Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Complexities and Perplexities of Katakana

Meh....The Fat Geisha is getting lazier by the day which explains the lack of blog posts this month. Also there is nothing much in recent times to get me excited, for example, a naked Takuya Kimura rising out of nowhere like my personal Japanese muse, or private sex slave. The current weather in Singapore has also not been conducive for blogging because it is just sooooo freaking hot I feel like melting all the time. If I am still alive by the time I travel to the Zao Mountains in March, I will physically bury myself under tonnes of snow!

Ok, I have written more than a hundred words of nonsense, but that is not my main topic for the day. I am right now into my third semester of Japanese classes and it is getting more strenuous by the week. For those not in the know, the Japanese have three systems of writing script: the Hiragana for native Japanese words, the Katakana for foreign words and Kanji (Chinese characters) to differentiate the meanings of words. In truth, compared to the 60,000 characters in the Chinese script of which I probably know less than 5%, there are only about 100+ Hiragana and Katakana letters (these are actually phonetic letters, not pictograms like Chinese) that I have to memorize, and yet I am having trouble remembering in particular the Katakana letters. I don't actually know if I should be disgusted with myself for my inability to remember the letters as a result of diminished brain power, or be frightened that my brain powers are Actually diminishing. Nevertheless my girlfriends and I choose to conveniently blame the Japanese for coming up with what we feel is a redundant Katakana system to cope with foreign words/ideas which forces us learn an additional 50++ pathetic letters. (Sigh, yes, we should be ashamed of ourselves.)

But seriously, our reasoning is quite sound. Both Hiragana and Katakana script reproduce the EXACT same sounds (aa, i, u, e, o, sa shi, su, se, so.....) so it seems quite inefficient to create another set of letters JUST to represent foreign names and objects or new concepts. In addition, the Japanese sounds do not directly correlate to English sounds for example they do not have "v" or "r" sounds, nor the final "t". So besides struggling to remember the script, after managing to form the sounds 5 minutes later, we have to decipher what foreign word it is trying to say. "Soccer" becomes "Sak-ka", "Beer" is "Bi-Ru", "Building" is also "Biru" but without dragging out the first syllable, "Toilet" is "To-i-le" and so on and so forth. It is like a guessing game 90% of the time. Best of all, not all foreign words are translated from English, like "Bread" which is "Pa-n" in Katakana. Don't ask me why.

Not that I can change anything by whining, and I know I am whining, because I failed to get full marks in my dictation test this week. Yes, sore loser, I know. At another time, I would appreciate the intricacies and eccentricities of the language, because after all why study a language if they are all the same?! Deep down in my heart, somewhere, I love the Japanese language, really. Just until I start learning Kanji proper, I guess. Did I ever mention how much I hated learning Chinese in school? Samurai despairs frequently over my abysmal knowledge of my mother tongue, but that is another story for another day.

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