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And Every Sentence that I Spoke Began and Ended with Ellip...ses

JAPAN | Friday, 4 March 2016 | Views [297]

Chapter two (which we’ve moved past, but whatever) was about speech styles. It focused for the most part on speech levels, but there was a bit where they discussed other things, such as tanshukukei and shouryaku.

Neither of those are super unique to Japanese. However, the examples in the book for English “tanshukukei” were things like “wanna” and “ask’im” so it wasn’t until halfway through trying to explain class differences that Dan realized “don’t” and “you’re” are examples of contractions in English. So yes, we use them all the time. But we don’t do shorten nouns the same way (described in Osaka Castle description) and if we have muli-word phrases are more likely to drop words or make it into an acronym. There are some exceptions, (DiffEq. If you know how you’d pronounce that, you spend too much time around math majors) but you’d never use that sort of thing in formal writing in English. But in Japanese, you can.

The other, far more useful (in my opinion) topic was shoryaku. For example, if you’re inviting a Japanese student to a date on Tuesday, they’re not just going to say “No.” They might say something like “Because I have a test on Wednesday...” or “Tuesday is a little…” If you want help from you teacher, you might go up to them and says “I don’t really understand the new grammar, but…” Basically, the rest of the sentence is pretty obvious to figure out, and potentially rude to say out loud. So you just leave it off.

Suzuki-sensei: Is this used in English?

Me: Yes.

Dan: No.

Me: It varies depending on the person.

Dan still seemed surprised by that. But I’d noticed that tendency in myself, and could think of several other people who have never studied Japanese but would feel very at home with the concept of shoryaku.

For example, my father is rather fond of the phrase “You can want that…” He’ll say it a lot, usually after one of his children have expressed a desire for something, and what he usually means is “You can want that, but I am going to do absolutely nothing to make that wish come true.” I feel like that would be an equally acceptable phrase in Japanese.

I think the major difference between English and Japanese on this point is that English will just kind of trail off and Japanese will make it clear there’s more coming that they’re intentionally leaving out. This is done very simply through the addition of the word “because” or “but.” In Japanese, they both come at the end of the sentence, so it’s easy to tack them on with a lowering of your tone. English doesn’t have that, so it all comes down to tone. And the people who use a lot of ellipses are more likely to have a softer tone to begin with, and it all goes by so quickly that it can be hard to catch in conversation.

Written communication is a different story. If ellipses appear in a text message, you can tell that the person is deliberately leaving something out. And maybe when most people are chatting with their friends, they don’t use enough punctuation for ellipses to come up that much. I think there’s a study that shows periods are perceived as making a message seem less sincere. I don’t think that applies when you send paragraph-long messages to your friends with a lot of punctuation. Including ellipses.

I have one friend I talk to where the average sentence probably has two periods. (Assuming you count exclamation points and question marks as periods.) That’s how often we let sentences trail off… And if that seems like a lot… well, it is. But it’s not quite every other sentences. Sentences like “I don’t know… it’s not usually this bad…” that manage to include 6 periods in a single sentence do a lot to add to the average. To be quite honest, I’m not even sure why I use so many ellipses. Other than that they seem like a good way to soften sentences, even sentences that don’t need softening.

The point is that, in a way, shoryaku is way I study Japanese. Because there’s not a whole lot of other explanation. I don’t like manga, I don’t like anime, and I don’t even like fish. Japan is beautiful, of course, but so are a lot of other places. The only explanation I’ve ever been able to give is “I took a class once and fell in love with the language.” Usually I focus on the grammatical regularity which almost makes it easy to study. But other aspects, like the indirectness demonstrated in shoryaku, also really appeals to me. Like, I don’t need more encouragement to be indirect and passive aggressive. But it’s kind of refreshing to be able to communicate in a language where that indirectness is understood.

I should also mention that, although Suzuki-sensei is impressed by my use of shorakyu, Yamaguchi-sensei is not. She really likes complete sentences, and sentences that end in “but” are not complete sentences. Even though, technically, they are. “I played flute when I was younger, but…” has a very clear conclusion. (I don’t play it anymore, haven’t in years, and am not sure I could still make a sound other people would want to hear if you handed me a flute and a book of music right now. But at one point I could.) Saying that conclusion out loud risks either being too long, or being a bit curter that you want to be. (What if, as was the case last year, one of your classmates still played the flute, and was very good. Saying “I used to play the flute, but I stopped years ago” could be taken in a kind of negative manner, even if you don’t mean it.” I stand by “I played the flute when I was younger, but…” being a valid answer. Even when Yamaguchi-sensei was staring at me waiting for the conclusion.

The expectations of the two teachers varies so much, and also matches my experience in France so much, that I find myself disliking the professor-share program, because that’s just what happens when you have two different professors teaching two different aspects of the same class. And then I stop, think very hard, and remember that my professors at Carthage could share classes. And I’m not entirely sure what the difference is, since in subcases of both it was Japanese teachers at an American program, but there was a difference. And I miss it.

Tags: coteaching, ellipses, grammar, japanese

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