December 7, 2010 | Japanese

Adjectives Behaving Badly

Japanese adjectives encroach on verbs' turf.

I have just learned that itsu is “when” in Japanese.

One of the things I love about this project is how different these simple little concepts look and sound in different languages. I mean, itsu and “when” are both short little words, but completely different auditory experiences in the two languages.

This Book May Look Innocent, But It Is Full of Scandalous Grammatical Revelations

This Book May Look Innocent, But It Is Full of Scandalous Grammatical Revelations

I find it miraculous how humans in different parts of the world came up with this stuff over time. Sounds and symbols in a particular place became attached to meaning. But then they sound nothing like the sounds on other parts of this big ball on which we live! It’s an obvious point, but isn’t it cool???

Sometimes I feel like just inventing a word—say, blgidey—and seeing if I can make it mean something.

This afternoon my Japanese grammar book taught me some confusing things. “Speakers of English must be prepared for new ways of looking at adjectives,” I read.

I steeled myself.

“What are the major differences?” writers Nobuo Akiyama and Carol Akiyama continued. “To put it simply, Japanese adjectives fall into two groups: one group has verb-like characteristics, and the other group has noun-like characteristics.”

Freaky! There are verbal adjectives and adjectival nouns!

Suzushii is an adjective (or adjective-like substance, in any case), but it contains the verb embedded in itself and means, “It’s cool.” I can’t tell you at the moment whether it means “cool” as in “not warm” or “cool” as in, well, “cool.”

But it is cool to be able to say “It’s cool” in one word.

Even crazier: suzushikunakatta means “wasn’t cool.” (I am pretty sure it can also mean the entire sentence “It wasn’t cool.”)

These, by the way, are the “plain” forms of these concepts. There are polite forms, too, which are a little more complicated-looking. Yes, polite forms of adjectives. Or of adjectivish things at least.

Who knew?!

In conclusion, and irrelevantly as far as the preceding point is concerned, here is how to say, “Sushi is my favorite food”:

Sushi wa, watakushi no sukina tabemono desu.

Basically that reads, “As for sushi, my (I believe “my” corresponds to that big blob watakushi no) favorite food is.”

That one may come in handy for me.

Comments (1)

Katherine • Posted on Wed, March 23, 2011 - 12:37 pm EST

This is so interesting!  I love how learning a new language really forces you to look at the world in a different way.

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