Monday, June 29, 2009

Learning Japanese, Part 5 - Nitty Gritty

Ok, we're now at the point that I really wanted to start from - figuring out a complex sentence. It's no longer possible to simply look up the words one at a time and be able to figure out what's being said. We now need to go from "translating into English" to "thinking in Japanese". The reason I say this is because if you try talking to someone in Japanese, they're going to have a hard time understanding you if you just use the Japanese versions of English words. That is, wanting to say "this is a pencil" and turning it into "kore desu wa empitsu" doesn't work. Saying "kore wa empitsu desu" works, but isn't very complicated. (kore = this, empitsu = pencil, wa = subject marker, desu = is)

It gets harder if you want to say something complicated like "I went to the store to buy a pendant for my sister, and ended up getting a dress for myself as well" (assuming the speaker is female). "Watashi wa depaato ni ite, oneesan ni pendento wo kaite, to watashi no sei wa duresu mo kaimashita" is a reasonably close match for the English concept using Japanese words. But, a native Japanese speaker won't understand you because that's not how they normally talk.

So, what I'm going to do over the next few blog entries is to take a manga that uses very typical Japanese conversations and break it up into bite-sized pieces, to kill three birds with one stone. First, I'm doing this to help understand it myself (I'm in no way a fluent speaker); second, to show how a Japanese speaker thinks when they talk; and third, to illustrate the process of translating manga into English.

The manga I'll be working from is "Frozen Food Agent", a gag series from Tori Miki. The story: About 50 years from now, a Food Regulation law will be passed that outlaws the consumption of natural foods. So, all food is processed synthetics. This results in a black market for frozen foods. Our hero is a member of the Agricultural Ministry, tasked with enforcing the Food Regulation by bringing the eaters of frozen foods to justice.

I was surprised to learn that Tori Miki has already created a name for himself as a manga artist, as well as having written the screenplay for the third Patlabor movie. (I hadn't heard of him before this.)

To be continued...

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