So I was just going through some simple graded readers and read the story どうしてコウモリは昼飛ばない. It’s about a war between land animals and birds over dominion of a forest, and a conniving bat who tries to play both sides and it ends up biting him in the ass.
Anyway, I found it odd that it clearly differentiates between animals and birds in a way that makes it seem like there is no overlap. An example sentence is あなたは鳥じゃない。動物でもない。In other words, it makes it sound like 鳥 don’t fall under the umbrella of 動物. Is this just because this is a book for preschoolers and they wanted to use simple vocabulary and concepts? Or would a Japanese speaker look at me funny if I referred to a bird as 動物?
I looked into it a bit, and I feel like it’s more Aesop’s fault, as it’s adapted from one of those fables and the “bird vs. beast” dichotomy is already present.
Weblio definitions tend to give a more scientific “animalia” definition then something like
So it’s non-human animals in general, but particularly mammals and “beasts,” which I’d say is true in English too. You could get away with writing something for language learners about animals vs. birds in this context, and we’d get what you mean because general when you say “animal” generally I’d picture first something furry with four legs, even if really it means more than that.
In fact, dictionary.com’s English definition for “animal” is structured nearly identically, with a long “animalia” definition followed by:
1 any such living thing other than a human being.
2 a mammal, as opposed to a fish, bird, etc.
Presumably the more precise “mammal” (哺乳類) or beast (plenty of options with 獣) would be outside the scope of the graded reader.
But to be clear, the scope of 動物 when considered precisely is the same as animalia, as evidenced by this wikipedia page image:
I remember talking about this with a native speaker and it was quite confusing. If I remember correctly, 動物 as a strict scientific term really mean “animal” (like all animal). The wikipedia for page 動物 link to the English animal. It’s also the definition #1 on goo
But in day to day speech, 動物 can actually be closer to “mammal”. I prompted them with some animals, asking them to tell me if they think of it spontaneously as 動物 or not. Insect and fish were clearly NOT 動物. Bird were borderline, they said maybe for example people who kept birds as pet call birds 動物
I can’t speak at all to what how a Japanese speaker would actually react, but I get the impression from this it would depend on context like in English.
If a flock of birds fly past the window it would be weird to say “wow would you look at all those animals go by,” but if a zoo has a picture of elephants and toucans and elk and parrots and you say “they’ve got a lot of animals huh” you wouldn’t need to append “… and birds”
“bird” is just a more natural category when talking about them specifically.
Yeah I certainly see where you’re coming from. Then again, if I saw a herd of wild yak charging past my window, I doubt I’d refer to them as animals either and instead say something like, “my my, the yak certainly are active this time of year!”
That’s also what I remember a teacher saing (iirc).
I suppose it’s somewhat similar in English (? or idk, at least in German it is), with some people thinking that vegetarians eat fish or chicken. So presumably some people must categorise them different from other animals/meat.
I’ve gotten some confused looks when telling people my favorite 動物 is シャチ (usually only from very small kids, though). Never mind that even though they live in the water they are actually mammals. The fact that some people don’t understand that is a different issue entirely. But hey, シャチ are 動物 so it’s valid. Adults don’t usually find it strange, or at least they don’t let on that they do.
Recently I chatted with my Japanese friend about food and stuff, and at some point he casually said 魚は動物じゃない and in my head I was like “dude, where have you been during biology lessons??!?” but that explains a lot! Thanks for looking into it!
The situation has been changing, but I remember a lot of stories by people ordering vegetarian food in a Japanese restaurant and being served something with fish in it, such as dashi (which is made from katsuobushi or dried skipjack tuna).