A Linguistic Interlude

I am finally, after about a year of laziness (with the exception of the two weeks I spent in an intensive language course back in August), getting serious about my Japanese again. At this point in life, my two options for post-JET are to get a Master’s in English, following up on my BA, or to go back to school for a second BA in something else. I am strongly leaning towards the latter because one thing I’ve been interested in for ages is translation and translation theory, but I just don’t have the qualifications for it. Living in Japan has elevated my Japanese to low-end mediocrity, but self-study without anything concrete to back it up will never be enough to break into that field. If I return to school as a post-baccalaureate to get a proper degree in Japanese, however, I’d have something tangible to work with. Not to mention a chance at actually passing JLPT 1 sometime in this lifetime.

So, with all that in mind, I’m starting to study again. What I really need to do is get back on my kanji, but grammar and vocabulary are also extremely important and, after coveting the damn things since I discovered their existence in summer ’09, I’ve finally purchased two wonderful, beautiful books: A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar. There’s also one for advanced grammar, but that one gets down into the finer points of keigo and I’m just not ready to tackle that. The main reason it took me so long to buy them is that these books be expensive. The basic one was ¥2800 (about $33) and the intermediate was ¥3800 (about $45). The advanced, when I get around to it, will be another ¥3800. That’s a lot of money to drop on books. But they are so, so worth it.

Pretty much, you get exactly what it says on the tin. They are extremely comprehensive dictionaries of grammar points. Not just an alphabetical list with a little blurb defining each one, but anywhere from one to six pages of explanation, examples, examples of incorrect usage, and comparisons to related grammar points. It’s brilliant and the explanations are largely superior to what I’ve found in textbooks. All in English alphabetical order, to make searching for a specific point easier. I’m going to use them almost as surrogate textbooks, in addition to reference for when I’m not sure if I’m using something correctly, because the entries are that good.

However, there is something you should be aware of: if you don’t have a formal background in Japanese, these aren’t worth the expense. You just aren’t the target audience. Since they’re dictionaries, there’s nothing to indicate frequency of use or practicality. The first entry in the basic book is あげる (one of the giving/receiving words), which is obviously not a practical starting point. There is a pretty lengthy section at the very beginning giving an overview of grammatical terms and Japanese sentence structure, but you don’t want to start with giving and receiving when you haven’t studied really simple things like present tense verb conjugation.

But, if you’ve studied in the past and are continuing, or want something to supplement classroom materials, these are great and you’ll get a lot out of them. I’m in love, anyway, but I’m a nerd like that.

Also, as a random side note, if you’re at all interested in translation theory, you must read After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation by George Steiner. It’s from 1975, but still good, and is considered one of the staples of translation-oriented linguistics. Like, it’s one of the first things you should read in the field. It’s a little dense, but fascinating and worth the effort.

In closing, because long text-only blog entries are boring, I’ll give you a picture from my friend Lauren’s birthday party last Sunday. Just, I don’t know, as evidence of my continued existence beyond this wall of text. Or something.

In the bar we went to after karaoke

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