Posts Tagged ‘language’

One of my favorite things about studying Japanese is the subtlety of this language. A lot is left unsaid, words ommitted or abbreviated, and so one has to rely on context to understand the overall meaning. There is also a lot of variety that we dont have in English, such the different first person pronouns you can use in Japanese. By choosing a particular first person pronoun you can instantly make yourself seem more masculine, feminine, humble, superior or a combination of the above. Choosing the most appropriate word out of a selection of five or six is slightly tricky. But what is more interesting is trying to understand what someone is saying when they use a particular word which has three or four different meanings!!  Japanese has so many homophones that misunderstandings easily occur. “Kami” can mean 紙 “paper” 髪 “hair” or 神 ”god”. Japanese people argue that the pronounciation is different, and whilst this may be the case I still have to rely on context to know which one they mean!

Luckily I am allowed to make mistakes as I am not a native speaker, and when I do it is cause for laughter rather than offence. Since the last few days have been peppered with examples, I want to share two which stood out.

On Saturday I went to Nagoya Port and to see the aquarium which was a lovely day out. As soon as we got there my Japanese friend said to me 「さかなみたい」. Now, depending on the context and how it is written or pronounced, this could either mean 「魚見たい」 ”I want to see the fish” or 「魚みたい」 ” (something) looks like a fish”, but the difference is very minimal to the untrained ear. Since we were at an aquarium, it really wasn’t very clear which she meant. To add to the confusion, another friend said 「魚食べてみたい」, which means “I want to taste the fish”. Whether they meant the ones swimming around in the tanks in front of us or ones fresh from the port was unclear, although I hope they meant the latter!

On Thursday evening I decided to get my hair coloured at a place nearby, and on my return to the dorms I met a couple of people I hadn’t seen in a few days. When they asked about my new look I replied “I just got back from the Beauty Parlour”. Unfortunately, the word for Beauty Parlour/Hairdressers is very very similar to the word for Hospital and my friend looked at me half shocked and worried until we both realised my mispronunciation, at which we burst out laughing!

So whilst learning a new language can be a minefield, it is also incredibly funny if you take a step back and laugh at your own mistakes.

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