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Ever wanted to learn Japanese?
September 20, 2001 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Ever wanted to learn Japanese? "The bottom line is that Politeness Levels are completely beyond your understanding, so don't even try. Just resign yourself to talking like a little girl for the rest of your life and hope to God that no one beats you up."
posted by skallas (48 comments total)

 
but, those of you reading here, take heart -- you've already mastered the hardest language in the world.

(at least, that's the consensus of those Google search results I found, 2 of which said Japanese was 2nd-hardest, and a bunch of which all mysteriously agreed that something called the Déné (Chipewyan) language was 3rd-hardest. But I couldn't find a definitive source; and here's one authority saying I'm raising a dumb question and should just let everyone talk about Skallas's link....)
posted by mattpfeff at 10:02 PM on September 20, 2001


That is so true about the people in the class actually. I am taking Japanese right now, and I guess I would fall into the Know It All category, although the truth is that pure hubris drove me to take it. There are only a few Anime Freaks in there, a bunch of people from China who think that they already know all the Kanji, and 15 General Ed people who are freaking out.
posted by donkeymon at 10:11 PM on September 20, 2001


Re: mattpleff's links. But a lot of those seem to be from people speaking from a motivational perspective. "Good for you! You've learnt the hardest language in the world!" My position tends to be that the hardest language depends on what your native one is. For the Chinese (who share the kanji system), Koreans (whose language is most like Japanese), and other East Asians, Japanese is probably not nearly as difficult.

Japanese is probably hard for English speakers because of the politeness levels. Heck, English speakers even have problems with the tu/vous of French and the differring Germanic pronouns, so it ought to come as no surprise. I've also heard that the Slavic languages are difficult for English speakers.
posted by Charmian at 10:16 PM on September 20, 2001


OK, a person that is really into English stuff is an Anglophile. A person that is really into French stuff is a Francophile.

What is a person that is really into Japanese stuff?

Japophile?

Japanophile?

Nipophile?

I'm really "into" all things Japanese right now and want to know how I should refer to myself in civil conversation.

Note to self: Stop getting drunk before coming to MeFi...
posted by TiggleTaggleTiger at 10:18 PM on September 20, 2001


One of the reasons that English is hard for non-natives to learn is because it has a gargantuan working vocabulary. A typical English speaker uses five times as many words in everyday speech as a speaker in another language such as German or Japanese. Another problem is that we make up words on the fly; there are well-defined rules for taking a noun and producing an adjective out of it or vice versa which all of us understand, but which make the language virtually incomprehensible to someone not familiar with it. It doesn't help that English is about 200 years overdue for a spelling reform. There are also a preposterous number of homonyms, just to spice things up. Don't forget our motto:

"Love flies like a breeze; fruit flies like a banana!"
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:21 PM on September 20, 2001


TTT, These people say its Japanophile.
posted by skallas at 10:26 PM on September 20, 2001


"Horse puckey" wa nihongo de nan desu ka.
posted by Big Dave at 10:29 PM on September 20, 2001


TiggleTaggleTiger: Otaku
posted by krisjohn at 10:39 PM on September 20, 2001


Re: Japanophilia. Well, we use "sino-" as the elevated prefix for China, so I assume there is an equivalent for Japan. I suppose according to the beloved word-forming rules of English, we should find the latin adjective for "Japan," then transmute.
posted by Charmian at 10:39 PM on September 20, 2001


No, you do NOT want to call yourself an otaku, especially when in contact with Japanese. Otaku refers to rather disturbed Japanese people, usually teens, who shut themselves in their houses, don't wash, obsessively follow something like anime, but other things as well, and drop out of society. It's a term used by the anime/manga fans, but like other loan words, er, been revised in meaning.
posted by Charmian at 10:43 PM on September 20, 2001


Charmian: I agree completely -- that was also the reasoning of the guy in my second link, that it all depends on what your first language was.

Native English speakers seem to have a real hard time learning any new grammar. I suspect it's because English morphological syntax is relatively simple, and if we try and learn languages with more complex syntaxes our language organ (as old Chomsky called it) has forgotten that languages could be structured that way. Pure conjecture, of course -- a little linguistics is a dangerous thing....
posted by mattpfeff at 10:46 PM on September 20, 2001


Thanks skallas.

On a related note, if you go to a sushi bar and sit at the bar (thereby reducing your interaction, and dependency on, the waitress) who do you tip?

In the past I have split a 20% tip evenly between the waitress and the chefs but I'm almost positive I'm doing it wrong.

Charmian: That's where I got the Nipophile thing, I've heard a lot of Japanese things referred to using an abbreviation of Nippon. I think. Again, I've been drinking...

I also kind of like your description of Otaku, that pretty much sums me up :)
posted by TiggleTaggleTiger at 10:46 PM on September 20, 2001


Otaku used outside of Japan is OK, but in Japan it used to be/still is a derogatory word. It basically means obsessed fan.
posted by omen68x at 10:49 PM on September 20, 2001


Nippon is Japanese for Japan. Basically means Land of the Rising Sun. (I think.)
posted by omen68x at 10:53 PM on September 20, 2001


a bunch of people from China who think that they already know all the Kanji

heehee... but they kind of do.
posted by elle at 10:55 PM on September 20, 2001


"Horse puckey" wa nihongo de nan desu ka.

"Horse puckey" wa nihongo de uma no mari desu ne.
posted by thirteen at 11:00 PM on September 20, 2001


Ju-san wa shindai ni ikimasu.

Kombanwa.
posted by thirteen at 11:04 PM on September 20, 2001


OT, kind of...well, actually, totally OT...

Other day at my dad's house he was flipping the Verizon commercial because it bugged him that the "peace sign" - you know, the "V" finger thingy - like the "V for Victory" signal, was being commercialized. I can remember him flashing me this signal when I was a kid, sort of like a secret, shared communication between us, so it kinda bugs me too...

Anyway, a coupla years ago, I had a Japanese friend who told me that in Japan, that signal can have a different meaning. He said that it can mean "We owe you two", referring to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, this was eerie as hell then, and it still shivers me a bit.

Anybody know if he was having me on, or if this is really one of the "V for Venerable" old signal's meanings?
posted by Opus Dark at 11:12 PM on September 20, 2001


Iya iya iya..."Horse puckey" to wa ne..."ho-su- pakki-" daroo. Omae, ittai nantte baka na koto itten da yo?

um...sorry...
posted by Bixby23 at 11:13 PM on September 20, 2001


Hey Opus, that is creepy. I've never heard that one, but I have heard that some of the first Canon cameras sold in the U.S. that had digital screens with the date were preset to 12-07-41. Never saw that for myself, though...
posted by Bixby23 at 11:18 PM on September 20, 2001


Opus, I was told that it's just their version of "thumbs up."
posted by omen68x at 11:23 PM on September 20, 2001


Kind of puts a different perspective on this photo.
posted by skallas at 11:30 PM on September 20, 2001


okay, i realize there's a whole lot of sarcasm in that link... but really it isn't that hard. especially the alphabet. well, kanji is pretty tough, but hiragana and katakana are pretty simple. Politeness levels are kinda confusing at first, but not that huge of a hurdle. And I found the sentence structure completely intuitive and very easy to understand.

Then again, I had an amazing teacher. *shrug* So for anyone that was thinking of taking classes, don't let mr. sarcastic discourage you.
posted by chrisege at 11:34 PM on September 20, 2001


it's just their version of "thumbs up."

so what happens when they put their thumbs up?
posted by elle at 11:36 PM on September 20, 2001


As pefect example:

As a first year Japanese class at Indiana Univ.:154

2nd sem.: 103

3rd sem:51

4th:14
posted by ttrendel at 12:38 AM on September 21, 2001


l‚ÍŒœÜ‚¾‚¯‚Ő¶‚«‚Ä‚¢‚¯‚é‚©H
posted by curiousg at 12:40 AM on September 21, 2001


"horse puckey" tte, chokuyaku de "uma no fun" dakedo, imi wa "uso" toka "shinjirarenai" to iu koto da yo.

Of course, it all depends what part of the country you`re in...

The peace sign thing is everywhere. Everytime you point a camera at someone, you get peace signs. They think it`s cute. If it ever had a meaning of "we owe you two," that`s lost on today`s high school kids (as well as my coworkers)

Re: Otaku: The meaning has changed a little bit of late, much like "geek" in the U.S. It`s bad on it`s own, but if it`s qualified, like cooking otaku or music otaku, then it mens you`re really knowledgeable about the subject. My ex calls me a train otaku because I know where all the trains in Tokyo go and where they stop and all of that.

I second chrisege that hiragana and katakana are really easy. you could have them mastered by saturday.

As a side note, has anyone else noticed that "Japanese Girlfriend" has become a phrase unto itself, somehow meaning more than "a girlfriend who is Japanese?"

And the best way to learn Japanese? study a little, then move to Japan. It`s more fun to learn when it`s actually going on around you.
posted by chiheisen at 12:44 AM on September 21, 2001


Opus, I was told that it's just their version of "thumbs up."
If it ever had a meaning of "we owe you two," that`s lost on today`s high school kids (as well as my coworkers)

Oh well. Another potential someday-I'll-be-at-a-cocktail-party-and-this-will-make-me-a-rockstar tidbit bites the dust. I hate tidbit entropy.
posted by Opus Dark at 12:52 AM on September 21, 2001


It looks like there are several other Mefi people in Japan (or at least some who know some Japanese)

Who else besides me (I`m in Tokyo)?

Maybe a Meficon Japan?
posted by chiheisen at 1:19 AM on September 21, 2001


Stuck in Kamiyacho, dude. 5:30 p.m., still countless hours to go...yuck
posted by Bixby23 at 1:26 AM on September 21, 2001


Ouch. Sounds like a job that gives you work, as opposed to time to read metafilter.

I`ll actually be passing very near there very soon on my way out of Oomori.
posted by chiheisen at 1:43 AM on September 21, 2001


Used to work there (in ‘㊯ŽR), and was most recently visiting in July. I've lived in ŽOŒ¬’ƒ‰®A’†–ڍ•AŽO‘éŽsA‘åã•{äŽsB
posted by curiousg at 1:47 AM on September 21, 2001


Mainichi's Wai Wai is how I try to keep in touch.
posted by curiousg at 1:54 AM on September 21, 2001


Great link...very funny Thanks!
posted by Miyagi at 4:19 AM on September 21, 2001


Chiheisen - I'm next door, in (near) Seoul, South Korea. It's noisy, and I'm drinking beer.

These things are true a fairly large proportion of the time.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:27 AM on September 21, 2001


One of the reasons that English is hard for non-natives to learn is because it has a gargantuan working vocabulary. A typical English speaker uses five times as many words in everyday speech as a speaker in another language such as German or Japanese.
Let's have some evidence of that. Russian has a similarly vast technical vocabulary and is arguably more complex due to gender and inflection.
Another problem is... there are well-defined rules for taking a noun and producing an adjective out of it or vice versa which all of us understand, but which make the language virtually incomprehensible to someone not familiar with it.
If there are well-defined rules, they are easy to learn. Incomprehensible to someone not familiar with it? There's a shock. I'm unfamiliar with Urdu. Surprisingly enough, Urdu is incomprehensible to me.
Native English speakers seem to have a real hard time learning any new grammar. I suspect it's because English morphological syntax is relatively simple, and if we try and learn languages with more complex syntaxes our language organ (as old Chomsky called it) has forgotten that languages could be structured that way
Actually, pretty much anyone older than the age of puberty finds it impossible to achieve near-native competency in any other language. Just listen to the other Joe Clark or John Turner speaking French, or Jean Chrétien speaking English. The exceptions are just that: Exceptions.
posted by joeclark at 5:06 AM on September 21, 2001


isn't BWG chillin' in Japan right now? where's his input? ;o)

this site is genius (and the guy who wrote it is actually pretty nice.). my friend and i tried to teach ourselves japanese through text books, a while ago. we actually had a conversation an it started off nicely enough, with the "kon bon wa"s and "hajemimamijste"s, but since we knew so little, eventually, it ended up with "baka"s and "bukio suttette kousan shiro!"
posted by lotsofno at 7:53 AM on September 21, 2001


I'll be in Japan next week, travelling between Kofu and Kamakura. Anybody know where I can get some grass? How severe are the penalties for possession there? Is there a 420 culture to speak of?
posted by vito90 at 7:59 AM on September 21, 2001


An actor was recently busted for possession of 2 grams. His show was cancelled, career ruined and he had to write letters of apologies to the police and his fans. He will go to court and go on parole, probably. He might go to jail.

Paul McCartney was famously held at Narita Airport for days and then ejected from the county for possession of a joint.

Nobody has any sympathy for these drug addicts.

–l‚à“Œ‹ž‚ɏZ‚ñ‚Å‚¢‚Ü‚·B@@‚»‚ë‚»‚덑‚É‹A‚ë‚©‚È‚ÆŽv‚Á‚Ă邯‚Ç
posted by dydecker at 8:26 AM on September 21, 2001


That link was the best laugh I've had since ... no, I won't mention it! I won't!

Of course, I lived as a gaijin in Tokyo (Sophia daigaku de benkyoo shimashita) and as a gwailo in Hong Kong, so it's funny in that ex-pat rant kinda way.

But, if you want to crack a Nihonjin up in all AYBABTU kinda way by impressing them with your Nihonglish:

Fuke ga hoshii desu yo! blink your eyes with expectant anticipation
posted by bclark at 8:31 AM on September 21, 2001


What is fuke??
posted by dydecker at 9:54 AM on September 21, 2001


I know all the Japanese that I need...

Konichiwa, Sake nigiri, Hamachi, Unagi, Ikura, Temaki Maguro, Asahi, Wasabi, domo arigato... :-)
posted by fooljay at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2001


fooljay - you forgot the most important word of all: sumimasen! I went to Japan last April on vacation and I swear I must have said it several hundred times a day. And of course wakarimasen! (is that the right romanji?)

I learned a tiny bit of Japanese before I went and was very glad I did at least that. Very few people understood anything I said in English when I was there. I had such a great time I want to go back next year, so I'm taking Japanese classes right now from a private language school. I think I might fall into the "know-it-all" category of student, but at least I've actually read something about the culture and I've never even dated a Japanese guy.
posted by cakeman at 10:27 AM on September 21, 2001


Cross culture extremes..
posted by johnny7 at 11:17 AM on September 21, 2001



posted by johnny7 at 11:23 AM on September 21, 2001


Paul McCartney was famously held at Narita Airport for days and then ejected from the county for possession of a joint.

Nobody has any sympathy for these drug addicts.


That bastard Paul MCartney, always in and out of rehab commiting crimes and such. He certainly doesn't have my sympathies!
posted by skallas at 12:40 PM on September 21, 2001


fuke is dandruff
posted by bclark at 1:21 PM on September 21, 2001


I thought so. So why would you want to say "I want dandruff" to somebody? It doesn't make any sense at all.
posted by dydecker at 1:00 AM on September 22, 2001


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