OT: Tell me more about the Japanese language - Re: [DWJ] i will fade into the background now

Elizabeth Parks henx19 at gmail.com
Mon Jun 25 14:19:43 EDT 2007

My advice, from several years of Japanese study and a year or so of
living in Japan, is: know why you want to learn it.  The spoken
language is fairly simple (though the pronunciation can be tricky; I
used to ride a train that stopped at Tsuchihachi station, and whenever
I would say this my Japanese friends would fall over laughing.  All in
all, though, Japanese people don't seem to care a ton about
mispronunciations. . . but it drove me crazy when people who had
studied the language for six months still said Tokyo with three
syllables), but the written language is a. . . . pain.  There are two
syllabaries, which means that there are two ways to write the
character "tsu" for example, to be used in different situations, and
despite mixing them up a bit I learned them fairly easily.  These are
used in conjunction with kanji (chinese characters), of which there
are six million.  Again, these aren't -impossible- to learn, but to
read a newspaper you need to know about 2000.  (see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C5%8Dy%C5%8D_kanji).  So if you're
interested in learning written Japanese, that's a slightly more
daunting prospect than spoken.

(Not that spoken doesn't have its own complications, such as polite vs
formal language, because there are several levels of that: so "chotto
matte" is different from "shoushou o-mache kudasai" or "matte yo" even
though all of them mean "wait a sec"; on the whole, though japanese
has a fairly basic grammar system.)  (don't take my rough spellings
here too seriously, ok?)  Numbers are also a little difficult, because
there are different counters for everything: so five pencils requires
a different version of the number five than five books, or five years
old, or five people.

A little more practical advice: Start out learning hiragana, the basic
Japanese syllabary (the other, katakana, is largely used for foreign
words, and is very useful to know if you're in japan, but not really
as important a step as hiragana).  Then pick up a book like the kana
edition of Japanese for Busy People (with CDs).  I would strongly
suggest that you do not start learning japanese in the roman
alphabet--it's only an approximation, and you will learn it better
from kana.  JfBP is a little boring, but not too bad if you bring some
motivation to it.

I haven't personally tried the Genki series, but I hear it's one of
the current favorites, so you might want to check that out. . ..

and depending on where you live you could find some stuff nearby; New
York, Boston, and San Francisco I know off the top of my head have
Japanese bookstores, etc; finding a language partner is always a great
way to get yourself into it.

um, obDWJ: I wonder how Christopher's mother did learning Japanese.
Maybe she just used a translation spell.

have fun :)


On 6/25/07, Mark Allums <mark at allums.com> wrote:
> deborah.dwj at suberic.net wrote:
> > Are there many non-English root words in the various Internet-ese
> > languages? People have been calling it a pidgin, but I'm not sure
> > if it counts as a true pidgin with only one root language
> > (although I think we are very close to having native speakers). I
> > know that there are Japanese root words in some of the dialects
> > of Internet-language (otaku, otakin, chan, yaoi etc are term that
> > traveled from Japanese to fan English, and thence to the fan
> > corner of Internet English; and I assume there are also many
> > Japanese words in the Internet chat-speak used in the gaming
> > community).
> Tangentially, I believe the Japanese didn't contribute particularly much
> to internet culture for some reason.  They do have a particular dialect
> of emoticon, e.g., ^_^ , which *isn't* looked at sideways.  The chief
> Japanese contributions to computing in general (aside from the hardware)
> are robots and the programming language Ruby, which was developed in the
> 1990s by Yukihiro Matsumoto (known to Ruby programmers as "Matz".)  I'm
> perfectly prepared to be corrected about this by someone more
> knowledgeable, however.  I guess this didn't answer the question.  Oh well.
> I am thinking of trying to learn Japanese.  Any advice?
> --Mark
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