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.

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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.):

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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.

metaphors we live by

942012_616118365075845_1374820453_n“There’s just too much friction between us.”

“It’s not my fault.”

RELATIONSHIPS ARE GEOLOGICAL FEATURES.

English is Rough

“We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

James Nicoll

Some thoughts on language and culture

Language is culture. So if you want to learn to speak a language you need to understand the culture in which it is spoken.

And it is this that many don’t understand about their first language, that their ability to speak it is from their immersion – being in the midst of the culture – that allows them to speak it so perfectly, nicely.

Their understanding of its culture is so hidden, automatic that they actually have lost the ability to understand it, understand the significance and importance of it to their communicative abilities.

The Origin of English Words

eng origin2Here is a version of the chart I made of the origin of english words. I am guessing these are type counts and not token counts. It would be interesting to see a token count chart of this and see where the blowout (if any) is.

Exposure to Language

“Reading is more important than writing.”

— Roberto Bolaño

Without exposure to a language one will never master it. That exposure can come in many forms but the best form is culture. Culture and language are essentially the same thing. There will be no language if there is no culture the opposite is also true. So to understand a language, its nuances, meaning and usage one needs to be in contact with the very space of it. Otherwise it will ring false, be inauthentic.