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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Iwantosuru, iwanbakari - the unspoken in Japanese

言わんばかりに 言わんとする

 The Japanese like to think of themselves as a particularly intuitive people when it comes to communication, relying as much, or more, on subtle visual cues as on spoken words, and on implied meanings as on explicit statements.

Two phrases that reflect this attitude are iwantosuru 言わんとする and iwanbakari いわんばかり. (The "i" of "iwan" is the kanji 言, which refers to speech, speaking, saying. iu 言う is the verb "to say." The negative form of the verb is iwanai 言わない, and iwan 言わん is an abbreviation of that, dropping the final "ai.")

iwantosuru means what one is trying to say, which, as we all know, is not what necessarily comes across to the other person. What we are trying to say may not be conveyed for one of several reasons: poor choice of words on the speaker's part, poor understanding on the listener's part, or ambient factors such as noisiness. All of these are covered by iwantosuru.

Iwantosuru koto wa wakaranai.
(I) don't know what (you're) saying/trying to say.

Boku no iwantosuru koto o sakijinte itta.
He came out with what I was trying/going to say before I even said it.

Then there is the similar phrase, iwanbakari 言わんばかり, which refers to even more intuitive communication, i.e., reading people's physical cues without their necessarily having said anything at all. iwanbakari can be translated as "as if to say; as much as to say; as though." For example:

Ai shiteiru yo to iwanbakari ni me o mite kureta.
He looked me in the eye as if to say he loved me.

Kaere to iwanbakari ni taiou sareta.
I was as good as told to leave.

So, the next time you're not sure what to say in Japanese, just iwanbakari ni itte yo (say it without saying it)!

More about learning the Japanese language.

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