2011年12月29日木曜日

masu form and plain form

Japanese verbs can be divided into many groups from various viewpoints. Today I would like to write about one way of grouping, called “masu” form and “ta” form, or plain form or short form. There is a different way of looking at it that is easier to understand than considering the form’s name.
  1. ikimasu  
  2. iku

  1. ikimashita
  2. itta

  1. ikimasen
  2. ikanai
To begin with, what is the difference between these two forms? An easy answer is type 1 is polite and type 2 is casual. For example, you would ask your boss a question like this:
ashita doko ni ikimasu ka?

But, you would ask your friend like this:
ashita doko ni iku?
   
If I give you this explanation, you might say, “I want to learn casual form (type 2) because I want to speak Japanese to my friends” or “I want to start with casual form”. However, in reality it does not work that simply.
 
Even if you know “iku” (plain form), if you don’t know “ikimasu” (masu form), there are many expressions you can’t say. For instance, “want to go” or “would like to go” are made based on “ikimasu”.

Remove “masu” from “ikimasu” and add “tai” to “iki”. Then you will get “ikitai” which means “want to go”. There are many of these kinds of expressios.



On the other hand, some people say, “I always want to use a polite ‘masu form’ because I don’t want to take the risk of saying something impolite in Japanese. Therefore, the ‘plain form’ is unnecessary.” This is not good, either. This is because many expressions require plain form of verbs. If you don’t use plain form for these expressions, they are not grammatically correct regardless of the situation. In short, if you don’t know both masu form and plain form, you can’t make expressions in Japanese.

Moreover, which should you learn first? Either one would be ok if you learn both in the end. But, I recommend you start with the masu form because conjugation of this form is easier. You just need to change “masu” to “mashita”, “masen” and “masendeshita” in order to describe different tenses except for “te form” which expresses a present continuous tense. Isn’t this simple? It makes sense whenever you learn something to start from easy things and then move on to more difficult things.

I think the first thing you find difficult when you start learning Japanese is verb conjugation. First of all, you should master how to classify verbs into groups such as group 1 and group 2 (classification in “Minna no Nihongo”) or U-verb and RU-verb (classification in “Genki”) before learning masu form and plain form. If you can do this, you will be better at verb conjugation. If you don’t know these ways of classification that I mentioned, please ask me.

Thank you for reading my blog this year. I will find interesting topics next year, too.
Wish you a happy new year! yoi otoshi o! (*You can't say "akemashite omedeto"before January 1st.)
See you in 2012.

2011年10月4日火曜日

Is Japanese artistic?

The word order in Japanese and English are quite different and spoken almost completely in reverse. For example,
スミスさんは しごとの あとで おがわさんと テニスを します。(Smith san wa shigoto no ato de ogawa san to tennis o shimas.)
Smith will play tennis with Ogawa after work.
This is because the words proceed with subject object verb in an English sentence. On the other hand, a verb comes at the end of a sentence in Japanese. While you are learning Japanese, you have already realized this point. And, I think you feel that you need to be somewhat distanced from thinking in English when you speak in Japanese.

There is one book which writes an interesting thing about this word order. The author is Haruhiko Kindaichi, a linguist representing Japan. The name of the book is “kotoba no saijiki” (list of seasonal words). This book is written in the style of a diary and everyday he is writing a short essay about language. Today I would like to introduce one of them to you. I will rewrite almost all of what he wrote on the page of November 8, but I will make it a little simpler so that you can read it easily. However, I am not going to infringe on copyright. I hope you understand this.
ゆくあきの やまとのくにの やくしじの とうのうえなる ひとひらの くも (yuku aki no yamato no kuni no yakushiji no tou no ue naru hitohira no kumo
A piece of cloud above the tower of Yakushiji temple in Yamato when autumn is leaving.          (Nobutsuna Sasaki)
If you translate this poem into English, the word order would be reversed completely from the original. If you compare the two languages, in the English version “cloud” appears first and it is clear that this poem is about. Compared to this, only after finishing reading the Japanese version will a reader know that “cloud” is the topic.

You might think Japanese is inefficient. However, what if you film the true atmosphere of this poem with a video camera? You might first take scenery of the end of autumn, narrow down from the scenes in Yamato area (Yamato: an old name for Nara) to Yakushiji temple, and take the famous three-storied pagoda. Furthermore, you move the video camera upward gradually from the bottom, stop it to focus on the top of the pagoda, and then shoot a hanging white cloud in the clear sky above the pagoda.
The Japanese word order is not practical, but it suits the spirit of the arts.

Haruhiko Kindaichi, “kotoba no saijiki”, Shinchosha, 2005.

What do you think about the author’s opinion? I think it is very interesting that Japanese poems are made in a visually pretty way because of the unique word order. The word order could change for English poems. But, it will not be the same sequence as the way you move a camera, will it?

*Haruhiko Kindaichi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haruhiko_Kindaichi
*Yakushiji temple: http://www.nara-yakushiji.com/guide/index.html


2011年8月29日月曜日

Have a good weekend !

Zansho omimai moushi agemasu.

This is a greeting for summer. It means “Are you doing OK in the hot weather?” and is used when we write a letter or postcard to friends or acquaintances. Every year I write postcards for zansho mimai only to my aunts living far away and friends whom I rarely see, but it is nice to get in touch with them for a season’s greeting.
 
The Japanese greetings that even a newcomer knows are “konnichiwa”, “arigato”, etc. Also, the greetings that you learn when you eat with Japanese people are “itadakimas” and “gochisosama”. The ones that you learn by hearing Japanese colleagues saying them everyday are “otsukaresama” and “osaki ni shitsurei shimas”.
*itadakimas: Thank you for the food. (before eating)
gochisosama: Thank you for the food. (after eating)
otsukaresama: Thank you for your hard work. (after finishing your work)
osaki ni shitsurei shimas: Excuse me for leaving the office before you.
Moreover, everyone wonders how one might say “Have a good weekend” in Japanese.
Have a good weekend. = yoi shumatsu o. / tanoshii shumatsu o.
The full sentence is “yoi / tanoshii shumatsu o sugoshite kudasai.” We omit “sugoshite kudasai” (Please spend). But, make sure to keep “o” because it is important.

We often use this greeting “yoi shumatsu o. / tanoshii shumatsu o.”, but I think they are translated from English. We probably didn’t have these kinds of greetings in Japan before. This is because such greetings as "Have a good day”, “Have a good night” or “Have a good holiday" are rarely used in Japanese.
Have a good day. = yoi ichinichi o.
This is not strange, but I think it is not used that much.

There is no good Japanese translation for "Have a good night". We never say “yoi yoru o”. When you say goodbye to someone after 8pm or 9pm and if you will just go home and sleep, you can say “oyasuminasai” (Have a good sleep/ Sleep well). However, it is weird to say “oyasuminasai” around 6pm or 7pm and you will still have dinner or go out later on.

Furthermore, for "Have a good holiday." or "Have a nice trip." I think it would be more natural to say “yasumi o tanoshinde kudasai” (Enjoy your holiday) or “ryoko o tanoshinde kudasai” (Enjoy your trip), instead of “yoi yasumi o” or “yoi ryoko o”.

Also, there is a convenient expression in Japanese called “gokigenyo”.
It means something like “Are you feeling well?” or “I hope you are well.” and is a greeting used when you meet someone and say goodbye both in the daytime and nighttime. But, we think this greeting is feminine and too elegant, so it is not popular anymore.

Well, lately the temperature has dropped a little, but the summer heat still lingers. Enjoy the rest of summer.

By the way, people say “Stay cool” in English when it is hot, but there is no expression like this in Japanese. If I try to translate it, it becomes “suzushiku ite ne”, but this would not be used.

*Watch the video, too!

2011年7月9日土曜日

"de" or "ni"

Everyone hits the first wall of Japanese soon after they start learning this language. That is particles such aswa, ga, o, ni de”. They are used in various ways, but today I explain the mystery for many learners of Japanese, the difference between "de" and "ni".
Often in lessons students begin to speak with “Nihon de or “Nihon ni…” and pause. Then, they ask me “Is de correct?” or “Is ni correct?” before restarting the rest of the sentence. I always answer, “If you don’t continue your sentence, I can’t tell whether your particle is correct or not. Say the sentence until the end.” We don’t know which is right, “Nihon de…” or “Nihon ni…”, before hearing the verb at the end of the sentence. In other words, you decide "de" or "ni" depending on the verb.


First of all, we divide verbs into three groups, which is an important process.
  1. three verbs: ikimas (go), kimas (come), kaerimas (return)
  2. verbs of action: tabemas (eat), mimas (see, watch, look), nomimas (drink), kaimas (buy) and so on. There are many of verbs of this kind.
  3. verbs of state: arimas, imas (be somewhere), sundeimas (live), and so on. Only these three are good to look at first.)

Next, let’s have a look at example sentences.

  1. watshi wa nihon ni ikimas. (I will go to Japan.)
  2. watashi wa nihon de hatarakimas. (I work/will work in Japan.)
  3. watashi wa nihon ni imas. (I am in Japan.)

I made a chart of these examples.

group
particle
meaning
English
1. ikimas, kimas, kaerimas

place ni
direction
to
2. tabemas, mimas, nomimas
place de
place where an action happens

at, in
3. arimas, imas, sundeimas
place ni
location or position of someone or something

at, in

If you think about it in English, group 1 is obviously different, but group 2 and 3 may be confusing since they are the same. However, throw away the English way of thinking here and acquire a way of thinking that groups Japanese verbs. I wrote this before, too, but it is important. I hope you can get to the point of distinguishing between “action” and “state”. This will really help you learn Japanese in the future.

When we speak our mother tongue, probably no one speaks while thinking of its grammar. The words come out of one’s mouth naturally. But, when it comes to a foreign language, we need to be aware of that language’s grammar. Some people think that they want to learn Japanese how kids do.” But, I believe that when adults learn Japanese, it is important to understand Japanese grammar and/or distinguish Japanese from your first language in your brain.

Of course, there is also hope. I occasionally hear some non-Japanese say “This doesn’t sound right.” while they are speaking Japanese. These people are usually advanced students and/or have lived in Japan for a long time. They have gotten this instinct/ sense naturally through a lot of study and experience. Keep on studying until you get this feeling!

2011年5月20日金曜日

I miss you.

More than two months have passed since the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on March 11. Even I, who live in Tokyo spent the days experiencing or feeling things I had never had. It will be a long while before Japan is able to get back to to the same condition as before. This makes me sad.

Probably this sadness causes this, but I have often heard jishuku in Japan since then.
jishuku: to choose to hold back your feelings or behavior
After the earthquake many events were cancelled: concerts, festivals, hanami, firework festival in August, and so on. Also, personal parties, weddings and dinners-out were even cancelled. It was because many Japanese thought that we should sympathize with evacuees and victims's sadness or suffering and not have fun now. This led to a tendency of "Let's not have fun, boisterous parties or unnecessary things." There was the problem of a shortage of electricity in the Kanto reigon as well, but people in West Japan where they didn't have a shortage of elecetricity, also turned off the bright lights. Jishuku spread all over Japan.

What do you think about jishuku? Some people say this is a Japanese idea and also a Japanese aesthetic. The other day one American who is often on Japanese TV shows introduced an article from an American newspaper. "In this article about jishuku in Japan, because there is no English equivalent of jishuku, they used jishuku." According to my dictionary, jishuku is "self-restraint". Is this a good translation?

There are words that do not have exact equivalents between foreign languages. For example, "miss". How would you say "I miss you" in Japanese? I think there is no one specific Japanese word exoressing "miss".
 miss: to feel regret about the absense or loss of somebody or something
 I miss you. : anata ni aitai. (I want to see you.)
 I miss my mom's food.: okaasan no ryori ga tabetai. (I want to eat my mom's food.)
Verbs change depending on the object of the sentence.

koishii is similar to "miss", but it is used only for song lyrics or poems, not used for everyday life.
 koishii: to feel attraction  for a person, place or thing that you are physically separeted from.
Moreover, many non-Japanese often use "natsukashii", but its usage could be wrongs sometimes, so please be careful. natsukashii means that you have a feeling of "miss" when you remember the distant past.
 shogakko jidai ga natsukashii: I miss my elementary schoold days.
 mukashi no tomodachi ga natsukashii: I miss my old friends.
Now the Japanese especially the people of Northern Japan, must be feeling that they want to go back to the days before March 11. This is also a feeling of "miss".

It is very important to feel "Let's share the pains of the evacuees/victims." However, more people are saying lately, "jishuku has been causing the secondary damage to the Japanese economy." Both the government and the people of Northern Japan are now appealing for all Japanese to support Northern Japan while continuing their lives as usual and not follow jishuku any more.

2011年3月30日水曜日

開く(aku) - 開く(hiraku)

As you all know, we had strong earthquakes in north-east Japan on March 11.
The resulting tsunami struck many cities and there were many victims. This is very sad.
Even now, in the cold weather, evacuees and victims are having to live with a shortage of food, electricity and water or living without these necessities altogether. This is a very difficult situation.
Besides that, there have also been the continuing troubles of the nuclear power plants in Fukushima and all Japanese are worried about it. I can’t stop checking the news either.
I am praying that the situation for evacuee and victims will improve even a little and that the radiation problem will not get worse.
                                                                                      
The sakura (cherry blossom) season which Japanese love will be coming soon, but this year it may be hard for us to simply enjoy it. I can’t get in the mood for ohanami (going outside to appreciate the cherry blossoms). Nevertheless, I think the beautiful sakura will make our heavy Japanese hearts a little lighter. Sakura has started blooming in Tokyo on March 28th.  The forecasted day of first bloom for north-east Japan is from the middle of April.
The “forecasted day of first bloom” is literally predicting literally “the day the flower will open out” being predicted. “The flower opens” (開くhiraku) is the same meaning as “the flower blooms”.  It is not 開く(aku), but 開く(hiraku).

The kanji is the same and the meaning is the same verb “open”, but what is the difference? To begin with, let’s look at “hiraku”. Please imagine when a flower blooms. The bloom opens from the center and outward. This has the feeling of gradually being able to see the center. It is moving toward more than two angles.

  • hana ga hiraku: Flowers open
  • te ga hiraku: Hands open
  • hon ga hiraku: Books open
  • jido door ga hiraku: Automatic doors open
  • mado ga hiraku: (French) windows open

Next, “aku” is to open by moving a thing like a key or lid that blocked a passageway. And, the movement is in one direction.
  • door ga aku:  (Swing/push type) doors open
  • mado ga aku: (Sliding) windows open
  • bin ga aku: Bottles open 
Given that there are situations when both “hiraku” or “aku” can be used, the above difference is not necessarily clear cut.
  • me ga hiraku/ aku: Eyes open
  • kuchi ga hiraku/ aku: Mouths open

Therefore, the grammatical difference is that “hiraku” is both an intransitive and a transitive verb. “aku” is an intransitive verb, and“akeru” is its transitive verb counterpart. The above example of “hiraku” is the case of the intransitive verb. The next example is the case of the transitive verb.
  • kasa o hiraku: Open an umbrella.
  • hon o hiraku: Open a book.
  • mise o hiraku: Open a store. (meaning “open a new store, start a business”)
When using the other transitive verb “akeru”, the meaning changes:
  • mise o akeru: Open a store. (meaning “open a store during opening hours everyday, open for business for that day”)
“hiraku” “aku “and “akeru” are quite complex, aren’t they?  I think it is good to remember the fundamental rule and then check the rule every time you see a real-life example.
Finally, for everyone who is in Japan, these continue to be highly stressful days, but when we see the cherry blossoms, let’s greet spring with a slightly more cheerful spirit. I refer to my favorite waka poem about cherry blossoms:

harukaze no hana o chirasu to miru yume wa

sametemo mune no sawagu narikeri   [Saigyo]

(Even after awakening from my dream of flowers scattered by a spring breeze, I'm feeling unesasy.)


hisakata no hikari nodokeki haru no hi ni
shizugokoro naku hana no chiruram     [Tomonori Kino]
(In the gentle light of a spring day, the flowers scatter without sincerity.)

 

If you change the boldfaced “no” to “ga”and read it, I think the meaning becomes easy to understand. Also, “flower” here means “cherry blossom”.