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Why is わかる constantly used for "to know", when it's not??

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Why is わかる constantly used for "to know", when it's not??

Postby Shiroisan » Tue 05.01.2012 10:38 pm

I find that almost MOST of the time, the 分かる s that I'm reading are in the context of knowing or not knowing. Why do the meanings of 知る and 分かる overlap so much when in reality, "knowing" and "understanding" are completely different concepts???? For example, if I were to go to Japan and ask someone something, and they said "すみませんが、分かりません。" My first instinct would immediately be that they didn't "understand" what I was asking. How am I supposed to magically jump to the conclusion that they were saying that they didn't "know" the answer rather than misunderstand the question? Is there a way to tell? And please don't say context alone because theoretically, either meaning should be able to appropriately fit in most contexts.

I remember once reading that it could be considered rude to use 知る in it's negative form because the concept of simply not knowing rather than not understanding is abrupt and crude? :roll: I really don't understand that, but could that be the sole reason behind all of this? And even if that were the reason, that doesn't exactly explain help me towards finding a solution/understanding...
Last edited by Shiroisan on Wed 05.02.2012 8:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Why is わかる constantly used for "to know", when it's not?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Wed 05.02.2012 3:12 am

The problem is that if you imagine a big circle of types of knowledge, English draws a vertical line that divides 'know' and 'understand' and Japanese draws a horizontal line that divides 分かる and 知る ; Each language has its own reasons for separating them that don't relate at -all- to the other language's reasons for separating them and the easy way of saying 知る=know , 分かる=understand is simply too shallow. It only works for the parts that overlap and ignores that it doesn't work for the parts that don't.

知る is to know as in be aware of a fact, be acquainted with a person. That it's rude to answer 知らない is probably habits more than anything, because it's often said in a way that implies 'I don't know, there's no reason for me to know, and I don't -want- to know' ... even if you answer in a different tone of voice, too many people have said it with that tone before for it to be neutral. ('知らない' can even be said directly in response to a statement or request, when you want to be brutally rude in your negation of having any interest whatsoever in the topic being raised.)

分かる is to have comprehension of something or to know the reasons for something, and can be used to say that you comprehend someone's feelings, or words, or reasons, or that you know right from wrong in a certain case. Notably, it -cannot- be used to say that you are not acquainted with a person and trying to do so will either sound like an error or like you're trying to say something else (like that you don't understand that person's behavior or don't know where that person is at the moment). Other than knowing who a person is, almost any other type of knowledge can be denied with 分からない or よく分からない which has more humble sense of 'I'm not able to know or understand that subject' compared to the brutal denial of 知らない.

知らない can be properly used to deny knowledge of purely factual matters when you don't have to be humble about not knowing those facts, as in answering 'I don't know' to a trivia question or such.

I'm not sure if that actually helps much, but... try to listen to how they're used without drawing explicit lines to particular English translations and perhaps their sense will become clearer.
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Re: Why is わかる constantly used for "to know", when it's not?

Postby Hektor6766 » Wed 05.02.2012 3:55 pm

I think of 知りません as "I have no idea"

「私はあなたがロマンティックな知りませんでした。」
"I had no idea you're a romantic."
Not rude, even flattering. How were you to know their secret feelings?

「東京タワーはどこにあるか知りません。」
"I have no idea where Tokyo Tower is."
Pretty rude, unless they stumble over themselves apologizing.

「東京タワーはどこにあるか分かりません。」
"I don't know where Tokyo Tower is (although I should)."
More polite.

As for not understanding, were they unable to hear: かれらは聞こえなかったんですか?聞き取らなかったんですか?
Didn't comprehend or appreciate: 理解できなかったんですか?
Mistook what you said: 間違ったんですか?
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Re: Why is わかる constantly used for "to know", when it's not?

Postby Shiroisan » Wed 05.02.2012 9:04 pm

Both of your responses were very helpful, thank you.

As for this:

Hektor6766 wrote:As for not understanding, were they unable to hear: かれらは聞こえなかったんですか?聞き取らなかったんですか?
Didn't comprehend or appreciate: 理解できなかったんですか?
Mistook what you said: 間違ったんですか?


Is it really normal to follow up with one of those questions upon a reply of "分かりません"? Are there no other clues for telling? It's mostly just relevant to us as we're not native speakers--> that many times we may try asking a question with the wrong wording to which their kikitori cannot compute, but would otherwise be simple to "understand" had we been a native.
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Re: Why is わかる constantly used for "to know", when it's not?

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Thu 05.03.2012 7:02 pm

Shiroisan wrote:
Is it really normal to follow up with one of those questions upon a reply of "分かりません"?

I don't think it's normal or common to follow up with such questions; I believe the intention was to show questions that could be kept in mind when interpreting the range of meanings of 分からない that simultaneously demonstrates a set of alternative word-choices for 分かる when you could be more specific.
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