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Differences, big or small, which I noticed. Might also deal with culture besides pure language. It took me quite some time to finally start this.. but there are so many fascinating differences, its worth writing them down.


  • gender of words. In German nouns have a gender attached. In most cases there is no deeper meaning attached to that. When translating from Japanese, which has this gender of nouns not, interesting things appear. For example, translating a 物語/fairy tale piece, like this “A mice family had a beautifaul daughter. So the father was going to the sun and asking 'You are an appropriate partner for my daughter, you should marry her'”. This works in Japanese as the sun is genderless. Translating directly into German leads to confusion since in German the sun is female, and this would interfere with the thought of marriage (asuming it is classic marriage with partners from different genders).
  • ethics of living things: With Buddhism, some Japanese rather move a bug away with their hand instead of destroying it. Yet, when going into a big supermarket one can see “half dead crabs”, still moving. This is a sad sight for me from European ankle.
  • time inside of adjective: In German or English, there is just the pure adjective, i.e. “cold”. In Japanese the adjective can be modified to directly carry the information that something _was_ cold. Works for all adjectives.
  • subtleties of “to exist”: In German or English, there is only a verb “to exist”. In Japanese, there is one “exist” verb for immaterial things (like a radio), and a different one for living things like a dog. Interestingly, when speaking about gods (神様), then the “living things” verb is used. Also when speaking about advanced robots like the AIBO from sony, the living verb can be used.
  • words depending on speakers gender: In Japanese, some words are only meant to be said by one of the genders. They sound inappropriately rude when said by the other gender, or just “strange”.
  • levels of appreciation: In English, there is no direct way to show how one relates to the person speaking to, there is only “you” for addressing. To show respect, it has to be spiced up with “you, Mr.” or such. In German, there are 2 forms of “you”, depending on which is used one shows the other speaker to be on the same level or that one is “looking up” to him, i.e. to a business partner. In Japanese, even the German variant looks like just a small toy: for many verbs, completely different words exist which express the same action (“to see”) but beeing used when speaking about someone you are looking up to.
  • attributing things to people: In German or English, one is more likely to say “person X did action Y”, in Japanese more passive language is used. “Thing X is in state Y”, without saying who put it into that state, maybe because that is not relevant. I got aware from here.
  • detail level: In German we talk about “our sister”, in Japanese there are distinct words for “the older sister” and “the younger sister”. Probably because one has more respect to an older sister. Since this distinction is in society more important, also the different words do exist. Works also in the other way: in Japan there is only 骨 (bone) for pets and fishes, in German we distinuish: “Gräte” for fish and “Knochen” for pets.
languages/japanese/differences.txt · Last modified: 2024/03/04 23:39 by chris