Don’t Forget – かわいそう

My folks are in town this next week, so I’ll be recycling ideas from a couple of my favorite posts – consider them spaced repetition reminders rather than sheer laziness.

Don’t forget that かわいそう is a difficult word to translate. I hate it when people just translate it straight up as “pitiful” or “pathetic.” Even “It’s a shame that…” can be off sometimes. I like to think of it as a truly sympathetic “It’s too bad that…” but it really needs to be handled on a case by case basis.

How to Alphabet

Now here’s some madness to play with your brain: Japanese have difficulty learning the English alphabet for the same reason that Americans have difficulty using the metric system – they already have a perfectly good naming/measuring convention of their own, so psychologically it’s more comfortable to stick with what’s familiar. It’s the same reason that it’s really difficult to adjust to Celsius or Fahrenheit if you’ve grown up with the other. I’ve come to understand what 10C means, but 50F still means more to me.

Yes, the alphabet has so pervaded Japan that they’ve found a way to fit it into their own language. And here is how it works:

A    エー
B    ビー
C    シー
D    ディー
E    イー
F    エフー
G    ジー
H    エイチ
I    アイ
J    ジェー
K    ケー
L    エル
M    エム
N    エヌ
O    オー
P    ピー
Q    キュー
R    アル
S    エス
T    ティー
U    ユー
V    ブイ
W    ダブルユー
X    エックス
Y    ワイ
Z    ゼッド

Follow this rubric with the occasional hint (ラビットのアル) and you’ll have no problem relaying the alphabet in Japanese, even if it means dictating your romanized name over the phone. I think the hardest ones for me to get used to have been V, R, L, M and N, but it’s amazing how much fater アル can relay information than “ARRGH.” Also, it wasn’t until I wrote down this list that I realized why my former students refused to give up the British “zed” – pronouncing it “zee” creates an overlap with the pronunciation for G. I was tempted to write ズィー until I remembered zed.

Four Random Wikipedia Articles

As previously mentioned, Wikipedia is a great place to check translations and Japanese usage. It’s also a fantastic source of study material. The Japanese page has over 500,000 entries, and as in the English version these are articles that have been written and edited by real people. (Unlike all the other written material in Japan which is made by robots.)

To prove these points, I’ll take a quick look at four random entries and show exactly how useful they can be. The only rule I’ll have is that I’ll skip any wacky mathematic formulas or nonsense like that.

First thing to note is that “Random Entry” in Japanese is おまかせ表示. That’s a nice localization; randomness is a somewhat difficult concept to convey in Japanese.

Article 1 – 福島町 (曖昧さ回避)

Ha, that’s a strange turn of fate. I spent three years living in Fukushima Prefecture, and the first article that pops up is the disambiguation page for Fukushima Town. While this isn’t an article, it’s still pretty useful. We get to see how Japanese deals with “disambiguation page”: 曖昧 (あいまい) with a さ to make it a noun and then 回避 (かいひ), which is a way to say avoid. This page shows how Wikipedia can be useful for tracking down the pronunciation of difficult place and people names.

Article 2 – 山形県護国神社

This appears to be a shrine in Yamagata Prefecture, and judging from the name of the shrine and content of the article, it’s clear that the shrine plays some sort of role with national protection or the enshrinement of national heroes/war dead. (Note that I’m using only the Japanese here. The other rule is that I can jump to other Japanese articles to figure things out. Just no English.) You get some good vocab here. 明治維新 (めいじいしん) and 第二次世界大戦 (だいにじせかいたいせん), or the Meiji Restoration and World War II.

The one word I wish had a link is 祀る. That is the verb the shrine is doing to the 英霊 of 殉国者. 英霊 is literally “hero ghost,” I think, and judging from the Wikipedia page for 英霊, it seems to be connected to the respect for war dead/Yasukuni debate. (This paragraph may seem like a bunch of stumbling, but that’s how you learn to read when you’re a kid. There’s definitely something to be gained from reading without bothering with pronunciation and meaning. You need a basic foundation, of course, but as some point you have to take off your floaties and swim in the deep end.)

Article 3 – 随何

Now here’s some crazy Japanese. 随何 is a Chinese politician, diplomat, and, I believe, a Confucian scholar.  (I knew I should have excluded ancient Chinese politicians along with mathematic formulas.) I know he lived from the Qin to the early-Han periods, but most of it is nonsense to me, to be honest. You never know when you’ll find a small gems, though. For example: 儒者の冠を取り上げ、その中に放尿をしたという。Ha, sounds like an angry dude.

Article 4 – ウタツグミ

An animal – another turn of fate, since I previously noted that Wikipedia was useful for tracking down the translation of クモザル. Looks like some kind of small sparrow, some variation on the ツグミ famous for its voice, so it gets an ウタ in front. Not that difficult an article to read. Gotta love the efficiency of phrases like this: 雌雄同色である. And easy enough to get the English translation (“Song Thrush”) if you needed it.

I hope that gives you an idea of what Wikipedia can do, even randomly. Feel free to try the challenge yourself. Loads of good material.