A previous commenter, as seems to be the case a lot, got me thinking about why I study Japanese.
In all truth, I am somewhat of a misanthrope. I’m not usually very fond of people. I am pretty good at interacting with people in a competent way, and I do not dislike everyone, but in most cases I can just take them or leave them. So the question of why I am studying a different language, especially one as different as Japanese, is a fair one. And truth be told, I’ve been struggling to answer that question myself.
Because studying a language implies an interest in the culture and people, and by and large, I don’t really have that. Of course, there are things about the Japanese culture I like and don’t like, and things about the Japanese as a people that I like and don’t like, but truth be told, I have enough problems trying to navigate my own culture. Adding another into the mix seems like it’s just compounding my problems. But yet I study it anyway. As said commenter pointed out, no one’s forcing me, and I continue learning it.
That’s a really fair question, and one I have to ask myself as well.
Here’s the honest truth, at least as far as I’ve figured it out so far: because it’s hard, because it keeps me busy, and because it allows me to see the world from a different point of view, which I can then integrate with my own point of view and have a more complete view of the world.
That’s really the reason, and I think probably pretty much the only reason.
I’m an extremely intellectually curious person, and I always try to find patterns. I learned how to play piano (I’m working on Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor” now) simply because it was difficult and trained me to look at music in a different way than I would if I simply consumed pop or something far less complex and interesting. I studied theology for much the same reason – it was the study of something that interested me – and my ultimate conclusion was that it was something that could not be studied directly. And even that was a very useful discovery. After all, a God with an agency is not a predictable God. Studying Japanese and Japanese culture also assisted my other multi-disciplined studies, because their view of God (when they have one) is very different than the view of God in my culture, and I find that extremely interesting.
So, the answer to that question is actually very simple but difficult to arrive at: I study Japanese because I can. I don’t really have a particular reason except it’s difficult and it’s different and it provides many different datapoints for shaping how I see life – what we have in common, what we don’t have in common, how the languages have developed similarly, and how the developed differently. Talking to or interacting with people as part of studying a language is a necessity, of course, but one that I more tolerate than am particularly interested.
Basically, I have never studied a language because of the people, but more as a reflection of language itself, and helps to shape how I see linguistics in general.
I came to this conclusion when I was thinking about the origin of kanji this morning. The realization came to me that if I want to actually learn about kanji, Japanese is the exact wrong language to study for that purpose. Sure, I can learn the meanings of kanji, which are, for the most part the same, and I can learn the Japanese readings of kanji, which sometimes bear some resemblance to their origin, but kanji is something that was bolted onto the Japanese language from Chinese hanzi and then evolved separately. No, if I want to learn why kanji are shaped the way they are and how the developed, I will have to learn Chinese.
Truth be told, I have little to no interest in current Chinese culture. I am sure that they are individually nice people, but I have no interest in ever visiting China or having anything to do with Chinese people except for those that I might interact with in everyday life here, in America. But going down the rabbithole, I have realized that if I truly want to understand parts of the Japanese language, that is something I will eventually have to do. And I will probably do it at some point in the future.
But I’ll learn it for the same reason I’m learning Japanese. For the sake of learning it.
There are many simpler languages I could learn. Spanish would actually be a very useful language for me, living in Texas, and by all rights that is the one I should have tackled first. But I didn’t. And the primary reason that I didn’t is because it’s not challenging. It uses roughly the same roman alphabet (with some diacritical marks) as English does, the words are roughly (but not completely) similar, so mostly it comes down to a few grammatical differences and a new vocabulary. Anyone can do that. But it’s neither fun nor interesting, so as useful as it is, I just didn’t bother. And I may never. I did learn conversational German once. It took me about nine months and after that I lost interest. The next class I took would have meant that I would have had to go to Germany (I think), and I had zero interest whatsoever in doing that. Just as with Japanese, I learned it because I could. I still remember most of the grammar but lost nearly all of the vocabulary.
And that is why I learn Japanese. It’s a huge puzzle to solve. And that’s, essentially, it. And it’s why I continue to learn Japanese. I tend to not give up on puzzles.