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