Friday, July 15, 2011

Japanese grammar I have known and loved

For those of you who don't know, I received my masters in East Asian Studies, primarily focusing on prewar Japanese literature and history. I did quite a bit of translation in my second year, and thus, my Japanese grammar skills were quite good. Unfortunately, my subsequent non-use of Japanese on an everyday basis has resulted in a lot of language atrophy (one phrase that I've committed to memory is "zenbu wasurechatta" -- I've forgotten everything).

I do recall some things, albeit randomly. For example, I must repeatedly look up how to say "medical school" (ikadaigaku, 医科大学) in order to describe my job; however, I have no problem remembering how to say "vending machine" (jidouhanbaiki, 自動販売機).

There are also particular grammatical constructions that I'm relieved to know have stuck around (examples from movies quotes).

1. Asking permission to do something (~te mo ii desu ka).
"Mother, may I sleep with danger?" Okaasan, rokudenashi to netemo ii desu ka? // お母さん、ろくでなしと寝てもいいですか?

2. Indicating whether or not you've had experience doing something (~koto ga arimasu/arimasen).
"Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?" Joey, Toruko no keimusho ni itta koto arimasu ka? // ジョーイ、トルコの刑務所に行ったことありますか?

3. Saying that you must do something (~kereba narimasen).
"I must break you." Anata o warana kereba narimasen. // あなたを割らなければなりません。

4. Saying that something has become something else (~ni naru / ~ku naru).
"So Peter, you've become a pirate." Jaa, Peter, kaizoku ni natta. // じゃあ、ペーター、海賊になった。

I get a surprising amount of mileage out of these phrases, although I sometimes feel like a broken record in using them. Phrases that I still have difficulty with are asking whether someone wants something, something is better/worse than something else, and that I attempted to do something. Otherwise, I usually communicate through a combination of hand gestures and drawings. Like a caveman.

1 comment:

Molly said...

HA! I love it. Those examples are the best. And acting like a caveman jumping around and waving actually gets quite a bit of communication across. Just ask my ESL students... :)