Big Decrease in Accuracy and Motivation

I mean, it’s a little surprising, yes, but if we consider the alternatives, it’s not all that strange: ordinary casual Japanese would probably be disrespectful, and using the masu-form would make articles unnecessarily long. Also, I have a feeling that all average/educated Japanese people can read this sort of writing. (I mean, look at all the proverbs they’re supposed to know, many of which come from Classical Chinese or Classical Japanese, and consider the fact that kanbun, which is essentially a set of rules for parsing Classical Chinese and turning it into Japanese, is a high school subject. I can read some Classical Chinese, and all I can say is… with kanbun techniques, they’re parsing it into Classical Japanese, not modern Japanese.)

I could be wrong, but I think that at higher levels, ‘extensive reading’ becomes almost impossible without some amount of Japanese grammar processing going on in the background, particularly as a speaker of an Indo-European language. Japanese sentence structure is just too different, particularly since relative clauses come before the words they modify and can be extremely long. European languages generally avoid this by making sentences shorter, and the fact that relative clauses go behind words tends to mean that we can process our sentences ‘linearly’, adding detail gradually to a basic structure. Japanese does the opposite: all details are given first, and the overall skeleton that we’re used to in European languages (i.e. subject, object, verb) comes right at the end. After all, in Japanese, you can literally turn an entire paragraph into a relative clause by adding something like「ということです」at the end. You can’t do that in English, French or German.

Perhaps another thing is just the need to know typical expressions in writing? That makes things easier. For example, すなわち and つまり are favourites, especially the former: they both mean ‘i.e.’. について is another one. Yet another is を巡って. You also need to remember that questions can be treated as objects in Japanese, occasionally without any particle following them. If I were to attempt to translate this sentence while preserving the original grammatical structure as much as possible, it would come out like this:

[A] 転注について諸説紛々としているのは、[B]六書について詳しく書かれた許慎の『説文解字』でも説明が不足しており、[C]例字も少ないためである。

The fact that there are diverse opinions regarding ‘転注’ is due to the fact that even in Xu Shen’s 説文解字, which was written in a detailed fashion on the subject of the six kanji formation mechanisms (六書), explanations are insufficient, and example characters are few.

You’ll notice that the end of [C] went right to the beginning (〜ためである=‘is due to the fact that ~’), and every relative clause needed to be inverted almost completely (look at what happened in [B]). The translations of particles also needed to be moved, because Japanese particles are postpositive, whereas our equivalent is… prepositions, like how で became ‘in’ and got catapulted to the front. Some phrases are also practically impossible to break down, like 諸説紛々としている: I don’t know how exactly to parse it because the subject of としている seems unclear to me (I think it’s just people in general), but I know what it means.

In short, while it might be a little painful to think about, it might be necessary to consider the possibility that ‘extensive reading’ is simply impossible when sentences become this complex, especially if you’re used to thinking with Indo-European word order. Your brain has to attempt to parse the sentence, otherwise you won’t know where everything goes. Textbook sentences are much easier in comparison, and they don’t reflect how complex Japanese sentences can be in reality.


The 40s actually seem a lot harder because of one thing that I’ve come to realize:

The number of similar kanji that you know is greater than the number that you don’t know

I’ve found that a lot of my troubles come from things like 破る and 被る.

However, the good news is that if only seems harder. As long as your pace is still consistent you’ll be fine. :sunglasses:

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Honestly, reading the news early on is probably a good idea anyway. Being expected to understand it all immediately is unrealistic, but the news uses harder words and is a big leap compared to something like anime or possibly a J-Drama. familiarizing yourself early on with vocabulary used here I’d say would be beneficial. :relaxed:
I speak both English and Spanish, making (learning) Japanese my third language. I’m less proficient in Spanish, and watching the news in it always teaches me some new words, even after speaking the language for 17 years.


This is super interesting! Thanks so much for writing it, it made me feel better about my own struggles with higher level reading material.

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