In a library copy of Imadoki, a manga, I found an index card that said the following
baka = idiot
sugoi kara = I’m awesome
This made me giggle. If you’re in high school or junior high, this is all you need to know for people to think you’re cultured. In ten years, nothing has changed.
This also saddens me. Has there really been no improvement in the expansion of Japanese in American public high schools, albeit in niche groups? Can the extent of one teenager’s knowledge be summed up in these two phrases that are, dare I say, sooooo immature?
Yes. Yes it is. “Baka” and “sugoi,” I remember, are some of the words I heard my fellow anime/manga enthusiasts from back in the day use and confuse me with. And despite the Japanese that I knew and they didn’t, my lack of knowledge about these two words made me think I was less cultured simply because I hadn’t heard them before. While I knew basic, polite greetings of Japanese, their pidgin utterances were limited to calling people an idiot and declaring themselves to be fantastic.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Manga and anime nerds are made during the teen years, and a knowledge and appreciation of Japanese culture grows from that. Just because they knew one or two words more than I did in no way meant that they knew more about Japanese in general.
To widen the expanse of this pidgin, I’m going to pass on some knowledge. On this same index card, I’ll write two of my favourite Japanese sentences, insert the card into the same place in the book, and return it to the library.
Watashi wa saru desu! = I am a monkey!
Ramen arimasuka? = Do you have any ramen?
I’m also correcting their use of kara. Also, sugoi means amazing and not awesome. See what I mean by pidgin utterances? It means something to these teens (I can tell a teen wrote this because 1. the hand writing, and 2. the manga section in many libraries are in Young Adult/Teen) and with these new sentences I’m sure they can use it a little more.
Here’s a prompt for everyone: for each time you do something passive aggressive (ex: correcting someone’s grammar in a language neither of you are fluent in), counter that with a passing-on of knowledge or kindness (ex: discussion of ramen and monkeys).
Disclaimer: As I just said, I’m not fluent in Japanese. My weak second language-learning began when I was a kid, so of course I know I don’t know everything. Feel free to correct me via internets or strike up a discussion on anything I just said.