|Have you ever wondered about...|
The Japanese Language?
By Emy Murakawa
It is most commonly believed that Japanese, along with Korean, is linked to the Altaic language family, which includes Turkish, Mongolian and other languages. However, some linguists do not include Korean and Japanese in this family because Japanese also shows similarities to Austronesian languages like Polynesian. All languages are influenced by languages they are in contact with. At the two extremes of the Altaic family, Turkish has many Arabic words while Korean and Japanese have many from Chinese.
The written form of Japanese utilizes several thousand kanji (Chinese characters), and Hiragana and Katakana (two syllabaries of 46 characters each; together called Kana). Hiragana is used to indicate prefixes and suffixes, what I always called “connective tissue,” while Katakana is used to phonetically represent foreign words. Japanese texts can be written in two ways: Western style, i.e., in horizontal rows from the top to the bottom of the page and read from left to right, or in traditional Japanese style, i.e., in vertical columns read from top to bottom and column to column from the right to the left side of the page. Both writing styles co-exist today.
Basic Japanese grammar is relatively simple. Complicating factors such as gender articles and distinctions between plural and singular are missing almost completely. Conjugation rules for verbs and adjectives are simple and almost free of exceptions.
Compared to other languages, Japanese has relatively few sounds, and pronunciation poses few problems to most learners. The most obvious exceptions are the r-l blend and the ts blend. Accents do exist, but to a much lesser extent than in the Chinese language, and to me, the harder part is not accenting, as with our surnames. An additional complication is that there are, relatively speaking, many homonyms (words that are pronounced the same way, but have different meanings). A couple of examples:
|The most difficult aspect of learning the language, to me, is learning and properly using the honorific vocabulary properly. Japanese and Korean have highly complex honorific forms for verbs depending on the social level of the speaker and the person being addressed. Japanese also has some differences in vocabulary depending on whether the speaker is male or female. For example, stomach is hara if spoken by a male, and onaka if spoken by a female.|
The Japanese language accommodates several levels of politeness through different verb endings and alternative expressions and words. Different words and expressions are used when talking to an unknown person or a superior, as opposed to talking to a child, family member or a close friend. There are three general levels of politeness, which are expressed through different kinds of speech. The levels correspond to colloquial, polite, and honorific situations. The honorific level of speech is called keigo.
When speaking to those requiring deference -- like customers, teachers or elders -- you are supposed to use the honorific, keigo speech. The simplest way to explain keigo is to say that the speaker uses very humble expressions in reference to oneself while speaking reverently of the person being addressed.
Those studying Japanese as a second language may find keigo very confusing and complicated. However, keep in mind that even native Japanese speakers need considerable application experience in order to be able to correctly express themselves in this formal, honorific way, and native speakers also get a lot of this through osmosis. Daunting as it may seem, most Japanese-speaking people appreciate your efforts to speak to them in their language.
By Gail Sharp
December Photo #1
What can you tell us about these pictures? Who are these people? What were they doing? When was it taken? What significance to our Community Center does the photo represent?
Here’s a hint. Because of people like the ones in these photos, we get to talk story every month. Thank you to all!
Send your comments to email@example.com with "December Talk Story.
Passing the Gavel – 1958Mrs. Nishio, Ann Hojo and Murakami Sensei
There is one full name and a few first names still missing from the list, but the identifications for the Venice Gakuen Fujinkai, 1958 are almost complete. Please continue to jog those memories until we have everybody identified! If you have any additions or corrections, please let us know.
From left to right with new identifications in italics: Mrs. Hayashi, Yoshiko Matsuda, Miyo Eshita, Rose Otani, Tomoe Omote, Mitsuye Matsumura, Ume Kita, Murakami Sensei, May Izuhara, Mrs. Nishio, Fumiko Sasaki, unknown, Ann Hojo, Kiyoko Tamano, Alice Fukumoto and Joanne Ikkanda.