鋼のフェミニスト

In case you’re wondering, and can’t be bothered to Google Translate it, the above is, of course, “Fullmetal Feminist” in Japanese. It’s pronounced “ha-ga-neh-no-fe-mih-nih-s(u)-to”; the first character is “hagane”, or “steel”, the second sorta means “of”, and the rest is the Japanese pronunciation of “feminist”, with the “u” in “su” not quite pronounced, and the “i” is a short vowel. So it’s literally “steel-y-feminist”, or “feminist of steel”. In Japanese, owned things/traits are put before the thing they are owned by.

Since Japanese is syllabically orthographed – consonants can only exist in combination with a vowel, with the exception of “moraic n”, which is a syllable of its own that can exist anywhere but word-initial (there are none of these in 鋼のフェミニスト) – when a word is brought in from another language, it’s converted to a Japanese spelling. So “feminist” has vowels put in between any of the consonant clusters; in this case, between “s” and “t” (traditionally using a “u” with most consonants), and again after “t”, this time with the more usual complement to “t”, that being “o”. This is why people with Japanese accents will say sort of “ando” for “and”, or “sutoriito” for “street”.

And they do love their imports, although as we also do in English, the words get mangled some, and sometimes shortened in ways we wouldn’t. One combo I heard the other day while watching a show was “ma-fo” short for “magic phone”, in a series set 20 years ahead of now.

One other weird fun thing about Japanese, and then I get to work for the day. Palindromes in Japanese exist, but they don’t work quite like they do in English, at least not to our eyes. In Japanese, a palindrome is constructed of syllables or ideographs rather than individual graphs (letters) in English. So “Yamamotoyama” is one – 山本山, in kanji, which as you can see is symmetrical around the middle.The characters mean “mountain”, “origin”, and “mountain” again, and make up the name of a tea company in Japan.

In this case, they’re using “kanji”, which is the Japanese name for the Chinese characters they use for part of their writing system. In my header, 鋼 is a kanji, pronounced “hagane”, meaning “steel”. The next character is written in “hiragana”, the main spelling-it-out alphabet for use largely with Japanese words, and to inflect kanji like adjectives and verbs. The remainder are written in “katakana”, which is the third part of the system, and is a second copy of the hiragana, used for foreign words, and in some other places too.

So three-fold writing system, and syllabic structure. Japanese is not an easy language to learn to read, but speaking it is actually surprisingly simple, as it’s a fairly bare-bones language in terms of the grammatical complexity: plurals are generally unmarked, pronouns used much less than we do, verbs don’t conjugate for person or number, and a bunch of other simplifying things. But the writing system is hard; a literate person needs to know about 2000 kanji, plus the 92 symbols of the hiragana/katakana syllabaries.

And each kanji can have several “readings”! They can have one or two “Chinese” readings, which are vaguely related to the Chinese way of pronouncing the same character, as well as up to three or four “Japanese” readings. For an example from English, consider the character “1”, which can be read as “one”, but also as “first” when other letters are added in “1st”, or as “eleven” if there are two of them together. Now multiply that by 2000, and you’ve got Japanese writing.

The nice part? There is a fourth way to write Japanese, called “romaji”, literally “Roman signs”: hagane no feminisuto, for instance, is in romaji. So learning to speak and understand the language doesn’t have to involve much kanji learning at all.

So there. A little linguageekery for your AROTE. Hope you’re having a good one.

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