Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Good Taste in Translation
In the anime I watch, where the main characters are usually children or teenagers, it's notable that whenever anyone calls food delicious or puppies cute they never merely say "Oishii!" or "Kawaii!" They melt into a kind of deliquescent delirium, a high-pitched o altitudo that renders the character temporarily speechless.

I assumed this was just a stylistic feature until I started listening to some of the sample conversations on Japanesepod101, where the people speaking are all sober adults. Nevertheless, when some tasty noodles and a baby are presented at table, out come the "Oishii!!!" and the "Kawaii!!!!" once again. So maybe that is simply the correct way to pronounce these words? Or maybe Japanese people really are that excited about good food and cute things? Or feel culturally obliged to appear so?

It's hard to know how to gauge such matters. I was spurred to write this by receiving an email from the Boston Marriott just now, letting me know that they were "excited" at the prospect of my visit. Since I'm sure they're equally excited at the thought of all their other prospective guests I can't help but picture the staff in a permanent state of twitching frenzy, which isn't what I want in a hotel at all. However, I assume something got lost in the translation.

I can't speak for Japanese food - though I can waspishly suggest, as one who actually likes Britain, that the British culinary experience is not one in which feeling rapturous about food is going to happen very often - but I can assure you that a hotel being "excited" about your visit is pure American. Americans, especially but not only strangers whose job includes welcoming people, like hotel staff, will often greet you like a long-lost intimate friend, a habit which tends to offend Brits when they realize that it's just routine custom and implies no special personal interest in you at all. Think of Americans as over-eager puppies.

I'm a North American who works in retail, and yes, excitement is mandatory. My immediate boss regularly greets customers with a jovial bellow of "HI! HOW THE HECK ARE YA!" This appears perfectly genuine (and I assume is) coming from her.

I could never pull that off. I find a "Good morning/afternoon/evening, how are you?" works well enough for me.

I think that I (and many British people) would find it impossible to do that without landing feet first in the swampy zone between irony and sarcasm.

Forewarned is forearmed! I shall attempt to factor this knowledge into my social exchanges.

Japanese teenagers do it but we've just had a big group of Japanese tourists - middle aged ladies - in to learn a bit about witchcraft. 'HWAAAAAAAAAAA!' has greeted every pronouncement.

Appreciative rather than terrified, I trust?

Hard to say!

My Japanese neighbor will do the "Kawaiiii!" thing for, especially, cute animals.

---L.

Thanks for the data point! I'm practising it myself, now. Luckily I have a very "Kawaii!"-worthy cat.

I think the kawaiiiiii thing is gendered. Women do, men don't.

Now you mention it, that does coincide with what I've seen.

I've definitely ran across the stereotype before that Japanese women are culturally encouraged to speak in a higher part of their pitch range in general than, say, American women. Language Log found some evidence to support this stereotype but cautions that the sample set leaves the findings ambiguous.

Thank you, that's really fascinating. And it brings home something else I'd noticed, which is that the voices used for teenage males in the (very small sample of) anime I've seen make little, if any, attempt, to convey a quality of adolescence. They might easily be the voices of thirty-somethings. That fits with these findings, provisional though they be.

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