So I’ve been struggling a bit with concepts of before/after/behind/soon/recent as I’ve learned more words with 近, 後, and 前. Does Japanese have different concepts of what it means to be “before” or “after” compared to English, and is there a trick for helping me wrap my head around it?
Earlier on when I learned 先 I was a little confused that it could be used in words like “previous,” but also “ahead.” It seemed contradictory in my English-speaking brain, but it made some sort of sense when the mnemonic for “sensei” suggested that a teacher has previous life experience. I suppose “senpai” is probably similar - they are ahead of you, and thus have previously been where you are. I’m not sure if that actually has anything to do with the real origins of these words, but it helped for the time being. But it still gets confusing - for example, a sign in a video game might say 先 to let you know about something that is in front of you. Well, I’m not there yet, so why is it “previous,” or “past”? I guess it was there before I got there? It feels like a foreign way of thinking about it. Maybe I just have to always think of 先 as something I’m not yet caught up to, but it’s probably not that simple.
But like I said, now that I’m learning a lot of words with 近, 後, and 前, I can’t help but think there’s definitely something backwards from English in terms of how you must think about these concepts from English - or maybe I just take these words for granted in English and don’t think about it anymore.
Here’s one of the trickiest so far - how is 近年 “recent years” while 近々is “soon”? In one case, the events have already passed, while in the other, they are yet to come! Why do they both use 近?
The other day 以前 and 以後 came up in my lessons. They mean “after this” and “previously” respectively, [EDIT: I’m corrected on this below, but it just goes to show how I’m confused!] but that feels backwards compared to what I learned with 午前 and 午後, which mean “morning” and “afternoon” respectively. In one case, 前 is used to describe an event that is yet to come, and in the other, it’s the earlier event! The reverse is of course true of 後… something occurred previously, but then the same kanji is used for a later time of day.
Granted, I guess similar conflicts exist in English - if there is a grassy meadow “before you” then it is in front of you. But if you’ve done something “before,” then that means, chronologically, it is behind you. So maybe I’m crazy and Japanese doesn’t actually have a different concept of what is before/after/front/back, and it’s just as messed up as English is… it’s just that it seems to mix things up in a different way and it forces me to over-think concepts of when it happened and where is it positioned relative to me that I don’t have to think about in English.
Any tips welcome!