Is Japanese confusing to you?
Have you ever felt stuck after learning Japanese long enough because you start seeing more details of the language? You say, “Am I making any progress or am I going backwards?” Is Japanese confusing to you? If you feel that way, you are not the only one.
Long time ago, it was my cousin´s wedding. A pretty notebook came to our table where we were supposed to write messages to the couple. I wrote, “適当でいい加減に楽しんでください (Tekito de iikagen ni tanoshinde kudasai)”. I passed it to the next person. Suddenly my great auntie said to me from the other side of the table, “I love your messages, especially the part Tekito”.
What was the message about? It meant, “Enjoy (the marriage) reasonably and with a good balance”. However, this could be a tricky phrase depends how you say it or who reads it. Why?
Because the word tekito´s another meaning is irresponsible or nonsense. Iikagen also means vague or unreliable. These words are often used in the negative sense although they have positive meanings.
This is tekito na e (適当な絵), a drawing without much effort.
Tekito na hito (適当な人) is a person who is irresponsible, unreliable or imprecise. IIkagen na hito (いい加減な人) also refer the same type of person. But then, when you have an exam or filling a form, they ask you to choose tekito na mono (the most appropriate one).
It´s very confusing and you may reach the conclusion that Japanese is vague. I don´t deny it. Only I can tell is Japanese is not what you say but how you say it.
When I was still living with my parents, one of the typical conversation with my mum was,
Mum: Kyo no yoru nani tabetai. (今日の夜何食べたい/ what do you want to eat for dinner?)
Me: Nandemo ii. (何でもいい/ anything will do)
Mum: Ja, tonkatsu? (じゃあ、とんかつ/ so, pork cutlet?)
Me: Agemono wa iya. (揚げ物はいや/ I don´t want fried stuff)
Mum: Spaghetti? (スパゲッティ/ spaghetti?)
Me: Tansuikabutsu bakka (炭水化物ばっか/ too much carbohydrate)
Mum: Nandemo yokunaijan! Tabetaimono wo iinasai! (何でも良くないじゃん！食べたい物をはっきり言いなさい！/ That´s not “anything”! Tell me what you want to eat!)
“Anything” is the most difficult option.
Another question I´m often asked is んです (ndesu). Imagine you are eating lunch and have a phone call. You pick it up and the caller say, “What are you doing?” You tell the person, “I´m eating lunch”.
How do you say this in Japanese?
Option 1: 今お昼ご飯を食べています。(Ima, ohirugohan wo tabeteimasu)
Option 2: 今お昼ご飯を食べているんです。(Ima, ohirugohan wo tabeteirundesu)
Both can be translated as “Now, I´m eating lunch” but these two give different feeling, at least for Japanese. The key is this “ndesu”.
According to the Japan Foundation´s website, this ndesu is used for explaining the situation or the reason. This form is used for both asking for the reason and explaing the situation. This can be a justification and using ndesu all the time when you talk is quite annoying. When you use ndesu to suggest someone to explain, depends how you use it, it sounds quite intrusive or some may even feel blamed.
With n or without it, just one sound makes a big difference in Japanese.
Let´s try with kekko (結構). This means, quite, wonderful, great, marvelous or no thank you.
You offer a mandarin to your guest.
You: ミカンはいかがですか。(Mikan wa ikaga desuka/ would you like some mandarin?)
Guest: おミカンは結構です。(Omikan wa kekkodesu).
Does she want a mandarin or not?
Answer is …. she said, “No thank you”. Did you get it right?
As the drama says, Japanese is a quite vague language. You may have experienced in Japan the Japanese people tilt their head and say, “chotto” when you asked something. Since you may know, chotto means a little so you think, “A little, what?” and wait for the answer. But you probably won´t get any clear answer from them. The answer is that “tilt” and the pause after chotto…… These explain all (among Japanese people).
Japanese do this because things are complicated and seem to be impossible to solve. The pause after chotto means, muri desu (無理です), I can´t do it or it´s impossible but they try not to be impolite. Instead of saying NO, they give rather a vague answer.
This is a good example of the language reflects its culture. Harmony is very important in the Japanese society and with the time, perhaps the language has formed in the way that respects each other. Japanese language accepts the grayness to keep the harmony.
I was watching YouTube the other day and found an interesting video, which might help you to understand more about Japanese language. Nihonjin no shiranai nihongo (日本人の知らない日本語) is a TV drama, which main topic is learning Japanese. But at the same time, the Japanese teacher realises more detail about Japanese language. Nihonjin no shiranai nihongo, Japanese language that Japanese people don´t know. This is a very interesting drama for me too. And here, they explain the confusion and vagueness of Japanese language. This may help to understand the language and also encourage you not to quit learning. Don´t give up and ganbatte!
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