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Thinking Man's Rummy

JAPAN | Tuesday, 16 February 2016 | Views [352]

It’s been awhile since I’ve given you a Japanese lesson, so I think it’s time for another one. Slight disclaimer here that this lesson has absolutely nothing to do with what we were learning about in Japanese class, but those were just different speech styles, which are kind of dull. Necessary and difficult, but dull. Anyway, that’s the theme for the chapter, so I’m sure I’ll be back to discuss those in more detail.

A lot of the detailed descriptions I’ve given have been about annoying or difficult concepts in Japanese. Today’s lesson is on a sentence pattern that is pretty simple and useful. Incredibly useful. Probably my favorite sentence pattern in Japanese.

I’m not sure if it has an official name. I’ve only ever heard it described as “tari-tari,” because, rather uncreatively, that’s the description of how you make verbs fit this pattern. You take the past tense short form of a verb, (otherwise known as the ta-form, because the final syllable is “ta”) add “ri,” and repeat for another verb. You can do this more than twice if you really want, but really, that’s just overkill. Now, conjugate “suru” (basically, “to do”) for whatever function you want your sentence to serve, and you’re done. You’ve just made a non-exhaustive list of Japanese verbs.

If this seems underwhelming, then you’re either fluent in Japanese or have never studied the language. Anything in between and you should be able to identify how much effort this saves you.

First of all, in Japanese, there is no simple word for “and”. If you’re talking about two nouns, there is, but otherwise, you need to use the connective form of your nouns or adjectives. Connective form of verbs is sometimes called the te-form, for reasons that should be increasingly obvious. If you think this sounds familiar to the ta-form then you’re right, and this difference is even more obvious in Japanese. So using this pattern is no more difficult than creating a normal list of activities.

Secondly, non-exhaustive lists are great! Japanese has natural ways of creating them for just about any situation. In English, constantly adding “among other things,” “etc,,” “and so forth,” or other such phrases to the end of lists would get aggravating quickly. Since they’re built into the Japanese list structure, you can get away with it. And whether you have a really boring or a really interesting life, descriptions can be improved by describing them with a non-exhaustive list.

Imagine that a professor is asking what the students did this weekend. Student A was constantly busy. She went shopping, she went out to lunch, she had work, she went to a friend’s birthday party, she wrote a paper, she met up with a cousin… Student B had the opposite problem. She literally stayed in her room all weekend studying. Except for on Sunday afternoon when her roommate showed up and dragged her to a park so she could remember what daylight looked like. Enter the tari-tari form! Suddenly Student A’s weekend can be described in a reasonable number of words, and Student B’s life looks more exciting, because it sounds like she did things in nature.

Finally, apart from making the verbs past tense, (which is pretty easy) the only verb you need to change is the “suru” at the end. This is what makes tari-tari my favorite sentence pattern. At a minimum, it delays when you need to worry about the form you want the sentence to be in. Past tense, volitional, potential, passive… Until you finish the list and reach “suru,” you don’t need to figure that part out. More powerfully, this can simplify the process. Remember causitive-passive? If you’re making a normal list, you need to take every verb, make it causitive, make it passive, and then make it connective. With tari-tari form, you get to leave the other verbs alone and only change that last “suru.” It’s great. And best of all, if you’re in a classroom setting, this form can get you out of needing to figure out what form the sentence should be in at all. Let’s say that you as a class are being solicited for advice, and you don’t remember the obvious way to give it. But no one else is saying anything. So you jump in with the first piece of advice to come to mind, “tari,” and kind of trail off, leaving your classmates a chance to contribute. They finish the sentence, but you still get credit for having been the first one to volunteer. (I really hope none of my Japanese teacher’s ever find this…)

And that is the magic of tari-tari form. Seriously, if I could use this for all of my sentences, I would, because then I’d only ever need to worry about ta-form and conjugations of one verb. Unfortunately, not everything is a list of activities, and sometimes people are only doing one thing. So I have a lot more verbs to learn about.

As I was in the J-chat lounge doing things like eating lunch and trying to write a personal statement, Ozaki-san and three Japanese students showed up with a deck of cards. They asked if I had any ideas of five-player card games. Given I was born into a family with five people and a love of games, including card games, I did. However, at that moment I could only think of one, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to explain. But it would be fun to play.

So I got out a second deck and started trying to explain Thinking Man’s Rummy, aided by a lot of demonstration. Even when I’m explaining the game in English, I rely mostly on demonstration, since being able to see which moves are valid, and which ones are worthwhile. Because I’m pretty sure the Japanese students would have looked at me like I was making things up if I’d told them there were no turns, everyone just went at once, we stuck with Thinking Man’s, and we played it open hand. Playing a round open-hand is a lifesaver when it comes to explaining Thinking Man’s Rummy. And, although it felt incredibly slow after the pace of Moving Man’s, it did have the advantage of allowing everyone to learn from every single play. So if a student said “I don’t think there’s anything I can do,” and I said “there is,” I’d have four pairs of eyes studying the board, and so other people got better at seeing some of the simpler rearrangements.

I’m not sure how much anyone liked the game, other than Dan who took over from Ozaki-san halfway through and seemed to really enjoy it. He got really into the ability to rearrange the entire board, and was intrigued by the idea of playing it without turns. He didn’t think it could be taught that way, though. (I, and several students from SUMSRI, would disagree.) I’m also not entirely sure the Japanese students realized it was supposed to be played without showing everyone your cards. Only time will tell if they’ll show an interest in playing it ever again this semester, or will avoid any rooms that have me and cards in them in the future. (That’s a trap. Any room with me in it has a pretty high chance of having a deck of cards in it as well.)

Tags: cards, games, grammar, japanese, past

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