JOK Notebook

Missing Machinery

The theme of the week has been uncertainty. Well, that's the professional theme of the week. My personal theme has been an obsession with my favorite rock group of the moment, Broken Bells. Since going to their concert last weekend at Fox Theater in Oakland, I haven't been able to get their songs out of my mind or seemingly out of the deepest part of my being. I don't want to, either. I crave a morning Broken Bells fix as if it were a pot of puer tea. I've started to look like everyone else, walking around with earbud cords, which seem like a lifeline as I circle the block with my iPhone, waiting for my dog to perform. What a wonderful way to start the day! Hearing the music again soothes me. It scratches the itch. Unless it doesn't, in which case I crave more. And the morning immersion makes me hear the songs in my head all day, the imagined tunes competing with words in my brain as I try to write. The music plays in my head even as I try to sleep at night. The remedy might be to go cold turkey, and I did for a day (or part of a day?), but now I've decided that the real solution is to listen to their music more so I can know exactly when a particular melody dips or rises and just how his voice sounds when... Actually, I don't know what the hell is compelling me to listen. I simply know that I must. 

None of this is remotely relevant to kanji. I just needed to tell you what was going on with me!  

Now, back to professional matters, the kanji of the week is (to embrace; hold in arms; hug; harbor (e.g., grudge, suspicion); have sex). This character generates considerable uncertainty, thanks to its three Joyo kun-yomi: だ•く, いだ•く, and かか•える. Take, for instance, the title of this CD (more music!) by Kyoko Koizumi:


木枯 (こがらし: wintry wind)

Because of the か in the keyword, it's easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and to think that one is seeing an instance of かかえる. But look carefully at the okurigana of the three kun-yomi and consider Breen's conjugation chart for かか•える. As you can see there, the え is present in every conjugated form of that verb. Therefore, we know that the red word has to be だかれて or いだかれて, both of which are passive forms.

Although だく and いだくhave several definitions in common, their nuances are quite different, as essay 1794 on 抱 explains. For the quick, obligatory hug you give relatives, だく applies. By contrast, いだく means “to feel strong affection” or “to have dreams or hopes.” If this term involves an embrace (which isn’t always the case), the strong feelings have inspired the warm hug, and the power of the feelings counts far more than the hug itself.  

In order to figure out the yomi of the red word in the album title, one therefore needs to sense what that title conveys. But my mind works the opposite way; I need to know the reading so I can understand the title. The word turns out to correspond to だく. The title literally translates as Being Embraced by a Wintry Wind.

I asked my proofreader Ryo-san about this conundrum, saying, "I guess native speakers wouldn't decide on the yomi first. They would think about the most logical meaning and then choose the yomi that fit best. Is that right?"

"Yes," he said. "The meaning comes first, and then the yomi comes. To be more exact, by looking at what’s written, we try to form images. How to read it is of secondary or tertiary importance most of the time."

On some level that's a relief because I find it much easier to remember the meanings and feelings of characters than to recall their yomi, particularly for on-yomi compounds. But I also know that I can never form images as adeptly as a native speaker can. I'm missing so much machinery in my brain and in my heart!

Of course, native speakers struggle with readings, too. For instance they might need to read the following sentence a couple of times to make sense of the two instances of 抱く:

Overwhelmed with joy, the mother held her baby to her chest.

母親 (ははおや: mother); 喜び (よろこび: joy); 感情 (かんじょう: feeling); 胸* (むね: chest); 赤ん坊 (あかんぼう: baby)

The first red word is all about feelings, so we should read it as いだいて, and the second one tells us about the actual hug, so it's だいた. The 胸 also appears twice, and though its yomi stays the same, we still need to grasp that in the first instance, it conveys "the seat of feeling," not a bodily part. Whew! This isn't easy!

Although 抱く has engendered so much uncertainty, it's far from the only culprit. I keep encountering sentences with "X ... ない" structures in which the ない could come at the end of a long phrase, if it comes at all. One has to read the whole thing with no idea if the sentence is about someone or no one, everything or nothing.

We saw one such example last week, and I hope you don't mind a brief review:

I also tend to be late, and it's not as if people are always glued to their monitors or cell phones. I think it's more important to enjoy life than to write email. So it’s fine! Don’t worry about it!

私* (わたし: I); 遅い (おそい: late); -がち (apt to do); 誰 (だれ: who); 常に (つねに: always); 前 (まえ: in front of); 座る (すわる: to sit); 握る (にぎる: to grip); わけではない (it is not the case that); 以外 (いがい: with the exception of); 時間 (じかん: time); 大事 (だいじ: important); 思う (おもう: to think); 気にする (きにする: to mind, worry about), 大丈夫 (だいじょうぶ: okay) 

As I explained then, I read this sentence searching for a ない and was never quite sure whether I'd found one. Ryo-san finally told me that わけでもない partially negates the phrase. In this context it means "it is not the case that." Thus, 誰も ... わけでもない means "It is not the case that everyone ..." or "Not everyone ..."

This sentence would never trip up a native speaker. Ryo-san said, "When I read as far as 誰もが, I sensed two things: (1) there was partial negation and (2) ない must come in the last part of the sentence. That’s what I call native speaker’s intuition. This sentence is not so difficult." Ha!

Here's another X ... ない structure that gave me pause. It came in a sentence that another proofreader wrote for the forthcoming essay on 束 (bundle; bunch; to tie up; to bind). The sentence features 束縛 (そくばく: restraint; shackles; restriction; confinement; binding):

I'd like to continue my research without any obligations or restraints.

何にも ... ない (なんにも ... ない: nothing at all); 自由 (じゆう: free); 研究 (けんきゅう: research); 続ける (つづける: to continue)

That proofreader said to read 何にも as なんにも, a yomi that looked really strange to me, so I located it in Breen, finding these two possibilities:

何にも (なににも: everything; all)

何にも (なんにも: nothing at all)

Though there was no immediate indication that the latter has a ない trailing after it somewhere, it does. Aside from that, when you see 何にも in the early part of a sentence, you're screwed in two ways: (1) you don't know the meaning, and (2) you don't know the yomi. That was my conclusion, anyway.

Ryo-san finds the matter simpler: "When I hear 何にも, I know it's a set phrase, 何にも ... ない, which means 'nothing' or 'not ... at all.'" He adds that when the Japanese use "everything" for partial negation (i.e., "not everything"), they will most likely say one of these things:

全部は(... でない)

全部 (ぜんぶ: everything)

全てが(... であるとは限らない)

全て (すべて: everything, all); 限る (かぎる: to be limited to)

People would never start such sentences with 何にも. Good to know.

Ryo-san is actually ideal to ask about these matters because he has to make split-second decisions about what Japanese sentences mean when he functions as a simultaneous interpreter. That is, he listens to Sentence A, and while the speaker moves on to Sentence B, Ryo-san translates Sentence A into English, simultaneously listening to Sentence B. As if it weren't hard enough to bridge the two languages, he does so under the most challenging of circumstances.

Given all the uncertainty I've faced with written Japanese (which I have the luxury of reading and rereading until I'm convinced that I have no idea what it means), I asked him this: "How do you deal with Japanese grammatical constructions in which you can't tell until the end whether it's positive or negative? And what about needing to wait to hear the verb?"

This sort of discussion fills him with glee, and he said, "A good point! Let me give you an extreme example":

朝一で、東京駅から新幹線に乗って、名古屋、大阪、広島で仕事をしてから、その日の内に東京に帰宅した ...

朝一で (あさいちで: first thing in the morning); 東京駅 (とうきょうえき: Tokyo Station); 新幹線 (しんかんせん: Shinkansen); 乗る (のる: to board); 名古屋 (なごや: Nagoya); 大阪 (おおさか: Osaka); 広島 (ひろしま: Hiroshima); 仕事 (しごと: work); その日の内 (そのひのうち: within the same day); 東京 (とうきょう: Tokyo); 帰宅 (きたく: returning home)

Ryo-san said that if he heard this much while simultaneously interpreting, he would translate it this way:

First thing this morning I took a Shinkansen from Tokyo Station and went to Nagoya, Osaka, and Hiroshima on business, returning home on the same day...

But of course the sentence hasn't actually ended yet, and the part right after 帰宅した changes everything:

... 私の友人がいました。

友人 (ゆうじん: close friend)

This is a conversational expression meaning "I had such a friend."

Ryo-san must be a smooth operator because he would recover by tacking on the blue part:

First thing this morning I took a Shinkansen from Tokyo Station, and went to Nagoya, Osaka, and Hiroshima on business, returning home on the same day, didn’t I? No, I didn’t, but a friend of mine did!!!

Alternatively, let's say the sentence ended this way after 帰宅:

... するつもりだったのですが、急病になり取り止めにしました。

急病 (きゅうびょう: sudden illness); 取り止め (とりやめ: cancellation)

He would then say the following, again adding the bit in blue:

First thing this morning I took a Shinkansen from Tokyo Station, and went to Nagoya, Osaka, and Hiroshima on business, returning home on the same day. Well, that was the plan. I suddenly became ill and had to cancel it!

This experiment certainly gives new meaning to those make-your-own-ending stories!

Speaking of endings, I'll stop here, leaving you with a preview of essay 1794 on 抱:

Have a great weekend! I hope it's free of uncertainty and maybe obsession, unless you feel like checking out Broken Bells and having them take over your mind and soul!


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