Monday, January 13, 2014

Is the Japanese language the Devil's Tongue?

"The popular Weekly Times magazine clearly stated that the Japanese language is the devil's tongue in its special Japanese language edition. Yes, many people may agree because the Japanese language embraces lots of irregular and contradictory rules which are often difficult to comprehend. It seems extremely difficult to master Japanese for people whose mother tongue is different.

Japanese is a compilation of native Japanese, Chinese characters and words of foreign origins. Native Japanese consists of 'Hiragana' and 'Katakana' writing, making it further complicated. Speaking of Chinese characters, there are two ways of pronunciation, one is 'on-Yomi', the other 'kun-Yomi' and very often, there are special 'Yomi' as exceptions to the rules.

On top of all that, the delicate relationship between the persons communicating is reflected in the use of their language, the so-called honorific, humble, and polite words. They are the hardest barriers to break through.

And you might conquer those barriers by being in an environment where you constantly hear Japanese being spoken - listening to the radio, TV, and movies. Your confidence may easily be shattered by encountering local dialects and/or newly imported 'Gairaigo', words of foreign origin. Devil's tongue therefore is not such an exaggeration as Times magazine designates in their article.

Despite my criticism of the Japanese language, I'm the one who had been hooked and captured by the devil's tongue as an eternal student of the Japanese language. Needless to say, language is a tool for communication. Although it is difficult to compare it with other languages, Japanese has a wider and deeper threaded structure and has a lot of atmosphere, which I like most. You may call it gracefulness. It goes deeper into the heart and appeals to emotion, rather than logic and the intellect.

You know how babies learn languages. They unconsciously learn language by listening to their parents and conversations around them. They start talking by repeating sounds. We learn a foreign language in school just the opposite way. We start by reading and writing the new language as we learn grammar. Hearing and speaking are not emphasized as much as it should.

Hence, many people can read foreign languages but cannot speak the language. Our clubs' priority, however, is listening and speaking, so I believe we can create many masters of the Japanese language.

Regarding our fellow Taichung Central Toastmasters, particularly the young and earnest ones, let us pledge our all-out efforts today to listen like innocent infants and speak anything that comes to mind spontaneously like splashing water from a spring, sharing together our joy and pride."

I quoted this awesome and fabulous speech bf Dennis Chen, in full, as above from the Taichung Central Archive "10th Anniversary Keynote Speech." He delivered it in Japanese (Note 1- see original Japanese text) and I just translated it into English for my blog readers who cannot read Japanese. I have never seen such clear and concise introduction of the Japanese language. I saw Dennis's obituary on Facebook hidden among the many 2014 New Years greetings, the most unexpected communication. I'm glad I noticed it. He wrote to me six months ago saying "no more letters please." I was wondering how he was battling his cancer. He sent me a CD a few years ago in which he recorded his own singing of "Like a River Flow," a song popularized by singer Misora Hibari. “Oh, nice, he likes to sing" was my honest reaction without knowing singing was his way of therapy, a desperate escape from the pain of his illness.

I first met Dennis in the late 1990s. It was when I visited Fengyuan Toastmasters, an English language club, with which I was corresponding often and exchanged club newsletters with. The club venue, a Kennex Hotel basement, was full and thriving. Someone must have called Dennis and he came in just about when the meeting was adjourning. Then he took me to Taichung to meet another English club and introduced me to David Wang, who later became Taiwan's District Governor.

I read that Dennis's first encounter with Toastmasters was when he was relocated by his bank managing business from a Fengyuan branch to a southern Taichung branch. One day, at a newly relocated branch, a Canadian professor from the nearby National Chung Hsing University visited to open an account and Dennis was in charge of the customer because he had to address him in English. This Canadian, together with his university faculty members tried to set up a Toastmaster club and Dennis was invited. He was hesitant at first, in fear of the slow progress of study as people get older. But Alice Young, Dennis's wife, recommended that he pursue it and he got on board.

The rest is history as written by Robert Lee, the editor of the Rostrum, the Fengyuan Club Newsletter dated Feb 2000:

"Success doesn't come overnight, especially when we try to start everything from scratch…. However, our Club Founder, Dennis Chen made it happen. Our Godfather, Dennis was a man with a vision. He believed that Fengyuan was a special and unique place where he could uncover many outstanding potential Toastmasters without any problem… Believe it or not, he was also a member of Taichung, Wheelers, Beast and Fengyuan at that time."

Dennis was listed among the Hall of Fame - 1999 ROC Japanese Toastmasters’ Tall Tale Contest Champion.

We Japanese Toastmasters have lost our best friend from Taiwan and the best Japanese speaker there.

Note 1:
Dennis Chen and his wife Alice Young joined the International Toastmaster on April 4th 1984. Since then Dennis established seven clubs, including clubs for four different languages. Dennis really set a good example for every Toastmaster member. Dennis used to say "Old soldiers never die."

Note 2:
2007セントラル会創立10周年
発起人の挨拶

「悪魔の言葉」に挑戦

世界で一番有名なアメリカの週刊誌タイムに掲載された日本語特集の記事に、 日本語は「悪魔の言葉だ」と、はっきりと書かれていました。確かに、日本語には、不規則で理解しにくく、ルールが矛盾しているのでは、と思われる部分が沢山有ります。日本語が母国語でない人々がそれをマスターするのは、極めて難しい事の様に思えます。

日本語は、和語、漢語と外来語の混合体ですが、先ず、和語は平仮名と片仮名で表現されるので、複雑になります。次に、漢語には、音読み、訓読みと言われる2種類の読み方がある上に、別の特別な読み方がある場合も決して珍しくありません。更に、話し手と聞き手の間の微妙な関係で使い方が異なる尊敬語、謙譲語と丁寧語は、日本語を習得したい人達の前に立ちはだかる最も高い壁だと思います。こういった難しさを克服して、日本語をある程度勉強しても、ラジオ、テレビや映画の随所に出てくる地方の方言や新しい外来語を耳にすると、たちまち自信が無くなってしまいます。ですから、悪魔の言葉といわれるのも無理はないと思います。

以上、散々日本語の悪口を書きましたが、実は私が日本語演説会の会員達と同じく「悪魔の言葉」魅せられて、永遠の日本語学習者になってしまったのです。もともと、言葉というものは、コミュニケーションの道具です。他の言葉と客観的な比較は出来ませんが、日本語は幅が広く奥ゆかしく、論理的というより、むしろ情緒的な言葉ですので、頭脳というよりは、心の奥深くに届く点が、素晴らしいと思います。

言葉を学習する一番よい方法は、赤ちゃんが言葉を覚える遣り方だと思います。 赤ちゃんは無意識に父母や大人たちの話を聞いて、時間が経つにつれて片言で話 をし始めます。しかし、私たち外国人が学校や塾で外国語を学習する時は、順序が違います。

ほとんどの場合、教科書から読み始め、字を書き、文法を習います。聞くことと話すことはあまり重視されていませんので、難しい外国文学を読める人が外人との簡単な会話を流暢に話せない様な事が良く起こります。その点、日本語演説会では「聞く」と「話す」に重点を置いているので、「日本語の達人」が生まれてきます。私達の欠点を十分に直すにはよく聞き、よく話すことです。子供のように、無心で聞き、

思いついたままに話すことができたら、しめたものです。私達の台中中央セントラル日本語会は創立10周年になり、今月から第11年になります。例会、読書会、親睦会やコンテスト等の活動で会員達に日本語を充分に話せる環境を提供して来ました。

会員達(特に熱心な若い人)は著しい進歩。これからも、このクラブの素晴らしさと楽しさを皆さんと分かち合ってゆきたいと思っています。皆様、誇りを持って、頑張りましょう。

3 comments:

eraigames said...

まさか日本語の適切性がまた話題になっていると~?

戦後の時代に金田一春彦先生を初め、様々な言語学者がこのことを十分議論したのでしょう。日本語を捨てるまでいう方も残念ながらけっこういたのに金田一先生の忠告により、新政府がよかったに国語の日本語にしました。

日本語が悪魔の言葉と呼ぶより言語がある文化のコミュニケーション方法であることを認め、「何」という面より「なぜ」という面から言葉を教えた方がよろしいと思いますね。

eraigames said...

日本語を悪魔の言葉と呼ぶより、言語がある文化のコミュニケーション方法であることを認め、「何」という面より、「なぜ」という面から教えた方がよろしいと思いますね。

ちなみに日本語の適切性は戦後の時代にもう十分議論されたとも思っとります。金田一春彦先生がこのことについて特に明快な小論をお書きしました。

erick suen said...

I enjoy reading this article very very much. Dennis Chen was a very dear friend from TaiChung. He was one of those TM pioneers who made such vast contributions that we can honestly call him "Shienbai" 前輩! A truly respectable and wonderful leader in TM of Taiwan.