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Japanese In Depth!!!

Happened to read this lovely article & thought of sharing here.

From URL: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/language/20100126TDY13101.htm

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The Language Connection

JAPANESE IN DEPTH / Speech and responsibility
Shigekatsu Yamauchi Special to The Daily Yomiuri


When speaking, how do we convey the extent to which we accept responsibility for the facts in our statements? If a Japanese boy went out into the cold in thin clothes, his mother would likely say, "Kaze o hiite mo shiranai wayo." This literally translates, "I wouldn't even know if you caught a cold, you know."


Shiranai means not only "I don't know" but also "I won't be responsible." The speaker's mind-set is essentially "I don't know the consequences, so I won't take any responsibility for them."

Today I'd like to focus on expressions that involve the speaker's responsibility in various degrees.

When a speaker informs people of a phenomenon or an event in general, it is always a good thing to consider how far she or he feels responsible for the validity of the offered information. In this respect, English seems to be less nuanced than Japanese.

In English, it is quite normal to say, "John wants that," for example. The literal Japanese translation, "John wa sore ga hoshii desu," sounds odd and provokes Japanese to think, "How can you know that when you are not John?" A more natural and agreeable Japanese equivalent is "John wa sore o hoshigatte imasu," which literally translates as "John is showing all indications that he wants that." In other words, the more natural Japanese expression describes John's apparent state more truthfully, and refrains from trying to describe his state of mind, which cannot really be known by anyone other than John.


The extent to which speakers feel responsible for their statements depends on many things, and every language has tools for gauging the speaker's commitment or sense of responsibility.

In Japanese, if a Japanese weather forecaster said, "Asu wa ame ga furimasu," the audience would tend to wonder how come he is so sure--after all, he is no prophet. The problem is that he has said, "It will rain tomorrow," as a definitive statement. Instead we typically hear, "Asu wa ame ga furu desho" ("It'll probably rain tomorrow"), a tentative, provisional statement. This expression reduces his commitment to what he says. I'd say he is speaking with a 90 percent certainty, more or less. He is reserving his responsibility to some extent.

If, having heard this forecast, I say to a friend, "Asu wa ame ga furu so desu," I'm just passing the information along to him without any judgment of my own--there is zero responsibility on my part. This Japanese is normally translated as "I hear it will rain tomorrow" or " It is reported that it will rain tomorrow." If we look at the original Japanese, however, we will not find any words equivalent to "hear" or " report." This Japanese construction allows the speaker to avoid responsibility for the content.


If I say, "Asu wa ame ga furu rashii desu," I am still conveying information that I got from elsewhere, but here at the same time I inject a certain degree of my own judgment as well. Maybe my "responsibility percentage" is 20 percent or 30 percent. If I were to express my mind here in English, it would be something like, "They say it will rain tomorrow, and I'm inclined to think so, too."


If I say, "Asu wa ame ga furu yo/mitai desu," then my acceptance of responsibility increases to, say, 40 percent or 50 percent. I think an appropriate English translation would be: "It appears/seems that it'll rain tomorrow." I am very curious as to how English natives would rate the sense of responsibility for this English statement.


There is another ambiguous statement: "Asu wa ame ga furu kamo shiremasen," typically translated as "It may/might rain tomorrow." As a Japanese native I'd say that I'm saying it with 50 percent to 60 percent certainty--hence, responsibility. What is your native feeling about the proportion of responsibility in this English translation? Do you agree with my figures? I am very curious about native intuition here, too.


Regarding not taking responsibility, as hinted at above, Japanese has many tools, thanks to intransitive verbs. These verbs describe events as natural occurrences instead of as the result of someone actively or willfully performing them.


When asking for information, you'll find Japanese people are prone to saying things like, in the case of a shop owner, "Getsuyobi wa oyasumi ni natte orimasu," which literally means, "Mondays became a holiday [and remain so]," disclaiming responsibility on the shop owner's part. Compare this with a common English equivalent, "We are closed on Mondays," which clearly shows the shop owner's responsibility. When Japanese people say, "Kore ga kimari mashita" (literally, "This has decided itself" or "This has [naturally] been decided"), the decision maker is completely missing: No identifiable person has any responsibility whatsoever.


You might argue that in English when apologizing for a mistake and promising nonrecurrence, the intransitive statement "That'll never happen again" is more determined and responsible than the transitive statement "I'll never do that again." I interpret this as being because when you say the former, you imply your strong determination that you will have everything under your control so that the same mistake will never happen again, while the latter indicates only your own will not to do that again. I wonder if you, as a native English speaker, would agree with my interpretation.


Yamauchi is president of the International Communication Institute and a Cornell University-trained Japanese-language teacher.
(Jan. 26, 2010)

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暇つぶしにいじってたらマジで依頼が入って中に出しまくるだけで41マンもらえたし(笑) 今日は爪を短く切って潮をふかせまくってきます(爆笑)
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