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Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

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Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby vinniram » Tue 04.21.2009 6:45 am

Hi,

I've been wanting to learn Japanese for a long time now, and I'd decided to learn it next year, when I'll be finished with year 12 and will have a lot more free time. But when I just browse Japanese material on the internet (especiall wikipedia) or listen to songs, I realize that more and more of the language is just becoming gairaigo. Now, I think that language exchange is natural - look at english for example! But the rate at which gairaigo has replaced the Japanese language, especially Kanji, is disturbing for me.

I want to learn a language which uses the chinese characters extensively, and I was drawn to Japanese because it has a wonderful sound inventory, fascinating grammar, and when hiragana and kanji mix it looks simply beautiful. But, when I go onto wikipedia, all I see are strings of meaningless gairaigo, which make up about 90% of the page with a few grammatical particles and kanji thrown in. I wonder whether the Japanese themselves have trouble deciphering all these gairaigo - it's like anyone can take any english word and put it in Japanese, and there you go it's a new word!

As I said, I know that languages borrowing words from other languages is normal, but this gairaigo thing is just over the top - when I go onto a wikipedia page, I expect to see japanese, not 90% english words rendered in katakana, and 5% grammatical particles and 5% kanji. It just really upsets me - I have this strong desire to learn Japanese, because I think it sounds beautiful, and I think that hiragana and kanji look amazing, and even katakana when used in moderation looks great.

But, when I see strings of katakana replacing kanji, I'm led to think that the language is just transforming into english, and that that is what the Japanese people want, and that soon kanji will no longer exist (or will be severely reduced in both number and usage). I don't want to learn a language like that - I want to learn a language where I will be able to learn and use 4000+ chinese characters. Japanese used to be that, but now that gairaigo is replacing everything, I just don't know anymore.

If you've read down to here, you'll hopefully understand what my pain is with beginning to learn Japanese. That's why the idea of learning Chinese has entered my mind. Chinese doesn't sound as beautiful as Japanese in my opinion, and the grammar is not nearly as fascinating or enigmatic to me, but the beautiful writing system isn't being totally erased by an unwieldy wave of loan words. Chinese people must write in chinese characters - it's the only way, and thus the characters are preserved.

This post has gone on for a while, so I guess I'd better wrap it up. I guess it's just about harmony - one kanji holds a sound value, and a meaning value, and occupies one space. A gairaigo word, on the other hand, can occupy an entire line, and meaning cannot be achieved until the end of a string of katakana interspersed with hyphens. There is no balance in this at all, no harmony.

If I learn Japanese, I want to know that I'll be able to learn chinese characters, the kanji, and be able to use 4000+ of them as that is my ultimate aim. I want to write this beautiful language the way it was meant to be written, using gairaigo when necessary, but also in moderation, not so that they dominate the page. I just don't know if I'll be able to do that and be understood. Maybe Chinese is a better option... what are your thoughts on this?
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby JaySee » Tue 04.21.2009 7:35 am

I wouldn't worry about kanji disappearing soon. In fact, the general trend in Japan over the past decades has been to push for less restrictions on kanji usage. Where the toyo kanji list was restrictive in that (at least in publications) you were not allowed to use characters not on the list, the joyo kanji list that replaced it is a mere guideline, and anyone can basically use any character they like in writing. I think they're also planning to increase the number of kanji on the joyo list from 1945 to around 2150. See here

Also note that for Japanese (and even for Chinese) the 4000+ characters you mention really is a lot. If you enjoy learning kanji that's fine of course, but it's important to realise that if you know 4000 kanji, you will know 2000 that are so uncommon you'll hardly - if ever - see them used in texts (for Japanese, the most commonly used 1000 characters make up around 90% of all characters used in everyday texts, adding the rest of the kanji that make up the joyo list will increase this number by 9% to 99% - this means that the remaining 2000 characters you want to learn only account for 0.9%... not a whole lot).

On the gairaigo issue, I think there have been threads with extensive discussions on this topic before, if you look for them I'm sure you'll find some.

Edit: Wait, I recognize your nick. You're actually the person who started the thread I was thinking about with the gairaigo.
Last edited by JaySee on Tue 04.21.2009 7:53 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby clay » Tue 04.21.2009 7:40 am

Believe me, English is not a prerequisite for learning Japanese.

And if you dislike katakana so much, try picking up a Japanese newspaper instead of browsing Wikipedia about computer terminology. I think you will find plenty of harmony there.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby vinniram » Tue 04.21.2009 8:13 am

lol that was so long ago I started that, and yet you managed to find it? :P Well I'm not that "extreme" anymore I guess, like the Japanese can do whatever they want to their language, it's just gonna affect whether I study it or not. I guess wikipedia isn't a good indicator of gairaigo proportion in the average japanese document though. and I guess it's personal choice - whether you use a gairaigo or kanji for a word.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby two_heads_talking » Tue 04.21.2009 8:36 am

vinniram wrote:lol that was so long ago I started that, and yet you managed to find it? :P Well I'm not that "extreme" anymore I guess, like the Japanese can do whatever they want to their language, it's just gonna affect whether I study it or not. I guess wikipedia isn't a good indicator of gairaigo proportion in the average japanese document though. and I guess it's personal choice - whether you use a gairaigo or kanji for a word.


Yep, some people like Apple cider.. Some of those people like Hard Cider and some like Sharp cider (both very alchoholic) If you like one and are afraid to try the other, you'll never know. either way, Japanese will still exist, regardless of your choice, so, personally, I think you are putting way to much emphasis on stuff that is so irrelevant. that's just my opinion.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby yukamina » Tue 04.21.2009 1:01 pm

Yeah, don't worry about the amount of gairaigo. I don't know about wikipedia, but there's hardly any in the texts I read.
If you read older texts, you'll get to see more kanji too. If you like fiction, you'll definitely get to learn more than 2000 ^_^
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby ニッキー » Tue 04.21.2009 3:25 pm

Chinese is hardly free of loan words anyway. Just because they use hanzi doesn't mean they can't use characters just for their sound, which is not really any different from using katakana.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby Infidel » Tue 04.21.2009 4:37 pm

vinniram wrote:As I said, I know that languages borrowing words from other languages is normal, but this gairaigo thing is just over the top - when I go onto a wikipedia page, I expect to see japanese, not 90% english words rendered in katakana, and 5% grammatical particles and 5% kanji. It just really upsets me - I have this strong desire to learn Japanese, because I think it sounds beautiful, and I think that hiragana and kanji look amazing, and even katakana when used in moderation looks great.


Your problem is with your own propensity for hyperbole not gairaigo.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 04.21.2009 6:01 pm

vinniram wrote:I want to learn a language which uses the chinese characters extensively, and I was drawn to Japanese because it has a wonderful sound inventory, fascinating grammar, and when hiragana and kanji mix it looks simply beautiful. But, when I go onto wikipedia, all I see are strings of meaningless gairaigo, which make up about 90% of the page with a few grammatical particles and kanji thrown in. I wonder whether the Japanese themselves have trouble deciphering all these gairaigo - it's like anyone can take any english word and put it in Japanese, and there you go it's a new word!


Can you give a specific example of a wikipedia page that you think goes overboard on katakana-go? You made this claim in your other thread and I actually took the time to go onto the JP wikipedia and refute your claim, but I guess I wasted my time.

EDIT: Fine, here we go -- this is the first section of today's Featured Article page, which is viruses:
ウイルスは細胞を構成単位としないが、他の生物の細胞を利用して増殖できるという、非生物と生物の特徴を併せ持つ。現在でも自然科学は生物・生命の定義を行うことができておらず、便宜的に、細胞を構成単位とし、代謝、増殖できるものを生物と呼んでおり、細胞をもたないウイルスは、非細胞性生物または非生物として位置づけられる。しかし、遺伝物質を持ち、生物の代謝系を利用して増殖するウイルスは生物と関連があることは明らかである。感染することで宿主の恒常性に影響を及ぼし、病原体としてふるまうことがある。ウイルスを対象として研究する分野はウイルス学と呼ばれる。ウイルスの起源にはいくつかの説があるが、トランスポゾンのような動く遺伝子をその起源とする説が有力である。

遺伝物質の違いから、大きくDNAウイルスとRNAウイルスに分けられる。詳細はウイルスの分類を参照。真核生物、真正細菌、古細菌、いずれのドメインにもそれぞれウイルスが発見されており、ウイルスの起源は古いことが示唆されている。細菌に感染するウイルスはバクテリオファージと呼ばれ、分子生物学の初期に遺伝子発現研究のモデル系として盛んに用いられた。しかし、今日の分子生物学・医学の分野では「ウイルス」という表現は動植物に感染するものを指して用いることが多く、細菌に感染するバクテリオファージとは区別して用いることが多い。

Virus はラテン語で「毒」を意味する語であり、古代ギリシアのヒポクラテスは病気を引き起こす毒という意味でこの言葉を用いている。ウイルスは日本では最初、日本細菌学会によって「病毒」と呼ばれていた。1953年に日本ウイルス学会が設立され、本来のラテン語発音に近い「ウイルス」という表記が採用された。その後、日本医学会がドイツ語発音に由来する「ビールス」を用いたため混乱があったものの、現在は一般的に「ウイルス」と呼ばれている(「日本ウイルス学会が1965年に日本新聞協会に働きかけたことによって生物学や医学分野、新聞などで正式に用いる際は、ウイルスと表記するよう定められている。」という説もあるが定かではない)。また、園芸分野では植物寄生性のウイルスを英語発音に由来するバイラスの表記を用いることが今でも盛んである。


This is a list of all the katakana or romaji-go in these three paragraphs:
ウイルス, ビールス (Virus)
トランスポゾン (Transposon)
DNA, RNA (same as English)
ドメイン (Domain, in the biological sense)
バクテリオファージ (Bacteriophage)
モデル系 (Model Organism)
ラテン語 (Latin)
ギリシア (Greece)
ヒポクラテス (Hippocrates)
ドイツ語 (German)

That is hardly excessive; only 10 distinct katakana words in those paragraphs compared to bunches of kanji and hiragana. 4 of them are names, and the rest of them are technical scientific words.

(And I still do not understand the position that the masses of Chinese loan words are fine, whereas Western loan words are bad.)
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby vinniram » Wed 04.22.2009 3:10 am

yukamina wrote:Yeah, don't worry about the amount of gairaigo. I don't know about wikipedia, but there's hardly any in the texts I read.
If you read older texts, you'll get to see more kanji too. If you like fiction, you'll definitely get to learn more than 2000 ^_^



Haha that's great because reading fiction is one of my main aims. Also maybe writing it, but that's a long way off :P Ah well, gotta have long-term goals.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby Mike Cash » Wed 04.22.2009 10:12 am

vinniram wrote:.

But, when I see strings of katakana replacing kanji, I'm led to think that the language is just transforming into english, and that that is what the Japanese people want, and that soon kanji will no longer exist (or will be severely reduced in both number and usage). I don't want to learn a language like that - I want to learn a language where I will be able to learn and use 4000+ chinese characters. Japanese used to be that, but now that gairaigo is replacing everything, I just don't know anymore.

what are your thoughts on this?


That you are horribly uninformed and view the language through glasses so heavily rose-tinted their opacity must rival that of welding goggles.

Consider this: If you don't understand Japanese....How do you know the strings of katakana are replacing kanji?
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby JaySee » Wed 04.22.2009 10:55 am

yukamina wrote:Yeah, don't worry about the amount of gairaigo. I don't know about wikipedia, but there's hardly any in the texts I read.
If you read older texts, you'll get to see more kanji too. If you like fiction, you'll definitely get to learn more than 2000 ^_^


I have found that writers of modern fiction tend to stick to the joyo kanji quite well (not counting a handful of quite commonly used characters not on that list). Even if you do occasionally find a word written in non-joyo kanji, you don't have to learn the kanji if you don't want to, since it will most likely be accompanied by the pronunciation in furigana. Using a lot of uncommon kanji in words without giving any indication as to their meaning or pronunciation is generally not a very good idea, because aside from language learners many native speakers will not be able to read these words either.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby yukamina » Wed 04.22.2009 12:29 pm

JaySee wrote:
yukamina wrote:Yeah, don't worry about the amount of gairaigo. I don't know about wikipedia, but there's hardly any in the texts I read.
If you read older texts, you'll get to see more kanji too. If you like fiction, you'll definitely get to learn more than 2000 ^_^


I have found that writers of modern fiction tend to stick to the joyo kanji quite well (not counting a handful of quite commonly used characters not on that list). Even if you do occasionally find a word written in non-joyo kanji, you don't have to learn the kanji if you don't want to, since it will most likely be accompanied by the pronunciation in furigana. Using a lot of uncommon kanji in words without giving any indication as to their meaning or pronunciation is generally not a very good idea, because aside from language learners many native speakers will not be able to read these words either.

But if you want to learn more than 2000 kanji, it will certainly be useful. One thing I noticed is that online fiction will use a lot non-joyo kanji, but no furigana.

People usually focus on how they can get by with less, because they don't want to have to study more. I still say you need more if you want to read freely. Vinniram actually wants to learn more, which I find cool.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 04.22.2009 2:12 pm

yukamina wrote:People usually focus on how they can get by with less, because they don't want to have to study more.


You should not study more kanji than you need. There is no point memorizing a kanji you never see. On the other hand, you want to know the kanji that you do see. This is why you want to get into reading things that interest you as soon as you can; so that you can learn the kanji that are going to be most useful to you rather than learning from some arbitrary list that may or may not apply to your needs.

I still say you need more if you want to read freely. Vinniram actually wants to learn more, which I find cool.


It's impossible to quantify the number of kanji you need to know, because everyone will have different needs and goals.
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Re: Agonizing over whether to learn Japanese

Postby JaySee » Wed 04.22.2009 2:23 pm

I don't think it's about looking for ways to get by with less; learning just the joyo kanji is quite an epic task in itself, and knowing these will certainly be enough for almost every situation I can think of (which makes sense, because the average Japanese won't be familiar with a whole lot of non-joyo characters either).

Of course - as I said before - there is no problem in learning as many kanji as you can, if this is your thing. I'm just saying that from a practical pont of view, it really won't matter at all if you know 2000 or 4000 kanji, unless you want to read texts that are over 100 years old (although this will require you to learn more than just some extra characters, because the language used in these will likely differ quite a bit from present-day Japanese).
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