Pop Culture Studies
He Said/She Said: Speaking Of & Quoting
“That’s what he said,” she said. While the structure of this sentence would appear a little different in Japanese, a “said” tag functions essentially the same, and still appears at the end of a sentence. It goes like this: blah blah blah と[言:い]う. That kanji makes an い sound like the “e” sound in feet (despite normally being romanized as an “i”); the う is romanized with a “u” and sounds like the Os in “food.” The verb “to say” is 言う and it goes together with the particle と. Altogether it sounds like “toe+you,” as in the things on the end of your feet and, well, you.
The particle と does a couple different things including functioning as the conjunction “and” as well as the preposition “with.” When it comes at the end of a sentence with a verb, it acts as a kind of marker that indicates the way something is done. Don’t worry about it too much. You’ll most often see it at the end of a sentence with 言う or 思う (omou, “to think”).
In this final article I decided to pick a very mainstream manga that I think most people will be familiar with: Naruto. If you loved this comic when you were growing up—or maybe even as an adult—then the added nostalgia value while studying can be a great asset. For me Rurouni Kenshin was a series I loved in high school (mentioned briefly in the 4th article from this series) and one of the first comics I tried to read in Japanese.
Even though the language was unfamiliar (and the first page of exposition can seem a bit like Gandalf slamming his staff into the ground and crying out “You shall not pass!), the content already had a nook set aside in amongst the cockles of my heart. Series such as Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Dragonball, etc. are available everywhere, and they’re aimed at a younger audience, meaning all the kanji will have reading guides in hiragana similar to the kanji presented here on GaijinPot.
If you can read hiragana and katakana there won’t be anything in those comics that you can’t look up, and you’ll be learning grammar that is commonplace, as well as vocabulary that almost any Japanese person will be familiar with (obviously not everyone will know the names of every magic ninja technique, but I think you know what I’m talking about). Nostalgia can be handy currency when bartering with yourself over whether or not you feel like studying today.
[火影:ほかげ]のじじィを[倒:たお]したおいろけの[術:じゅつ]というのを[教:おし]えてくれ！(Grandpa Hokage を knocked down, sex appeal technique という の を teach me!)
Sometimes という appears written in hiragana instead of kanji. And while I introduced it as a “said” tag, in this case it means something like “so-called” or “kind of thing”; when the phrase is translated into English it often disappears, and when I worked with junior high school students, this phrase was often used to teach Japanese children what “that” meant in English, as in “He didn’t know that I had gone home” (similarly this usage of that is take it or leave it—you could as easily say “He didn’t know I had gone home”). This of course is different from the pronoun “that,” which I talked a little about in the previous article.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Naruto and need a little context, early on in the comic Naruto transforms into a buxom naked woman on occasion and causes other ninja to pass out (this almost seems progressive as young men swoon and faint uncontrollably at the sight of beautiful women rather than the opposite). So another young kid begs Naruto to teach him this technique, so he can use it to defeat the Hokage, who is the ninja leader of the village. As I said this phrase has almost no meaning, so the above can be translated as “Teach me the sexy technique you used to knock out my grandpa the Hokage.” When speaking Japanese I tend to use it as a kind of verbal pause that makes the sentence more digestible for my audience. It’s almost like a little verbal window dressing, though you may discover some more practical uses and translations for it as you pursue your own studies.
…なんて[言:い]うのかな (…what て言う I wonder)
Japanese people love to alter the pronunciation of their words in dialects and accents, and if you don’t know the rules to these variations then you’re out of luck. One such alteration for と言う is ていう or っていう [(t)te+iu]. And although と [to] is a particle attached to いう, this variation is almost exclusively used with this verb. Thus the above, although it looks a little different, comes out meaning something like “I wonder what to say” (but it’s worth noting its meaning can change a little depending on context).
[将来:しょうらい]の[夢:ゆめ]…って[言:い]われてもなぁ… (Future dreams…って言われて also no…)
Here we have the って言う variation of と言う, and it’s been conjugated! But don’t let that distract you. The finer meanings of the ways this phrase can be conjugated await you in the future of your studies, but I thought I could use it to illustrate a different point: if you know the phrasing (or collocation) underlying something, then when it shifts you can rely on context to teach you what has changed. Now I do recommend you look up what you don’t know—I like to keep a list while reading and then I look everything up later, all at once. But when it comes to grammar it can be a pain to put your comic down, go dig out whatever massive grammar tome(s) occupies space on your bookshelf (or compose nearly the entirety of your bookshelves), and sort out precisely what something means. Instead, if you’re on a bit of a tear, try rolling through with what you know and coming back to it later.
So with what we know already, what might this mean?
If you ended up in the neighborhood of “what can I say about my dreams for the future, also nothing,” then your powers of reasoning are vastly superior to mine and this language will surrender at your feet. If you kinda got that but not quite, then you too have all the reasoning capacity you will need to take this language on. And if it just looked like a jumbled mess, then just make sure you remember to look things up when you get really stuck. Honestly the prospect is easier than it seems.
If you’ve made it through all of these articles and done these quiz sections, then I hope you’ve learned something from what little I could provide. The next step you need to take is to invest in your own personal studies and find some manga to read. Find something you love and run with it (if your budget is tight there are many great free series online that don’t involve illegal downloads).
You will also need to study through other methods, and fortunately there’s a wealth of opportunities for you to teach yourself and for you to seek out Japanese language schools—if at all possible, I highly recommend finding one in Japan. I wish you the best of luck, and if you ever make your way down to Shikoku, feel free to look me up. I think you’ll find that the translation community and the community of people studying Japanese in Japan tends to be one of the friendliest and most helpful to anyone looking to get started. Again, good luck. And as a brief word of encouragement, Japanese is not a hard language to learn, but it does take time and effort. Study smart and evolve your methods as you learn more about how you learn best; you will get out what you put in.