Thursday, February 14, 2008

Showing Off

Some of you may have noticed that I rarely type Japanese characters in my blog posts. Some of you may assume that I can't enter Japanese text and that's why I don't include it. That assumption would be incorrect. I have copious amounts of experience entering Japanese text into the computer from my years of working laying out and writing (English) textbooks (with Japanese sections and translations) for the Japanese market.

I just don't use Japanese here for several reasons. The primary one is that my readers are obviously going to be English speakers. A lot of them are family and friends who don't have the ability to display foreign language special characters installed on their machines. Using Japanese in my posts results in gibberish for them. Beyond that though, I don't believe any useful purpose is really served in writing things like "食パン" instead of "shukupan" "shokupan" (white bread) aside from showing off my ability to type in Japanese. Any person who can read Japanese and wants to practice can go elsewhere for far better practice than my blog (which isn't intended to be a study page, a news page, or an authority on Japan and is just a record of my thoughts and experiences). And white bread isn't the sort of thing you need to reference the kanji of in order to recognize it in a store so you don't need to match the characters to the product to successfully purchase it.

I have a confession to make. I don't like it when people who are primary English speakers and who write content for a primarily English audience unnecessarily use Japanese words or writing in their blogs. I don't mind if they use the Japanese to explain something or make something clear so that folks know what the Japanese writing looks like. In such cases, it serves as a reference point for those who want to be able to pick out a particular item and need to match characters to objects in real life. I also don't mind if their blog is clearly directed at a bi-lingual or multi-lingual audience or if the blog is about their efforts to learn Japanese and including that content facilitates their learning. Before anyone gets their hackles up, I'm not referring to any specific person and certainly not to any of my regular commenters, but just to some overall trends I've noticed when perusing a great variety of web sites and forums.

It gets to me when people use Japanese just to look or sound cool or appear authoritative. A grand example of this was on a forum I was perusing about cooking. The site is all in English and all about food. The topic at hand was whether or not people prefer light or dark chocolate. Not one person in the thread was Japanese but someone replied to a post with "(original poster's name)-san" and ended it with "yoroshiku." The poster was clearly a native speaker of English (this was clear from content in other posts he made) and the usage of Japanese terms was an attempt to show off a modicum of Japanese knowledge. It's incredibly pretentious to do this in such a forum and almost certainly was done to attract attention.

I don't have many pet peeves but people who go out of their way to show off is definitely one of them. There's a difference between offering esoteric knowledge or specific terms in an appropriate context and shoehorning them in just to impress people and the latter is an immature way of trying to demonstrate superiority.


Alex said...

I think it would be romanized as "shokupan" (you had "shukupan", but may just have been a typo?) and translated as "a bread loaf". White bread is "shiropan", or officially "seihakupan" (meaning refined bread).

Shari said...

It was a typo. In fact, when I was standing in the kitchen earlier making dinner, I had this strange feeling that I typed that wrong! I had an impulse to go back and correct it but didn't bother.

My dictionary did translate it as "white bread", but I can't claim that the Mac's dictionary is that great (I don't even know the source of the translation widget).

Personally, I just call it all "pan". ;-)

Shawn said...

Amusingly enough, not that far from bread in french: "pain". Given the relatively few similarities I usually see between Eastern (particularly Japanese or Cantonese) and European languages, I find that interesting. Although probably just a coincidence.

Jon said...

Yeah, you'll notice this way more in Asian languages than others, from my experience. Particularly, of course, Japanese. And when you take a Japanese language class in America (at least in Georgia), about half of your classmates, if not more, are just in it because they like watching anime and they drop out after the first semester. I find these two topics a bit intertwined.

Sherry said...

The only thing that annoys me more than having an English speaker throw out random Japanese words for no reason whatsoever, is foreigners who go around correcting other foreigner's Japanese pronunciation. Like they are an expert or something.

Kanagawa G said...

I whole-heartedly agree! I find it quite pretentious when people use Japanese in an otherwise all English blog when a perfectly good English equivalent is available. I think they do it to try to sound like they posess some profound knowledge that others cannot possibly understand.

There seems to be an unstated competition among the foreign community in Japan. From my experience, when I meet a new non-Japanese for the first time the conversation always turns to "How long have you been here?" and "How well do you speak Japanese?" almost as if it is a means of classification.

Shari said...

Shawn: The Japanese actually use the Portuguese word for bread, which is also the Spanish word for bread, so their is a romance language connection there. There are other hidden Portuguese words and concepts in Japanese and many of them are less obvious than "pan". One of them is "konpeito" which is derived from "confeito" for a small star-shaped sugar candy.

If you look up "shokupan" in the Japanse version of Wikipedia and then choose the English version of Wikipedia (which transfer you to an article in English about the same topic), you get "pain de mie" (sliced white bread), so it all sort of goes full circle to French. ;-)

Jon: Yes, I believe you are absolutely correct about the anime/showing off in Japanese connection!

Sherry: This is one of the reasons I don't speak Japanese in front of any other foreigners. My pronunciation sucks and I don't need the attitude. Also, I have found that there are different ways of pronouncing the same words (regional differences) and you learn things based on who teaches you. Other foreigners may think you're wrong, but you're speaking the way you were taught.

A good example of this is in the Rosetta Stone computer-learning for Japanese compared to the intonation of speakers in Tokyo. In the Rosetta program, "otokonoko" is taught as one long phrase with no particular emphasis or pause. If you're taught by a teacher in Tokyo, you're taught something like "otoko no ko" with a *little* emphasis on "to" and "ko".

Is Rosetta wrong? Somehow I doubt it. Clearly native speakers are saying the words.

KanagawaG: I agree completely! The whole competition thing was one I actually never encountered until I started getting involved in the on-line communities. It took me by surprise how territorial some people were and how antagonistic they could get.

Thanks to everyone for reading and the great comments!

Sherry said...

Yes, I agree about the competitive nature of many foreigners here over their Japanese ability. What I always find sort of funny is that often times the people who seem to be the worst about it do often have large vocabularies and know their grammar, but they seem to be totally clueless as to what people are REALLY saying, you know.

medea said...

I bet you are a big fan of Amy Chavez in the Japan Times, aren't you? :P

Shari said...

Heh, I never heard of Amy Chavez. ;-)

I'm willing to accept that there are some people who sprinkle in a lot of Japanese and it has some educational value for their target audience. However, never having read her stuff, I can't say one way or another what she's up to.

Emsk said...

There's a guy I know who is extremely useful in that his Japanese is excellent, which helps if you're looking for certain things or ordering totally vegetarian food.

What you have to put up with is him telling you sound like a textbook when you try your Japanese though!

Shari said...

Emsk: One thing I've realized about speaking Japanese is that the people who do it best are those who have romantic relationships (or desire such relationships) with Japanese people. They have the motivation and ongoing practice that puts them in a position to excel at it. Many of them don't realize that, even if you live in Japan, you may not actually have occasions to converse all that often in Japanese (or at length) if you have a non-Japanese spouse, work in a mainly English environment, and just live a normal life. Aside from the stray question or statement at shops or dealing with the landlord or home-related services, I'd have to make an appointment to spend hours specifically with someone who wanted to converse in Japanese to find a chance to practice Japanese and, frankly, I don't have the time or energy just to satisfy an arbitrary and theoretical level of proficiency.

People in my shoes ultimately do sound like textbooks because that's the way they learn. They don't have much daily "real life" experience aside from some common phrases like "do you have ~" or "how much is ~" or whatever. If all the beautifully fluent gaijin want to laugh at me, they can go ahead as it is more of a reflection on them than it is on me.