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Japanese sentence construction introduction 文法

Introduction にゅうもん 入門 nyuumon to Japanese patterns.

English and Japanese sentences have similar construction.

Human activities resemble each other anywhere on Earth. Languages expressing and supporting them, therefore, naturally have similar components. We will show how Japanese sentences are consturcted, by translating English grammar to Japanese grammar forms. We will translate the English's 'ordered' or 'structured' agreement to the Japanese 'not-ordered' or 'unstructured' agreement.

Positional Parameter vs Marker Declarational Languages

The order of English terms determines the roles of terms in a sentence while Japanese uses 'markers' to indicate them. That is, if you change the order of English words in a sentence, you'll change the meaning or invalidate it, while in Japanese, words can be moved around without losing their validity. The markers play the trick.

Let's illustrate this point by an example of

You like school in English
Anata-ha gakkou-ga suki-desu in Japanese.

(You need not strain your eyes on this Japanese sentence. We understand this does not make sense at all at this moment. We will show how you can construct this step by step. ) Your knowledge tells you that

You is the subject, like the verb, and school the object.

If you swap the positions of the words for the moment, to illustrate the point, you express a different meaning with the second, and lose its validity with the last;

School like you.

Alternatively, You school like .

The key to Japanese sentence is the role the particles play.
The particle attached defines the word's role, freely enbaling the movement of words within the sentence; Taking an example of You (S) like(V) school(O), and translating, you have anata-ha suki-desu gakkou-ga, where ha and ga are the particles. Once marked, you may now resturcture; anata-ha gakkou-ga suki-desu, or gakkou-ga anata-ha suki-desu.
This can be compared to the languages of positional defining, of English for example, where the sequence defines the role of words, thus the structure remains fixed.

Now, to show you how the role markers work, we resurrect the last sentence attaching them to the words:

You-subject school-object like-verb. Your brain still struggles with the unaccustomed sequence, yet at the end of day you'll figure out the original sequence with the help of markers - "You like school." This is the concept that how the Japanese markers work.

Let's continue on the illustration by translating the words into Japanese,


anata (subject) suki (verb) gakkou (-object).



Introducing the Japanese 'official' markers, it becomes anata-ha suki-desu gakkou-ga, an understandable Japanese sentence. However, a Japanese verb being normally placed at the end of a sentence, we obtain the targeted form ;

anata-ha gakkou-ga suki-desu.
Certainly, gakkou-ga anata-ha suki-desu is also
acceptable.

Let's hear them all three in Japanese.

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Another example.
Let's take a sentence "You bought your son a book." and attach the role markers as before.

You (S) bought (V) your son (IO indirect object) a book (DO direct object).

This can be alternatively stated, "You bought a book to your son." This tells you that to is added to tell you the IO and DO are re-ordered; prepositions are inserted to reflect that the positions are altered in English.

In Japanese words, Anata(S) katta (V) musuko (IO) honn(DO).
With the added markers, Anata-ha kai-masita musukon-ni honn-o.

Stretching one's brain, this sentence, as it is, can be understood by a Japanese. However, with a more accepted form, the verb comes last.

Anata-ha musuko-ni honn-o kai-masita.

Your brain, being accustomed to the positional parameters practiced by English, may initially struggle with an unstructured Japanese sentence. In Japanese sentences, the order of words are frequently decided by writers; IO and DO frequently swap their positions without losing the meaning. Often, objects may precede the subject. Besides, words in a sentence are not delimited by a space character. You will need to look for the markers, particles in the grammaritcal term, to break down the words and determine their roles. Language students are, to look at the unstructured style in one way, freed from the strict structure [of English] in Japanese construction.



Japanese Verb Conjugation -Combination Approach vs Conjugation

The Japanese language adopts a more verb centric approach in sentence structuring compared to the English language; the verb conjugation sets the sentence characteristics. Let's illustrate this feature by examples.
itemsEnglishJapaneseRemarks
tenseauxiliary have and will + verb combinationverb-sita, -simasu, -surudeshou conjugation
negationdon't or can't, wont, etc + verbverb-nai conjugation
imperativeBegining the sentence with verbverb-se, -ke, -me, etc conjugation
if-conditionalif you do .., I'll ...verb-ba, -tara, etc. ex you do-ba I'll..
when-conditionalWhen you do .., I'll ...verb-toki. ex you do-toki I'll..
verbalization do + present participle, or an unique verb
do completing, complete
a noun -suru forms a verb, ex completion-suru
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Prefixes and Suffixes of Japanese Words

The prefixes of English words, ex "auto-","inter-","pro-",etc, are very helpful when it comes to building one's vocabulary list. The same strategy can be applied when you build a Japanese vocabulary list, since they also extensively appear throughout Japanese words, taking the two forms of "bushu" and compound words.

The bushu(部首), radical in English, describes the "category" of words associated with such as women, body, eyes, hands, water, illness etc. For instance, hands, 手 abridged with 扌, compose the hand associated action-verbs like 打(strike), 払(brush off),扱(handle),折(bend),投(toss),押(push),担(carry),抱(hug),持(hold),拾(pick up),拭(wipe off),振(shake),捕(capture) ,掛(hang),据(install),掘(dig),掲(put up),捨(dump),掃(sweep),探(feel about),描(draw),握(grasp),換(exchange),揉(massage),揺(swing),摘(pinch),撮(take a picture), and 操(manipulate), all sharing "扌" bushu.

The latter appears at higher level of application; a whole kanji itself becomes a prefix or suffix of compounded words. Taking an example of suffixing of 賊 (burglar)、it forms compounded words like 海(sea burglar : pirate)、山(mountain burglar : bandit)、and 国(country burglar : traitor). Continued with another example of (public appealing), (offerings to God), and (hunting), your set could be expanded with {集(recruitment), 応(application), 急(urgent recruitment); 貨(money), 紙(paper money), 造(mintage); 犬(a hound), 師(a hunter), 銃(a shotgun), 密(poaching), 師(a hunter wanted), etc.}

...more discussed in the Kanji lesson.



Kanji Characters Paint Interesting Scenes in Written Sentences.

Japanese language has inherited Chinese influence. A close examination reveals the interesting architecture of Kanji construction. Some of them are not so obvious, but some are. Let's introduce a few obvious ones.

shoulders
shoulders and arm
left arm
arm and legs
legs
right chest
box
Kanji Composition
A tree 木 ki -You may see the portion of a tree above and below ground.
Two trees 林 hayashi - Two or more trees form a grove.
Three trees 森 mori - Forest, more trees than a grove.
Four trees? - Chinese are yet to come up with it.

A mountain pass, 峠 - touge, like a horse saddle, consists of 山(mountain), 上(ascending), and 下(descending) characters; it is a place where you climb and descend on a mountain.

(You see 上 with a side bar indicating above ground, and 下 indicating below ground. This is an idea one could develop to remember them.)

Working in the same manner, what do you think about the character 婚? It consists of 女(a woman), 氏(a man), and 日(day). On the day they are gathered to get m...

靴? It consists of 革(leather), and 化ける(change [from]). Of course, a pair of shoes.

鉄? It consists of 金(gold), and 失う(lose). Iron - it is an ore (metal) which lost gold [shine].

望(wishing) It consists of 亡(die), and 月(Moon) above 王(king). A king wishes that Moon disappears from sky [because Moon is above him.] - a tale told by Japanese-lessons.net


Japanese Visual Language vs English Audio Language

Japanese is rich with homonyms, if one doesn't consider it too excessive. For instance, 橋(bridge),箸(chopsticks),and 端(edge) all are pronounced "hashi" with a different intonation; with the combination words, 効果(an effect ), 硬貨(a coin), 降下(a descent), 高価(a high price), 硬化(hardening ), 校歌(a school song), all are pronounced "kouka".

If a Japanese hears one of these words, he must be able to pick an appropriate kanji in thought; it is the listener's responsibility to reconstruct the kanji spoken. If one cannot, he is obliged to clarify it by asking the speaker; this indeed takes place on Japanese streets. On the other hand, this doesn't happen to English speakers; if an English listener doesn't understand a word, he only asks for rephrasing rather than the spelling.

This understanding critically influences your approach to Japanese study. You will discover that some Japanese language textbooks completely avoid kanji lessons. It is not a bad decision to choose one of those textbooks as you know what you are getting into. You need to understand the ramifications though. This will certainly give you a quick start, but the danger you must be aware of is your Japanese progress may come to a halt shortly after.

This site positions your kanji training at its center. Next, we will discuss the other side of coin; the kanji lesson shows a surprise promise and how it assists your Japanese study and practice.


Improving the Learning Curve of Japanese Study

Let us introduce you to a major benefit of kanji study, a study strategy if you like. Kanji form a long and central list of compounded / combination nouns, adverbs, adjectives and verbs. That is, while each character requires an effort to master, each kanji you learn rapidly if not exponentially expands your vocabulary list. A little mathematical knowledge tells you that the number of possible combinations rapidly grows in a set even when the number of elements grows slowly.

A Kanji set is not an exception. You may not know the following characters yet, but here is an example with the addition of "協" to a set. It may immediately form new vocabularies automatically expanding your list by seven, namely 協演(kyou enn) a special guest appearance, 協会(kyou kai) an association, 協議(kyou gi) deliberation, 協賛(kyou sann) support, 協調(kyou chou) cooperation [with], 協定(kyou tei) an agreement, 協力(kyou ryoku)して in cooperation. Another example by 洗面(sennmenn)to wash one's face, 洗面器(sennmennki)a washbowl、洗面所(sennmennjo)a washroom、洗面台(sennmenndai)a washstand、洗面用具(sennmennyougu)toilet articles. See the fifth or fourth grade kanji table for how this expansion massively takes place.

This not only this improves your memory retrieval with the addition of cross indices, but it also expands your vocabulary, while controlling the problem of homonyms at the same time. 1


The Omission of Subject and Articles, and Its Effect on Studying.

Unless the speaker/writer feels an immediate fear of terribly confusing the reader /listeners, the subject is frequently removed and the sentence abridged - and the resulting blank space is processed by the reader/listener. This practice may be attributed to in the manner of how Japanese verbs are used to reflect on the subject; where the choice and expression of verbs, rather strictly practiced, supply additional information such as age and sex, in relation to the subject, [in the case of a person-subject.]; thus it suffices to omit.

The corresponding artices of "a" and "the" do exist in Japanese, and are strictly expressed in contracts. However, they are commonly omitted in ordinary conversation or writing. For instance, "猫です。(Neko desu)", [Is cat.] in an English form, states "It is a cat." , "They are cats." and all between. If the emphasis is on its plurality, it is expressed in "many cat", where cats implied. The specificity is governed / conveyed in the context and its "filling" responsibility is placed on the listener again.

How does this impact learners? Will it make harder, easier or make no difference to the study? To answer this, let's introduce you an aspect and an observation. All in all summarizing the above, it may be said that more of the burden is placed more on the listener than on the speaker in Japanese communication. This is good news to a student of the Japanese language. How? The intricacy of communication skills and its processing requirement is placed in your familiar territory of native language while the convenience of simplification and flexibility is made available in your unfamiliar territory of Japanese language. In deed, Japanese lament to witness many of first time Japanese speakers speak reasonably in one year, while the six years of compulsory English studying (in Japanese schools) has hardly produced English speakers.

Punctuation marks 句読点(くとうてん、kutouten)

句点くてんkutennperiod
読点とうてんtoutenncomma
中黒なかぐろnakagurocommaseparate a list 犬・猫・猿
「」鍵括弧かぎかっこkagikakkoquotation mark「おはよう」
()丸括弧まるかっこmarukakkoparentheses(supplementation)

*1As already happening in South Korea, Japanese private schools, jukus,and companies will expand the kanji study (set) beyond Jouyou if the Japanese ministry does not respond in time, in the face of rapid rising influence of Chinese economy.


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