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Do Japanese use simile?

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Do Japanese use simile?

Postby Hektor6766 » Thu 11.26.2009 5:06 pm

I've looked at various comparative forms, but I can't find a suitable equivalent to the Western construct. Would a Japanese person ever say something like "That sumo wrestler is as big as Mount Fuji."?
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Re: Do Japanese use simile?

Postby keatonatron » Fri 11.27.2009 12:32 am

Sure.

However, there are some differences (by which I mean some things that sound fine in English would sound strange in Japanese).

I think using Mt. Fuji itself would sound strange in most situations, but referencing a mountain in general is pretty common. I also think that comparisons that could physically be possible (a sumo wrestler could physically be as big as mount fuji) are much less common than abstract comparisons ("[if piled up], the amount of things I want to do before I die would be as big as a mountain"... however, there's no way to measure how much physical space wanting to do something takes up).

Also, it's important to not let English idioms affect you :wink:
"I'm so hungry I can eat a horse" (馬も食べられるほどお腹が空いた) sounds too literal and wouldn't be understood, but "I'm so hungry I could eat 1000 of these" (これを1000個も食べられるほどお腹が空いた) would probably be fine.
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Re: Do Japanese use simile?

Postby magamo » Fri 11.27.2009 5:47 am

It's called 直喩. Japanese kids learn this word at elementary school. You can hear native Japanese speakers use simile on any day of the week. Kids are already pretty good at it when they learn the technical term at school.

As for difference, you can never understand or use it like native speakers if you're seeing a foreign language through translation. For example, 富士山 and Mt. Fuji have different connotations and implications. Their meanings can also be slightly different in that the Japanese define the former with very accurate geographical information while the latter might only mean "the highest mountain in Japan located at around the center of the main island" or "Er, a mountain in China?" Since rhetoric is an art that requires high level understanding of culture and language, a minor difference in connotation can be huge in simile.

Also, collocations have huge influence on simile in a language. For example, "skin" and "porcelain" collocates in English a lot more strongly than in Japanese while the Japanese word "肌 (skin)" more strongly collocates with "雪 (snow)".

Other than these kinds of difference, I don't see any noticeable difference between Japanese and English simile. There may well be some subtle linguistic difference though.
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away and you have their shoes.
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Re: Do Japanese use simile?

Postby Hektor6766 » Mon 11.30.2009 12:56 am

Just today I encountered 比喩, which may be closer to metaphor or allegory, as well as your mention of 直喩. I hope my example of Mt. Fuji did not offend. Or, regarding the specific geographical reference, an American might wonder why someone would choose to specify "As big as Mt. Ranier."

Of course, there are many examples of metaphor in the idioms on this site. I wonder if anyone has published any studies of Japanese rhetoric for Western consumption?
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