Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hunkering down......

Spike picked the wrong week to come to Tokyo.

After a cloudy day of intermittent rain and then no rain, but no wind-with near 90% humidity-the wind she be blowing. Typhoon 9 号is coming to town.

No complaints on my end-I got a free day off out of it. Inside the gates pretty much everything shut down. Out side, it was business as usual. There is none of that "day of preparation nonsense over here. You go to work, the stores stay open, and the trains keep running till the wind says they can't. It is actually a good system. I stayed in and paid bills and caught up on my correspondence today while the S.O. went out to by yet another 3 or 4 dishes. How one person can need so much china is totally beyond me. To each his or her own though.

I also used the time to study my Japanese since I got the results of my test back. Not as bad as I though-not as good as I had hoped. In 6 months I will try it again.

Over at the Japan Times there is a great article pointing out one of the great difficulties of learning this interesting and complex language. To sound natural and to be able to function in both business and society, one has to know how to use Keigo (敬語) properly. Thomas Dillon is very correct when he points out, " one of the finer mysteries of life in Japan is the proper use of polite speech, teneigo or — worse — its more honorific cousin, keigo. Let's make this simple and wrap these two together in a single package — the word keigo."

The problem with keigo is that it takes words and sentence patterns that you have struggled to learn and throws them out the window for new verbs and pre-fixes and suffixes that make no logical sense. What English accomplishes with inflection, Japanese accomplishes with word play.

Of course, Japanese will tell you keigo is a mystery to them as well. Especially younger Japanese, who — like learning to ride a bike — have to scrape their knees a few times before they can pedal away on just the right verb choices. As for me, my knees are so badly scarred, I am afraid to get anywhere near the keigo bicycle.

This may depend on how one first learned Japanese. If you acquired your skills in a classroom with a patient instructor — or one that was not so tolerant but carried a whip — you might have a handle on polite speech. If you learned your Japanese in a bar, arguing politics, sports, and whatnot with other imbibers, you may be more colorful and even more effective in your expressions. But you may not be so polite.

The advantage of bar language is that it is practical. Keigo, meanwhile, is as artificial as the classroom. But harmony-obsessed Japan is full of artificial settings and sooner or later every learner trips over the rules for respectful speech.

Besides providing me with yet another excuse to go to my favorite bars, the author is right. Its also the case when you learn tidbits of the language between the sheets with your favorite ( or at least current) J-Girl.

Some sensei's are better than others!

Japanese will know it right away, that you don't know it at all, and while they may be outwardly polite to you, they will walk away with that secret satisfaction Japanese is only meant to be spoken by other Japanese.

And you wonder why the rest of Asia hates them so much..................

Winds getting stronger. I think I'll stop now and have a beer! Speaking of being ready for a disaster:


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