Writing naturally and avoiding rude words

Hello everybody. I’ve been using WaniKani for a while, although I am not very far along with it. I take it very slowly. But I do find it very helpful and have learned so much. I’m in Japan right now. It’s my second trip here and I can read a lot more things than I could during my first trip, thanks to WK!

I’m also not much of a message board person (here or elsewhere) so I have never posted here before. But I figured I should try!

While I am in Japan, I met a local Japanese person. He has been willing to talk some Japanese with me even though my ability is extremely elementary. I don’t know many Japanese people and this is the first time I’ve met someone willing to talk about the language with me.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to write simple things to go with photos on Instagram as a way to practice. I showed this person something new I wrote and asked if it was correct. While he wouldn’t immediately give me a direct answer (of course), he did finally tell me he knew what I was saying, but it was not natural. And that you can’t just literally translate things from English. Which I know, of course. But it’s so much more difficult to put “thinking” in Japanese into practice… I mean, how do you even learn that? Is it even possible unless maybe you live here?

I also used a word which I got from the dictionary that he said was a very rude word. But the dictionary didn’t say that! I found that really frustrating.

This is what I wrote to describe a photo of three stone statues I saw at a Buddhist temple:

三つがあります。だれがあいつらですか? 彼らは平和に見えます。

What I was trying to say, in English, is:

There are three. Who are they? They look peaceful.

First, he told me あいつら is rude and should not be used. I had chose this word over かれら because in the dictionary かれら said it usually refers to male only, and I was looking for a less gendered word.

My friend also also said you shouldn’t say “who” to describe three statues because they are not living, so you would say “what” instead. I do know a little about the animate/inanimate distinction in Japanese, which is why I used “あります” in the first sentence. It never occurred to me, though, that I also should not say ‘who’ to describe something like three statutes, especially as I was trying to be poetic. But I suppose it does make sense.

After that, we didn’t discuss this any more. The person I asked is only a casual friend and didn’t want to keep pressing with questions. So… that’s why I decided to come here. I figured that many of you are much more experienced and might have some useful feedback. And maybe others can learn from my question as well.

Can anyone comment on my example and how to more naturally convey in Japanese what I am trying to say? I want to learn from my mistakes! Also, can anyone comment on the use of あいつら and why the dictionary didn’t warn me this was a rude word? How can I avoid unknowingly using rude words if the dictionary doesn’t define a word as such?

7 Likes

I see “colloquialism” when I look up あいつら in Imiwa, which should be a clue that it might sound odd coming from someone who doesn’t have a grasp of the nuances. I’m not sure which dictionary you used. Jisho has nothing specifically on あいつら, but mentions that あいつ is a colloquialism.

1 Like

I looked in both Jisho and imiwa, actually. I do not see that it says colloquialism. Where does it say that? What am I overlooking?

I edited my post.

あいつら doesn’t have a note, but the note is on the singular entry.

I see. It never would have occurred to me to look up a separate word to determine that the word I was looking at was a colloquialism. Hmmm.

Well, they could probably be more thorough, but looking up the base word without any suffixes is probably the best bet.

1 Like

あいつら is a rude/informal (dismissive, even) way of saying they (あいつ being a rude way of saying that person). Add on to the fact you’re talking about a religious symbol, I can see why someone would get offended. I once let it slip out in earshot of my students and they all went あああああ!わる!

My wife uses it a lot when referring to people she dislikes.

8 Likes

I didn’t know enough to know there were suffixes. Any tips for how to spot that?

Wow. So I have to be very careful when looking up words in the dictionary!

Any thoughts on how to correctly say what I was trying to convey?

Yeah, a kid at the school where I teach called another kid こいつ the other day when talking to a teacher and she flipped out.

1 Like

ら is a pluralizing suffix, the same as in the one you avoided with かれら (I’m assuming you knew かれ for “him” but maybe not?)

1 Like

Ah, ok! This is helpful. I did know かれ is “him.” But I did not know anything about ら as a pluralizing suffix. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

これら / それら / あれら is probably fine for plural inanimate objects.

For what you wanted to say, maybe something like this.

彫像が三つあります。あれらは、何を表すでしょうか?
ちょうぞうがみっつあります。あれらは、なにをあらわすでしょうか。
There are three statues. What do they represent?

8 Likes

I would offer the website https://tatoeba.org/eng/ as a way to spot check sentences for context. The website gives back an example sentence in various translations which may help you understand the context in which your phrase would be taken by native speaker. It might be useful if you can’t consult the community or a friend.

2 Likes

Fair warning, Tatoeba can be edited by anyone. You aren’t guaranteed to get natural translations there.

3 Likes

Thanks a lot for this example. Clearly I’m trying to express thoughts way beyond my ability with the language! Maybe I will get there eventually.

3 Likes

I wouldn’t worry about it, making mistakes like that is the best way to learn a language it will stick in your memory now. I didn’t know about あいつ so thank you for posting as it will stick in my mind too :slight_smile:

All I would say is a lot of the nuance in terms of being rude in Japanese is contained in the pronoun used so as a non-native speaker it is always good to be cautious when choosing the correct pronoun. If you really want to avoid rudeness it is probably best to be over polite until you are more comfortable with when to use the word.

5 Likes

Thanks, forgot to mention that disclaimer, user beware.

Another thing to keep in mind is that overusing pronouns is a standard beginner’s mistake for native English speakers learning Japanese. I think the sentence I wrote is totally fine without anything in the second sentence to point to the first. It should be obvious even without あれらは.

8 Likes

Yes, agreed, that makes sense. I know that intellectually about overusing pronouns, but when I put together the sentence, I guess English habits die hard.

I came to Japan to immerse and learn more… but I’m not doing very well. It feels like most of my energy is going into just figuring out how to get around and such and, as a result, the language learning is taking a back seat.

6 Likes