Orient Expression

25 June, 2008

Mada wakarimasen (I don’t yet understand)

Filed under: Japanese,language — pyrotyger @ 6:35 pm
Tags: , ,
My Japanese teacher set me the task of writing a four-panel comic last week. I just had time to finish it before my lesson, so I didn’t get the chance to scan it in. You’ll have to make do with hastily-shot camera-phone photos (my translations follow each panel):

LONG DAYNot again! You lazy #%!!*!

I work so hard, and you just do nothing…

I’m always looking out for you, but you never show any gratitude!

Myow? (Not again…)

The translation in the last panel was going to read “Feed me” – which would be funnier and, let’s face it, much more true to life – but I don’t know how to conjugate the Imperative Form yet, and I like having the cat throw the starting exclamation back at the woman.

The more astute students of Japanese will spot my obvious error (apart from the laughable simplicity of most of the grammar I’ve employed) – the second panel should end せん (Negative form) rather thanす. It probably reads to a native Japanese-speaker the same way as a double-negative does to me, meaning it probably makes your eyes bleed.
Well nuts to it. It’s my first comic ever to see the light of day, so just one glaring error in an unfamiliar language is good enough for me. Mind you, this post is now available for comment, so I’m sure I’ll be told soon enough just how many other linguistic gaffes I’ve managed to cram into four panels…

The more astute students of art, humour and other matters of taste will spot the fact that my comic is neither pretty nor funny, since I can’t draw or come up with jokes. Strictly speaking I imagine the only thing that qualifies this as a “comic” is the fact that it has four panels. This gives it the same artistic merit as a Ford Transit, only without the choice of colour an optional SatNav.
Still, I did make the effort to go slightly manga-ey in the first panel, and that’s got to count for something. Please.

Aside from this travesty of the modern medium, the lesson was even more interesting than usual. We over-shot my allotted hour – by about an hour! – partly thanks to the distraction of a burgeoning friendship between Hiromi’s son & me (based principally on DS games and the ability to pull faces), but mainly due to an extensive discussion about language and learning.

We chatted about our experiences of learning different languages and, as is often the case, the act of discussing the topic caused my thus-far nebulous ideas of the subject to coalesce into a clearer opinion. In essence, I think we progress through successive stages of fluency, something to the tune of:

  • parroting – repeating words and phrases exactly as you hear them.
  • knowledge – getting to know what those words & phrases mean, and recombining them in context.
  • understanding – coming to grips with the interplay of context and content: conjugation, form and style (this is where you start to appreciate the fundamental differences between languages with different roots)
  • application – using your understanding to apply the language in different everyday contexts: on-the-fly construction of appropriate sentences, the beginnings of real expression.
  • habit – over time, on-the-fly processing becomes embedded: at this point, you’re able to actually converse at a practical depth and speed.
  • intuitive use – the habits embed deeper: you can pretty much “think” in the language.

So by this token, my learning of English as a native should have followed a similar pattern, right? Well, there are probably hundreds of books and papers on the subject, but nothing makes for a blog-entry like an embarrassing anecdote…

Cast your imagination back to my childhood – we’re talking 20 years here…
*pause for a little cry*
…sat cross-legged on the floor of the village primary-school’s assembly hall, staring up stiff-necked at the projected lyrics on the wall, hoping some poor kid doesn’t wee themselves again (there really is nothing as pitiful as a little boy sat silently with his red, tear-streaked face in his hands as, one by one, his former friends leap away excitedly from the slowly-expanding pool of wee in which he stews…).
The song may be a well-known one, or it may be something our musically-inclined head teacher composed himself. He wrote assembly songs with the same casual frequency that other people make a cuppa tea. What matters is, the last line of the chorus was a sustained:

“And praise your hoooooo-ly naaaaaame!”

(Thinking about it, Mr Johns was a bit secular to have written that.)
The line was not – I can’t stress this enough – the more confusing “And prisha-horrrrrr-lee-naaaaaaay!”

Not that I was aware of this, becase that line had mostly smudged off the acetate sheet, but then it didn’t matter. I was parrotting the phrase in order to sing the song, but without knowing much about the lyric’s significance and only having heard it sung the same way, I didn’t have any reason to think differently. I was hardly likely to have the opportunity to apply the phrase in my playground banter and have it corrected, and frankly it served its purpose without requiring any knowledge of its real meaning.
At the time all I cared about was getting through the song so I could relax my neck, and not sound like Andrew Bunting in the process (a boy whose curiously rich, tone-deaf bass was probably the cause of all that embarrassing incontinence – I suspect he would have caused whales to beach themselves and go into premature labour given a sufficiently low melody)

Those who were fortunate enough to watch TMWRNJ, back in the day when there was anything on telly on a Sunday except bloody Hollyoaks, may remember Richard Herring banging on about a similar misunderstanding, insisting that Jesus was “the Lord of the Dance Settee” (said he). Come on, there are whole books dedicated to children mishearing speech and believing that “the ants are my friends“, or whatever.

The point is, we learn the same way as children, it’s just that when learning something new we don’t have any preconceptions with which to judge our current understanding – until we come to learn a second language.

So last night, in learning how to conjugate verbs to give the Past Tense, I discovered that shouting できました (“dekimashita”) at the end of a round of Hiragana-bingo in our early lessons was not equivalent to shouting “House!”
It meant “finished”.
I have developed some minimal level of proficiency in Japanese, which has helped me to evolve this little island of (incorrect) Knowledge, giving it a land-bridge to the ever-expanding continent of Understanding, wherein the highway-planning agency of Directed Learning is extending it’s road network of Application, so the articulated lorries of Habit can start to wear their useful grooves into my neural pathways…

So, for all that I find Kanji attractive and interesting, learning stroke-order is as nothing when compared to trying to compose an admittedly un-funny joke, for in such ways are we forced to re-evaluate the misheard lyrics of our early lessons, and come ever closer to understanding the heart of what is, at this stage, still a foreign language.

Which is why you’ve been subjected to my Ford Transit of a comic.

Dekimashita.

20 June, 2008

Dirty Secret (Lite)

Filed under: Japanese,language — pyrotyger @ 4:02 pm
Tags: , ,

I have a confession to make. I did something recently that I shouldn’t have done, for various reasons, and I’ve avoided telling people where possible because of the shame.
It’s addictive, expensive and endlessly distracting, and I’ve come up with all sorts of rationalisations, but the fact is I shouldn’t have done it, and now I can’t stop.

I bought a Nintendo DS Lite.

So far I don’t have many games for it, but I can see that it’s going to be an effort not to start pampering it like a spinster would a beloved pet. I’ve already found myself “brain-training” during my lunch break – and no, I can’t claim the time back as “training and personal development”. That’s the excuse I use for trolling Slashdot.

My inherited puritanical guilt is being subsumed, however, by the relentless onslaught of sheer childish delight. I’ve not been attracted by the power of its graphics or the range and intensity of its games (Mario can go felch Yoshi for all I care), nor even by its shiny black case (and just how did we ever phone people before the iPhone…?).

So if it’s neither the love of hardcore gaming nor posing techno-lust, what (I hear you ask) has wooed me so?
It’s just so much fun!
Not in the blam blam zoom k’pow way – and I’m someone who once lived for the seated adrenalin-rush of blasting the legs off an attacking swarm of ant-lions from a speeding dune-buggy in the resplendent immersion of Half-Life 2. If I want to relish in that kind of pornographically-violent thrill, I have a whole hulk of a PC purpose-built for the task.

No, the thrill of my newest toy is something much simpler: it really is a toy. Its very design-principle seems to have been “Don’t try to impress – just make it fun,” and everything seems to have flowed from that.

I’ll give you a nice pure example of the sort of thing I’m talking about here: Electroplankton. This fantastically intuitive bit of kit isn’t a game – there is no goal, no reward system, nothing of the sort. In essence you are interacting with a whole host of little semi-autonomous fellas, who in turn interact with their environment and one another, and create sounds as they go, resulting in some occasionally breathtaking symphonic chain-reactions.
This goes beyond bashing out drum rhythms. You influence things by poking them, moving them, directing them with your stylus; by altering tempo, frequency and even fluid current direction with various buttons; even by talking, singing and clapping into the microphone! This isn’t a game, but it’s undeniably fun. The obvious word is toy.

Even something as straight-forward as the cute platformer wholesomeness of Lego Indiana Jones is infected with this sense of intuitive fun. You want to blow out torches in the Temple of Doom? Blow into the microphone! Need to swing across the rooftops of Cairo? Drag across the screen in the direction you want to “whip”! Such simple elements, but they all add up to offer a cornucopia of immersive delight and discovery from a device with a couple of screens the size of business cards.

The classic Brain Training titles, to give another example, are the adult’s equivalent of those interactive play-mat things that parents get for their babies so they can develop normally in a sterile lab: in a similar but more direct way, the point is to learn and to enhance your brain’s natural abilities by interacting with something rewarding, and by working things out yourself. No adrenalin, no tension, no steep learning curve, just get stuck in and enjoy yourself.

A final mention goes to the imminent arrival through my letter-box of one of the most valuable bits of kit for the DS I could hope to obtain: a Kanji dictionary. You can use the stylus to actually write a Kanji, and it’ll recognise your atrocious scrawl and present you with a definition! No more hunting through the dictionary by Stroke-Count or Radical, just write the damned thing in. If I were to buy an electronic kanji dictionary even approaching that level of functionality, I’d be looking at a few hundred quid for a start.

All this speaks well of the DS, but there also seems to be a universal appreciation of the Nintendo Wii – the DS’s big brother – that has overcome the traditional barriers and boundaries of gaming culture and the usual hardcore market demographic by having much the same philosophy. Presumably as a result of this, the DS and Wii are exalted leaders in their respective markets. How is it that Nintendo got it so right where others seemed to be churning out the same old thing, harder and faster than ever before?

I’m tempted to think that it says something about Japanese culture. I’ve always felt that, as a society, Japan seems to be fairly unashamed to pursue its own interests on an individual level (such are the observations one makes when wasting teenaged Friday evenings watching Eurotrash). Maybe it’s down to the fact that people are unlikely to say anything if you act a little differently over there (however strongly they might feel), or maybe I’m just demonstrating my as-yet juvenile understanding of the culture.
It seems to make sense though. In all matters of personal taste and expression, Japan seems to shamelessly pursue an unfettered purity. From fashion to film to fun to – let’s face it – porn, if you want to know how far it can go, look to Japan. Maybe that’s unhealthy when applied to some of our less-savoury appetites, but I can’t think of a better philosophy when it comes to just having fun.

Of course, that whole idea falls down when you remember that one of their direct competitors – Sony – is principally Japanese also, and hasn’t managed to generate half the market-trouncing furore of Nintendo. Still, if you want multimedia excellence right along the chain from artists through production to electronic reproduction, you could do worse…

Okay, I admit it. I’m doing some intense high-brow rationalising here. £100 is £100, but I really am enjoying myself. Brain Training repeatedly tells me I have a Brain Age of about 20, and this gives me a bit of glee every time. At least it did until someone told me it doesn’t go below 20, and Dr Kawashima is probably trying to imply that my Brain Age is somewhere nearer 8.

I don’t care. I’m having fun, and I don’t have to blow the legs of anything to do so.
If you don’t mind, I’m going to go trade games with my Japanese teacher’s 8 year old son…

19 June, 2008

Do you have a flag…?

Filed under: meta — pyrotyger @ 8:58 am
Tags: , , ,

I feel violated and aggrieved.

It shouldn’t matter; I should ignore it with a kingly disregard.

But I’m PyroTyger, dammit! I have been since time immemorial (well, in interweb terms anyway). And the moment I attempt to take some affirmative action under this handle, I discover that the name is taken. TAKEN!
I don’t have any illusions about the sanctity of ideas and prior art in the petty, anonymous playground that is The Blogosphere, but to have my identity – my intellectual territory – so casually trampled and usurped is really upsetting, far more than I can rationally understand.
What do I need: a flag?

To put it in context: you may have noticed that my blog is not graced with the same moniker as most of my web-expectorations. Tygernet.co.uk is actually a domain name I purchased years ago – something I’ve barely made use of since – and I resorted to that name when setting up this blog as I discovered that PyroTyger was already in use, and had been since sometime in 2005. But how could this be? Isn’t that my Gmail account? Who would exhibit such audacity? Why would someone with a completely different email address decide to hijack my carefully considered, culturally significant, personally attuned handle?

Well, Miss PyroCat85@gmail.com, you have wounded me. Not only have you needlessly and inappropriately sequestered my identity, you have also sullied it with your vapid prattle. You, a college-student of English; you who excrete inane tripe in my name while simultaneously complaining of “writer’s block”; you who are nonetheless apparently incapable of constructing an entire sentence without butchering it by ripping out punctuation and liberally misspelling common everyday words with reckless abandon; you who can’t even be bothered to disambiguate your literary diarrhea with clear grammar, let alone parse it with the occasional courtesy-paragraph…

Okay, that was a little extreme – I don’t actually hate you. I was just exalting in using the language as a weapon (something I rarely undertake). But for pity’s sake, girl, take a little pride in what you commit to the ether, won’t you?
If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it – or at least get a LiveJournal account, which is nearly equivalent.
At the very least, a quick check of spelling, punctuation and grammar before hitting the “Publish” button will work wonders for the apparent clarity of your thoughts.

All my name-space are belong to you. Dammit.

18 June, 2008

Testing… 1…2…

Filed under: meta — pyrotyger @ 1:22 pm
Tags: ,

Hello? Is this thing on?

I just type into this little thing here? Okay…

*ahem*

Well, my fellow bloggers and browsers, today marks a great day in the history of the web-o-net; PyroTyger has started a blog.
PyroTyger will not refer to himself in the third person on all occasions. In fact he will stop forthwith.

I confess I don’t know why I’m doing this – not in any way I can clearly express anyway (which very sentence, I’ll admit, bodes ill for the quality of this blog in general). I once started a daily journal for no other reason than to learn touch-typing, and that was a marked success. However, in an effort to maintain the flow of type, I let it degenerate into a stream-of-consciousness monologue rather than the considered, coherent collection of thoughts and commentary on the day’s events and experiences I intended it to be.

Will this blog be any different? Who can say? At this stage all I can promise is that, wherever possible, I will attempt to use accurate spelling, appropriate punctuation and only those grammar screw-ups that are considered acceptable in everyday use. I’m a rigid grammar-fascist at heart so, while I can overlook such contraventions in general, I’ll do my best to avoid them in my own contributions to the interwebs.

Content may include, but is not restricted to: Me, People I know, My job (and working in IT, Children’s Social Services and Local Government in general), The Interwebs, Japanese, Ambition, Tea, Depression, Music, Mania, Sex and its many rituals and participants, Where The Hell It All Went Wrong (general and specific misanthropic principles), and all sorts of banalities and esoteria. It’s my blog, and I’ll decry if I want to.

CAUTION: While every care has been taken in the manufacture of this product, traces of nuts may still be present. Choke and die, it’s all the same to me.

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