What Japanese has taught me about English

I’d say this is a pretty good topic to talk about, right?

There are many things about Japanese that are very different from English. Some are just what they are – they’re different, but there’s no real useful insight to be gained about my own language. The fact that Japanese is postpositional, for example. It’s different, but neither system is better than the other. It’s just how things are.

But there are other things that are useful, and at least one thing that I intend on taking from Japanese and importing into my use of English.

One thing that I have learned is that language has a rather interesting way of distilling what a culture finds important. Because Japanese has a pretty well developed politeness structure. There are at least three different levels of politeness built in, and many words are rude unless used in a very specific context. English, for example, doesn’t really care about all that. There is a more formal way of speaking and addressing, but it’s not built into the language. We don’t consider it important enough to have that feature.

But what English does consider important is gender and countability, two things which Japanese seems to be mostly unconcerned about. In English, it is required to know whether we are talking about one or many items. It is important to know what the gender of a human or animal is. You can add this information in Japanese if you choose, but you don’t need to.

In my country, there is much kerfluffle about pronouns. Some people think you are required to use the pronouns which are demanded of you. Other people, such as me, don’t really care what is demanded and choose pronouns based upon longstanding societal norms. But this becomes difficult when eternal forces seek to demand that you use the pronoun that others demand that you use. “My pronouns are not up for debate”, you are told. Actually, I disagree. They are.

But that being said, it’s not something I really like to fight about. Truth be told, I’d rather just ignore the whole thing. Call yourself what you want, and I’ll just ignore it entirely. So the Japanese tendency to avoid pronouns is very appealing, and I think I am going to do that from now on. I have made it my goal to eliminate using third person pronouns in my everyday English.

After all, I did it in this post.

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