日本語の秘密 6/33


日本語の秘密/ The Key to NIHON-GO

by 岸本建夫 [Kishimoto Tatsuo] 1999
OCR/Corr by most.cyak@gmail.com, Oct 2014


Section 2 Japanese is Wonderful Because It Doesn’t Require Rigid Precision

→  A Vague Sense of Time

  Japanese isn’t as strict as English about when things begin or finish. English is very thorough and precise about expressing when things happen, using future, present, present (and past) progressive, and present (and past) perfect tenses.

  In comparison, Japanese appears to be a very vague language, and it is often criticized for being so. If you ask me though, it’s not that Japanese is vague; it’s that English and other European languages are too meticulous about tense and number (singular vs. plural).

  Why have such language differences developed? One possible reason may be that the idea “capitalism = contract society” developed earlier in Europe.

  Business dealings existed in society before the emergence of capitalism, and people wrote letters and drew up contracts. With the development of capitalism, however, people frequently conducted business with partners they did not know very well. They had to ask questions like, “Are the goods still being manufactured, or are they finished?”, “Can you complete and send the order, or are you not able to send it yet?”, and “When will the order arrive?". They also had to verify things like quantity and quality. This means that they had to write these things clearly in letters and contracts.

  They didn’t have telephones, faxes or the Internet in the 18th and 19th centuries, so they had to correspond through letters which took several days to arrive. It took over a month to send things by sea mail between Japan and the U.S.. Times have changed. With telephones and E-mail, you can check up right away, every day if you like, on what’s happening anywhere. Jet planes take only half a day to travel from Tokyo to New York, opposite sides of the globe. Therefore, such precise expressions are becoming unnecessary, and even English will become less sensitive about tense.

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