steepholm (steepholm) wrote,
steepholm
steepholm

The Order of Things

There are many difficult aspects to learning Japanese as a native English speaker, but I think one of the hardest is word order. Japanese is a language with left-branching syntax, whereas English is most the other way round: think of the difference between "the woman who stole my jacket" and "the my-jacket-stealing woman." While the difference in pattern isn't too hard to grasp in principle, in practice when the sentences get a bit complicated it's hard to construct them properly in real time.

That's why it seems worth recording, as a mark of progress, that yesterday when I was talking to a friend on Skype and she asked me whether I'd taken a photo of the Mona Lisa when I visited the Louvre in 1986, I was able to reply that I thought the postcards on sale in the gift shop were probably clearer than any I could have taken from the back of the crowd around the painting. And I was able to do it in real time:

絵前の人混みの後ろで撮った写真はお店で売っていた葉書よりはっきりじゃないと思う。

Picture-before-crowd-behind-taken photograph is shop-sold-postcard than clear not think.


It may not be brilliant Japanese, but the word order at least is more or less right.
Tags: language, nippon notes
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