A quick introduction to Japanese syntax and particles

The Japanese language is considered syntactically a Subject-Object-Verb or SOV language in contrast to English which is considered a subject-Verb-Object or SVO language, as these two example sentences will show.

(1) Ken wa (S) tama wo (O) uchimashita (V).
(2) Ken (S) hit (V) the ball (O).

While it is not possible to move the syntactical elements around in English without a changing its meaning, it is possible in Japanese. Why this is so is due partly to particles (助詞). Particles mark the syntactic role of the word or phrase before it. By doing so this means the entire phrase including the particle can move to any other position within a sentence without losing its marked role.

The ‘wa’ and ‘wo’ in (1) are particles.

The English syntactic elements, however, are not marked whatsoever by particles (particles do not exist in English) and only show their syntactic distinction to other elements within the sentence unit by its relative position to each other. The sentence is therefore the unit. The rearranged syntactic units of (3) below in contrast to (2) has a now a completely different meaning because of the changed positions of the subject (S) and object (O).

(3) The ball (S) hit (V) Ken (O).

So Japanese is considered an SOV language because most often the elements follow this order and not because it is fixed by its position like English. But English learners of Japanese can safely assume this structure for learning purposes.

20,000 English teachers for Japan by 2019

The Japanese government is planning to increase the number of Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) to 20,000 by 2019. Although the acronym stands for any language by and large English is the only language that is taught in schools in Japan. Outsourcing has been the trend of late but this may mark the return of government-based selection as was the norm until the early 2000s.

IMG_8987.JPG

Source: today’s national English paper.

Five or Seven Sentence Patterns?

While the seven sentence pattern description is the norm in English linguistics today there still persists the use of five sentence description in some non-English speaking countries like Japan which teach English as a foreign language.

Essentially the seven sentence pattern is a five sentence pattern with the extra two pattern as extensions of SVA and SVOA. The problem is that some common sentence patterns seemingly cannot be described by the five sentence pattern model. Take sentence (1.), for example:

  1. John sat up.

There is ‘John’ and he is performing the action of sitting up from perhaps a slouched position. In other words there is one actor doing one action. Therefore it is an SV pattern (John (S) / sat up (V)). Now consider (2.):

More

Bisociation and Conceptual Blending Theory

New Yorker magazine cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, talks about the anatomy of the New Yorker cartoon and what makes them funny. He cites Arthur Koestler’s idea of bisociation as explained in his Act of Creation as a major influence to his thinking in making choices for which cartoons get accepted into the magazine.

Koestler’s book is also the starting point for Fauconnier and Turner’s work The Way We Think on Conceptual Blending Theory, an important notion in Cognitive Linguistics.

Loanwords and the growth and change of a language

We have truly come to understand that language is usage in the last thirty years.

So when someone says that they disapprove of loanwords coming into their language they are really not understanding this point. They are coming from the Old School which thinks grammar (and vocabulary) is perscriptive, not descriptive.

English is itself a language built upon loanwords. The language has been borrowing words from the very beginning from Latin, Old Norse, French and Greek just for starters. And in this day and age it borrows from whatever language it comes into contact.

Why languages do so is because new ideas come in faster than words can be created. Also where the idea comes from also influences its adoptive form. So really when people are complaining about the loanwords they are complaining about influences that maybe seen as from outside the culture.

One should not be surprised that such insularity still exists in this day and age.