The extent to which learning a language will change your way of thinking is ambiguous. However, it is indisputable that it will give you an insight into another culture and way of life.
If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different worldLudwig Wittgenstein
The Japanese language is a great example to English speakers of how language can affect our perceptions of different concepts.
One particularly interesting and contrasting concept between the English language and Japanese language relates to placing blame.
Japanese language and placing blame
For an example, take a cup that was broken by accident.
In Japanese, it is fine to say ‘the cup broke itself’. This would be a laughable answer to ‘who broke the cup?’ as a response to an English speaker.
In Japanese (and Spanish), there are different verbs to express whether something is broken accidentally or deliberately. This highlights how language can influence our understanding of causality. The English language generally requires a person to blame while the Japanese language facilitates an understanding that these things happen without needing to allocate blame.
Further, there are studies that show how this affects our thought processes.
Caitlin Fausey conducted studies at Stanford University to discover how this may affect remembering events. Speakers of English, Spanish, and Japanese watched videos of people popping balloons, breaking eggs, and spilling drinks (either deliberately or accidentally). After watching these clips, there was a surprise memory test.
Spanish and Japanese speakers were not able to recall as many names of the people who accidentally caused the incidents compared to English speakers.
There was no discrepancy remembering who deliberately caused the incidents because in this form, all the languages need a subject.
Linguistic differences between English and Japanese
In Japan, bowing is a custom used in many social circumstances to signify different expressions such as:
- Showing respect
- Expressing deep gratitude
- Saying goodbye
The Japanese language also offers an opportunity to express humility. Keigo is a Japanese word that can be translated to ‘polite speech’ and has three forms:
- Honorific form – show your respect to particular people (not only your listeners)
- Humble form – show your respect to recipients of your actions by humbling yourself
- Polite form – show your respect to your listeners by speaking in a polite tone
There are also many Japanese words that have no exact English translation. This vocabulary enables us to discover different aspects of the world that Japanese speakers acknowledge more than English speakers.
- Monday: Japanese words with no English equivalent
- Tuesday: Japanese idioms
- Thursday: Words in English that are Japanese
- Friday: Giveaway!!!! Check out our Facebook on Friday to find out more
When we learn a language, we learn about a different culture. The Japanese language is very thought provoking in this regard.
Are there any areas of the language we have left out? Do you have anything to add to this blog? We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture- Book
Beginning Japanese Textbook: Revised Edition: An Integrated Approach to Language and Culture- Book