As humans, we like to talk about ourselves a lot. It’s natural. To us, we are the most important people in our lives and everyone else’s interests are but a mere speck of insignificance compared to what we’re doing and how we look and what our plans are. Any time we’re not talking about ourselves we write about ourselves, either on Facebook, Twitter or a completely separate website devoted entirely to the self in the hope that anyone might just stop worrying about whether their hair is in the right place for a moment and read about ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! I! I! I! I! Yes I am, as you may have gathered, more guilty than others in this respect but I’ve had an strange realisation about this recently.
Learning Japanese has, as I have already explained, been an incredibly wonderful and rewarding experience. I’m at the point now where I can have a simple conversation without thinking too much (“simple” being the operative word here. Anything with more than 1 or 2 clauses and there’s some serious eye-rolling and internal translation going on). One of the first things you learn about Japanese is that you can often omit a whole load of things from a sentence because much of it can be gleaned from context. If you want to ask you friend “Are you going to the pub?” for example, the full, polite version would be:
“Anata wa pabu ni ikimasu ka?” (“You, to pub, go?”)
…but you’re talking to your friend so you don’t need to be polite, and it’s obvious you’re not asking “Am I going to the pub?” so you would probably just say:
“Pabu ni iku?” (“To pub, go?”), and if you say it quickly it just becomes “pabniiku.”
This saves a lot of time as I’m sure you can imagine, but you also become very used to omitting pronouns from all your sentences. This has had a really bizarre (and annoying) effect in that I have become acutely aware of how often people say “I” when talking in English. Suddenly the word “I” seems uncouth and unnecessary and the more people say it, the more self-obsessed they sound. Obviously this is nothing new, people have thought this for years and everyone can tell when someone does nothing but talk about themselves, but learning Japanese has unexpectedly worn down the tooth and exposed the nerve.
If this is how I feel after 1 year of study, imagine how self-obsessed we must sound to the Japanese.
Just a thought.