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We can help your study of Japanese

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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby resolve » Sat 09.22.2007 5:26 am

Those are different contexts. The use of the definite article (the) + a nationality adjective is used to refer to a people as a whole. And yes, 'Japanese' is also used as a noun when referring to the actual language.

But that's not important here - the context of the discussion was referring to one's own nationality. And in the sentence that both richvh and Infidel provided, it is definitely not a noun.

Regarding “I’m Japanese”, could you be saying “I am a native or inhabitant of Japan” or “I am of or characteristic of Japan, its people, or their language”? Could be both, but one is a definition of a noun and the other an adjective.


No. The adjective modifies the pronoun in the sentence, "I". "I, who came from Japan" vs "I, who have Japanese traits". 'Japanese' is an adjective in both cases. I encourage you to check with an English teacher who knows what they're talking about.

Grammar teaching has been largely phased out of school curriculums in recent years, since modern thinking argues that it's not really necessary for understanding one's own tongue. Certainly in Australia grammar is only a very small part of the curriculum. This is unfortunate for us language learners, however, as a good understanding of the grammar of your native language makes it a lot easier to understand a foreign language.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby saraLynne » Sat 09.22.2007 5:28 am

Anyway, I didn't mean to cause a fight. The mistake is a common one for Japanese speakers who speak English. I just wanted to point out that it is actually grammatically wrong in the context of the average speaker

It isn't grammatically wrong. Grammar has rules, people break or modify these rules in "common use" all the time. Grammar wins when you start talking technicalities and semantics. Common use wins when you are talking about "sounding natural".

I was taking issue with richvh's statement. I don't know any native speaker who would say "I'm a Japanese" sounds natural.

Richvh didn't say it sounds natural, either, he said it sounds weird. So, what exactly was your "issue"? So far as I can tell, you and he were in agreement on the matter, excepting in the case of whether or not it is "technically" correct. You put forth the challenge, and several of us have taken it up. You can't backpedal out of it now. So!

Let's explore.

Technical information regards information from a reliable, widely recognized and endorsed authoritative source. For manufactured goods, it's a manufacturer's manual. For historical facts, it's an encyclopedia. For news, it's anywhere but FOX.

When one wishes to research the technical details of something, he consults the appropriate reference. In our case, it's a dictionary. Despite the existence of regional differences, we don't have "Webster's Southern Fried Dictionary" and "The Midwestern Dictionary" and "The Redneck's Giant Book of Words and Their Meanin's". We choose from a limited few that have been accepted as "true and correct".

Moving on to a hypothetical example:

Have you ever read a college thesis? The language used in a work of that magnitude is something you don't hear every day. Does that mean that the thousand page document that just scored someone a Master's degree in rocket science and a six figure salary is "technically wrong" just because the average Joe doesn't use the same words he does? I'd like to hear you tell him that.

OR

If someone says, "I've lacerated the epidermis just millimeters from the surface of my ocular organ." Is that "technically" wrong? What if he's a doctor talking to his wife? Or to other doctors? Or a layperson talking to a doctor? He sounds weird to me, and I'd probably giggle and roll my eyes. I could tell him he sounds pretentious and he should have just said "I almost cut my eye!"

But, face it, he was "technically" correct, regardless of who he is or who his audience is. Any dictionary will confirm that his sentence was, in fact, grammatically sublime.

Same with the noun-status of the word "Japanese". It is a noun. Technically. By grammatical rules, then, one can say "I'm a Japanese" no matter how unusual it sounds.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby resolve » Sat 09.22.2007 5:47 am

Dictionaries do not define what is correct language, they document language in use. You can find "seeable" in the dictionary, but someone who says "The plane is seeable" instead of "The plane is visible" will be taken to be uneducated by most.

You make a fair point, though. If we define "technically correct" as "in the dictionary", then the original post was "technically correct". However, my point was that most people do not use the word as a noun to refer to a person from Japan. Thus in the lexicon of the average speaker, it is technically wrong. So consider my earlier statement retracted, and replaced with:

"maybe technically correct according to a dictionary, but most people don't use it as a noun in that way. So 'I'm a Japanese' is not grammatically correct to the average speaker."
Last edited by resolve on Sat 09.22.2007 5:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby saraLynne » Sat 09.22.2007 6:14 am

If u define grammer by use, then netspeak is ok cuz lots of ppl use it. its fastr and ppl kno wut ur saying neway.

I'll never accept that. Internet shorthand is nothing short of stupid and barbaric.

Usage varies by location, by economic divisions, by profession, by interest.... you would have to concede by your logic that grammar then is fluid and defined by your peer group(s). The grammar rules change depending on which group you interact with, and so on.

In this line of thought, one would have to question the existence of words like "slang" and "colloquialisms" and the entire concept of "bad grammar". Such things do not exist, as grammar is all relative to the situation.

In either case, "I'm a Japanese" is valid, because most Japanese that I have spoken with use it, which makes it.... common use in their peer group. When they change peer groups, of course the rules will change..... right?

As for the revised statement... it's exactly what Richvh said. We've come full circle.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby Shinigami » Sat 09.22.2007 6:28 am

I'm kind of butting in here, but surely "gramatically correct", by definition, is not something subjective.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby resolve » Sat 09.22.2007 6:48 am

Language is fluid. Slang and colloquialisms come and go, and grammar changes. If the changes are only used by a certain minority or group of people then it remains "incorrect", but once an expression starts to sound natural to the majority of English speakers, it has basically become "correct". Many aspects of our language which we take for granted as being correct now were once considered hideous perversions of the language.

And thus we have things like "American" being used as a noun. I suspect etymologically speaking, it was not always used that way.

It's wrong to say that "I'm a Japanese" is valid just because many Japanese people make that mistake. What they say may not be considered wrong by other Japanese people speaking English, just as a teenager may not object to their peers using "lol". But to the general public it is soon as wrong.

Perhaps this discussion could have been avoided if I'd been clearer to start with. There are two reasons why Japanese people say "I'm a Japanese". The primary cause is L1 interference - all nationalities are expressed as nouns in Japanese. The second reason is that certain nationalities can be expressed with nouns in English. As American English is the most popular form of English in Japan, students are often exposed to "I'm an American". This confuses the matter.

I don't believe it's productive to tell a student that "I'm a Japanese" is "technically correct", because "Japanese" is listed in the dictionary. The majority of people don't use it like that when referring to a singular person of Japanese nationality. I think it would be more productive to tell the student that unlike in their native language, nationalities are not automatically nouns. Many countries have alternative nouns ('I'm a brit'), many of which are slang and/or not very polite.

I guess I should have taken the time to elaborate on that from the start.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 09.22.2007 8:33 am

The problem is that you're trying to speak for a majority of native speakers. How do you know what a majority of English natives around the world would think of "I am a Japanese"? You're just taking your own opinion and your own perception of language use around you, and projecting it onto a majority of the world's native speakers.

I don't use "lift" to mean elevator, and I don't know anyone who does. I never hear it. Therefore, "lift" is technically wrong and a majority of people don't use it. See the problem?

Do a Google search for phrases like "A Japanese who" or "A Japanese living in" and you'll see a number of uses; uses that are definitely not restricted to Japanese native speakers.
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Sat 09.22.2007 9:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby resolve » Sat 09.22.2007 10:09 am

I'm well aware of the differences between American and British English, and I don't think it's the same. I am a native speaker with a number of friends from other parts of the English speaking world, and I've never heard an educated speaker use "He is a Japanese." This includes television, print, etc. Some of the google matches based on the phrases you suggested also appear to have been written by non-native speakers, so I don't think that really proves anything.

Anyway, I morn the time lost on this discussion. I'll stay out of it in the future.
Last edited by resolve on Sat 09.22.2007 10:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 09.22.2007 10:44 am

All right. I hope some day you will publish "resolve's guide to correct English"; since apparently the definition of "technically correct" is whether or not you personally hear or say it.
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Sat 09.22.2007 10:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby Gundaetiapo » Sat 09.22.2007 11:24 am

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Jap·a·nese /g6;da8;æpəg2;niz, -g2;nis/
r11;adjective
1. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Japan, its people, or their language.
r11;noun
2. a native or inhabitant of Japan.


Before coming to TJP, I don't think I'd heard definition 2 used before, so it sounded unnatural to me too. Hanging out here, you'll hear it enough that it'll start to sound normal. Thus is the nature of language.

For ESL folk, I'd advise that if a nationality ends in ~an then they should be safe from correction when using it as a noun.

I'm an American.
I'm a Korean.

Those that don't end in ~an, they're not safe from correction, though still correct.

I'm a Japanese.
I'm a British.
Last edited by Gundaetiapo on Sat 09.22.2007 11:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby hungryhotei » Sat 09.22.2007 11:44 am

Gundaetiapo wrote:

Those that don't end in ~an, they're not safe from correction, though still correct.

I'm a British.


I don't think you are right there, you can't use 'British' as a noun for an individual from Great Britain, only for the people as a whole. I am a Briton would be correct though.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 09.22.2007 11:55 am

Both "A British who" and "A British living in" get a lot of google hits, so some people are using it.

The problem with this sort of discussion comes from the use of terms like "wrong" and "incorrect". By using those terms, you are implicitly positing some authority that determines what is wrong or incorrect. I don't think this authority can simply be the personal experience of a small number of native speakers, particularly when that experience is contradicted both by dictionaries and the actual usage as revealed by a google search (and many of the search results come from edited prose such as newspapers).

If all you want to say is "You might not want to use 'a Japanese' because some people find that usage odd", that's fine.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby Gundaetiapo » Sat 09.22.2007 12:06 pm

I don't think you are right there, you can't use 'British' as a noun for an individual from Great Britain, only for the people as a whole. I am a Briton would be correct though.


Is that not what I implied?

If all you want to say is "You might not want to use 'a Japanese' because some people find that usage odd", that's fine.


Agreed.
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby richvh » Sat 09.22.2007 12:43 pm

So we're back to what I said in the beginning? ("I'm a Japanese" isn't technically wrong, but sounds weird.)
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RE: We can help your study of Japanese

Postby AJBryant » Sat 09.22.2007 3:11 pm

resolve wrote:
I'm well aware of the differences between American and British English, and I don't think it's the same. I am a native speaker with a number of friends from other parts of the English speaking world, and I've never heard an educated speaker use "He is a Japanese."


I submit your personal experiences are failing you.

I hear it and see it all the damned time.

It is perfectly acceptable and proper English. And this is coming from someone who was known for being a grammar nazi when he was a magazine editor.


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