Posts Tagged ‘Japanese’

Monogatari Trivia

September 23, 2013

In the Monogatari series, Araragi’s vampire companion is named Shinobu, AKA “heart-under-blade”. Today I learned that the kanji for しのぶ (shi.no.bu) is 忍, or a heart 心 under a blade 刃. So what does 忍, mean? Well, there’s two pronunciations. にん (ni.n) means endurance. And Shinobu? It means Fern, specifically this fern. Keep that in mind the next time the dread vampire Heart-Under-Blade Shinobu shows her fangs.

Girls und Panzer — the anime 5

July 5, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

I just can’t stay away. After spending a weekend correcting final papers and writing one of my own that was due out for a conference the next Monday, I got to thinking about translating, particularly translating from Japanese to English, with their totally different structures. It’s been said that the art of good translation is a good paraphrase, and nowhere is that more important than in Japanese. My Japanese isn’t good enough to catch spoken sentences, but I can pick up short phrases. My skills are at a sophomore level — I know stuff, but I don’t know enough to know which part of what I know is wrong. Consider yourself warned.

For example, いいえ (ii.e or, in English ee.eh) means no, but there are a number of other negatives available. いや (i.ya, pronounced more like iya) seems to be more formal, used with formal denials. One translation I’ve seen is nay. We also have です (de.su, normally with a silent u) is a polite ending meaning some form of it is (red it is), I am (Steve I am), he is (Yamada he is), etc. Yoda talks like he does because his original language was Japanese, or something. So combining those two いやです (and pronouncing the uiyadesu) gives a phrase probably best translated as that would be no. Except that in at least two anime (including Ep 12 of GaruPan) I’ve seen it translated as don’t wanna.

Hey! Move your light tank!

Hey! Move your light tank!

Then there’s the phrase それ (so.re). それ means that (closer to the listener than to the speaker), but can also mean look there! In Ep 4, the volleyball team is practicing while waiting for St. Gloriana to be drawn into their trap, and one member of the team calls そ.れ! (Ball!) when they serve the ball,

そ.れ!

そ.れ!


but when they shoot the Matilda tank from behind they shout そ.れ! そ.れ! , which gets translated as “volley ball! heck yeah!” In Ep 12, when they drive up on the back of the Maus, it’s translated directly as there!

それ!

そ れ!


I suspect it’s a sports term, and a better translation would be heads up! Interestingly, there’s a similar term そら (so.ra), that means sky, but can also mean watch out!

Finally, we have a bit of a pun, that I’m tickled to have caught. Nishizumi is listening to the others talk:

I have a boyfriend in every port

I have a boyfriend in every port

The Japanese words are かれ (ka.re), boyfriend, and カレー (ka.ree), curry. The ee isn’t a long e, it’s a short e that’s held a little longer (re-eh). Note that カレー is in katakana (think italics), because it’s a foreign loan word.

Fun With Vocabulary

August 14, 2012

Swap kana:
きゅうりょう (kyu.ryo) 給料 means salary.
きょうりゅう (kyo.ryu) 恐竜 means dinosaur (lit. scary dragon).
As you can see, the kanji are nothing alike, so that’s alright then.

Fun With Vocabulary

June 6, 2012

I never cease to be amazed at the way Japanese characters change pronunciation and meaning, depending on how they are used. The kanji 女 is pronounced on.na, and means ‘woman‘. The kanji 子 is pronounced ko, and means ‘child‘. When used together 女子 they are pronounced jo.shi (unless the reader pronounces them on.na.ko), and are sort of a group reference to ‘young women‘, but when combined as radicals of a single kanji 好 they are pronounced ko.me (この), which means…’good‘.

Fun With Vocabulary

March 15, 2012

Not content with having three alphabets (or two syllabics and a logographic if you’re picky) the Japanese also have a formally formal way of speaking, and a formally informal way. These are not to be confused with the informal formalities, which are mere period pieces and regional dialects. So, one learns the baseline dictionary form of verbs and adjectives, and how to conjugate those forms into formal language. Then, in Chapter 18, they tell you that nobody talks like that, except in letters, and that in real life they use informal conjugations. On the positive side, despite the fact that they are very different from each other, these conjugations are extremely simple and logical…both of them. Oh, did I mention that the adjectives are conjugated almost identically to the verbs? And that these verbs and adjectives climb an intertiwined ladder of additional complexity from present positive to past negative? So った (tta) is the past positive form of a verb. And かった (ka.tta) is a past positive adjective. And なかった (na.ka.tta) is a past negative verb. And くなかった (ku.na.ka.tta) is a past negative adjective. See? Easy!

Decision Tree for Conjugating Japanese Informal Verbs and Adjectives

In an attempt to keep myself from going mad, I’ve built a key, a decision tree, based on my woefully inadequate understanding of how this works (we’re only on Chapter 18, remember?). Be warned that there are many exceptions, and there are words that look like verbs because maybe the word itself ends in た before ever you start conjugating it. We’ll just ignore that part. This graphic works on 90% of the words I am…currently… working with. As people correct me, and I learn more, I’ll update this.

Meanwhile, don’t follow me — I’m lost.

Fun With Vocabulary

January 23, 2012

I am working on different ways to remember Japanese kanji characters. Often, as the experts will tell you, it helps to break them up into their different parts. For example, the symbol 女 means woman. The symbol 末 (not to be confused with 未) means, among many other things youngest child. So the combination 妹 means younger sister. Similarly, 姉 means elder sister. And what does 市 mean? Mostly it means city. So while the younger sister is youngest woman, the older sister is a city girl. Of course, you could look on them as women who wear different shapes of dresses.

I’m getting into kanji because when I try to translate anything that isn’t in the textbook I find that probably half of the words are in kanji, with the hiragana used for punctuation and parts of speech and stuff. I’m putting it up here ’cause it’s fun, not because it’s any great insight (after all, it could be wrong), and because it’s my way of recording my thoughts on the matter.

Don’t follow me. I’m lost.

Fun With Vocabulary

January 9, 2012

Declassified prizewinning NSA essay (pdf) on translating Japanese.
In other news, there’s a Crypto-Linguistic Association.

Fun With Vocabulary

December 26, 2011

Over at Japan: Life and Religion, Doug points out that the old Japanese name for December is 師走 (shi.wa.su), from 師 (priest) and (走), to run, probably because in the month of 師走, the Shinto and Buddhist priests are busy getting ready for the pre- and post- New Year ceremonies. This is a little like some of the Old English activity names for months, like ƿēodmōnað, or ‘weed month’.

Fun With Vocabulary

December 14, 2011

There’s a new anime out called I Don’t Have Many Friends. I haven’t seen it, and know nothing about it, but it’s inspired a certain amount of discussion amongst fandom, not for the plot, the characters, or the art, but for how the title of the show is abbreviated.

The Japanese name is 僕は友達が少ない, a typical mix of kanji and hiragana, which transliterates as Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. In English, we might abbreviate it as BoToSu, or even BTS. The ‘take the first syllables’ apporach is common in Japan, but another possibility is to just drop the kanji portion and leave the hiragana, so you get はがない, or Ha.ga.na.i.

Note that the は symbol is pronounced “wa” when used as a particle (indicating that the preceeding word is the object of the verb…I think), but “ha” everywhere else, and I guess there’s a bit of a bunfight going on over how to pronounce the abbreviated title.

I don’t know if this really is clever word use by the Japanese, or clever marketing by the anime company.

Fun With Vocabulary

November 8, 2011

One source of fun are expressions where the words say one thing, but the meaning is something more. We say a day late and a dollar short, for someone who hasn’t done something in time. In Japanese, it’s とおかのきく (to.o.ka.no.ki.ku), a ten-day (とおか) chrysanthemum (きく). It turns out, there’s a chrysanthemum festival on the ninth day of the ninth (formerly lunar) month. If your ‘mum blooms on the tenth day, you are, you know, a day late and a dollar short.

Fun With Vocabulary

November 1, 2011

Thanks to Sakura Wars, I figured out why the Japanese write top to bottom, right to left. It wasn’t just a historical accident.

In one scene in the OVA, Shingūji Sakura is writing a letter in the traditional (i.e. original) way, with a brush on a scroll of paper.

Shingūji Sakura writing a letter home

This is everyday writing, not calligraphy on a banner. She’s holding the roll of paper in her left hand, and writing with her right, top to bottom, on the roll. When she gets to the bottom of the roll, she uses her left thumb to push the written-on part out to the right, exposing more paper, to the left of the line she just wrote (and leaving the wet ink in the air to dry). The sheet of paper on her right is a scratch pad where she practices a kanji before writing it. Evidently the Japanese can be just as confused by their characters as we are.

In Europe, writing was done on relatively small sheets of parchment, not rolls of paper, so things were done differently – if you didn’t want to drag your sleeve through the wet ink, and you were right handed, you wrote left-to-right/top to bottom. And among the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, until recently also known as Free Fire Zone Iraq, they did it with the cut ends of reeds on wet clay tablets, and they did it as the ox plows.

I knew there was more to anime than just fanservice.

Fun With Vocabulary

October 25, 2011

Sakura Taisen, AKA Sakura Wars, AKA Cherry Blossom Wars, is a game/anime franchise that I will be reviewing Real Soon Now. It’s a dieselpunk story that takes place in 1920’s Tokyo and involves a group of young women who perform in the opera by day, and control steam-driven mechs in combat at night.

Adapted from the Wikipedia entry on Sakura Taisen:

The Japanese words for “Imperial Floral Assault Force” (帝国華撃団) and “Imperial Opera Troupe” (帝国歌劇団 ) are pronounced the same way (Teikoku Kagekidan), and only the characters used in writing are different, resulting in a clever pun. Thus, the Flower Division performs as one during the day, and “changes characters” come time for battle.

BTW, the last character appears to be pronounced as two syllables: dah.nn, not dan. In the opening song, that phrase gets a ten-count.

Fun With Vocabulary

August 29, 2011

The Japanese love to do what programmers would call overloading their language. Words mean different things depending on context. The kanji characters they got from China usually have at least two ‘readings’, or pronunciations: the on reading (loan word close to the original Chinese pronunciation, the way we use Latin words), and the kun reading (a Japanese word close to the original Chinese meaning). In Western terms, imagine that the Romans had a special symbol for a horse. An on reading would be equine. A kun reading would be horse. Then the symbol might be paired with another one to give the meaning horse holder, and be pronounced assistant.

But even a simple character can have many more readings, and meanings, than that. For example, the character 分. If you go to nihongodict, it will say that:

1. 分 is read ぶん and is pronounced bun and means part/division (the u is like a oo, as in Dan’l),
2. 分 is read ふん and is pronounced fun and means one minute, or 60 seconds,
3. 分 is read ぶ and is pronounced bu and means one-tenth of a wari, or 72 seconds.

And what, might you reasonably ask, is a wari? Well, among many other things, a wari (わり) is a sumo match, which, if you do the Wiki, you will find lasts no longer than twelve minutes, not counting the bowing and throwing of salt and stamping parts. So a tenth of a wari is 72 seconds.

See what fun you can have with vocabulary?

Fun with vocabulary 2

July 14, 2011

I was rewatching Moshidora last week. The opening theme is quite nice, and has a cute play on words. The Japanese use a lot of English loan words, including nooto, ノート (with a stretched vowel pronounced something like no.o.to, not nu.to) for a notebook. On the other hand, their own similar words have different meanings: の (no) is a possessive, and 音 (oto) is a sound. Yume means dream. So the opening line of the song: yume no.o.to, yume no oto, is talking about the sound of a dream in a dream notebook.

Fun With Vocabulary

April 10, 2011

So, I am studying my Japanese vocabulary, and I get to a phrase ikura いくら, which means “How much?”. Fine, fine, always good to know how to ask that. It also has a kanji, that looks like a bad game of pickup sticks, or maybe a medieval escutcheon, with quarterings.

A little later, I get to another phrase, ikura いくら, which means…. “Salmon eggs”.

Hmmm. I know the Japanese overload their words with multiple meanings, but this is a little much. So I go to my nihongodict and type in “salmon eggs”, and it gives me back ikura イクラ. Ah, it’s in katakana, and I had mistyped it when entering it — katakana is like italics, it is used for foreign words and emphasis. I note also that the word has no kanji associated with it, which means it really is foreign.

Now, where would the Japanese have gotten a loan word for salmon eggs? Anybody nearby who does a lot of salmon fishing? China? No, too warm. Korea? No, not enough rivers. Russia? Google translate gives me ikroĭ, икрой, which seems close enough (particularly since the u in ikura might be silent).

See the fun you can have with language?

Twitter in Japan

February 25, 2011

According to reports, Japanese has become the second most used language on Twitter, after English. I suspect one of the reasons is that written Japanese can be much more compact than most languages. In English, “secondhand book” takes up fifteen characters, including the space. In standard Japanese hiragana, the word is ふるほん (fu.ru.ho.n), four characters, and in the borrowed-from-Chinese kanji symbols, it’s one reading of 古本, only two twitter characters. If you can pack an entire word into one character, 140 of them become a useful way to impart information. Of course, there’s a lot of context that’s needed to pick out the meaning of the words. Depending on the kanji, the Japanese word さんか (sa.n.ka) can mean participation, obstetrics, mountain villa, or a specific group of mountain tribes that were resistent to pacification. Since Chinese is the source of kanji, you’d expect Chinese to be a major player in the Twitter arena. It isn’t, probably because there are …ah… political …um… implications … that make China not a tweet-friendly nation. That may change.