Katsucon is in two and a half weeks.
I’m pretty jazzed about it. I’m giving a bunch of panels as part of the JCI (Japanese Cultural Institute), including panels on Miyamoto Musashi, Tale of Genji, and even talking about the Japanese-American Internment Camps in World War II (man, I wish that panel wasn’t so topical right now). I’m also giving a presentation on hacking the Japanese language.
I’m not a big fan of the term ‘hacking’. I feel like it connotes some cheap trick or even cheating. In certain circumstances, that’s definitely the case. Most times, though, I feel like ‘work harder, not smarter’ might be a better meaning. In the panel, I’ll be talking about techniques I and others have used to learn Japanese in record time. Learn, of course, being more than a little subjective.
One element that I cannot talk about at the panel, simply because it’s too weighty and too esoteric, is that languages – be it Japanese or any other – is not a thing, but a process.
A communication system is an amorphous behavior to which we have assigned general rules and meanings. The letter A, the numeral 1, these markings have no meaning beyond the mere space they take up on the page, on the screen, etc. What gives them meaning is our cultural-wide mutual agreement. Change the culture and you can change the meaning. Grasping this example, the macrocosm of language begins to shift away from being a hard and fast system and into a somewhat amorphous means of conveying one’s own thoughts and feelings. Japanese ceases to be a thing that is learned and becomes more a behavior that is practiced. You aren’t learning words; you are learning new designations for ideas you already know.
That’s a complicated idea but one that I think is significant and important. It removes the language from some alien, exterior thing that you are attempting to replicate, and turns it into a thing within you that you are learning to better use. It changes a language from a series of code words and cyphers and into a part of yourself. You stop speaking Japanese and start speaking in Japanese.
Subtle, perhaps, but powerful.
I do hope you’ll check out the panel, and the rest of the panels at Katsucon.