7.15.2005

Japanese can be impossibly difficult to interpret at times. So much often goes unsaid that you're left struggling to make sense of what is going on. If that was the only problem, life wouldn't be so bad, but then you have the other end of the spectrum.

Japanese love relative clauses. An entire sentence can be used just to modify a noun within a larger sentence. It's a perfectly valid sentence. So what you get (though taken to an absurd extreme for the purpose of exercise) is sentences like this.

これは蚤のピコ住んでいる猫の五右衛門の尻尾踏んづけたアキラ君の漫画読んでいるお母さんがお団子を買うお団子屋さんにお金を貸した銀行員とピンポンをするお相撲さんが憧れている歌手の鸚鵡を盗んだ泥棒にトマトぶつけた八百屋さんが選挙で選んだ市長の入れ歯作った歯医者さんのホルンの先生の顔を引っ掻いた猫のシャルルの背中に住んでいる蚤のプチ.

That is one complete sentence composed entirely of relative clauses within relative clauses.

The romaji version looks like this.

kore wa nomi no Piko sunde iru neko no Goemon no shippo fundzuketa Akirakun no manga yonde iru okaasan ga odango wo kau odangoyasan ni okane wo kashita ginkouin to pinpon wo suru osumousan ga akogarete iru kashu no oumu wo nusunda dorobou ni tomato butsuketa yaoyasan ga senkyou de eranda shichou no ireba tsukutta haishasan no horun no sensei no kao wo hikkaita neko no Sharuru no senaka ni sunde iru nomi no Puchi.

Note that Piko, Puchi, Akira, Sharuru (Cheryl), and Goemon are names.

The basic sentence is

これは蚤のプチ.
kore wa nomi no Puchi.
This is Puchi the flea.

The rest of it all modifies the flea Puchi.

This is Puchi the flea that lives on the back of Cheryl the cat that clawed the face of the horn teacher of the dentist who made the fake teeth for the mayor elected (voted for) by the vegetable shop owner that threw tomatos at the thief that stole the parrot of a singer that was desired (longed for) by the sumo wrestler that played ping-pong with the banker that loaned money to the dumpling maker from whom dumplings are bought by the mother reading comics belonging to Akira who stepped on the tail of Goemon the cat on which lives the flea Piko.

Learning Japanese relative clauses as a native English speaker means learning to think ass backwards, but doing so is critical to becoming proficient with the language.

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