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If it weren't for the writing system...

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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby hyperconjugated » Mon 09.28.2009 12:19 pm

furrykef wrote:
spin13 wrote:Here are four different passages that you should have no problem with...


I don't have nearly the vocabulary needed to understand those things! ^^; Trying to parse a sentence is rather pointless if I'd need to mouseover every other word with Rikaichan just to get a starting point. If a grammatical point is complicated, then it should be possible to demonstrate its complexity using simple words that any Japanese 101 student should know (not counting the words that are the focus of the grammatical point itself, of course).
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I think you are surely allowed to use Rikaichan as much as you want, since the stament was about grammar, not vocabulary. Besides, there aren't that many uncommon compound words in those sentences to an intermediate learner IMO.
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 09.28.2009 1:40 pm

furrykef wrote:I take "difficult grammar" to mean "difficult to comprehend" -- that is, not sentences that are hard to understand, but grammatical principles that are hard to understand.


1. Wa vs. ga
2. Verbs of giving and receiving
3. -tara vs. -ba vs. to
4. Adversative passive
5. Internally headed relative clauses
6. Seemingly ambiguous relative clauses that are not (i.e. 試験を絶対に受かる先生)
7. -te iru vs. plain imperfective verbs

If you think you understand any of these well, I am pretty sure that you have an inflated opinion of your own knowledge -- I've been studying Japanese for over 10 years now and teaching Japanese grammar for 4 years, and I don't feel like I understand any of these completely. They're all difficult to understand.

A lot of these are maybe easy to get a surface understanding of, but to actually use them correctly is hard.
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby astaroth » Mon 09.28.2009 1:55 pm

kurisuto wrote:And don't forget that understanding has nothing to do with actually speaking the language. For instance, I understand Italian very well (because of my Romance languages background), but I can't speak one bit of it. Let's see... "Io non fallo italiano porque non lo ho veramente studatto"...

Just to clear this up a bit. The sentence in Italian should have been: "Non parlo italiano perché non l'ho studiato molto"
When I first read your sentence, kurisuto, I didn't think of "fallo" as "penis" but as "do it", in Italian "fai quello" becomes "fallo". The word can also mean "penis" as said before or "fault", "mistake", "error"; since it came after the subject I thought it was a verb and not a noun.
Also in Italian we use very rarely the subjects, because they can be inferred and because the use is only for stressing and Italians don't like to put attention on themselves: it sounds very disrespectful to the listener. I know this is not the stereotype but this is what actually is ...

By the way and to be back on topic, the reason I didn't consider learning French or Spanish was that I thought it would have been too easy and I thought if I will need any of them I can learn in a year or so.
For some weird reasons I think saying that a language is easy sounds disrespectful for the speakers of said language, like saying they are "stupider" or something ... I also believe a lot of time people that said a language is very hard to learn say that partly out of respect. At least this is what happened to me many times when I met Americans trying to learn Italian ...
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby kurisuto » Mon 09.28.2009 3:49 pm

astaroth wrote:Just to clear this up a bit. The sentence in Italian should have been: "Non parlo italiano perché non l'ho studiato molto"
When I first read your sentence, kurisuto, I didn't think of "fallo" as "penis" but as "do it", in Italian "fai quello" becomes "fallo". The word can also mean "penis" as said before or "fault", "mistake", "error"; since it came after the subject I thought it was a verb and not a noun.
Also in Italian we use very rarely the subjects, because they can be inferred and because the use is only for stressing and Italians don't like to put attention on themselves: it sounds very disrespectful to the listener. I know this is not the stereotype but this is what actually is ...


Thank you ! I'll try to store these informations somewhere in my brain. In fact I'm planning to formally learn Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. As you said, it probably won't be really challenging (again, let's stress the importance of one's native language), but it's just frustrating not to be able to actually form correct sentences, or form sentences at all. Alhough right now my goal is to attain fluency in Japanese, so I guess I'll get back to "our" languages later. :)
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby furrykef » Mon 09.28.2009 5:25 pm

hyperconjugated wrote:I think you are surely allowed to use Rikaichan as much as you want, since the stament was about grammar, not vocabulary.


My point is that most of my time would be spent trying to understand the vocabulary. Grammar describes the relationship between words; first, you gotta understand the words, right? Giving me a "grammar" exercise where 95% of my time will be spent trying to grasp the vocabulary doesn't sound like a fair assessment of my grammar skills.

Besides, there aren't that many uncommon compound words in those sentences to an intermediate learner IMO.


"Intermediate learner" is such a vague and fuzzy notion. I'm much more advanced in grammar than I am in vocabulary. (For example, the て form -- just the freakin' て form! -- isn't really taught until very near the end of JFBP1. Things like conditionals, relative clauses, or even plain form are nowhere to be found. Yet the book still has vocabulary that I haven't learned yet.)

But, honestly, it sounds to me like you guys (especially spin13, whose sarcasm wasn't really warranted) are taking me to task for saying something I haven't actually said. I've explained what I mean when I say "Japanese grammar isn't hard"; I never claimed to be an expert or anything. I'm just saying that learning it hasn't presented big problems and I don't expect that to really change. That doesn't necessarily mean that I'd find spin13's sentences easy or intuitive even if I did know the words.

Heck, take this famous Donald Rumsfeld quotation:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.


Many native English speakers have found this a bit counterintuitive and difficult to understand (especially when spoken aloud rather than read on the page). That doesn't mean they don't have any understanding of the grammar involved.

Yudan Taiteki wrote:1. Wa vs. ga
2. Verbs of giving and receiving

... *snip* ...

If you think you understand any of these well, I am pretty sure that you have an inflated opinion of your own knowledge -- I've been studying Japanese for over 10 years now and teaching Japanese grammar for 4 years, and I don't feel like I understand any of these completely. They're all difficult to understand.

A lot of these are maybe easy to get a surface understanding of, but to actually use them correctly is hard.


I never really claimed to have much more than a "surface understanding" of them. But such a surface understanding is the first step. It's a step beyond having no idea what any of those things are, or what they might mean when you encounter them.

Also, many of these go back to my point that a lot of the time, the hard thing isn't understanding the grammatical principle, it's understanding the way of thinking.

astaroth wrote:For some weird reasons I think saying that a language is easy sounds disrespectful for the speakers of said language, like saying they are "stupider" or something ... I also believe a lot of time people that said a language is very hard to learn say that partly out of respect.


This point of view is extremely common and I have always been baffled by it. Do people not understand that there's beauty in simplicity? People often use language like "Me Tarzan, you Jane" to illustrate weak language skills. Although that would indeed be a weak command of English, people don't seem to grasp that this is not an inherently inferior means of communication; indeed, changing it to "I am Tarzan, you are Jane" adds absolutely nothing to the sentence beyond making it conform to Standard English. "Me Tarzan, you Jane" only sounds funny to us because we don't actually talk that way.

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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 09.28.2009 6:16 pm

furrykef wrote:Heck, take this famous Donald Rumsfeld quotation:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.


Many native English speakers have found this a bit counterintuitive and difficult to understand (especially when spoken aloud rather than read on the page). That doesn't mean they don't have any understanding of the grammar involved.


I've always thought the criticism of that statement was rather silly and based more on dislike for Rumsfeld himself; I never had any trouble understanding the meaning of it and I find it hard to believe that any native speaker of English doesn't know what he means. I will grant that there might be a slightly more elegant way to phrase that, although it's hard to make it too much better.

Also, many of these go back to my point that a lot of the time, the hard thing isn't understanding the grammatical principle, it's understanding the way of thinking.


I don't understand the difference. To me there is only one meaningful way to judge your knowledge of a grammatical pattern -- how well can you use it (both passively and actively). Saying that you understand the concept but can't actually use or understand it completely means you don't fully understand it. Of course surface understandings are easy. If that's all we're talking about then I wouldn't necessarily say Japanese grammar is hard.
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Zvono11 » Tue 09.29.2009 11:37 am

NocturnalOcean wrote:To say that Japanese grammar is not hard at all is such an understatement. Of course we have to look at from which standpoint we are saying this. For a Korean speaker, Japanese grammar won't be as hard. I don't know how close Croatian is to Japanese but at least for me as a Norwegian native speaker, Japanese grammar offers a considerably huge amount of grammar difficulties.

What I find especially difficult about it, is the vast amount of single words that have a grammar meaning in Japanese.
Also the huge amount of grammar points that are so similar but yet have small nuances. This might be the case for most languages, but I feel it is very apparent in Japanese grammar at least.



I agree with you, Croatian isn´t similar to Japanese neither. At the my beginning of learning Japanese, I thought that it is impossible to learn Japanese. After I have learned English, German and Spanish it shouldn´t be such problem to learn Japanese. So I´ve got used on word order in sentence in Japanese. If there wasn´t Kanji script, Japanese would be very easy to learn.

P.S. Croatian grammar is very similar to German or Hungarian grammar (as some Hungarians who learn Croatian have told me....)
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby NocturnalOcean » Tue 09.29.2009 12:44 pm

If Japanese would be easy to learn only if it weren't for the kanji, why aren't there more fluent speakers of Japanese?
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby astaroth » Tue 09.29.2009 3:17 pm

Because they're shy?

No, seriously. From one side I can see why people say Japanese grammar is easy, since it seems more logical than -say- English grammar, but at the same time the Japanese language isn't hard just because of the kanji.
Personally I think any language is hard or at least shows some non-trivial grammatical patterns. For instance I don't understand why people learning Italian might get confused on using the imperfect tense instead of perfect or pluperfect tense, but reading entries on lang-8 this is one of the most common mistake even among "advanced students" and I bet all of them know the definition or the "rule". So is Italian harder than English or Japanese? I doubt ... or probably it is ... for some.
I think it is not much matter of one's native language, rather of one's own abilities. Personally I find I've been making faster progress in Japanese -- though I'm far, very far from fluency -- than when I was studying English, because (I think) the "logicality" of Japanese grammar suits me better than the apparent chaos of English. That being said with a pinch of salt, all I'm saying is: for some weird reasons I find easier to remember Japanese grammatical structure than the English one. And not that I'm fluent or whatever in Japanese.
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Fillanzea » Tue 09.29.2009 5:57 pm

NocturnalOcean wrote:If Japanese would be easy to learn only if it weren't for the kanji, why aren't there more fluent speakers of Japanese?


I don't think that Japanese is easy except for the kanji, but I think kanji do set up a bit of a roadblock in learning spoken Japanese. I'm basically an adherent of the comprehensible input hypothesis: we learn languages by hearing or reading language that we can understand.

In most languages, reading is a MUCH more accessible and convenient way of getting input than hearing speech, unless you have access to a tutor who can speak slowly and repeat things for you. People in dramas or on the news just talk too fast, or not clearly enough. If you're reading, you can read at your own pace, you can look things up, you never have to wonder if you heard that word correctly. In French and Spanish, as well as in Japanese, I've often had the experience of being 'primed' to recognize a word in speech because I've already seen it in print. So reading ends up supporting speech, as well as listening comprehension, to a great extent.

Of course, millions of Japanese children are able to speak fluently in Japanese before they learn any kanji at all. But they have the advantage of being surrounded by Japanese audio input for hours and hours a day, lots of which is targeted right at their level. (And they haven't learned all the on-yomi homonyms and semi-homonyms to keep straight, either.)
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 09.29.2009 6:04 pm

Fillanzea wrote:Of course, millions of Japanese children are able to speak fluently in Japanese before they learn any kanji at all. But they have the advantage of being surrounded by Japanese audio input for hours and hours a day, lots of which is targeted right at their level. (And they haven't learned all the on-yomi homonyms and semi-homonyms to keep straight, either.)


It has more to do with their age; much of the material targeted at children is actually quite high level in terms of a foreign learner (particularly with respect to grammar).
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Fillanzea » Tue 09.29.2009 8:49 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Fillanzea wrote:Of course, millions of Japanese children are able to speak fluently in Japanese before they learn any kanji at all. But they have the advantage of being surrounded by Japanese audio input for hours and hours a day, lots of which is targeted right at their level. (And they haven't learned all the on-yomi homonyms and semi-homonyms to keep straight, either.)


It has more to do with their age; much of the material targeted at children is actually quite high level in terms of a foreign learner (particularly with respect to grammar).


I was thinking of children around 2-4 years old, when a lot of what they're hearing comes directly from their parents, but it's a fair point.
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Zvono11 » Wed 09.30.2009 5:46 am

NocturnalOcean wrote:If Japanese would be easy to learn only if it weren't for the kanji, why aren't there more fluent speakers of Japanese?



Well, you are right in some way...but that depends on person itself...For me, it would be impossible to learn French...
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby Zvono11 » Wed 09.30.2009 5:50 am

astaroth wrote:Because they're shy?

No, seriously. From one side I can see why people say Japanese grammar is easy, since it seems more logical than -say- English grammar, but at the same time the Japanese language isn't hard just because of the kanji.
Personally I think any language is hard or at least shows some non-trivial grammatical patterns. For instance I don't understand why people learning Italian might get confused on using the imperfect tense instead of perfect or pluperfect tense, but reading entries on lang-8 this is one of the most common mistake even among "advanced students" and I bet all of them know the definition or the "rule". So is Italian harder than English or Japanese? I doubt ... or probably it is ... for some.
I think it is not much matter of one's native language, rather of one's own abilities. Personally I find I've been making faster progress in Japanese -- though I'm far, very far from fluency -- than when I was studying English, because (I think) the "logicality" of Japanese grammar suits me better than the apparent chaos of English. That being said with a pinch of salt, all I'm saying is: for some weird reasons I find easier to remember Japanese grammatical structure than the English one. And not that I'm fluent or whatever in Japanese.



I totally agree with you...That is why I think that Japanese grammar isn´t as hard as grammars of some european´s languages...as an example: French,....
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Re: If it weren't for the writing system...

Postby kurisuto » Wed 09.30.2009 8:36 am

Fillanzea wrote:Of course, millions of Japanese children are able to speak fluently in Japanese before they learn any kanji at all. But they have the advantage of being surrounded by Japanese audio input for hours and hours a day, lots of which is targeted right at their level. [...] I was thinking of children around 2-4 years old, when a lot of what they're hearing comes directly from their parents


I'm not sure that's quite true either. From now on I'm gonna use an outrageous comparison.

See how you talk to your pet ? During a petting session for instance, it's something like "good boy ! You're a reeaaally good boy !" (well, I'm not an expert in English pet-talk but you get the spirit). I think we agree that's very basic. But then, it's not always the case : sometimes, you actually speak to him like you would to a normal adult, as in "where have you been ?", "now, get out of here !", "come here, we're going to the vet" etc.

Now, when parents "pet" their babies, I agree that their sentences aren't always best described as complex as far as grammar and vocabulary are concerned ("good boy" ?). But the point is, that's not the only way we talk to babies, not by far. In fact, parents, especially mothers I would say, often "monologue to their babies", meaning that they don't really care about grammatical complexity, they just speak, that's it.

Not to mention that people in general have a really bad sense of language. For instance, you often see people speaking to foreigners who don't master the language of the country their in, using what they think are "easy sentences", when in fact the only thing that changes from their daily speaking habits is the tone they use and the pace at which they speak.

In fact, if you form grammatically correct sentences, it's almost impossible to simplify a language. Of course you can use less refined vocabulary, but a language is a language, it's an established system that you can't change that easily. It's not because you say "mommy" instead of "I" and "baby" instead of "you" that your sentences suddenly become incredibly intelligible.
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