Check out our updated Community
Dan Herbert
The difficulties of language learning.

For discussion purposes, I am going to use Japanese as the example to get my point across.

Please be aware that, if I offend anyone with what I say or make someone angry, that was not my intent. I only wish to voice (or to vent) my frustrations with Japanese, which other people could also be experiencing.

 

For those of you who are not aware, Japanese uses a grammatical structure of;

Subject -> Object -> Verb

 

Even something as simple as this can cause confusion and please let me explain why.

E.g.

私はすしが好きです

Watashi *wa sushi ga suki desu

 

Number one. The particle wa, spelt ha.
This easiest one to get around, but still a slight annoyance. Every person I have asked “why is wa spelt like ha?” 90% of the time, the answer is… ”because it is” (thanks very much)

Number two. Spaces….or more precisely, lack of spaces. How can you identify which character is part of the previous word or the latter word!? I often come up with four answers;
                1. It’s a particle
                2. It’s not a particle and it belongs with the previous word
                3. It’s not a particle and it belongs with the latter word
                4. It’s a particle and so is the previous and / or latter character

*cries a little inside*

 

Number three. The subject is omitted most of the time when speaking and 80% of the time, the verb is omitted…depending. So, with this in mind…the above sentence (in Japanese) can become;

すしが好き

Sushi ga suki

 

So, hypothetically, the grammar structure, Subject -> Object -> Verb, just becomes….object.

Now, I know that this is not 100% true. The other words are there, just omitted. But the little things like this, can hinder learners, especially those who have learning difficulties.

Reading books like Genki and minna no nihongo, amongst others, isn’t always great.

Often the books give instruction, asking;

“now, look at the pictures and answer 1 to 6!”
*looks at the pictures*
-
“I don’t even see the question, so how can I answer!?”
*skips to next section and continues on his merry way*

 

There is a lot more to it, but I think I should stop here.

Thanks, to those of you who have read this.

Apr 17, 2018 10:11 PM
Comments · 13

Yup, genuine challenges. Let's see if I can help on some of them:

は for Wa - historical orthography. Take a look at English (nite is spelt knight???) :-D. The most common words in a language are the most resistant to standardization ... grammatically and orthographically. Add を and へ to that list.

About the spaces - yeah, that's tough, I had the same problem initially with Chinese. Although Japanese is actually a bit easier, at least if you write it properly with the right amount of Kanji (not too many, not too few) - in that case, your major word stems will have a Kanji and the endings are in Kana. ThisMAKEsTEXTwithoutSPACEsMUCHmoreREADable. The simplified (almost all kana) orthography in many beginner's textbooks does not help.

About "optional precision" - that's a big one - shift in mindset, I mean. English or e.g. my mother tongue German are obsessive when it comes to specifying the obvious: He put his hand in his pocket to take out his wallet. A lot of other languages think that the use of "his" is completely redundant here - if you put your hand into somebody else's pocket to take out money that would be a serious problem. Same with personal pronouns. "Hi, I am George, I am American, I like baseball" - that's a lot of "I" :-D. Japanese and Chinese take this to the logical conclusion - if it isn't needed, you don't have to say it ;-). BTW: It may help to think about the particles differently: Watashi wa sushi ga suki desu - As for me, it is sushi, (that is) liked + polite ending. The は is really more of a "as far as XYZ" is concerned marker than a subject marker - and the が is more of a "it is A (as opposed to B)" kind of marker, at least that's my working model (still very much a beginner in Japanese myself).

About those picture exercises, though - well, cannot help you on that, sorry. I often find them weird, too (same for: "complete this sentence" questions for the HSK tests). :-D 頑張ってください。


April 17, 2018
------------------------------------------------------------
*** about 'が'

「スシが好きです」 has a (so called) subject. It is "スシ".

「スシが好きです」 and "I love/like sushi" do not share the same gramatical structure. Maybe it sounds odd to you, 

Japanese language has lots of sentences like this:

「水が飲みたい」 I want to drik water
「日本語がわかる」I understand Japanese
「英語ができる」I can (read/speak/write) English
「それがほしい」 I want it

If you suppose 'が' is a marker for subject, 「水」「日本語」「それ」 are all subjects.

**** about 'が'(2)

In my opinion , "が" is radically not a marker for subject. 
The very first meaning of "が" in the old Japanese is "belonging". For example, "我が家(my house)", which can mean the house belongs to "me".

In the same perspective, the sentence "私がAKIです" can be explained like "the conception of 'AKIです' belongs to '私'". This perspective turn into the function of (so called) subject.

And that's why the sentence "私がしたこと(the things I did)" can be said as "私のしたこと".「の」 is a usual  marker to indicate "belonging" like "私の時計(my watch)".

Feel free to ask any question.
(Sorry, maybe  I wrote too much, but of course no offense. it is my nature, once got started, want to explain everything)


April 18, 2018
------------------------------------------------------------
*** about 'は'(2) - One paragraph, one theme.

「こんにちは、私はAKIです。日本生まれの日本人。語学好きです。あ、マンガも好きかな。みなさん、よろしくお願いします」

The paragraph consists of 5 sentences, but (so called) subject appears only one time in the first sentence "私は".

So is the subject omitted in the rest 4 sentence? The answer is no. "私は" is not subject but "theme" of the paragraph. You don't have to say theme again and again until the theme changes. Or you can say "One paragraph, one theme".

FYI:
You can understand the following 4 sentences in the one perspective "Theme-Rhema", though they appear to have different sturctures.

「大阪の食べ物は、美味しいです」
「大阪は、食べ物が美味しいです"
「3年前、はじめて大阪にいったときいちばん感動したのは、食べ物がメチャクチャおいしかったことです」
「大阪は、大好きです/きらいです」」

For details:
https://www.italki.com/question/430204

(to be continued)

April 18, 2018
------------------------------------------------------------
*** about 'は'

It is not the marker for subject but for "theme",  

The gramatical structure of "私はAKIです", is not "Subject-Object", but "Theme-Rhema". By theme, I mean "what you will talk about", by rhema "what you talked about the theme".

So the structure of "私はAKIです" is not "I am AKI", but "Talking about '私', it is 'AKI'". This structure surely looks odd to European people. However, that is why (or secret) the following brief sentence can make sense.

1.象は鼻が長い(The elephant has a long nose)
   You might wonder, (which is subject, 象? 鼻?)

2.What's your order? -> 「僕はコーヒー」
   (hey, you are a human, not a cup of coffee !)

3.「あいつは殺す」
  This means, in 99% case, "I/We'll kill him", 
    very rarely means "He kills"
※ if you say「あいつが殺す」, this 100% means "He kills"

4. 「男は度胸、女は愛嬌」
  means: "it's important for men to have courage, for woman, loveliness.", but Men __is not__ courage. Men is creatures and courage is a state of mind.

To know why and how these sentences can make sense, please refer to:https://www.italki.com/question/424283

(Sorry, the comment length is limted to 2000 characters, so this is to be continued)

April 18, 2018

@Ewa,

As to the: why is that ;-) - let's engage in a thought experiment (with some made-up writing, for illustration only)

Let's imagine we had borrowed Chinese characters for English like the Japanese did. So, if we wanted to write the English word "to see", we'd write つ見 or something like that - we'd probably use hiragana for little words like "to". Maybe we'd also add a little い so we can differentiate 見い (see) from 見う (saw) and 見いん (seen). Hey, that's not too bad ...   *私見う彼む昨日 - "I saw him yesterday." Cool!

But we also imported thousands of loanwords from Chinese, or in the case of English, from Latin. Let's say Latin used 見 to write the word videre, from which we got video, visa, vista, visor, etc. Not a problem - we will just keep those words the way they were written in Latin, and 見 can now also be pronounced video as in (hypothetically) *見店 "video store", *見顯 "video display" etc. But now Latin moved on and "video" (or vista) became "view". We imported that word, too, let's say as 見方 for "view-point". So, now sometimes 見 is read "see" (or saw or seen), sometimes "video" and sometimes "view" - it depends on context :-). Kun-yomi, Go-On, Kan-On. Maybe also So-On, To-On and ateji :-D.

But what else could we have done? Make up new characters for the English words? That would mean doubling or tripling the number of characters (the Vietnamese did that - Chu Nom). How about writing all the English words in kana? Actually, once you are used to seeing characters, writing long passages in kana looks weird - I much prefer characters ;-). But it also means you are locked in now with limited choices - either triple the number of characters, or make them do triple-duty.

April 18, 2018
Show More
Dan Herbert
Language Skills
English, French, German, Japanese
Learning Language
French, German, Japanese