On not talking funny

More navel-gazing at Néojaponisme: Missives on Outlander Japanese.

[W]hat I am arguing for is the goal of fitting in as opposed to blending in. The Platonic ideal of the NHK announcer on beta blockers is not something I aspire to. I want to speak a Japanese free of errors (for some practical definition of "error") but not one free of any remarkable quality whatsoever. When I can get away with it, I use the occasional archaicism in my English. Why not in my Japanese too?

File photo: A foreigner uses keigo

As some commenters towards the end observe, both David and I are white males which means that our shared perspective is not as broad as might be hoped. One of the main themes of our article is a rejection of the "I don't speak Japanese" card that some people use to short-circuit arguments and ignore rules. But of course neither of us can stop playing the "I am not Japanese" or the "I am male" card, both of which affect how we are seen by others. These cards are always at our foreheads even if we forget that we are holding them there.

Japanese-looking and/or female foreigners get dealt into different games with different rules—rules which are, I hear, on balance less punter-friendly than the ones I live with, even if they do permit some strategies that are forbidden to me.

(Jade Oc, if you're reading this, I feel you. Don't give up on 乍, friend.)

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What rules do we female foreigners get? (Just musing, no need to answer, really.)

And, of course, being a foreigner in an academic setting is also a little different; but also, for anyone, things depend on which interaction are you currently in, etc. (business, "um, I think I left my cell phone here," pleasure...). And do people who speak French also fret the same way? Or is this part of the grand naval-gazing of the foreigner in Japan?

Some of the current style of language training in the US, and presumably elsewhere in the English-speaking world, is so much focus on pronunciation and accent--and sometimes, it *sounds* like you can speak Japanese better than you can. In those case, I have to wonder if putting on a little more awkwardness might not be an efficient signal.


I'd have to argue that using 「一所懸命」 over 「一生懸命」 is being a little showboaty, although whether it enters the "sounding like a tool" zone probably depends on your audience.

Regarding place names in English, I recently hit this problem when my parents were visiting. Not wanting to Anglicize anything I didn't have to I went with Japanese pronuncation, but in the end I had to write out a cheat sheet for them to remember it ("your-core-die" for 「洋光台」, etc).


Aw... is 一生懸命 really taking over as the correct form? Next you'll be after me to stop saying "to-morrow" and "O!"

MMS: I also wonder if Anglosphere foreigners in other places muse on issues like this or if it is somehow unique to Japan. It would be easy to think up a just-so story explaining the latter (e.g. "During the Occupation, skill in Japanese was used as a proxy by foreigners who wanted to distinguish themselves from the popular image of the oafish and culturally incurious GI"), but I suspect it's just standard primate oneupmanship.


The oneupmanship might come in a combo with a medium narcissism as well.

But, speaking of that, fun things to try! Riding a train at night from Nara to Kyoto with loud Romanian tourists who bitch about the Americans. Who are, apparently, both uncultured and more overly concerned about stepping on Japanese toes.

(Hmph. But, anyway, just a reminder that there's other ways to concern ourselves with how we compare to other foreigners, aside from how we speak our Japanese. And, as always, that complaining about a group in a foreign language just means that one of them what can listen in will be there.)

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