English Origin?

Posted on January 30, 2017 | genkijacs

When learning a new language, there is happily always some vocabulary incorporated that we already know from other languages. Japanese offers a lot of terms that derived from the English language. However, as a non-native English speaker, you should beware unless you want British or American people making funny expressions when you talk to them. Some Japanese expressions that appear to be English may in fact just be modern Japanese. Here are some examples:

→ キーホルダー (ki-ho-ruda; key holder): key ring, key chain
→ ベビーカー (bebi-ka; baby car): stroller
→ ポテトフライ (poteto furai; potato fry): french fries (US), chips (UK)
→ ジェットコースター (jetto ko-suta-; jet coaster): roller coaster
→ カージャック (ka-jakku: car-jacking): hijacking a car

The Legendary Turtle Shell – How Kanji Came to Life

Posted on January 23, 2017 | genkijacs

Whoever studies the Japanese language will eventually come across the complex writing system based on the Chinese characters called Kanji. Memorizing them is probably the hardest part when studying Japanese. However, it can also be quite interesting learning about their origin and their development.

There are several theories about how they first came to life. One of them is particularly interesting:

It all began around 4,000 years ago somewhere in China. Back then, people had a lot of questions; Questions that only the heavens could answer. For only the heavens had the power of divination and could foresee whether it was going to rain or if a big disaster lay ahead. So the people sacrificed animals and offered them their bones along with turtle shells. When burned, these shells formed cracks illustrating the heavens’ forecast. Comparing the cracks to real-life things, the people could analyze them and understand the heavens’ messages.
After a while, the people realized that they had discovered a good way to communicate with the heavens and soon receiving messages was not enough for them anymore. So they replicated the cracks and wrote them on unburned turtle shells asking for things they needed.
Many years later, during the Zhou dynasty, these turtle shells were found and then became the foundation of a new writing system in China.

Of course, this was only the beginning. Chinese scribes added a lot of characters or made up new ones when they did not know the original meaning. Moreover, the characters changed over time, simplifying the writing but solidifying their meaning.
By the way, it wasn’t until 500 AD that Kanji came to Japan. Until then, Japanese had not had its own writing system. In other terms, it had been a pure spoken language before that.

Should you want to learn more about Kanji history, here are some sources that you might find interesting:

Japanese “Cat-phrases”

Posted on January 16, 2017 | genkijacs

Every language has sayings in which animals play an important role. However, in Japanese, the cat appears particularly often. Here are some “cat-phrases” that will make you smile. (Unless, of course, you are allergic to these cute pets.)

Do you know the feeling of impatiently waiting for your nice hot coffee to cool down because your tongue will get burned if you don’t? Then you may have a 猫舌 (neko jita) a cat’s tongue. This means you cannot drink or eat if you’re meal is too hot.

Maybe, you drink it anyway and spill the hot coffee all over the table in pain. If you don’t want anyone to find out it was you, you might want to look as innocent as possible and 猫を被る(neko wo kaburu), dress up as a cat. This term is more than fitting, don’t you agree? Let’s be honest. Cats look cute but they sure aren’t completely innocent .

The next phrase emphasizes this fact. 猫に鰹節 (neko ni katsuobushi). Just imagine putting some delicious fish-shaped flakes directly next to a cat. You will have to pay great attention. Otherwise, you will find yourself in an incredible mess. That is exactly what this phrase intends to describe: a situation where you mustn’t lose focus.

However, if you did lose focus, you will need a lot of help cleaning up the mess. You will be so busy you would even 猫の手も借りたい (neko no te mo karitai), want to borrow a cat’s paw.

Still, you might then find yourself with 猫の子一匹いない(neko no ko ippiki inai), not even one kitten there.

The Japanese language is full of cat-related expressions. If you like these cute little animals, do some research and thereby safe your day.
By the way, did you know that Japanese cats do not say “meow” but “にゃん” (“nyan”)?

早言葉(はやことば) Tongue Twisters

Posted on January 09, 2017 | genkijacs

They do exist in the Japanese language as well: the loved and feared tongue twisters. They help us make a fool of ourselves but that is exactly why it is fun to try.
Japanese has a grand variety of these 早言葉(はやことば). Some are more difficult than others. Here are some examples. Practice them and impress your Japanese friends.

→ 李も桃も桃のうち。(すもももももももものうち。) "sumomo mo momo mo momo no uchi" (that's a record 8 "momo"s in a row!)
It means: Both plums and peaches belong to the peach family.

→ 隣の客はよく柿食う客だ。(となりのきゃくはよくかきくうきゃくだ。) "tonari no kyaku wa yoku kaki kuu kyaku da"
The customer next to me is a customer who often eats khaki.

→ 二羽の庭には二羽鶏にワニを食べた。(にわのにわにはにわにわとりにワニをたべた。) "niwa no niwa ni wa niwatori ni wani o tabeta"
In (Mr.) Niwa’s garden, two chickens ate a crocodile.

→ 赤巻紙、黄巻紙、青巻紙(あかまきがみ、きまきがみ、あおまきがみ) "akamakigami, kimakigami, aomakigaki"
Red scroll, yellow scroll, blue scroll.