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Grammaticas for the Idiot Abroad
last modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 (11:12:58 AM)
I sometimes really wonder what goes through people's minds when they're thinking about traveling abroad, and have no knowledge of the culture, but yet, perhaps after watching a subbed foreign show, think that they do.

I'm the type of person that loves language, but for all the nerdy reasons. Communication with others is great, but what interests me most about any language is that it gives you great insight into its speakers and their opinion of the world and their place in it. I find it interesting how nouns and adjectives are incorporated into verbs that may not necessary have a direct correlation. Sadly, as English is a conglomeration of primarily Germanic and Latin families, that characteristic is not present. However, in the case of languages related to Latin, such as Spanish, it is. For example, the verb 'to hunt' is 'cazar' in Spanish. The verb 'to marry' is 'casar' . Both words are roughly pronounced the same. The association is that the act of marriage is the same as hunting, and many Spanish native speakers will make this association, and often in jest.

Chinese and Japanese have the same aspect, though, but incorporates a new aspect due to its writing system. Those familiar with either language, or who have watched enough anime omake segments, may be familiar with the fact that a good portion of kanji incorporate characters known as 'radicals'. These radicals can give the reader a general idea as to what the kanji means, even if they are unaware of the meaning of the completed character. For example, the word 'fujoshi' consists of three kanji - 腐 , 女 and 子. The latter two simply mean an 'adult woman', but the first character, pronounced 'fu' , in this case, consists of three radicals - 疒 (sickness), 付 (attach) and 肉 (flesh/meat). So while the common translation for the word 'fujoshi' is 'rotten woman', the kanji infer that it's simply a woman who's been afflicted by a disease of the flesh.

Language nerdiness aside, while working overtime, I spotted a white male passenger coming from Japan who had written two kanji characters on his bags. I could tell by his writing of the characters that he had no knowledge whatsoever about kanji as those familiar with the language do not try to mimic the brushstroke writing style when simply writing with chalk, pens or anything that isn't a brush. The first character on his bags was a poor rendition of the character for water, or 水. But the second character, which had the sickness radical and the radical for the number seven, 七, was not one that I could recall. Granted, I only know about 500 characters off the top of my head, which puts me at about a kindergarten reading level in China, but, I figured I'd ask and maybe learn something new. Concerned that the presence of the sickness radical might mean that there's something dangerous in his bags, I pulled him over.

After pulling the man aside and asked him about the characters. I told him that I knew that the first one meant 'water', but asked him about the second. He told me it meant 'tiger' ( 虎, however, he wrote the Chinese version of the character, 虍 ) and that those two kanji characters are those that he closely associates with himself and refers to himself as the "mizutora".