Saturday, October 4, 2008

Japanese -Indirect Communication-

I am from Japan, a small country which as big as California, only one of the fifty states of the Unites States. Japan is surrounded by the ocean and doesn't share any borders with any other countries. We, Japanese, are homogeneous. Although there are some native people in the northern and southern area as well as some Korean and Chinese Japanese, we don't have much variety of cultures. In other words, we are easily stereotyped by people in other countries.

Japanese culture is regarded as a culture of harmony. It is a big deal to maintain harmony between others. We have a tendency to care about the community/group first rather than individuals. We share rules and values that are unstated and unwritten. The Individual is expected to be aware of and to behave based on them. I think this impacts the language structure, especially the conversational part. We drop subject, topic, object and many other words, and it appears to make people who study conversational Japanese confused.

As conversation goes on, or sometimes even on the first dialogue of the conversation, we talk without subject, topic, object, etc. We believe that there are mutual understandings among the people who are in the conversation. We don't confirm what is the topic of the conversation at any moment once we start talking about something, of course, we don't notify others what is the topic before we drop it in the sentence. When I help my American friends practice Japanese conversation, they often question what I asked about, or what I stated about. I see big ‘?’ above their head. To me, it is unnecessary to repeat the topic/subject/object, etc. because it is postulated that we share an understanding on the conversation. I politely explain how Japanese conversation is supposed to be carried.

Manga is becoming very popular almost all over the world. One day, one of my friends who had been studying Japanese, brought Japanese manga "Naruto" which is about a ninja. Manga carries the story with the combination of the pictures and the dialogues. Sometimes the character talks about something on previous pages, even two, three pages before the scene. He often asked what the subject of the sentence was. I went back of the previous pages to explain what the dialogue was actually about. It was interesting to discover that, even though he speaks Japanese well, read English "Naruto" already, loved it and followed the story very well, it appeared to be hard for him many times to figure out what the dialogue was about.

It is said that when you study a foreign language, it is important to understand the culture. As an ESL (English as second language,) I have to learn to be articulating as much as possible. As a JSL (Japanese as second language: I don’t know if such a word exists,) you have to learn how to communicate in indirect manner. It feels practically ironic but it also makes me even more interested in interacting with JSL people.

1 comment:

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