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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Japanese diary 32: Japanese Ejaculations
As I've mentioned here before, Japanese is one of those languages that likes to dispense with words rendered superfluous by context. Rather than say, "I went shopping", in Japanese one says "Went shopping", if context makes it clear that you're talking about yourself.

This tendency to drop words means that declarative sentences sometimes merge into exclamations. Where in English we might say "My hand hurts!" (which might be rendered literally as "Watashi no te ga itai desu ne!"), in practice one would be much more likely to say simply, "Hurts!" ("Itai!"). In English, we have separate exclamations for such occasions ("Ow!", "Ouch!", etc.); in Japanese, the exclamation is just a shortened version of the declarative sentence.

This crops up in other contexts, too. If something is delicious we might say "This is delicious!" (declaractive) or "Yummy!" (exclamation); in Japanese, "Oishii!" serves both purposes. If something is cute, we might say "That's cute!" (declarative) or perhaps "Awww!" (exclamation). In Japanese, both are "Kawaii!"

When I was in Japan in last month, a cute dog came into the room where I was with my Japanese friend, and she not only exclaimed "Kawaii!", she said it at frequent intervals over a period of a couple of minutes, as if keeping up a kind of running commentary on her own feelings. (To be fair, the dog continued to be cute for the whole of that time.)

Our cats have continued to be cute for years on end, and we never stop talking about it. It must be fairly nauseating.

Not at all - it's only natural.

Iirc Quine thought a bunch about Japanese when he was thinking through indeterminacy of translation. Hence: "rabbiteth" = (by which I mean is indeterminately related to) "Lo, a rabbit" = "undetached rabbit part" = "time-slice of four dimensional rabbit" = "there's a rabbit there."

Tangentially, I've often wondered whether Borges had in mind the counter systems of Chinese and Japanese when he wrote of Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge that:

in its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.


it's like that in Chinese too! though I guess if your hand hurt you'd say 'itai!' or 'hao tong!' while waving your hand around.