June 28th, 2013


Japanese Diary 7

In a marathon, pacing is important. When I contemplate the scale of the task, part of me wants to devote every spare hour to learning Japanese. I'm egged on in this by:

a) The plethora of resources out there. Japanesepod101.com is the latest I've got into - especially the flashcards (for building up vocab), but there's a lot more than that.
b) The thought that, even though research and other work-related stuff takes up much of my time at the moment, I have more head-space to call my own in summer than I will when I'm teaching. I should use the opportunity!
c) The fascination of the subject - which I've never felt before when learning a language.

On the other hand, I'm restrained by:

a) the knowledge that there's only so much my head will absorb in any one day, and any effort exceeding that is wasted - or at least encounters the law of diminishing returns.
b) the suspicion that this is all a vast displacement activity, and that I would be better occupied either working on the deep causes of my obsession or using it more productively (e.g. by writing fiction).

I'm also occasionally assailed by despair. Like a couple of days ago, when I did a cryptic crossword with my mother, and thought, "I'll never know another language well enough to be able to do the equivalent of a cryptic crossword in it. The most I can hope to do is paddle in its shallows, when it's the vasty depths that call me."

In other news, I've read in a couple of places now that the kanji are very "logical". This, I've got to say, is an exaggeration - even taking into account the Chinese whispers effect (to coin a phrase) of filtering them through centuries of history and thousands of miles of space, with all the differences in world-view, assumptions, technology, associations, etc., that that involves. But their fascination is no less for that, and some are very beautiful in their melding of form and meaning. I'll try to put up some of my favourites here from time to time. To get us started, here is the kanji for tide:


It's made up of the elements for water (seeping up the left-hand side) and morning. But morning itself is composed of the elements for mist and the moon, so we are at liberty to unpack it and see the tide as the water being pulled about by the moon, while we stand watching the waves creep up the beach, ever more clearly visible through the dissipating morning mist.

Next Stop, the Leper's Bell

Earlier today I started and then abandoned a post that was to have formed a kind of pair to this one from a few days ago about the marriage laws for trans people, and how non-disclosure of one's trans status is (uniquely in British law) seen as grounds for annulment.

Today I had been going to write about the recent decision by the Court of Appeal which has determined (short version) that the penalty for sex without disclosure outside marriage is for the trans person to be sent to prison. (Vide, by the way, my post from several years ago where the possibility of this development was mooted.) In the end, I found the whole thing too depressing to write about - so I'm glad to be able to point you instead to Cheryl Morgan's blog, where she has done a very good job. Do read it. This is a situation that is going to affect far more people than the annulment issue - and many of them will be very young, in vulnerable situations where they have excellent reasons not to tell everyone they meet about their medical history. But this, it seems, is now a criminal offence.

Normally, I write about things like this on the assumption that those who have the power to do something about it are basically people of goodwill who are open to argument and to the possibility that there may be relevant aspects of the situation that they hadn't considered. In this post and the last I feel more depressed, because it's increasingly clear that those in power know exactly what they're doing, its implications and likely effects, but are doing it anyway. The only question is whether they're motivated more by callous indifference or by active malice - but that's like debating how many pricks can dance on the head of an angel.