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O Fim duma Viagem

Japanese Language and Culture

JAPAN | Tuesday, 2 February 2016 | Views [398]

It’s not until you leave behind a place that you’re familiar with that you realize all of the small things you took for granted. Like, I’d always assumed that if you had a class that was being co-taught by two teachers, or taught by one teacher with a supplementary class taught by a different teacher, or two very closely related classes were being taught by different teachers, the teachers would communicate with each other. But, since leaving Carthage last May, I’ve realized that teachers outside of the greater Chicago metropolitan area never communicate with each other. They didn’t at SUMSRI, they CERTAINLY didn’t in Paris, and even on this program, where they need to coordinate the schedule to give us a single sheet with homework and a rough outline of what we’re doing each day, they don’t appear to communicate as much as they should.

Which is why on Wednesday morning, we showed up to Yamaguchi-sensei giving us a review of the causative, segueing into things that we were allowed to do (my parents did me the favor of making me do = my parents let me) and things that we unfortunately had to do. We listened quietly for a while, in part because interrupting “this would have been great to have done before the hour of practice we had yesterday” seemed like it would be pretty rude, and in part because yesterday had been more practice than a formal review, and formal explanations are always nice.

However when Yamaguchi-sensei handed us the same worksheet that we’d done with Suzuki-sensei the day before, I said something. Doing the worksheet again would have been especially repetitious for me, because the worksheet came from Genki II, the textbook we used at Carthage, and thus it would have been by third time answering the same questions about whether I was made to play an instrument, speak a foreign language, go to church, etc. as a child. (Note: that would make the third time doing it, and not the fourth, because despite the fact that my Japanese classes at Carthage had a different professor teach Oral Japanese on Tuesdays than the professor who taught the normal Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes, we never did the same activities for both of them.) I pulled out yesterday’s worksheet to prove it, and Yamaguchi-sensei realized we’d never reviewed the passive, so we went to do that.

I promised I’d get to particles later, and today seems as good a day to start that discussion. Ask any Japanese learner what they’re least-favorite part of learning Japanese is, and, to be quite honest, they probably won’t say particles. In large part because we tend to ignore them, make our best guesses when it’s not obvious, and hope for the best. Every single Japanese test at Carthage for the past two years has had the first section be on particles. The class average on that section tends to be around 50%. The class average on the overall test is probably a mid-to-high B. That’s how little students care about particles.

So what are they?

Officially, Japanese is an SVO (subject-object-verb) language. Unofficially, it’s really more of a object-verb, or sometimes just verb, language, since things that can be easily figured out from context are usually omitted. And even when there’s a lot of information in the sentence, word order could theoretically be a bit more fluid. Because you have particles. Particles take words or clauses and tell you what function they’re serving.

So, for a classic example, take the sentence “the boy threw the ball.” In Japanese, “the boy” would be marked by the subject marker particle (が) and “the ball” would be marked by the object marker particle (を). If you want to make the sentence passive, then the が needs to be moved to be by “the ball” and “the boy” gets the new causer particle に. If you think of “ni” as meaning “by,” then this makes sense. “The boy threw the ball” -> “The ball was thrown by the boy,” and the words change function exactly like you might want.

And that’s more or less all there is to the passive. You change the verb as I described last post, you change the particles like I just described, and you get used to the fact that you can make a sentence like “my girlfriend got mad” become passive.

And that sounds like a great place to leave particles for the time being, mainly because there are a lot of them, and most get overloaded to serve distinct and semi-contradictory functions, and I know they’ll come back to haunt me. They always do.

(Friends and family a few months ago: “Oh, you’re going to Japan! That sounds like fun. I want to her all about it!” Friends and family right now: “You know what? I’m really looking forward to seeing you when the semester is over. You can give me all of the highlights of your trip then. And show me pictures. Assuming they’re not pictures of white boards. Or manholes. On second thought, skip the pictures.)

After class, I hung out in the J-chat lounge before my afternoon class. Because even though I had over two hours between classes, and my apartment was under a ten-minute walk away, I was too lazy to go back. Besides, this gave me a chance to hang out with the other students on the program in a more relaxed setting than the first week’s activities had given us, so that was nice. I got to hear more about universities and Japanese programs, which is always nice.

My 14:30 class was Japanese Society and Culture. The topic wasn’t super interesting, but it was taught entirely in Japanese, but at a simplified level that I could understand. The only other courses taught in Japanese conflict with the spirituality class, (and are taught at a slightly higher level) so this was a good choice. Everyone from CET 213 and 313 was there.

The first hour or so of class was a slide show about New Year’s and Japanese New Year’s food and customs, which wasn’t a terribly thrilling topic. Especially since it was one that I’d gone over pretty much every year of studying Japanese. And I probably went more in depth during that class than I normally did… but how much more in depth do you really need to get about a holiday. Until someone invites me to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan with them, the concepts will remain abstract and meaningless. And if they do ask that, they probably won’t care whether or not I can name and give symbolism behind all the kinds of food that they’re serving.

The last half hour went to going around the room (there were a lot of students in the room. Probably at least 20. Which might not sound like a lot, but it is) and each read a sentence of an educational comic strip out loud.

We also supplied personal sentences about new year’s foods in our home countries. All of the CET students were sitting in a row in the back, so it was only a matter of time before the instructor turned on us and made us give a few answers. One person had a family tradition for food, but no one could think of a traditional American New Year’s meal. And the professor clearly wanted us to contribute more, so after a moment or two I supplied “Well, it’s not a food, but… champagne?” And the other Americans kind of nodded agreement.

I’m not sure I would have gotten that same agreement in France. Because in the US, champagne is very much a special occasions drink: New Year’s, engagements, weddings, promotions, etc. In France, it’s an occasions drink: All of those things listed above, plus birthdays, even for children. You have something to be mildly happy about? Drink champagne. (People from Champagne: Brilliant marketers since the 17th century.)

Tags: champagne, japanese, new years, particles, passive

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