Conversation StudiesImage by Len Allwood
Japanese comics and animation sold many people around the world on the intrigue of modern Japanese culture. Sure we all knew about samurai, but many of us never would’ve guessed that back in the 80s Japan was on the cutting edge of sci-fi storytelling. These media are a great way to get an insight into the culture.
You’ll hear plenty of folks say that Japanese people don’t get sarcasm, for example; however, their brand of sarcasm is just a little unique and you can quickly acquaint yourself with it through comics. It’s also a great way to kick off your reading endeavors if you are a student of the language. In this article, we’re going to just take a quick peek at some comics-related language.
Tomomi: へぇ ー。
Tomomi: Nani o yonderu no?
Sam: “Koukaku Kidoutai” to iu SF manga da yo.
Tomomi: Heee. Watashi no o-susume wa “Rekishi Ito Souko” da yo.
Sam: Sore nani?
Tomomi: Sekai-shi no jinbutsu ni tsuite yon-koma toka egaiteru. Shikamo, netto de muryou de yomeru yo.
Sam: Itsumo fantajii ka SF ga suki dakedo, sono manga wa omoshiroisou da ne. Sono saito o chekku shitai kara, ato de meeru de URL o okutte moraeru?
Tomomi: What’re you reading?
Sam: It’s a sci-fi comic called “Ghost in the Shell.”
Tomomi: Ooo—. I recommend “The Threads of History.”*
Sam: What’s that?
Tomomi: It’s mostly a 4-panel comic about historical figures. What’s more is you can read it online for free!
Sam: Usually I like fantasy or sci-fi, but that sounds interesting. I’d like to check out that site, so can you send me a link to it later?
*As I am writing this article there is no actual English title for the webcomic. It’s name is broken up into 3 parts: rekishi, ito, and souko. These translate to history, thread/string, and warehouse/storage.
So we have a smattering of comic and fandom-related terms, and a little bit about how to start a conversation about what you’re into and make a recommendation. In the last article I talked a good bit about katakana loan words from English, and fortunately many modern words for genres have also been borrowed from English. Incidentally, even the word genre—although there are many ways to say it in straight Japanese—is often “ジャンル” (janru). Here we have SF—read es-ef—for sci-fi, and ファンタジー (fantajii) for fantasy. Not all genres are this easy to remember, but it makes for a good start.
Just like SF, there’s also URL, which is spelled out when spoken. And like the previous sample conversation on music, there’s a nice collection of katakana loan words here: ネット (netto) for internet, サイト (saito) for website, and メール (meiru) for e-mail or sms text messaging. チェック (chekku) for check is a little more versatile in many of the ways that the word is in English; it usually means to verify or double-check, and in that vein it can mean to look something up or seek something out.
If you’re even a little bit of a comics fan you no doubt know what the word “panel” refers to in visual storytelling. In Japanese that word is コマ (koma); incidentally it an also refer to a frame of film. When I was originally trying to remember this word I’d think of each frame or panel as a “comma.”
There are a few neat, little things you can take from certain aspects of the grammar here that make for good additions to the fundamentals of anyone’s Japanese.
One of the easiest things to incorporate is か. Now, you may be familiar with か as marking questions, but it can also be used to mean “or,” as in マフィンかベーグル (muffins or bagels). Another easy thing to make use of is really more of a phrase than a particular grammar rule:
Now for something a little more widely used in Japanese we need to look at the last line where Sam asks Tomomi to send him a URL. He uses a verb in て-form along with もらえる.
In the above we can see the suffix 史 in the word
The prefix we see in the dialogue is
As your ear gets more and more trained to certain sounds, you’ll also start to recognize these suffixes and prefixes in conversation, which can help you stay in the dialogue rather than getting left out.