If I wrote a Textbook…

We are currently between two periods development at The J-Sub Experiment; and we’re using this time to talk about different elements of Japanese and Japanese linguistics before we get back to anime scripts. (By the way, the next show script will be from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.)

A persisting question for us has been the order in which information is presented and the manner in which it is explained. Both these questions exist as prominent questions in a branch of Linguistics called Applied Linguistics.

Applied Linguistics is the branch that concerns itself with the use of linguistic knowledge outside of the academic/theoretical realms of writing and academia. Most commonly, this means the teaching of language and clinical assistance (so things like speech pathology and speech therapy).

We are not applied linguists in the sense that we do not consider ourselves language teachers. We are helpers. We provide information in an accessible way and we leave it up to the individual to use it as they see most fit.

But, having said that, we have written two “Japanese From Zero” series where we try to tell people what they need to know to hit the ground running. We did so as an anti-textbook, trope. A textbook tends to baby you for a long time and then, in part 3 or 4, violently shove you out of the nest and more often than not one hits the ground or flutters for a few minutes before one gets exhausted and collapses onto the ground all the same.

But if we had to write a textbook, break down Japanese into units of 2 important ideas, what would that look like? On dontcallmesensei we look at a lot of that, but it’s more oriented towards exams and spoken Japanese. So let’s pretend for a while and have some fun.

For the sake of the exercise, let’s imagine that the textbook comes with a preface that gets one through Kana and that the Kanji and terms used are in the Vocabulary section of the lesson.

The J-Sub Experiment’s Theoretical Textbook: Lesson 1

1) The Japanese Sentence

As with all languages, sentences in Japanese take many shapes and forms. Nevertheless, there exist various patterns one should quickly recognize. That way, even if one does not know the word, one has a pretty good idea of what it should be.

[Nouns, Adverbs, Post-Positions, Adjectives] [Verb] [Ending Particles]

A) Ending Particles

Ending particles are words that express a mood or intention but don’t quite have a role in adding information to the idea of a sentence. Imagine if there were these small words to convey out loud what you convey through emojis and emotions. Ending Particles are like that. Ending Particles are optional, and so a sentence need not have one.

Common Ending Particles: よ、ね、な、か、なの、の、さ、ぞ、かな、かね

B) Verbs

Verbs are words that express an action or a state of state of being. Verbs are the most dynamic and varied part of the Japanese language. We’ll learn about it bit by bit. For now, we’ll just divide them into categories.

i) Copulae- verbs meaning “to be” or “to have,” expressing an identity relationship between two nouns. They are だ、ある、and いる.

ii) u Verbs- verbs ending in /u/ in the imperfective, affirmative conjugations. These are most verbs; and the real doozie. Thankfully, once you understand the rules of conjugation, everything will work out. Irregular verbs are very, very few. They are less than to.

Common u Verbs: 食べる、する、来る、行く、寝る、入る.

3) ω (omega) Verbs- verbs that end in something we’re calling /ω/. We’ll talk about what the heck that means soon. These verbs are mostly u-verbs conjugated for the negative and verbs expressing a state of being, which are adjectival in meaning.

Common ω Verbs: おいしい、かわいい、ない、かなしい、いい.

C) Adverbs

Adverbs are words that modify the action. In Japanese, adverbs are easy to spot because they don’t look inflect in any way. Adverbs, mind you, will sometimes have adjectival meanings, i.e. they will be modifying nouns. Nouns and ω Verbs will sometimes be able to become adverbs through special suffixes.

Common adverbs: まだ、すごく、はやく、ちゃんと、ちょっと、ぜんぜん、あまり.

D) Post-Positions

Post-Positions are words that go after phrases in order to give us some spatio-temporal orientation. They are like prepositions, only that they come after the phrase.

Common Post-Postions: から、まで、で.

E) Adjectives

Adjectives are words that modify a noun. We’ve already noted that ω verbs and adverbs have adjectival functions at times; but true adjectives that are neither adverbs nor ω verbs are few and far between. They are often called “adnominals.” They go before the noun they modify.

Common Adjectives: ものの、あくる、いわゆる、おきな.

F) Nouns

Nouns are words that describe people, places, things, and ideas. You are probably used to nouns having articles (a, an, the) and inflect for number (-s, -es, -en, -ice). Lucky for you, there really isn’t anything quite like that for Japanese noun. There are no articles; and nouns generally do not inflect for number. So whether it’s one dog or ten dogs, it’s still “dog,” so to speak.

Common Nouns: 私、ぼく、名、犬、猫、家、こと、もの.

2) Noun Cases

Japanese nouns may not inflect for number, but they do inflect for case. 

What’s a case? 

You know the difference between “he” and “him” and “his”? You know how they’re kind of the same word but have different uses? Well that difference in uses is case.

Japanese has 7 different cases, each with its own particle that follows the noun.

Topical– indicates the topic of a sentence. The topic exists independently from the rest of the sentence. It’s “your father” in the sentence “Your father, how is he?” The Topical Particle is は (pronounced /wa/).

Nominative– indicates the subject of the sentence. It’s “the dog” in “The dog chased the rabbit.” The Nominative Particle is が.

Accusative– indicates the direct object of the verb in the sentence. It’s “the rabbit” in “The dog chased the rabbit.” The Accusative Particle is を (pronounced /wo/ or /o/).

Genitive– indicates that the noun belongs to another noun or indicates the subset to which the noun belongs. The pronouns “his,” “her,” “its” and “their” are genitive. The Genitive Particle is の.

Dative– is the probably the most dynamic of the cases, having many many uses. Here are some of the most popular: the dative indicates 1) that the noun is the immediate location of the action, or that 2) the noun is the indirect object of the verb in the sentence, or 3) it indicates the purpose of the action, or 4) it is the object of the verb (as is the case in certain situations where it is supplanting the accusative.) It is “the girl” in “The boy gave the girl a present.” The Dative Particle is に.

Instrumental– indicates the means or cause of the action. It is “with a hammer” in “I nail things with a hammer.” The Instrumental Particle is で.

Locative– is a very limited case that notes the direction of an action, as well as the recipient of a letter. It is “to Canada” in “I’m going to Canada next year.” The Locative Particle is へ (pronounced /e/).

[Here we would have many exercises that would help people get used to the idea of cases.]

That’s the idea. We should show you an Ancient Greek textbook which starts similarly.

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