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Should Japanese Change?

When learning a new language, one of the first things that almost everyone does is one of two things:

  1. Compare it to your native language
  2. Suggest improvements

Now is Japanese a very efficient language?  Not really.  The kanji are elegant, but obviously it is a steep barrier to entry.  And I think it’s obvious that if one were starting over with a new language, Japanese is probably one of the last languages that one would come up with intentionally.

But it’s what we have.  And while there’s nothing wrong with suggesting improvements, two things come to mind.  The first is that you have to know what the rules are before you break them.  And the second is that a language is not developed in isolation.  It is the sometimes chaotic result of thousands of years of development of a culture.  And as such, it is the representation of a culture, and I imagine it is uniquely insulting when someone pops in out of nowhere and tells you your language is stupid.

And it’s not only that, but English has its own problems too.  What would we change if we could start over with English?  Maybe a lot.  But we don’t.  We acknowledge its shortcomings and the difficulty learning it, and then we say “suck it up” and people learn it for what it is.

It might be an interesting linguistic exercise someday to craft a replacement for Japanese.  But one must be aware, in doing so, that whatever it is that one is creating is not Japanese, and that all it will ever be is a linguistic curiosity.  Something like esperanto.

In short, I think Japanese does have a lot of things that make it illogical and difficult to learn (*ahem* counters *ahem*).  It also has a lot of things that are logical and not that difficult to learn.  But it is what it is, and just like people learning English, we just have to suck it up and get it done.  But, Japanese folks, realize that your language is not easy and cut us some slack when we complain a bit.  We’re trying.  Give us that much.

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