Wednesday, March 10, 2010

not that the language determines things

At this moment I don't know who will read this. I think I'm going to get this started without noticing my friends and acquaintances. I'm going to write about things not too private. Imagining any one of you reading what I'm writing here may help me continue. To keep doing something has always been a problem. I'm going to write about several forms of arts, my response to some thinkers I'm interested in, with or without understanding them, my response to what the media bring in, and my surroundings, without becoming too revealing.
I like to write in English, but I'm not sure if you will like my English: English is my second language I'm still struggling to learn. My mother tongue is Japanese, but I don't want to limit my readers to Japanese speakers. And also...I'm almost about saying that I don't want to be caught in rules of Japanese language.
The way the most of Japanese speakers speak Japanese reflects how they live in the Japanese society. Uttering a sentence, I tend to labor to choose a word in accordance with my position and distance to you (if I'm superior to you, or inferior, if I'm speaking frankly, if I'm male or female...) rather than to deliver the "contents." For example, I'm forced to choose the first person pronoun from, usually, three or four options: 1. "watashi" or "watakushi" that means I'm speaking as an adult, a man with a certain occupation and I'm treating you as an adult, a man or woman with a certain occupation; 2. "ore" that means I'm speaking frankly, as a real man; 3. "boku" that means I'm acting here in a bit childlike way because I want to emphasize I'm not offensive to you. There are some more options, if I'm trying to be funny, or sarcastic, using the dialects or the historical one, since the people have ever invented many first person pronouns. If I'm writing in Japanese here, I may choose "watashi," the least noisy one.
Every day Japanese speakers bring much noise to me, and I guess it reveals how we actually communicate in using whatever language at its purest. We mostly use language not to inform certain contents, but just to keep in touch. Instead of saying "Can you hear me?" I could say "I had lunch in Hibiya Park because of this beautiful weather." I know where I had lunch does not matter at all to you, but saying "Can you hear me?" may put us in an awkward situation.
Moreover, in saying "I had lunch in Hibiya Park because of this beautiful weather" at a workplace, I could mean "Now I'm back in my workplace, but I don't want to be too polite. Let's be frank, man. By the way it's fine today and I had lunch in Hibiya Park:" when speaking in English, what I could mean is delivered as connotation, but when speaking Japanese, what I could mean is actually uttered as my choice of the first person pronoun or how to alter the end of the verb. In a way, I'm more revealing when speaking Japanese than when speaking English, with or without consciousness.
Having said that, I can make my words in Japanese less revealing and contain less noise as much as I can do so in English. For example, I can omit the first person pronoun if it is not confusing. It is a common practice to omit the first pronoun when either speaking or writing, despite the fact that the verbs don't indicate whether the subject is the first person or the second person or the third person (in Spanish, they sometimes omit the first person pronoun when saying "Tengo..." or "Hablo...," but the subject is clear because the verbs indicate the subject). Some say that Japanese language is illogical and not well-structured. Even a well-experienced Japanese-English translator said so. I think they are wrong. I can construct my Japanese writing in a way computer languages do. There are many well-structured Japanese writings penned by those who live in very Japanese society.
Any language reflects the way people live in any society. My problem actually is not with the rules of Japanese language, but with a certain way many Japanese speakers use the language, including those who argue that Japanese language is not logical, and that constitutes nature of Japanese people, especially when they are talking about art, philosophical matters, and politics.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama likes to use omoi, a noun which vaguely refers to thoughts, ideas, mind, hope, enthusiasm, and passion. He says this way: "Okinawans' omoi that they don't want to have another US military base in their land has to be considered." It's not omoi, I think. It's a demand. Okinawans are demanding to remove the military base from their land, instead of simply relocating the most dangerous base to somewhere else safer in their land. Hatoyama doesn't use certain words such as demand ("yokyu"), opinion ("iken"), and, especially, rights ("kenri"). Japan actually has the right to demand America to remove their military bases in Japan, which is even mentioned by The New York Times, but the majority of Japanese don't know that. The Japanese media don't talk about that, as if they are afraid that a debate whether Japan still needs US military base ruptures the people's notion of the Japanese politics. My opinion is that it is time for Japan to seek a way of keeping in good term with America without having US bases in Japan, but mine is not of the majority.
I'm not making political blogs, but I don't like the way the politicians and the media depoliticize things and that many calling it "our harmonious society." I don't like the translator who said Japanese language is not made for analytical thinking. I would rail against the notion that the Japanese language tends to avoid a "cut," such as disruption, provocation, and analysis.
One of the prominent advocate of such a notion may be Japanese psychiatrist Takeo Doi, who in the 1970s wrote The Anatomy of Dependence, a best-seller which describes Japanese mentality, using Japanese word amae, which can be translated as indulgence or dependence, used to describe acts such as that a child tries to cling to mother's breast. In this book he talks about a kind of motherly love that embraces what he perceives as the Japanese society, guided by Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which argues language determines our cognition. In a nutshell Doi argues that the existence of the word amae in Japanese society shows that motherly love is more prominent in Japanese society than in Western society, which is, I think, simply wrong: motherly love can play an important role in any society. The political implication of his book is serious. It is misguiding.
Neither am I psychiatrist nor linguist. I simply don't trust preachers and translators.







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