Friday, September 3, 2010

It's Just a Question of Clarity!

Clarity--or, rather, the lack thereof--really bugs me.

Now, since this is a writing blog, I will briefly assert that this post was inspired by writing.

And now, since I try to be more honest than that, I will admit that it was actually inspired by romanized Japanese. Oh, but, hey! That is, technically, writing, as it is, technically, written down, right? Right??

Clarity is something that some pieces of writing lack, to great effect. Other pieces lack the same, to a less-than-stellar effect. I'd like to wax philosophical on this, but the fact is, clarity is something I don't really get. I think that, for writers, clarity is something you can really only monitor and adjust the levels of through an outside reader's eyes. After all, as the writer, you know--or should know--the basics of everything you put on the page. Armed with that knowledge, the writer cannot always see--in fact, hardly ever sees--places where the clarity is lacking.

So, the moral of that is: beta/outside readers are ABSOLUTEly essential to understandable WRITE-ing.

No. No subliminal messages in this post. What, what, you think I'm that clever? (You could, of course, answer this in the affirmative. I won't complain!)

Just a small, token rant on what inspired this post: romanized Japanese.

First off, why wouldn't you at least learn the phonetic alphabet, if you wanted to learn Japanese? This makes no sense to me. It's like... like... eating cake intravenously. I mean, what's the point? How much of the culture can you really absorb, if you won't even learn the writing? Even the most reluctant, hard-headed, stubborn idiots in my first-level Japanese class picked up on the phonetic writing system in, like, a month, so any normal person should be able to do the same.

Second, if you are going to romanize any writing you do, why not do so in such a way that people reading can use to, say, learn the proper spelling of the words you use? Granted, this is only problematic when you consider elongated "o"s and "tsu" with a dakuten, but...

Well, I suppose, if you're not trying to teach a part of the language to people, it doesn't really matter what romanization system you use, but...

See, there are two ways to elongate the "o" sound: using the character represented by "u," and using the character represented by "o." Sometimes, the word can be completely changed by switching the elongation method. But, there are two ways I've seen to romanize Japanese words that do not allow a person to be sure of which way it goes.

Example One: one system indicates elongation by putting a line over the "o" (I have no idea how to write this on Blogger, or I'd put a better rendering).

Example Two: one system indicates elongation by putting an "oo", with no distinction between the "u" and the "o" method of elongation.

In both cases, a student of Japanese wishing to know how to render the word in kana can, at most, be reasonably sure of the elongation method.

For the "tsu" with a dakuten, the sound is pretty much always represented as "zu," which is identical to the representation for a completely different character.

Right. See what I mean about clarity?

...this has been a rant by example.

1 comment:

  1. First off, the mark over a vowel's called a macron. Not particularly necessary to know, but I learned that in Latin last semester, and have been wishing for it in Japanese this semester. I count the doubling system far inferior to macrons, if only because I'm bad at reading it.

    Of course, I also despise that my Japanese textbook uses romajii after the pages that show how to pronounce the hiragana. Given that people using the book grew up on English, it's inevitable that the eye is drawn to the romajii, leading to the use of it as a crutch, and causing the problem of changing the long vowels in the first place. We might be hating different things here, but I think the source is the same. Japanese simply shouldn't be romanized. IPA covers pronunciations for persons who simply want to see how a word is pronounced. For those of us learning the language, it's merely a thorn in our collective sides.