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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Japanese Language: "Difficult"


"Japanese is difficult" (日本語は難しいですね、nihongo ha muzukashii desu ne)is something you will hear frequently from Japanese people.

Behind that lurks the assumption that Japanese is more difficult than your language.

In terms of pronunciation, verb conjugation, and set expressions--actually, Japanese is not that difficult. Where it is hard--for those not born and bred in Chinese character-using countries (i.e. China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan)--is the written language.

With hiragana, katakana, and about 3,000 kanji, it is a bastard, no two ways about it.

However, that is not the topic of today's blog. Rather, we want to look at other uses of the wonderful word "difficult" (難しい、muzukashi).

In many, many situations this simply means "No." For example, if in reply to your request, someone says:

ちょっと難しいですね(chotto muzukashi desu ne, "that's a bit difficult"), they usually mean: it can't be done. This a polite way to refuse a request.

Another nuance of the word is "unnecessarily complicated."

As in: 。。。難しい話。。。(むずかしはなし、muzukashi hanashi), which refers to discussions or a conversation that is quite complicated, often too much so.

Finally, a couple of expressions using the kanji 難.

First is 一難去って又一難(ichinan satte mata ichinan).

Literally, this translates as "Leave one trouble behind and along comes another." Another way of putting it would be "one thing after another."

Last, 言うは易く行うは難し(iu ha yasuku okonau ha muzukashi). "Easier said than done."

And so it is, but perserverance and fighting spirit--topics for another day--are equally strong emotions in Japanese life.

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