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Japanese language

A couple of grammar books

While we’ve been up here in Japan I’ve taken the opportunity to buy a few books and DVDs (mostly chanbara samurai dramas) from Amazon (Japan) without having to pay exorbitant postage fees back to Australia.

Among the books I bought were a couple of excellent Japanese language books:
A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar and A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar. There is also A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar.

Grammar books
These books list the various Japanese grammatical structures in a dictionary format with well-written examples. The listings also include related words and structures, and sentences and situations where they can and can’t be interchanged. There are also clear explanations of nuance variations with similar words that generally convey the same meaning.

An interesting part is the special topics section at the start. This seems to cover general points of Japanese usage that don’t readily fit into the dictionary structure. Most of the points covered are those aspects of Japanese that are used naturally without any real thought, but in many cases it’s the first time I’ve actually seen it written down.

One was the use of
aizuchi (相槌), or what is known as “back-channel responses”, (such as hai, sō desu ka, and a host of other expressions). This is one of the critical conversation strategies that one needs to master to indicate a level of competence in speaking Japanese. These expressions are used frequently by the listener to indicate to the speaker that he/she understands, follows and is involved in what the speaker is saying. They are also accompanied by nonverbal indications such as nodding. Hence the almost comical sight of someone on a phone frequently nodding and bowing; I do it on the phone when speaking Japanese, and believe me, it feels unnatural not to do it. If the listener didn’t give these verbal and nonverbal responses, the conversation would quickly become very stilted because the speaker would think that he/she wasn’t being understood. This is very clear when watching any number of people engaged in conversation, both formal and informal.

On the other hand, the English equivalents of
aizuchi, such as “yeah”, “uh-huh” and the like are seldom used, because frequent use in English can indicate that the listener is not interested or not paying attention to what is being said. An interesting contrast in language culture, and a fascinating explanation of something most Japanese speakers don’t even think about.

These two books are excellent for taking your Japanese language studies and conversation skills to the next level, and according to the reviews on Amazon, the basic grammar book is just as good. They are not overly cheap, but well worth the price.