Monday, September 07, 2015

Thinking in Katakana

Oh hey there neighbors.  How’s it going?  I’d pretend something awe-inspiring happened which prevented me from remembering to blog last week, but if I’m honest, I started playing Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD for the Wii U and… well you know me.  I must save the Triforce from Gannon's evil grips! (…I told myself I could play for an hour tonight if I blog first.)
any game with an Elvis impersonator is right up my alley.
Let’s talk a bit about language today.  When you learn a secondary language, many people will say that you know you have reached a milestone in your proficiency when you begin to THINK in that language, instead of thinking in your native tongue and then translating it as you speak (which always sounds a little clunky).  Don’t get ahead of me here, readers, I’m not anywhere near that point (it took me about 6 months to get there when we were in Mexico, and that’s after I’d already taken years of college-credit Spanish!)  

The Japanese language is written using three different “alphabets” if you will.
  1. Hiragana.  A set of 46 letters which represent all the possible sounds in the language.  Used for native Japanese words.  (eg- big:おおき  Sunday: にちようび cat: ねこ  )  Used to teach kids how to read, and written next to Kanji to clarify pronunciation.
  2. Katakana.  A set of 46 letters which represent all the possible sounds in the language.  Used only for words borrowed from other languages. (eg- t-shirt: tーシヤツ pronounced “Tee-shya-tsu” doberman:ドベルマン pronounced “do-be-ru-man" )
  3. Kanji.  What most Enlish-speaking people think of when they think of Japanese writing.  Symbols which represent entire words.  They can be combined in an infinite amount of ways to create different words and phrases.   Most frustratingly, pairing different kanji together can completely change the pronunciation of said kanji.  (eg- big: pronounced “ooki” 大き Sunday: pronounced “nichiyoobi” even though ni and bi are the same kanji, 日曜日  Cat: pronounced “neko” 猫).  

Okay, you have some context now.
Last week, The Mister took some time off from civilian work so we could go out to the base for Navy work.  The Friday before we left, we WENT TO A MOVIE.
let's all go to the moviesss
You can mock my excitement if you want, but first I want you to think about the last time you went to the theater.  Talking to the people at the ticket counter to indicate what movie you want to see, which showing you’re interested in, and if you’re going to a fancy theatre, which seats you want.  Good thing you know ALL those words in the language you share with the ticket clerk, eh?  

Mad props to The Mister, who had asked in one of his Japanese lessons about how to properly set up a movie date-night.  So not only did he navigate the ordering process, he got us into an English movie that’s been subtitles in Japanese*.  We saw the Avengers 2: Age of Ultron in all it’s glory.
SO gooooood.  except this part which legit gave me nightmaresssss.
*the only three options for getting out to see a popular American movie in Japan:
  1.  See it with Japanese subtitles where the Actors are all still speaking English.
  2. See it with English subtitles but the actors have all been dubbed over in Japanese.  The quality of this experience is on par with every cheesy kung-fu movie you saw when you were a kid, where the actors would talk for like three minutes and then the dubbing and subtitle translation would say “...yes."
  3. Go to the base and hope it’s playing there.

(cue the soundtrack!)

Then we move onto the concessions - the point of this post.  When we walked in, I smelled the popcorn, and having not eaten popcorn for… well when was the last time I went to a movie?  Couple months?  I got a big ole case of the drools is what I’m saying here folks.  Even better, as we approached the counter, I smelled not just any popcorn, but CARMEL CORN, the holy grail of all popcorns.  It wasn’t listed on the menu, but I knew what I smelled (I’m like a popcorn bloodhound), and I wanted it.  What’s the word for caramel corn in Japanese.  DO YOU KNOW IT?

I do.

What I realized a little over a week ago, that I’m not thinking in actual Japanese.  Yet.  I am, however, thinking in Katakana - meaning that if I can’t think of the word I need in Japanese during conversation, that I’m able to spell the English word for whatever it is, in Katakana, in my head, which helps me pronounce it in a way that a Japanese person might know what I’m talking about.  Because if there’s any God-send in how difficult Japanese is to learn, it’s that they borrow a LOT of words from English, some because they don’t have an equivalent, and some because they find it trendy and hip.  

Thus, instead of just smelling heaven and weeping that I did not know the Japanese words for how to get that delightfullness into my grubby little hands, I marched up to the concessions counter and proudly proclaimed:

“Sumimasen, KA-RA-ME-RU PO-PU-KON ga, arimasuka?”
(go ahead, read it out loud.  good job, now you know how to say caramel popcorn in Japanese, and sound like you're mocking Japanese language if you're around anyone who isn't Japanese!)

And then concessions lady got super pumped that she didn’t have to help this foreigner wade through the whole menu as she exclaimed that they did, in fact, have caramel popcorn, and what size would I like?

Um, The biggest you have.  Obi.  (‘Murica.)

Does your movie theater sell caramel popcorn?  
Is this also a thing in the states now that 
I‘ve just missed out on somehow? 
Tell me in the comments!  Because it’s amazing.  

today’s little language lesson:

すみません、カルメル ポプコン が、ありますか?  大き サイズ、おながいします!
Sumimasen, KA-RA-ME-RU PO-PU-KON, arimasuka? Ooki sai-zu, onegaishimasu!
Excuse me, do you have caramel popcorn?  BIG size please!

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