Saturday, January 26, 2013

Baby talk

My sister had a baby last spring, whom we showered with the multifarious delights of Japanese baby swag. (For Christmas, we gave him a pair of bullet train socks). And Jackie's gonna raise that child right, so we knew that despite the fact that he likes to hang up on me by trying to eat the phone, Davy would not fail to find a way to convey his most courteous thanks. Those thanks have come in the form of Japanese language lessons. Unorthodox, yes, especially seeing as Davy does not speak English yet, let alone Japanese. But he is endlessly popular at Japanese class, where our teacher always asks to see new pictures of him.

Before winter break, we were learning the sentence structure "can/cannot." In Japanese, "able to" is "kotogadekimasu," and "unable" is "kotogadekimasen." This comes at the very end of the sentence: "Watashi wa [I] oyogu [to swim] kotogadekimasu," for instance, is "I can swim." (Unless it's not, because it's late and verbs are confusing. But it's very close.)

I had the following exchange with my teacher to practice this. Please not that there is no "V" in Japanese, nor an "a" pronounced as in "day", just the "a" as "la" so "Davy" is transliterated as デイビー, "Daibii", or "Day-ee-bee." "Chan" is a suffix used for junior, younger, or close people. I am "Nana-chan" to a lot of our Japanese female coworkers.

Me, to teacher: "Daibii-chan wa nana ka getsu desu. Aru... aru... aruku..." (Little Davy is seven months old. Davy wa.. walk...)
Teacher: "Ah. Daibii-chan wa arukukotogadekimasen." (Ah. "Little Davy cannot walk?")
Me: Iie, arukukotogadekimasu. (No, "Can walk.")
Teacher: [perplexed Japanese noise]

Which is how most of us react to the shenanigans of a walking knee-high infant.

Here is the picture of that same conversation in our review session from last week. It introduces the second possible means of conveying ability. Rather than doing an infinitive plus an added verb (aruku- to walk - plus -kotogadekimasu, to be able to = arukukotogadekimasu), one could also just conjugate the verb in an alternate form: "arukemasu." This form is called the potential form.

Davy is full of potential.

We also relied heavily on Davy to teach us causational sentence structure:

These pictures are a bit out of order - this is the second time Davy's name has ever been written in Japanese. The first time was the same sentence, but when I got up to take a picture, our teacher erased his name because she thought her handwriting wasn't pretty enough. Is there a "baby's almost firsts" book?

Not workin' for ya? Allow me to translate. I can only say about six things, but I'll be darned if I don't show them off.

First, the sentence: "デイビーとあって、しあわせです," or the alternate ending "でした"
"Daibii to atte, shiawase desu/deshita."
"Davy with met, happy am/was."
"Because I met Davy, I am/was happy."
("Meet" in Japanese has the connotation "to get together to spend time with" as well as the English "to be introduced to" or "to rendezvous." So this refers to my Christmas vacation with Davy: because I got to see him, I was/am happy.)

Underneath the word "feeling," you can see an alternate ending to this sentence:
Daibii to atte, kaze o hikimashita.
Davy with met, cold (object) caught.
Because I met Davy, I caught a cold.

True story.


  1. Wait, which word is Davy?????

    And yes, because I met Davy, I got many, many many colds. But at least I didn't have to get on an airplane after any of them :(

    Davy approves of this blog post. He said "Rah arrr arrr" and smacked the keyboard. At least I think that means he approves...

  2. Davy is "デイビー." Or "Daibee." It's pretty adorable in Japanese, actually.