Monday, October 25, 2010

Born with a mother tongue non-transparent to the “outside” world

Language policy is really serious here in this country, and has grave implications for my own life, too. I love Japanese as my native tongue, and am fairly articulate in it. For the last few years, I have made it my policy to improve my English, to the point that I would be able to express myself in some way or other so that my inner voice would be heard, by my conscious self, too. There are several difficulties, though.

Non-English speakers always accuse that native English speakers have it too easy. I have thought about this long and hard, and now I feel that would like to make a science of it.

Born with a mother tongue non-transparent to the “outside” world, as defined and constrained by the lingua franca status quo, there are certainly issues to be studied scientifically, towards a consolation for the soul as well as satisfying intellectual curiosities. Perhaps there is a new field here. My mother speaks only Japanese, and some rudimentary English. She would be incomprehensible on an American cultural highway, but she is a valuable woman all the same. Japanese is fairly lucky. There are even more minor languages. How could these souls be saved, in the face of the arrogant Hollywood type pitchers of “universal” language?

Language policies and strategies, studied from evolutionary, game theoretic, ethical points of view. I have already started a modeling effort. Maybe I would ask Yoshihide Tamori to participate.


maruko247 said...

Language issues have plagued me, in a mostly stimulating kind of way, for most of my life. I spent many of my formative years translating between my parents, who struggled with each other’s language, verbally and culturally. I learned, very young, different techniques to diffuse their arguments, disputes and other tense situations. I learned also of the often hidden passion behind words, and how culture and backgrounds play into communication. Language can be such a powerful and beautiful instrument—the way I like to see it used.

Junko said...

I can't understand difficult matters,however practicing English is equivalent to being familiar with other cultures for biginners like me.
Step by step.
I would respect serious effort of you.

Pupa said...

Thank you for the article that inspire me to write in English.

One day Mr.Akira Sakata asked Dr.Hidaka, " You can speak 25 languages, can't you ? "
Dr. Hidaka said , " No, you overstate it. I can speak 23 languages. "

I didn't understand why he could have a good command of so many languages.
When I knew the secrets were in his discipline of Latin and Greek, I regretted my idleness in my school days.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Nice post Mogi-san.
Japanese language is indeed non-transparent to the 'outside' world and usually to most of the 'gaijins' in Japan. When I was very new to Japan, one of my Indian friends had told me that it will be very easy for me to learn Japanese as the sentence structure and grammar of my mother tongue 'Bengali' is exactly the same as Japanese and I had to just learn the Japanese words, and things will be good......Well, technically it is so true. I learned the language very quickly and felt that after all the language is not that unique as I had heard before coming to Japan. But now more than a decade later, I still have difficulty to talk/chat properly in Japanese due to honne/tatemae in everyday language usage. I realized that Japanese language is indeed unique.

And no, I do not think all non-English speakers accuse native English speakers have it too easy. In India we have more than 14 official languages (more than 100 in reality). We all learn at least two Indian languages and one (during my time more than 3 decades ago) and two (nowadays) foreign languages in school, and most of the people (literate ones) speak English with good fluency and proper grammar (though we have a strong Indian accent, ha ha ha)...So would say that we do not really worry about native speakers having it easy... After all, English is the simplest language in the world that connects the people around the world :).. I feel that things that are simple are always popular...

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

Have you started to make a new study of linguistic matters? Exciting!

yuzu said...

I started to run in the morning.It is very fresh in the cool morning. Thank you for your life.

Anyway, I will start to learn English language again.
I am very look forward to know your new project with your best friend.

masami said...

I imagine that there is an universal core in the language.
Like a core in human.

Greg said...

Many native English speakers may disagree that they "have it too easy." They can use English purposefully, but almost all could not explain how or what they are doing with precision. Part of it could be what Krashen called the learning-acquisition distinction. Scholarship about language is so multi-faceted that it's difficult to grasp and keep track of the interesting trends and developments that emerge. Good luck on your efforts.

maruko247 said...

My friend just wrote an article for the Japan Times talking about some of the difficulties gaijin have with Japanese (
Mark is fluent in English, Japanese and Chinese and a total geek when it comes to Chinese characters. He might have a few more languages up his sleeve, too, I'm not sure.
Clearly, it not only takes a certain kind of mind, but an open-mindedness to the culture, as well, to become multilingual, especially later in life.

nekochama said...

gosh, i hope you didn't take my prior comment about Japan's language policy situation as inspiration for this. I simply believe (as a linguistic anthropologist & mom of 2 bilingual kids) that as a matter of cognitive and social development, the study of a foreign language is valuable, whether it's global English, less widespread Japanese, or something even less well known.

nekochama said...

ps Maruko-san good link but I have to disagree w/your friend's final comment on that song in that article - it would be most unusual for a woman to be calling a man 'omae' don't you agree?

Anonymous said...

I can relate to Mogisan's comment because as a native English speaker trying to learn Japanese, I want to explore and share many things in Japanese but I can not due to my limited knowledge. But, I can also relate to Greg because in English I also struggle when conveying complex ideas to others. In both situations I feel equally disadvantaged, and in those moments I wonder if there exists an alternative way to share information without language. Perhaps an untapped ability to project our intentions/thoughts to others...then language would be just an archaic formality.

bii0114 said...

Hi Ken
I remember you said the era people don't have to the University will come in your book, it will come true soon by this, like this kinds of education models may spread.

I upload about it to my blog.
I'm happy if you see it.


maruko247 said...

No, a woman would not normally use the pronoun "omae," but I don't think the article ever inferred that. Clearly, the narrative is that of a man being dumped, and the use of "omae" is how listeners know.
The link was actually meant as a confirmation that fluency in a language can only really be achieved with an appreciation of the local customs, trends and ways.