Back

Japanese - what the texbooks don't tell you - the movie!

It really does seem too radical at first doesn't it? Can all the textbooks really be teaching confusing misconceptions? In the couple of hundred years Europeans have been seriously studying Japanese have they really not ironed out the elementary misconceptions that should have been tackled somewhere near the beginning?

And if you look at it steadily and seriously and test the hypotheses carefully, there is no alternative that I can see to concluding that this, surprising as it may seem, is in fact the case.

Perhaps it is because it seems too radical to be true that no one else seems to have taken the step of analyzing and explaining how the grammar really works. To be fair Jay Rubin-sensei went a part of the way down that path, but for some reason stopped short of drawing out the fuller implications of what he was saying. Even the amount he did say has been helpful to countless people (myself included).

Honestly I have to say that I don't know how people learn Japanese grammar with the crazy way it is taught by all the textbooks (and even the admirable Tae Kim-sensei).

I think for most people who do attain proficiency, coming to know how Japanese grammar works relies on just what you said - a kind of gradually-developed subconscious recognition of what is really going on despite what one has been taught.

That and perhaps the fact that because Japanese is actually so much simpler than the patch-and-repatch (explain incorrectly and then invent "exceptions" to explain the places where the explanation doesn't fit) model of Western "Japanese grammar", the human mind, even without knowing the theory, ultimately intuits the simpler path. That is what the human mind is designed to do, especially in language.

But it all happens a lot more quickly and easily if it is explained properly from the beginning.

I really don't know if Western "Japanese grammar" is ever going to reform itself. In one way it seems incredible that it wouldn't. But in another way it seems so heavily invested in its present model that maybe it never will. I will be very happy if I can be at all instrumental in catalyzing some change, but I'm not holding my breath!

As to the book. It is perhaps a little pricey for its size in paperback ($8.99) for reasons connected with Amazon's practices. However I should point out that the Kindle edition is considerably cheaper. It is small because rather than burden people with another big information-dump, I just wanted to give them the necessary information to straighten out what they have already learned from textbooks etc. It isn't a beginners' book but can be used from fairly near the beginning.
Edited: 2017-06-29, 11:42 am
Reply
(2017-06-29, 11:12 am)CureDolly Wrote: It really does seem too radical at first doesn't it? Can all the textbooks really be teaching confusing misconceptions? In the couple of hundred years Europeans have been seriously studying Japanese have they really not ironed out the elementary misconceptions that should have been tackled somewhere near the beginning?

And if you look at it steadily and seriously and test the hypotheses carefully, there is no alternative that I can see to concluding that this, surprising as it may seem, is in fact the case.

Perhaps it is because it seems too radical to be true that no one else seems to have taken the step of analyzing and explaining how the grammar really works. To be fair Jay Rubin-sensei went a part of the way down that path, but for some reason stopped short of drawing out the fuller implications of what he was saying. Even the amount he did say has been helpful to countless people (myself included).

Honestly I have to say that I don't know how people learn Japanese grammar with the crazy way it is taught by all the textbooks (and even the admirable Tae Kim-sensei).

I think for most people who do attain proficiency, coming to know how Japanese grammar works relies on just what you said - a kind of gradually-developed subconscious recognition of what is really going on despite what one has been taught.

That and perhaps the fact that because Japanese is actually so much simpler than the patch-and-repatch (explain incorrectly and then invent "exceptions" to explain the places where the explanation doesn't fit) model of Western "Japanese grammar", the human mind, even without knowing the theory, ultimately intuits the simpler path. That is what the human mind is designed to do, especially in language.

But it all happens a lot more quickly and easily if it is explained properly from the beginning.

I really don't know if Western "Japanese grammar" is ever going to reform itself. In one way it seems incredible that it wouldn't. But in another way it seems so heavily invested in its present model that maybe it never will. I will be very happy if I can be at all instrumental in catalyzing some change, but I'm not holding my breath!

As to the book. It is perhaps a little pricey for its size in paperback ($8.99) for reasons connected with Amazon's practices. However I should point out that the Kindle edition is considerably cheaper.

I personally don't find that the Western textbooks I have used are as bad as you imply or have taught me "confusing misconceptions" or teach Japanese grammar in a "crazy way."  I taught myself Japanese using various Western textbooks and now that I'm preparing for the N4 (I passed N5 last year with flying colors) I'm reviewing grammar using made-in-Japan N4 study materials.  Each has its positives and negatives.  Sometimes when I'm reviewing a grammar point in the made-in-Japan book I have to go back to an old British textbook (which is very well-written) to get more clarification on that point.  Sometimes the made-in-Japan materials are better in that they give a more detailed explanation.
Edited: 2017-06-29, 11:51 am
Reply
I used Western textbooks too, and I would say that they do a very good job most of the time. I have always recommended using them. I think I may sometimes give the impression that I am "anti-textbook" but really I am not.

When I say "crazy" I am only really referring to those areas where they just mis-describe the grammar - for example calling the ukemi "passive" or saying/implying that "(watashi wa) koohii ga suki desu" literally means "I like coffee", or that wa can mark the subject of a sentence.

These things matter and aren't just quibbles because they are not only confusing in themselves but throw a fog over Japanese grammatical structure as a whole. They give the impression (and many sources actually state) that, for example, ga only sometimes marks the doer/be-er/grammatical subject and at other times unpredictably does other things (unpredictably unless you memorize all the "exceptions").

In fact there are no exceptions and ga always does the same thing. Precisely because it is so constant you can measure everything else by it, like the speed of light in physics.

Now even though I talk about "mis-describing" because I really think it is, I do acknowledge that grammar is only a model by which we describe what is happening in language and any model that works is not exactly "wrong".

I am inclined to say that a model that throws up no exceptions is closer to the "truth" than one that throws up a whole battery of exceptions. However I also have to acknowledge that probably "truth" is an elusive concept here.

What I do feel confident in saying is that it is a much more helpful model for learning and understanding.

But please understand that my attitude to Western textbook approach is not "You're doing a terrible job. Ditch it all and start over". It is "you're doing a wonderful job. But it would be so much more wonderful if you could iron out those problems that seriously affect - and even disrupt - understanding."
Edited: 2017-06-29, 1:28 pm
Reply
JapanesePod101
(2017-06-29, 11:51 am)phil32 Wrote: I personally don't find that the Western textbooks I have used are as bad as you imply or have taught me "confusing misconceptions" or teach Japanese grammar in a "crazy way."  I taught myself Japanese using various Western textbooks and now that I'm preparing for the N4 (I passed N5 last year with flying colors) I'm reviewing grammar using made-in-Japan N4 study materials.  Each has its positives and negatives.  Sometimes when I'm reviewing a grammar point in the made-in-Japan book I have to go back to an old British textbook (which is very well-written) to get more clarification on that point.  Sometimes the made-in-Japan materials are better in that they give a more detailed explanation.

You don't really notice until you get to higher level. At N4 the sentence structure is pretty simple, and the assumptions the textbooks have taught you are fine to make you understand some simple japanese. But when you reach N3 and N2, you will see an exponensial increase in sentence structure, with "expressions" (or advanced grammar) added to basic grammar. Then you will realize how the Japanese language can get VERY messy if you don't have a clear and correct understanding of the basic grammar.
Reply
(2017-06-30, 6:28 am)Meriden Wrote:
(2017-06-29, 11:51 am)phil32 Wrote: I personally don't find that the Western textbooks I have used are as bad as you imply or have taught me "confusing misconceptions" or teach Japanese grammar in a "crazy way."  I taught myself Japanese using various Western textbooks and now that I'm preparing for the N4 (I passed N5 last year with flying colors) I'm reviewing grammar using made-in-Japan N4 study materials.  Each has its positives and negatives.  Sometimes when I'm reviewing a grammar point in the made-in-Japan book I have to go back to an old British textbook (which is very well-written) to get more clarification on that point.  Sometimes the made-in-Japan materials are better in that they give a more detailed explanation.

You don't really notice until you get to higher level. At N4 the sentence structure is pretty simple, and the assumptions the textbooks have taught you are fine to make you understand some simple japanese. But when you reach N3 and N2, you will see an exponensial increase in sentence structure, with "expressions" (or advanced grammar) added to basic grammar. Then you will realize how the Japanese language can get VERY messy if you don't have a clear and correct understanding of the basic grammar.

I wouldn't call N4 "pretty simple" so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that point.

But nevertheless I believe that the OP was including in her criticism of textbooks other than her own as being "confusing" and "crazy" those at the beginner's level thereby making your observation irrelevant.  Perhaps the OP can chime in.
Edited: 2017-06-30, 8:56 pm
Reply
I will chime in!

Phil32さん did not say that N4 itself was "pretty simple" but the sentence structure at that level is still pretty simple (I would say relatively simple - relative to what comes later).

"All textbooks other than my own" isn't quite accurate because I haven't written a textbook. All I have written is a small volume that attempts to correct some of the problems inherent in the current Anglo-Saxon/European model of describing Japanese grammar.

And yes those problems do start at the beginning level. As I said before, things one learns early on, like "koohii ga suki desu means 'I like coffee'" or "hon ga wakaru means 'I understand the book'" may simplify the real meaning for beginners but the advantage is minimal and the price is laying a very shaky foundation for later progress.

I don't think this in any way contradicts the point Phil32さん is making. Neither are his remarks irrelevant. They are very much to the point. He is saying that the problems caused by these early misconceptions don't really manifest in a very obstructive way until rather later.

I think that they can at least make learning more difficult early on, but certainly as I have also said before, as we get to more complex sentences it gets harder and harder to "muddle through" with explanations that don't really describe the grammar adequately.

I am not saying it can't be done. It can and has been done but I do think it makes life a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

In the end one leaves the grammar models behind to a large degree because they are nothing more than training wheels to get us on the path of actually being able to ride. So if one gets past a certain stage it really doesn't matter any more.

However I think more people could reach that stage, and reach it more easily if grammar were explained to them in a more logical and consistent manner as Japanese rather than being forced (in a number of cases) into a foreign mold that doesn't really fit it.

Out of interest, what made-in-Japan study materials are you using? Japanese for Japanese people or Japanese for foreigners made in Japan? If the latter I haven't found that the approach differs that greatly because essentially they are using the same models developed in the West to "bridge" between Japanese and Western languages.

And this "bridging" has been a great achievement. I do not belittle it at all. But for a variety of reasons (which are interesting in themselves, I think, but would perhaps take us off at too much of a tangent) certain misconceptions have become ossified.

Jay Rubin-sensei's work in challenging some of these misconceptions has helped many people, but unfortunately has had very little impact on how Japanese is taught. Also he didn't follow through on the logical implications of his ground-breaking work.

The first of those problems is difficult to rectify at present. The second we can address, and should.
Edited: 2017-06-30, 10:39 pm
Reply
The next lesson is now up. Iuriさん asked if I would do something on the mo particle, and I have.

Mo seems pretty straightforward, and mostly it is, but because of the way the standard grammar misses the point about wa, it also misses the same point about wa's cousin mo.

Seeing how wa and mo are closely related "opposites" I think clarifies a lot about both particles and about how Japanese works.

I hope you all will enjoy the new video. You'll find it here

https://youtu.be/JWrbMAygRxc



For those following the Channel, a quick news-update:

I am trying to bring this grammar structure series to a natural pause for when I go to Japan and won't be engaging in English-language activity.

There will be a few more, and then when I am away I am planning to put up some more lightweight videos based on the popular "anime words" articles on KawaJapa. Summer vacation Japanese you might say, though I'll be away for longer than the summer vacation. There will be a little grammar material too.

I am recording these now and some people may be pleased to hear that 2D Dolly will be making a comeback in at least some of them.

When I return I will continue the grammar series proper, though I am also planning some kanji-based videos to go with my next book.
Reply
Here is this week's lesson. The subject is the phenomenon described as "ga becoming no in subordinate clauses". I really don't like that description, as I said in the video.

However I should clarify that I am not saying it is incorrect. It is an accurate description, but in my view unhelpful and overcomplicating.

Unless you are interested in grammar per se there is no need to read the rest of this because I have tried to explain in simple, intuitive terms what is actually going on when no is used "in place of ga".

https://youtu.be/wxX6poiuyAI


However if you are interested in grammar per se these are the reasons I dislike the usual description.

1. It gives a very abstract and complicated appearance to what is essentially a very simple and intuitive phenomenon. If you don't happen to know what a subordinate clause is already, it is useless. And it isn't a good idea to learn what a subordinate clause is just for the purpose (as I am sure many people do) because...

2. If you do know what a subordinate clause is, it is still inadequate and confusing because the point really isn't that the clause is subordinate. The point is that it is adjectival. Using the general term "subordinate" just serves to make it fuzzy.

3. (And this is the crux of the matter) it gives the impression that ga is suddenly replaced by the unrelated particle no for no very apparent reason (other than "it just is, so learn it"). It also gives the impression that there is perhaps "another no" that means something completely different from the usual no. Actually no is doing something not all that different from what it usually does.

We are in fact using the possessive/attributive function of no to attribute an (already stated or assumed) action or state to an already known person or thing. So in terms of practical grammar it does tend to de-emphasize the adjectival clause (marking it as "old news" as it were and throwing the spotlight more firmly onto the thing it is describing).

4. It just adds one more little twist to the process of obscuring ga. Ga is the heart and foundation of Japanese grammar and Western descriptions seem to be almost willfully throwing obstructions in the path of understanding the very key to the language. Of course there is nothing willful about it but it there might as well be.

While this is nowhere near as damaging to the foundations of Japanese understanding as saying that koohii ga suki desu really means "I like coffee", it just helps to muddy the waters of ga that little bit more.
Edited: 2017-07-11, 8:04 pm
Reply
I hate when they use "no" instead of "ga" in subordinate clauses.  I find it confusing.  Often a sentence won't make sense on first reading until I go back and re-read the sentence, mentally changing the "no" into "ga."
Edited: 2017-07-11, 9:23 pm
Reply
(2017-07-11, 9:21 pm)phil321 Wrote: I hate when they use "no" instead of "ga" in subordinate clauses.  I find it confusing.  Often a sentence won't make sense on first reading until I go back and re-read the sentence, mentally changing the "no" into "ga."

I think this is something that gets more clear when you become more comfortable with speaking、and you get accustomed to the flow and poetry of the language. Just think of it as a way to avoid multiple confusing and tonally dissonant "ga" sounds back to back, and its utility becomes clear. Once you become used to using it, you start to adapt to hearing it.

(Disclaimer: I'm a little drunk rn, so what I wrote above might be total bs. YMMV.)
Reply
This week's lesson is on the causative verb-form (more accurately the causative helper-verb seru/saseru).

cophnia61さん asked me a while ago to do something on the causative and receptive (so-called "passive") forms. I tackled the receptive helper-verb (ru/rareru) a while back, and since it is a bit of a death-trap for foreigners (because of the fact that it is misrepresented as "passive") I gave it a video to itself.

The causative is less problematic (it really is causative!) but can be some confusion surrounding the way particles are used in conjunction with it and in some cases some rather dubious information about the fundamental structure of causative sentences, so I hope this video will make everything clear and easy.

https://youtu.be/bt7V6JJjQu4


This will be my last full lesson for a while, as I am leaving for Japan very soon.

I really want to thank everyone for the warm reception this work is receiving. I have felt quite overwhelmed at times by how much people say they are helped by it.

I have been making mini-lessons to be scheduled for upload while I am away, and some of them aren't all that "mini" after all (you know what a blatherbunny I am) and cover some quite substantial issues.

Fielding some of the high-quality questions I am getting here, on the Channel itself, and at KawaJapa is proving to be a rich mine of important topics!

As I mentioned before, although I don't speak English in Japan I will take the odd half-hour to reply to questions in writing. Please forgive me if I am a bit slower than usual as my English times are few and far between.

I may or may not announce a few of the more substantial mini-lessons here.

Once again, thank you all so much.
Edited: 2017-07-18, 5:12 pm
Reply