Japanese language getting easier?

To friends & family of JET ALTs, the complaint is an old one, and familiar.  The Japanese language, with its “nuanced formal expressions and three different writing systems, is a uniquely complex language. How could a foreigner possibly learn it? Even Japanese people make mistakes.”

Author Emily Parker recently noted in The New York Times Book Review that “the Japanese language is being transformed by blogs, e-mail and keitai shosetsu, or cellphone novels. Americans may fret over the ways digital communications encourage sloppy grammar and spelling, but in Japan these changes are much more wrenching. A vertically written language seems to be becoming increasingly horizontal. Novels are being written and read on little screens. People have gotten so used to typing on computers that they can no longer write characters by hand. And English words continue to infiltrate the language.”

Since after World War II, the Japanese Ministry of Education has simplified characters and limited the number of kanji used in the media.  The recent proliferation of cell phone novels has made popular flat and simple language and expressions.  The popularity of graphic novels may also contribute to this trend.

Technology is assisting people to use and recognize more kanji. Instead of having to write every stroke from memory, users can type words phonetically into a computer and a list of characters to choose from pops up on the screen.

So, family & friends of ALTs, take heart.  Should these trends continue, they may encourage a more accessible Japanese for foreigners, in turn accelerating internationalization.  Our ALTs may find it a bit more comfortable to communicate in Japanese and live in the country.

But is this a good thing? I’m not so sure…

~A Friends & Family Post


One thought on “Japanese language getting easier?

  1. There’s a great discussion of strange kanji in Norma Field’s In the Realm of a Dying Emperor in which she discusses the kanji used to describe the failing health and eventual death of the Showa Emperor in 1989. Because the emperor and the emperor’s death are referred to with unusual honorifics, many people couldn’t read the kanji that appeared in the newspapers.

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