December 6, 2010 | Japanese

More Good News on Grammar

In some ways at least, Japanese may be easier than I thought.

The beginnings of unfamiliar languages with different writing systems and sounds are always a little tough.

Sushi Hana

Sushi Hana

Part of the problem in this case is that I am still feeling under the weather. My brain is stupid with this cold. My response time in my Pimsleur lessons is pathetic.

I did manage to go out today, to a brunch, and on my way I took photos of a few sushi restaurants. It really is impossible to fathom how many sushi restaurants there are in New York. The ones in this blog entry are all within a half mile of each other, along or just off Amsterdam Avenue. That’s it—a half mile!

Manhattan is saturated with sushi.

Back to language, though. I am 75 pages into Master the Basics: Japanese, by Nobuo Akiyama and Carol Akiyama, and so far I am loving it. The book has very clear summaries of various language characteristics and many helpful, clearly labeled examples. I am easily frustrated by foreign-language self-study books, and yet so far I have not been frustrated.

Haru and Momoya...

Haru and Momoya…

...Are on the Same Block

…Are on the Same Block

From this little book by the Akiyamas (are they related? married?), I have learned many interesting things. One is that Japanese has a single all-purpose reflexive pronoun, jibun, rather than our motley assortment in English (“myself,” “yourself,” “himself,” “herself,” “ourselves,” “yourselves,” “themselves”).

Planet Sushi

Planet Sushi

But beware! “Jibun,” the writers caution, “can be used for humans and for warm-blooded animals. It cannot be used for fish, reptiles, insects, or inanimate objects.”

I find that really funny. I am accustomed to considering gender and number and person when I pick my possessive pronouns—but questions of blood temperature have not typically been a factor.

A really great piece of news in this book, quite a shocker for me: “In Japanese, agreement is not an issue. Verbs do not have different forms to indicate person, number, or gender. The same verb form is used no matter what the subject. This is true for all tenses.” That is amazing. A gift. I think.

I am racking up some serious advantages of studying the Japanese language. No articles, no number or gender considerations for nouns, and only one verb form per tense. It seems too good to be true. I am suspicious. And the complexity of the writing system continues to concern me.



Besides Pimsleur and the aforementioned book, I have now also begun Rosetta Stone’s TOTALe for Japanese. I do love the way Rosetta Stone gets right down to teaching you basics like “milk,” “bread,” “dog,” “bicycle,” and many of the other concrete words that figure so prominently in our lives. The photos are lovely.

When they showed a picture of an apple, it looked delicious and made me desperately want one.

So I ate one!

My Rosetta Stone scores started out kind of low, I think mostly because of my cold, but this evening I kept doing one lesson after another, and my scores drifted back up to their usual levels.

Then I did some more lessons.

I was thirsty yet I couldn’t make myself get up to get a drink of water.

More lessons.

Kumo Sushi

Kumo Sushi

I was thirsty and I needed to go to the bathroom.

More lessons.

8:48 p.m. I finally made myself stop or I was going to dehydrate into a little pile of language-learning dust.

I can’t believe how much more familiar a radically different language can feel in just a few days.

Seriously, a few days of work completely changes my relationship to it. The new language seems almost impossible at the beginning and then, even while I am still hopelessly ignorant about it, I can nonetheless achieve a comfort with it, dispense with the despair, and get down to the job of learning something useful.

Comments (2)

Ken • Posted on Mon, December 06, 2010 - 3:38 pm EST

I’m sure you know this, but most Japanese restaurants in NYC seem to be owned by Malaysians.  Our new favorite Japanese restaurant in Manhattan is Zutto in Tribeca.  They are genuinely Japanese.  Some other, but more expensive, favorites are Sushi Yasuda, Sakagura, and Decibel (sake bar in the East Village - you have to take me with you if you go - I love this place).  And Geido in Brooklyn.  All of these are really Japanese.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, December 07, 2010 - 1:59 am EST

I’ve been to only one of the restaurants on your list - thank you!

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