« Feedback, please. | Main | UNO »


"I like dog." It's quite possible that a Japanese speaker of English says so. It's not that he likes to eat dog, but that he likes dogs, er, probably. It's one of the typical mistakes that Japanese are prone to make. Why? Because, basically, Japanese nouns have no plural form.

Well, change the object. Hon is a Japanese counterpart of book. Hon is always hon. I mean, in Japanese it goes like, "I have a hon," "I have two hon," "I have a lot of hon." Honto? (Really? -- this is called oyaji gyagu, or a middle-aged man's boring pun, here. Got it?) Yeah, honto. So, you can even say, "I bought hon yesterday," without indicating whether that means a book or books. Usually, it doesn't cause inconvenience in communicating with each other. Context speaks. But if someone asks me to translate it into English, without any context, I can't.

Now the interesting thing is that the Japanese language has a great variety of expressions of counting things, and they are strict. A book is issatsu. A dog is ippiki. A pen ippon. A boy hitori. A car ichidai. A piece of paper ichimai.... This would trouble foreign learners of Japanese greatly.


Ah, a genuine oyaji gyagu!

I agree with your last sentence :) I asked my friends to teach me some Chinese (Cantonese) and it has a similar system of counters. I wonder if it's a common system in languages?

Okay, call me ignorant, but...what is it about the letter "L" that Japanese English-speakers have such a problem with? Does this letter not exist in the Japanese language? I just find it very interesting that this seems to be the most common error - and since it's so popular, I'd think it'd be easier to fix.

Interested to know you're thoughts on this since you've learned English as a second language next to Japanese.

Yeah, Chinese (Mandarin in my case) has a lot of different "counters" depending on if something is thin and long, short, flat, round, etc. It's easier for me since I've heard it all my life, but for beginners, it can be confusing. Taiwanese has a similar thing.

As for the letter "L", I think native speakers of Japanese and Chinese have difficulty with it because each language has a different set of phonemes (sp?) and they aren't accustomed to it. For example, Chinese speakers usually have a lot of trouble pronouncing "th". Studies show that babies have the ability to pronounce all the different combinations of letters/sounds, but depending on the language, they only retain those phonemes that are particular to their language.

Anyways, back on the topic of singular/plural. I find myself adding a "s" to the end of Chinese words to make them plural. Take Kiyo's example of the word "hon" for book. I'd say "hons", even though it's not correct. =T

You might be exposed to storms of oyaji gyagu once in Japan, Darren. So, be prepared. ;)

Thanks for the nice info, CC. So, bcj, the point is that, strictly speaking, Japanese doesn't have the distinct "R" sound or "L" sound. We do have the sound that is similar to "R". But unlike its English counterpart, the position of your tongue when making the sound is not fixed; depending on the words you pronounce, it can sound like "R" or "L". So, in a sense, we have both sounds(!), but they are mixed up like the same sound in the Japanese language. This gives the Japanese a lot of difficulty in distinguishing those sounds in English. As CC points out, it's hard to get beyond the border of the phonemes' set we are accustomed to.

Makes sense. I've heard before of babies having all phenomes, then only developing the ones they need for their own language, but had forgotten about it. Interesting.

I think it's because I'm a musician, but it's easy for me to hear certain sounds and replicate them. I sometimes forget that everyone else doesn't have that ability. So I wonder why they can't just listen to what they're really hearing and say it right back.