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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

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Japanese Diary 26: Yes we katakana
It's a long time since I wrote an entry on my Japanese studies, but that doesn't mean they haven't been proceeding. Recently I joined italki.com, in part to get through the summer break in my Japanese classes without losing momentum, but it's proving so helpful that I'm sure I'll carry on with it anyway. It's primarily meant to be a way of getting an online teacher, I think, but so far I've only used it to talk to native Japanese speakers who want to improve their English and are prepared to help me with my Japanese in exchange. This is very useful for me, because although I'm making some progress with grammar, vocabulary and even the kanji, tuning my ear into spoken Japanese is proving very hard, so real-time practice is invaluable. And besides, I've had conversations with some really lovely people. On the basis of my brief experience at least, I highly recommend checking out italki.com if you're learning a language.

I keep being struck by what a Procrustean language Japanese is, from the point of view of the pronunciation of loanwords. All languages adapt imported words to native habits of pronunciation to an extent, but Japanese doesn't even try to meet them halfway - it simply forces foreign words into its limited phonemic/syllabic range. Thus "hamburg steak" becomes "ハンバーグ", or "hanbaagu", because Japanese doesn't allow for "m" or "g" sounds that aren't followed by a vowel ("n" is the only consonant that doesn't need a following vowel, in fact). I'm guessing that the person who introduced the Hamburg steak to Japan didn't have a strong retroflex "r" in their accentual repertoire, or the Japanese might easily have been ""ハンバルグ" ("hanbarugu").

It's hard to see any pattern to the way that the names of European countries find their way into Japanese. In some cases they are approximations (with allowances for the Procrustean processes described above) to the native names: Germany is ドイツ (doitsu), Italy is イタリア (itaria). But in other cases the English word seems to have been used as the basis: スペイン (spein) is much closer to "Spain" than to "España", which would be more nearly rendered as エスパーニャ. As for Britain (イギリス - igirisu), it appears to be a bastardized version of the word "English", which is a little problematic... I imagine this piecemeal approach reflects the piecemeal nature of the cultural contacts between Japan and the various countries involved - but I don't know.

A new anime round-up will be making its appearance soon, I hope, but meanwhile here's a small Madoka speculation. Madoka has been compared to Bodhisatva figure Kannon, so important to Japanese Buddhism, and I can see why: though divine she is all merciful and stays in the human realm in order to help those struggling within the cycle of mortality. (Kannon is often depicted as female in Japan, by the way.)

So anyway, I couldn't help being struck by the "wish-granting jewel" that the Nyoirin Kannon holds. Doesn't it look awfully like the Soul Gem that the girls gain after making their own wishes? I wonder if that was an element in the SG design?


I'd like to think so, anyway.

*all the Madoka feels...*

italki.com looks amazing. I'm playing with it now!

Ooh, let me know how you get on!

I actually did a bit of paid tutoring on italki (English conversation practice) and found it all worked really well. If you're learning a language where the students want to practice speaking English, you won't even need to pay to find someone to talk to.

Cool! I have some conversational Mandarin and would like to practice and improve, and it looks like there are lots of [edit Mandarin-speaking] students in the italki community who say the same for their English...

Edited at 2015-08-29 03:01 pm (UTC)

I understood (mediated through my Japanese friends, many years ago) that European terms in general, including the names of countries, came in with particular groups. The Dutch were one before it closed to the world and the British and American influences were the biggest Western ones after it opened its borders a bit. Every name not through that route, I was told, came via trade with other countries and so was mediated through entirely different languages. This is pop history, though, and wildly unreliable.

SBS (a TV station) is showing Madoka from the beginning. Guess who found herself starting all over?

Thanks - that certainly accords with my random observations.

Oh happy land, where Madoka is actually broadcast on television!

We have to have something going for us, given our current PM, the job situation and much etc!

In the year before I got some face-to-face teaching, did a bit of tutoring on italki and can definitely recommend it. I offered English conversation practice, which students paid for. The mutual language swap works fine too, though unfortunately, it doesn't work too well if one is trying to improve one's Welsh.

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