endurance; physical strength; resilience
(exp) isn’t is? wasn’t it?
no!; no no!; no, not at all
what!; what the heck; what the; damn
fast form of してくる, i.e., “…do+come…”. In English we say “…do+go…”, though, i.e., “…going to do…”
either ひとだんらく or いちだんらく: getting to a point where one can rest
pretty, as in ‘pretty far/soon/heavy’, etc.
P&T notes – cultural differences
Approaching Japanese from a western point of view will leave us perplexed. How in the world does such a language manage to get by without using gender, number, pronouns, articles, or even subjects? We might have had some experience with French or German or some other western language, and difficult as it might have been to understand, we knew the information was there, scrambled but accesible if we looked for it with a dictionary. A word-by-word translation from most indo-european languages to English would be enough to get us close to the original meaning. So what is the deal with Japanese? Is it just a matter of translating it at a phrase-by-phrase level instead of a word-by-word one? Well… it goes deeper than that, and we better make our peace with it and try to understand it now: western cultures have had some contact so they are more likely to share cultural trends and have a similar outlook on life; so do East Asian cultures. The general trend is that the western cultures might be similar to the East Asian cultures along certain ‘cultural dimensions’, but might be diametrically opposed along others.
Experts classify cultures along different dimensions. D. Livermore enumerates them as
identification based on personal vs group characteristics
amount of hierarchy and inequality normal within a society
tolerance for uncertainty
collaboration vs. result-driven competitive behavior
events ruled by schedules vs. relationships
direct low context vs. indirect high context communication
being vs. doing, a.k.a., work to live vs. live to work
norms apply universally or depend on the particular case
cultures that display neutral vs affective expressions
how tight or loose are social norms and their enforcement
We were expecting American and Japanese cultures, having little shared heritage, to be very different. The situation is more extreme, though, as both American and Japanese cultures are the most extreme cases there are in some of the dimensions, even among their own similar-culture sets. For example, the U.S. is the most individualist country in the world in terms of identity, while Japan is very collectivist; likewise, Japan is the most neutral country in the world in term of expression, while the U.S. tends to in the middle, i.e., neither neutral nor affective. One dimension that affects language directly is communication: English is an extremelly explicit low-context language, while Japanese is the complete opposite, i.e., an extremelly implicit high-context language.
If we combine the extreme implicitness of Japanese with an extreme avoidance to uncertainty, or to be misunderstood, and extremely tight social norms that say that there is only one correct way to do things, Japanese is bound to be at odds with the explicit, direct, uncertainty-comfortable and extremelly loose social norms of English. To an English speaker, Japanese might look incomplete, spare, and unnecesarily complex in its minimalistic approach, while to a Japanese, English might look redundant, blunt, and lacking elegance and formality in its exuberant spoon-fed approach. The following are where the the United States and the Japanese culture lie along the cultural dimensions:
identity – individualist vs collectivist
authority – power distance
risk – uncertainty avoidance
achievement – cooperative vs. competitive
time – puntuality vs. relationships
communication – direct/low context
lifestyle – being vs. doing
rules – particularist vs. universalist
expressiveness – neutral vs. affective
social norms – tight vs loose.
Dimensions along which American and Japanese cultures are aligned are unlikely to reflect themselves as differences in the languages. However, there are six dimensions along which the American and Japanese cultures differ:
- Identity: Americans tend to identify themselves as individuals with personal rights and dreams, while the Japanese tend to identify themselves as members of inner groups that share bonds or a heritage.
- Authority: Americans tend to have a low power distance: we call our teachers and bosses by their names, we dress informally at work, etc. Japanese tend to have a very high power distance: there is a strict hierarchy and deferential treatment is expected at home, school, work, and everywhere else.
- risk avoidance: Americans tend to be comfortable with uncertainty and thrive within it, expressing guesses and opinions freely, while the Japanese tend to be cautious, share opinions only when asked, and avoid sticking out
- communication: Americans tend to express themselves directly and explicitly, using low context verbal communication, while the Japanese tend to express themselves indirectly and implicitly, using a high context communication that takes into account body language, setting, hand gestures and verbal communication
- expressiveness: Americans tend to be non-commital about how to express their emotions, while the Japanese culture is the most extreme at not expressing them.
- social norms: Americans tend to be loose with the social rules, in dressing, dinning, etc., while the Japanese tend to have precise rules for them. Failing to adhere to a social norm is not a big deal in America but it is in Japan.
Language, as about the most important element of a culture, reflects the style of life of the persons in the culture. With the background of these dimensions and understanding that any cultural trait is the result of the interactions of many of these dimensions, let’s see some of the characteristics that are different between American English and Japanese.
In English we have a few honorifics, e.g., Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms., plus we use personal titles in certain situations, e.g., Dr. These are the generic titles that state a level of respect. However, Americans tend to be very casual in their interactions with other people so even these titles are used mainly with strangers, unless the power distance is too big. In Japan, unless you are family or a childhood friend, pretty much everyone has a honorific. The honorific itself -or lack thereof- gives much information about the relative status and the level of closeness between the people talking. For example, some honorifics for a man would be chan, kun, san, dono, and sama; if the person in question is an adult, all of them would be translated to English as ‘Mr.’, losing in the translation process the exact nuance of the honorific.
A disconcerting aspect of Japanese is that it offers so little explicit context that is difficult to translate an out-of-context sentence. If a sentence like ‘taberu’ can mean any of ‘<I/you/he/she/it/we/they> <will/use-to> eat’, how do we know who is the one that eats or when is this person or persons going to eat? English, being very explicit, spells it all out, e.g., ‘he will eat’, in such a way that the verbal communication suffices, while Japanese, been very implicit, leaves a lot of information out that we need to fill in using the context of the conversation.
In Japanese, there are a variety of speech forms that we use depending on context, e.g., who we are talking about, who we are talking to, where we are talking at, etc. The two most common speech forms are the casual/informal/plain speech that we use with persons with similar or lower status, and the polished/polite/formal speech form that we use with persons of higher status. The other two main forms are the honorific, e.g., talking to someone extremelly high in the power distance ladder, and the humble speech, e.g., the speech used by hotel receptionists or store clerks when talking to customers. In all cases, the more polite the speech, the longer, more explicit, and more complex it is. Hence, a reasonable approach to translate the highly implicit Japanese casual speech into English is to recast it into the less implicit Japanese formal speech.
Variety of pronouns
「Joy? あたいがなまえだ」, from シェンムー
The pronoun ‘I’ in Spanish, French, Sweedish, German, and Italian always are ‘yo’, ‘je’, ‘jag’, ‘ich’ and ‘io’, respectively; in comparison, ‘I’ in Japanese can be atai, atakushi, atashi, ate, boku, daikou, jibun, naikou, onore, oraa, ore, oresama, ori, sessha, soresagi, uchi, washi, wate, wai, warawa, ware, watakushi, watashi, or yo. Each of these pronouns has a particular nuance. A person that calls himself by one of these is indirectly giving us a lot of information. For example, ‘yo’ is used by kings, ‘atashi’ is used by women, ‘washi’ is used by the elderly, and ‘uchi’ is used in the Kansai region. We lose all this information in translation to English because all of these pronouns translate to our generic ‘I’. We would have a similar situation with other pronouns.
In English, we use pronouns as subjects all the time. With the number of possible Japanese pronouns, one would think that Japanese does too, but actually, because of the indirectness in the speech, Japanese bends over backwards to not use pronouns; instead, we use the name of the person over and over, and even then we often drop it, even in formal speech. The subject becomes a blank in the sentence that we have to fill in, often using context alone. In practice, we say that the subject is still in the sentence, invisible and implicit, replaced by a ∅ subject – a zero subject – that plays the role of the missing explicit one. Needless to say that translating a subject that is not written down is tricky for a person and fairly difficult to automate with a program.
Japanese particles are words that accomplish many missions. One of them is to serve as the analogous of English prepositions, like ‘to’, ‘from’, ‘for’, ‘in’, ‘while’, etc. In casual speech we often drop these particles, replacing them in our minds, again, with a ∅ counterpart, i.e., a ∅ particle. Another set of particles marks the parts of a clause, e.g., the subject, the topic, the objects, etc. We frequently drop these particles in casual speech too. Again, sentences with implicit dropped particles are more ambiguous that sentence with explicit particles. Hence, when translating from casual speech, it makes sense to make explicit the ∅ particles.
In Japanese, we use many particles to express contextual information that is not related to the information in the sentence. Some particles express friendship, or disgust, or doubt, or the gender of the speaker. We might be able to translate these particles to English as long as we are willing to be verbose. For example, we might translate a particle like ね, which seeks agreement, as “isn’t that right?”. However, the particle also contains information about the type of speech, e.g., we would also translate な, which is the casual version of ね, as “isn’t that right?”. Hence, in many situations, even if we make our peace with been verbose, we will still lose some information in the translation. There particles appear often in both casual and formal Japanese speech forms, and few of them survive translation.
Verbs in Japanese are extremelly regular, e.g., all verbs in casual speech end in ‘u’, and all of them are regular with the exception of suru (to do) and kuru (to come). Formal speech is even more regular: while casual regular verbs are conjugated based on their endings, formal ます verbs are absolutely regular. On the other hand, English verbs are very irregular in both their endings and their conjugations. Here are some examples of conjugations from present to past tense, e.g., all Japanese casual verbs, including the irregular ones, end in た or だ; all Japanese formal ます verbs end in ました; while English verbs are unpredictable:
casual dictionary form
あそぶ ➝ あそんだ
とぶ ➝ とんだ
よむ ➝ よんだ
たべる ➝ たべた
する ➝ した
くる ➝ きた
formal ます form
あそびます ➝ あそびました
とびます ➝ とびました
よみます ➝ よみました
たべます ➝ たべました
します ➝ しまました
きます ➝ きまました
play ➝ played
fly ➝ flew
read ➝ read
eat ➝ ate
do ➝ did
come ➝ came
Japanese pronunciation is regular and easy. With a grand total of 110 sounds, and an almost impecable kana-to-speech match, we can read kanas easily even if we don’t understand their meaning. This is in constrast to English, in which there are hundreds of sounds, and in which many of the characters change sound depending on context, e.g., ‘ch’ sounds ‘ch’ in ‘church, sounds ‘sh’ in ‘Chicago’, sounds ‘k’ in ‘chaos’, and it’s silent in ‘yatch’.
English writing is easy; we have 26 characters and that is it. In Contrast, Japanese uses four writing systems: hiragana, katakana, kanji and roman. Even their use of kanji is more complex than the use of the same characters in China, because in China a character has a particuar sound while in Japan it has at least two sounds and often more: the Japanese name of the idea that the character represents, and the Chinese sound of the character; often, there are several such Chinese sounds, because the characters where imported into Japan multiple times, centuries apart. Writing kanjis is also time consuming and difficult and it is often the case that even Japanese people don’t know how to read – much less how to write- more than a few thousand kanjis out of the 50-70k thousand of them.
American individuals tend to see the world as revolving around them, while Japanese individuals tend to see the world as something that they are a part of. First personal pronouns like ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘my’ are among the most common words in English, while their equivalents in Japanese are avoided. We also see this in the way English speakers assume that it is people that perform actions, with a few exceptions, e.g., ‘nature’ can ‘rain’ or ‘snow’ or ‘hail’, or animals can ‘lay eggs’ or the washer can ‘stop working’. In contrast, Japanese see a lot of objects in the world acting. An example is ‘wakaru’: in English, ‘to understand’ or ‘to make sense’ is a person-based action, with the assumption that it is the person that understands something, e.g., ‘John understands English’, while in Japanese, it is an object-based action, with the assuption that it is the object that becomes understandable, e.g., ‘English makes-sense to John’.
English assumes that people are essentially the same. If we laugh when we are happy, then another person laughing must be happy too. In essence, our external appearance reveals our thoughts and feelings. Japanese, on the contrary, doesn’t assume that any person can really know what another person feels. Hence, with a lot of caution, a Japanese person would say that another ‘appears to…’ while an English speaker would say that another person ‘is…’, e.g., in English, ‘my wife wants do rink water’ while in Japanese is ‘my wife appears to want to drink water’. Also, in English we consider that our perceptions are universal, e.g., ‘that flower is pretty’, while in Japanese we tend to be more aware that our perceptions are personal, e.g., ‘that flower is pretty to me’.
English and Japanese have to be different because the cultures that they reflect are diametrically opposed to each other along many cultural dimensions.