Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Unleashing my incompetence

Professor Shinohara of Tohoku University, Japan, has kindly agreed to let me join his group for a long visit. This is exciting, and the opportunity of a lifetime, but it also throws up some uncomfortable facts about how I see myself and the things I do to cope with the limits of my competence.

Coming from a chaotic family background, competence has always been hugely important to me. I've not minimised its importance by choosing to work as a woman in a male dominated discipline. Jorge Cham sums up pretty much how I feel most of the time in this strip:

Representing All Of Womankind - PHD Comics

Ever since school reports I've been described as "dilligent", "studious", "competent" and "enterprising". Solver of problems. Learner of things. Nose in a book, head in the air, feet on the ground.

So working in Japan for a month is going to be a huge challenge for me on a personal as well as a practical level. Regular readers will have noticed that I'm already trying to prepare. I'm learning as much Japanese as I can, downloading street maps, buying city guides and pumping every Japanese person I meet for data.

It's starting to dawn on me that being able to control my environment by knowing everything about it will be impossible. At some point in the next four weeks this has to stop, as it's more than bordering on an obsession.

My drive for competence has - not for the first time - reached its limit. This time, however, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to try letting myself be incompetent. Get in the Onsen the wrong way? Embarrassing sure, but really the end of the world? Use "Taberu" not "Tabemasu"? No-one will be rendered catatonic by my breach of etiquette.

And yet the mere thought of these faux pas is enough to render me clammy handed and weak legged. The thought of being incompetent is bad enough. The though of being the incompetent representative of womankind is enough to give me the screaming abdabs. I'm sent rushing back to Google, the Rough Guide and the friendly waitress in the Japanese restaurant.

I forever miss the moment because I've rehearsed it so many times, in order not to get it wrong. If I could unleash my incompetence, how liberating would it feel?

Learning Japanese: 見せしめ 四

(Miseshime Shi/Lesson Four)

Last night David and I went to Hazuki Japanese restaurant.

I tried とんかつ (tonkatsu - deep fried beef), which was nice. But my favourite were the (considerably healthier!) nigiri (にぎり). Nigiri sushi are the little "bricks" of vinegared rice with a small fillet of raw fish laid on top.

Our incredibly helpful waitress supplied the Japanese names and the Kanji of the two fish that I ate. She helpfully explained that the names for most of the fish are rarely written out in Kanji, as they all contain the Kanji for fish (魚) and thus get quite complicated quite quickly. Salmon is an exception - the kanji is 鮭, and is said 'sake'.

The two nigiri I particularly enjoyed were the 'horse mackerel' and the 'eel'.

Horse mackerel: Aji - あじ - 鯵
Eel: Unagi - うなぎ - 鰻

Hazuki's menu helpfully lists all the names of the dishes in katakana/kanki as well as english. I'll be printing this out to take with me - and I may have a few more "practice runs" there before we go. I take my research very seriously you know...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Needles(s) activity

I decided to teach myself how to knit - relying heavily on the people at Knitting Help to find out how to cast on nicely. The reason? Innocent's Big Knit in aid of Age Concern. It's amazing - I've gone from never having touched a pair of knitting needles (or at least not since the jumbo sized ones you're made to play with in infant school "craft" lessons) to knocking up 2 small hats per evening.

Here are a few of my creations so far (now in blurryvision!):

But it's time to move on to bigger projects. I've already knitted myself an i-Pod Nano case in fetching lilac and purple. But David is now asking for something he saw over at Aphra Benn's place:

How to knit a Moebius scarf from the middle to the edge.

I'll start that when I've decided I've done enough hats.

And after that, brains..?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Learning Japanese Part 3

Part 2 of this series of my notes on learning Japanese introduced verbs and the formal and informal present tense inflections. I've also been learning the past tense.

Remember that all uninflected verbs end in a u:
書 to write Kaku (かく)
考 to think Kangaeru (かんげる)
来 to come Kuru (くる)

There are three "forms" of verbs.

1) Irregulars: of which there are only two: 来 and する (suru - to do)
2) All others ending in "ru": 考
3) All the rest: 書

Here's how to make the past participle of these verbs:
1) Formal: 来 becomes 来ました ("kimashita"); する becomes しました
1) Informal: 来 becomes 来た ("kita"); する becomes した ("shita")

2) Formal: -ru, +mashita: 考 becomes 考えました ("kangaemashita")
2) Informal: -ru, +ta: 考 becomes 考えた ("kangaeta")

3) Formal: -u, +imashita: 書 becomes 書きました ("kakimashita")
3) Informal: Now it gets trickier.

3i) if the verb ends in "ku", -ku, +ita (書 becomes 書いた - "kaita")

3ii) if the verb ends in "gu", -gu, +ida :
急 (いそぐ "isogu", hurry) becomes 急いだ ("isoida")

3iii)if the verb ends in [nu|bu|mu], -[nu,bu,mu], +nda
学 (まなぶ  ”manabu"、learn) becomes 学んだ ("mananda")

3iv) if the verb ends in "su", -su, +shita
試 (ためす ”tamesu”, to experiment) becomes 試した("tameshita")

3v) all other "u" and "tsu", -[u|tsu], +tta
立っ (たつ "tatsu", stand) becomes 立った ("tatta"). Note that the つ ("tsu") character in the uninflected verb is not removed - it becomes the first "t" in った ("tta").

These forms are the same for all "persons" - that is, "I have written" is is "kaita" or "kakimashita". But "you have written" is also "kaita" or "kakimashita"

Friday, August 10, 2007

Learning Japanese, I really think so - part 2

Hurrah - it's official. Professor Shinohara of Tohoku University has kindly agreed to let me come for an academic exchange visit in October. I will join is group for a few weeks, which is an exciting, if somewhat terrifying, prospect. Rob seemed to enjoy the perplexity of the whole experience. Learning a little Japanese would, it seems, be essential.

So today let's look at verbs and versions of the present tense. It seems that things are a lot more straightforward than I'd feared.

All uninflected verbs end in a "u":

飲 to drink Nomu (のむ)
食 to eat Taberu (たべる)
来 to come Kuru (くる)

There are three "forms" of verbs.

1) Irregulars: of which there are only two: 来 and する (suru - to do)
2) All others ending in "ru": 食
3) All the rest: 飲

Among "informal' company, the present tense is simply the uninflected form of the verb. In more polite situation, the verb ending changes according to one of the following rules:

Type 1: These become "kimasu" (来ます) and "shimasu" (します) respectively
Type 2: Drop the "ru" and add add "masu": 食ます = tabemasu: I eat - politely ^-^ )
Type 3: Drop the "u" and add "imasu": 飲います = nomimasu: I drink, politely)

Next up - the past tense: in which we learn that there are seven rules for informal speech and only three for formal speech. This leads to a shaky hypothesis about why the Japanese tend to politeness.

Thanks to Amanda (アマンダ) and this webpage by Namiko Abe.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Writing in Japanese fonts on OSX

In an earlier post I talked about the three Japanese character systems. Writing in Hiragana and Katakana is good practice for learning the sounds and vocabulary of Japanese. Here's how to do it on OSX:

  • Go to system preferences: international: input menu
  • Tick the Kotoeri check box, and the "show input menu in menu bar" box
  • You'll see a little flag or icon in the menu bar - clicking on this brings up the list of available input types
  • Select "Hiragana" or "Katakana". Each time you type a valid phoneme ("ka", "ta", "e","ni"...) it is automatically changed to the Hiragana or Katakana character.

So my name, in Katakana, is: エマ

The Knights who say "Ni" are the Knights who say ニ

And so on...

With love from アンチエム


I'm measuring my runs in kilometres cause it feels so much, well, more than in miles, and today, after 68 runs, my Nike+ dohickey gave me the following

A pretty 250 KM certificate.

Still time to sponsor my 5k run for Cancer Research. Thanks to fantastic friends and family I'm now at 122% of my target, but the more we can raise for Cancer Research the better, so don't let that put you off.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Learning Japanese - I really think so

I am trying to learn Japanese (there's a reason - I'll explain some other time). I know the "Romaji" (romanised spelling) of some common Japanese words ("konnichiwa", "domo arigato mister roboto", that kind of thing). But a ma-hoosive impediment to getting any further is not understanding any of the several written forms of Japanese. So I'm teaching myself the Hiragana - the phonetic "alphabet" for anything other than common names (which have a different alphabet of their own).

Note that these symbols are not related to the Chinese derived "Kanji", which my reading tells me have, usually, at least two readings - a Chinese derived pronunciation (or pronunciations) called "On'yomi" and a reading derived from the original pronunciation of that word in Japanese called "Kun'yomi". The different readings are given in Hiragana in dictionaries, so knowing Hiragana is a huge advantage to learning what the Kanji mean, or at least how they are said.

Hiragana are also used for the "grammar" of Japanese, so I'm told. So learning these, and some basic vocab, is my first task.

Thankfully there are a small number of Hiragana and each maps to a Japanese phoneme. This is the first bit of good news I've had since deciding to learn some Japanese!

Here are today's words and the relevant Hiragana:

ありがとうございます (arigato gozaimasu: "thank you" from this online dictionary)

あ a
り ri
が ga
と to
う u
ご go
ざ za
い i
ま ma
す su

こんにちは (konnichiwa - written konnichiha: "hello". Literally means "today is".

こ ko
ん n
に ni
ち chi
は ha

ごくろさまでした (gokurosama deshita: "Thank you for your help" (lit: it must have been a toil))

ご go (note the "Daku-ten" accent (looks like a ") that turns "ko" into "go")
く ku
ろ ru
さ sa
ま ma
で de (another daku-ten - changes "te" to "de")
し shi
た ta

ごくろさま (gokurosama = it is a toil)
でした (deshita = past participle)

じゃまた (ja mata: see you later (from these useful lessons))

じゃ ja (the Hiragana for ji (じ) - which is in turn a shi (し) and a ", and a little version of the Hiragana for ya (や))
ま ma
た ta

せんせい (sensei: teacher or other highly placed professional - literally "one who lived before". From Wiktionary

せ se
ん n
せ se
い i

I still don't know how to punctuate or capitalise. Do such things exist? Any help appreciated!

'Til next time, ありがとうございます and じゃまた

Monday, August 06, 2007