皆様、こんにちにゃあぁ！Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online! Do you ever find yourself pondering the existence of objects and their location in the universe? Perhaps you have it all sussed out, and want to share it with the world…in Japanese! Whether you need to express something close to you, far from you, or somewhere betwixt, we’ll be right there guiding you through your travels of Japanese language. Yes, we’re Kiki and Koko, and we’re your hosts, teachers, and guides to the important concepts, grammatical, lexical, or otherwise. This lesson, we’re just going to take our first step onto the shaky wooden bridge, strung across the chasm of confusion, built with seemingly flimsy boards, but uniform boards all the same that have lasted for thousands of years, carrying many others to the next destination in their Japanese language learning journey. This concept is both concrete and abstract, but differs to languages like English, so it’s important to have the proper safety harness before stepping out. We’ll be introducing you to concepts you can use here, there, and everywhere.
After this lesson, you’ll have much better footing for all future lessons concerning demonstratives. But, what is a demonstrative? It’s not a scary demon stration that spreads through emails, (which makes us think twice about forwarding that email from the Weird Al song ‘Virus Alert’). So, demonstratives in Japanese are 「指示語」(shijigo). Let’s use the kanji to suss out the meaning! 指, in this case, means to indicate, but also is the word for ‘finger’ which means this is closer to ‘point to’. And 示, in this case, means show, whilst 語, means a word. So, basically, it means, very very roughly, a word for indicating (the thing) you’re pointing to. They’re words like ‘this’ and ‘that’ or ‘here’ and ‘there’. Now, after hearing that definition, you may think, ‘Oh, that’s easy enough, “here and there,” get on with it! We can take it‘, and you’re not wrong, but it’s best not to go into this topic over-confidently as it can be a bit tricky for beginners, and may take a bit of visualisation and practise. Easier than 指示語, shijigo, or more helpfully, rather, they’re called, こそあど言葉, kosoado kotoba, and we’ll get to that concept in a moment as this really helps the entire concept sink in.
As you progress further into learning Japanese, you are bound to notice there are more convenient words built into the language that outweigh anything that feels difficult. (Of course, many things will feel difficult if they aren’t quite natural to you, yet, but if you take your time with consistent exposure and usage, you will be able to benefit from the convenient way words are created in these cases.) Many words and type of words are much more systematic and others express concepts you may not have in your language. And, on top of this, some concepts that may seem difficult at first actually end up communicating more information in a quicker way, just by word choice. Which is why we always make sure to mention that when it comes to learning Japanese, it’s best to wipe your memory clean of your initial language—well, keep it in your mind, you’ll probably need it!—but, things become much more complex when you try to relate Japanese language concepts back to languages like English. While there are influenced in modern day, it really does tend to make things more confusing as the similarities may only muddy the differences. And, then, you miss out on the useful systems put in place to make the concepts organised and palatable.
Now, before we begin, this concept pairs perfectly with a few other previous lessons. And in practising these concepts, you’ll be able to practise those previous grammar concepts and vocabulary words. Because these are such useful words, we’ll be sure to go over them thoroughly to not only understand the concepts, but to also get use from them. If you step on over to our Essentials section, in the grammar section,you can have a look at our lessons concerning how to create basic sentences as well as how to make question sentences.
More than anything, if you already have the basics of sentence structure memorised and the tools to creating a basic question sentence, you’ll find our previous and future lessons on basic question words, otherwise known as 疑問詞, gimonshi, to be the best companion to this lesson set. We even mentioned that the structure of the question words will assist you in future, and that time has come! Oooh, just as the lesson foretold~ Spooky~ But, even if you don’t feel comfortable with the previous question words, you’ll have the chance to practise them and apply them, as well as maybe even understand their function that much more after these lessons.
Why is this important?
When you’re learning a language, every single step is vitally important as you’re building on your skills, and you’re preparing not only to speak, but to understand And, knowing a language isn’t just knowing what you’re going to say, but understanding others.
Of course the point of learning a language, whether it’s for travel or enjoyment, is ultimately for the purpose of communication, whether written to everyone via a book, or spoken by someone else to someone else or from you to another person. And, when you’re not sure of the terminology, almost anything can be simplified down to these sorts of words.
If you’re travelling, and you’d like to know more about something of which you don’t know the name, you’ll be able to ask the tour guide:
You: これは何ですか？(What is that?)
You: あそこです。(It’s there.)
Guide: ああ、あれですね。人食い怪獣です。(Oh, that. It’s a man-eating kaijuu.)
And, from there, you run for your lives. But, you wouldn’t have been able to properly express or understand the difference between ‘there’ and ‘there’ which is a concept that is special in comparison to English. The ‘there’ used here is usually translated as ‘over there’ to properly express the concept, but it still sort of feels like saying ‘there’ but only needing to overtly imply the distance with word choice. Or, maybe more realistically, you’re at the bakery, and there’s a few different kinds of pastries, and you don’t know how to describe them in Japanese, or you’re in a hurry and don’t want to hold up the queue. So, when the attendant asks which pastry you want, you can say:
You: これをお願いします。(This (one) please.)
Attendant: それですか？(That (one)?)
All of which definitely beats grunting and pointing. There are a few extra words you would need, but if you’re just beginning, that can get you started. But, ‘this’ and ‘that’ in English feels more abstract in some cases in conversational speech. The rules for ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘here’ and ‘there’ all follow a very useful pattern that will make the concepts much easier when you are introduced to the new concept of ‘over there’ as one demonstrative word.
Understanding Japanese Demonstratives
A quick introduction to the ko-so-a-do system
In order to understand this system in Japanese, it’s important to understand it in your own language. If you speak a language like English or even Chinese, there’s a system in place where what you’re referring to is either here or there, meaning it’s close to you, the speaker, or it isn’t. This is different to Japanese where it’s to do with all parties involved rather than just you and what isn’t you.
Basically, when you think of demonstratives, there are four kinds rather than just two (or three if you count question words) like in English. It almost helps to think of these like pronouns. There’s first-person, second-person, third person, and indefinite. In first-person, you’re referring to something closest to you; in second-person, you’re referring to something closest to the person you’re talking to (or simply dissociated from you, the speaker); third-person refers to something both you and the speaker are far away from (spatially or abstractly); and indefinite demonstratives are just that. And, luckily, these kinds of words are consistent throughout all of the basic demonstratives.
Most words can be spelt with kanji, but most of the time you’ll experience these words in hiragana, which is lucky if you’ve already studied it with us. (And, if not, there’s always time to catch up!) But, in order to understand these, we’re going to use the kanji with furigana to make things clearer. But, to get a bit technical, we’ll present it both ways, in case either one makes it more clear to you. If not, then no worries, because this is just the introduction and it’s just here to set the groundwork.
So, here’s the fancy explanation:
Alright, so basically, in linguistics, proximal refers to being close to the speaker, mesioproximal refers to being closer to the listener, distal means its further from the speaker and listener, and indefinite… well, it’s indefinite. You may recognise 「何」which is read quite a few ways depending on context. We wrote quite a bit on 何and still didn’t scratch the surface, but we highly recommend you have a read of it. Anyway! These aren’t the words themselves, it’s just the sort of class that they fall into. When a specific demonstrative pronoun or adjective starts with any of these, you’ll be able to tell exactly what they mean, or rather, where they mean. In order to get a bit of a better visual of this, we’ll give a simpler table:
|Demonstrative starts with:||こ~||そ~||あ~||ど~|
|(╭ರᴥ•́)||( óωò๑)||( •᷄ὤ•᷅)？|
But, this doesn’t only have to do with location, it can also have to do with temporal location as well as abstract location, such as distance in time or connection to a certain subject. And, grammatically, there are different ways these can be used, but for now, it’s best to keep things simple.
So, after being familiar with these, all of the parts of speech of this concept will adhere to this rule. The differences are whether it’s a pronoun or proadverb, determiner or attributer– Basically, you’ll be able to practise and understand the concepts more easily with these.
Now, of course, we would love to continue on and include even more useful information, but we’ll have to continue this next lesson as we’re going to have quite a lot of practise and examples available, and we wouldn’t want to present too much at once. Remember, it’s not about learning in the shortest amount of time with the least effort, it’s about doing what actually works for you, spending as much time as you need, and actually learning the materials. There is memorising vocabulary, and then there is fully understanding concepts. Fret not, if you’re someone who enjoys multiple concepts being presented in one sitting! This is a useful time to return to previous lessons, or maybe even discover a new lesson you haven’t experienced before. Either way, it’s best to tackle broader subjects one step at a time!
In understanding this lesson, you had to know a bit of hiragana in order to understand what is going on. We just wanted to give you a chance to challenge yourself if you’re brand new to all of this. But, if you’re not quite there yet, no worries! Just take a look at our Reading and Writing sections to revise / review / study. It will help your pronunciation, and it’s essential to learning any language. If you want to make sure your Japanese language survival kit is stocked with the latest tools, you can make sure you stay up to date by subscribing to the Electronic Mailing List of Tomorrow, today, found usually at the bottom of the site page or the sidebar on desktop. You’ll get the latest tools and resources to surviving in Japanese language in straight to your inbox. That’s articles, videos, podcasts, and more.
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