Archive for the ‘Sunday Soundcheck’ Category

Sunday Soundcheck 73

2011年 11月 6日

As promised, this week is a simple one: today’s sound is n, written in hiragana as ん and katakana as ン. It sounds pretty much like one might expect; however, in the middle of words it is more like an ‘ng’ sound with the ‘g’ being weak.

So why would this week be so simple? The answer is that this sound never appears at the beginning of a word in Japanese. Sunday Soundcheck lists words commonly used, but not commonly found in language texts which start with whatever character we are discussing. Okinawa dialect varies dramatically from common Japanese and there is an amusing souvenir shirt which lists words starting with n.

Interestingly, I found a foreign word Njamena (ンジャメナ) which is N’Djamena, the capitol of Chad, formerly Fort Lamy.

There is a game in Japanese called shiritori (尻取り) in which players – usually children – take turns making words which start with the last character of the previous person’s word. The game has a natural end when a player accidentally says a word ending in n, earning that player a bad point.


Sunday Soundcheck 72

2011年 10月 30日

Today will be a simple day because there are no words beginning with this character. Today’s character is o, sometimes written as wo to differentiate from the character in Sunday Soundcheck 5. We write the character as を or ヲ in hiragana or katakana respectively. The main use of this character is to mark the direct object of a verb, it is placed after the object and before the verb.

We did find an alternate spelling of otaku in katakana as ヲタク which is a word used to describe someone desperately fanatic about something in an unattractive manner. Typically this is used to describe shut-ins who are obsessed with animated characters and have trouble interacting with real people.

Next week will also be a short post.

Sunday Soundcheck 71

2011年 10月 23日

We’ve reached the last column of the syllabary, but not nearly the end of the Sunday Soundcheck. I’ll explain why after this column is completed, which won’t take so long since there are only three characters in this column. My feeling is that these three are the oddballs tacked on at the end, but all three of them are very important.

The first is wa which is written in hiragana and katakana as わ and ワ respectively. It is the only character starting with w, so most Japanese people have difficulty with foreign words containing w sounds.

Warikan (わりかん・割り勘) is splitting of a bill equally between parties, commonly called Dutch treat in some circles. Often at Japanese parties a senior member will feel responsible to pick up the bill as the host, but sometimes it is necessary for everyone to chip in. Nowadays most restaurants are computerized and will allow each person to pay for exactly their order at the register, but when many dishes are shared the warikan system is probably better.

Wanman (ワンマン) from ‘one man’ is used to refer to trains with no conductor, just an engineer. In the big cities this is nothing special; people may get on or off the train by themselves and tickets are generally sold from machines and inserted into automated wickets at the exits. Fare adjustment machines also exist for passengers who have gone farther than their purchased fare. Also in the big stations there are usually staff manning the entrances and exits; however, in more countryside areas – particularly on the local trains which stop at every station – there are sometimes unmanned exits. In these cases the engineer-only trains will typically only open the front door of the train so the engineer can watch passengers dropping their tickets or fares into a kitty, much like a bus.

Sunday Soundcheck 70

2011年 10月 9日

We’ve reached the end of another column in the syllabary. The R column ends with the sound ‘ro’. We write it as ろ or ロ in hiragana or katakana respectively.

There are so many choices of good words but two jumped out at me this time.

Roudou (ろうどう・労働) is Japanese for labor which is in the news a lot lately.

Roke (ロケ) is actually short for rokeeshon (ロケーション) which means ‘location’ in English. During camera society meetings we use roke a lot.

Today’s post is a little short, but it’ll have to do; in the early morning I will be helping carry the mikoshi (神輿) from the local shrine around the neighborhood for the Tsu Festival.

Sunday Soundcheck 69

2011年 10月 2日

Time for a second week of Sunday Soundcheck. Internet should be connected at the new house late this week, making it easier to keep Sunday posts up to date. So, the sound for this week is ‘re’, which we represent as ‘れ’ or ‘レ’ in hiragana or katakana respectively.

So, let’s throw a string of katakana words out today. These all have similar sound, but are very different words. Early on, I was often confused, but have most of these down now.

  • Reesaa (レーサー) is a racer or race car driver.
  • Reezaa (レーザー) is a laser. This word is getting used more and more as this technology finds it’s way into more public contact.
  • Rezaa (レザー) is leather.
  • Rezaa (レザー) is a razor. Yes, it is identical to the previous word. Japanese people will accent it to discriminate the two; however, let context be your guide. After all, one rarely hears about someone being cut with leather in a fight or buying a car with razor seats.
  • Rejaa (レジャー) refers to leisure activity.
  • Ressaa (レッサー) is lesser. This one is in very common usage because to the popularity of the red panda in Japan. In contrast to the giant panda, they refer to the red panda as the lesser panda, or ressaapanda (レッサーパンダ)

And for the hiragana word, let’s go with reigai (れいがい・例外) which refers to an exception. As a teacher of English, I often need this word when I am explaining English spelling or grammar ‘rules’. “Generally, we spell things <this way> but in this case there is an exception.”

Sunday Soundcheck Revenge

2011年 9月 25日

AKA, Sunday Soundcheck 68. I started the Sunday Soundcheck series in November 2007 with the intent of it being a weekly series. For the most part, I had kept on schedule but life got complicated a couple years ago and blog posts in general spent a long period in exile. My most recent update was number 67 in February last year. Today we will pick up with the third character in the R column, ‘ru’, which we write as ‘る’ or ‘ル’ in hiragana or katakana respectively.

Presenting one sound of the Japanese syllabary each week, I aimed to present a small number of words which met two criteria: should be generally useful, should be not commonly presented in text books. The two criteria are sometimes conflicting and a few characters are hard to find at the beginning of good words, much like X in English.

Let’s see how it goes:

Rui (るい・類) is a convenient word meaning kind, sort, type, race or genus. Often it is used with something else: jinrui (人類) means ‘humankind’, like “extinction of humankind” in Battlestar Galactica; kamirui (紙類) means ‘paper’, used when sorting garbage by plastic, glass, metal, paper, and so on; and ruigo (類語) or ruigigo (類義語) means ‘synonym’, so a ruigojiten (類語辞典) is a thesaurus.

Rubi (ルビ), also rubii (ルビー) are used on the computer to refer to small hiragana or katakana characters written above or beside kanji characters to show their reading. This is pronounced about the same as the English word ‘ruby’ which allegedly is a term for 5.5 point printing. Oddly, this appears in computer software menus, but in most speech we call it furigana (振り仮名).

Ruporaitaa (ルポライター) means ‘reporter’, but you may wonder why it is so vastly different. One might expect with normal differences between English and Japanese sounds that the two r’s would merely be replaced with elongated vowels like ripootaa (リポーター). One would be correct to think that, since this word is also used, as is repootaa (レポーター); however, the first word is a combination of French ‘reportage’ and English ‘writer’. Each of these three enjoy some popularity with different people as well as many proper Japanese terms as well, so be ready for any of them… I was not, the first time I heard this one.

So, I hope to have another post up for you next Sunday as well. The irony of all this is that we lost our internet connection with the move and wont have our new connection until the 6th. How can I post more regularly with no connection than I coud with the fastest cable modem available? Maybe I’ll explain the magic next week.

Sunday Soundcheck 67

2010年 2月 7日

Sound number two in the R column is ri. We write it in hiragana as り and in katakana as リ. These are one of the pairs of kana which are closely related in appearance. We find that they are virtually identical, but the hiragana is more curved and sometimes the brush is dragged to connect the two strokes.

Rikooru (リコール) comes from the English word ‘recall’. It can be used in the same senses of recalling a public official or a car with problems. Naturally, in light of Toyota’s current troubles, this word is getting used a lot. Japanese people are very set that such a thing could never happen in Japan and clearly it is an American industry problem; even though Mitsubishi suffered horribly for two separate cover-ups of brake and clutch problems.

Rihabiri (リハビリ) is short for rihabiriteeshon, which is from the English ‘rehabilitation’. Often Japanese words from English words are close, but the abbreviation methods are intriguing. Of course, in English we shorten to ‘rehab’.

Rinjiressha (りんじれっしゃ・臨時列車) is a term for ‘special train’, as in specially scheduled. Normally trains stop running a little after 11pm and don’t run until after 5am in the morning; however, on special days, trains sometimes run outside of that schedule and also sometimes on a higher frequency. New Year’s Eve is one of these times when the train runs all night to get folks to the Grand Shrine in Ise.

Sunday Soundcheck 66

2010年 1月 31日

We delve into the final column of the chart, yet we are far more than five weeks from done. Hold on until the 71st installation and I’ll explain more, but for now let’s commence. Ra is the first sound represented in hiragana as ら and katakana as ラ. Perhaps next week I will describe the Japanese ‘r’ sound in more detail, but for now I’m exhausted and a perfunctory description will have to do. Many people pronounce this sound like an English ‘l’, which is not a bad approximation in that one would most likely be understood in conversation; yet, I describe the sound as being in between ‘r’ and ‘l’. Positioning the tongue where one might expect for an ‘r’ and moving it like one might expect for an ‘l’ somewhat describes the mechanics. Were the sound closer to ‘l’ or to ‘r’, most likely Japanese people would not have as much trouble distinguishing the English sounds.

Ramineeto (ラミネート) is the word ‘laminate’. It is pronounced similarly to the verb, but it is really the noun. In Japanese it becomes a verb by tacking ‘to do’ onto it but the pronunciation doesn’t change as it does in English. We use this one a lot at school since most schools prefer spending hours making supplies rather than buying professional ones.

Rakuseki (らくせき・落石) means ‘falling rocks’. With all the winding roads cut precariously into steep hillsides and cliffs – in a country known for earthquakes – this word comes into conversation a bit.

Ranshi (らんし・乱視) means ‘astigmatism’. My experience has been that virtually all Japanese people are either near or far sighted. They have a word for astigmatism (which was handy when I was getting my new glasses) but few non-professionals seem to know what it means. Although, maybe most people in America don’t know exactly what it means; perhaps I know it because it affects me.

Ranbou (らんぼう・乱暴) means ‘violence’. I had to include this one because 20 years ago, when I was travelling on business here, Rambo was very popular. Most Japanese people I met thought this was the Japanese title because in this word the ‘n’ is pronounced more like an ‘m’ and would sometimes be written rambo. Fortunately they believed my explanation.

Sunday Soundcheck 65

2010年 1月 24日

Yo is the last sound in the Y column. It is written in hiragana as よ and in katakana as ヨ. Oddly, the number of available foreign words starting with this sound are limited.

Many scientific words find their way into Japanese from languages other than English because science has a history of being documented in German, among other languages. When I started college I was a Chemistry major and we were required to study a foreign language with German being the recommended choice. Iodine is no different; in Japanese we say Yoodo (ヨード), from the German ‘Jod’. In America, salt is often Iodized, so most Americans have heard about Iodine. In Japan, salt rarely has Iodine, so the average person rarely has contact with Iodine. When I first started using a Rhino Horn, I needed to search for non-Iodized salt. I was troubled because I couldn’t find mention of Iodine anywhere on the labels and, since Japanese labeling often lags American nutrition and safety standards, I didn’t want to assume it wasn’t there. Fortunately my sister, who did some research at Kyoto U., was able to enlighten me.

Yomikonasu (よみこなす・読み熟す) is to read something difficult and be able to understand it. Many Japanese people feel English is something mysterious and virtually impossible to grasp. I’ve heard people use this word – in the negative sense – when describing their experience with English books or documents. This word is made of two parts: to read, and to bring something to fruition or to ripen.

Next week we hit the last full column of the chart.

Sunday Soundcheck 64

2010年 1月 17日

As I mentioned before there are two characters in the Y column which fell out of use long ago. Today is time for the second, ye, which is written in hiragana as ゑ and in katakana as ヱ.

Yen (ゑん) is the old Japanese word for a circle or unit of money. Since this character has fallen out of use, the current word is en (えん・円). I believe the reason we say ‘yen’ in English is because the word came into English while the old character was still in use.

Yebisu (ヱビス) is the name of a premium beer in Japan. It is written in katakana on the label and using the old character. My dictionary indicates the historical spelling for the god of prosperity and fortune, Ebisu (えびす・恵比寿・恵比須・夷・戎・蛭子) starts with the old character. His name has numerous ways it can be written. I guess that’s what happens when you are around for hundreds of years. Just ask Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, …