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September 22, 2007

The Books of Jack Seward (part II) 

One of Jack Seward’s lesser known works is Seward’s Follies (Yugen Press, 1994). This short autobiographical book is difficult to obtain now. (There were a few used copies on Amazon.)  

Seward’s Follies is highly entertaining, but it may disappoint readers who only want to read about the author’s relationship with Japan and Japanese language studies. Seward’s Follies at times drifts into a memoir on writing and a rambling political manifesto. The more politically correct readers will likely be offended by some of Seward’s viewpoints. (I am relatively conservative, and some of his statements were boundary-pushers even for me.) The author’s lurid descriptions of World War II-era sexcapades will also offend some. 

Nevertheless, this is a short book, and it does contain some worthwhile insights for students of Japan and the Japanese language. I recommend it (if you can find a copy, of course).



September 18, 2007

The books of Jack Seward (part 1) 

America’s effort to train Japanese-language translators during World War II didn’t, unfortunately, result in a long-term interest in Japanese studies in the U.S. (Large numbers of Americans would not study Japanese until the late 1980s.) However, the endeavor did result in one of the early authors in the Japanese studies field, Jack Seward. 

After entering the army, Jack Seward studied Japanese at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. The war ended before he finished his studies; but Seward was sent to Japan as one of the U.S. Occupation forces. After leaving the military, he put his Japanese language skills to work in the private sector, holding jobs at several Japanese companies.  

Seward also penned a number of books for native English-speakers with an interest in the language and culture of Japan. I discovered one of these books, Japanese in Action, in the shelves of the University of Cincinnati library in 1990. I had only recently begun my own Japanese studies, and I found this book to be enormously valuable---and entertaining. 

Japanese in Action is not a conventional textbook, but rather a book of “insights” for Japanese language students. It discusses peculiarities of the language, and the aspects of Nihongo that typically cause problems for us.  

The book was dated even then. (The original version was published in 1968, I believe.) Many of Seward’s anecdotes about Japan during the immediate postwar years will seem unfamiliar to readers in 2007. Nevertheless, much of Seward’s advice (like his emphasis on correct pronunciation) survives the test of time.  

If you can track down a copy of Japanese in Action, I highly recommend it. It isn’t one of those miracle texts that will catapult you light years ahead in your studies; but you’ll enjoy it---I promise.


September 17, 2007

Masculine and feminine Japanese

“Often, Japanese women affect high-pitched voices to flatter or put their listeners at ease.” 

Well, some Japanese women do, I suppose. Here is an article from the Christian Science Monitor about the different ways that men and women speak the Japanese language: 

Wherever you go, men and women tend to speak differently. But in Japan, those differences are more pronounced than in many places. Among the multilayered rules of grammar and usage governing spoken Japanese, there also exist underlying concepts of "men's Japanese" and "women's Japanese." By the end of my 2-1/2-year stay there, I had unwittingly become conversant in the latter form.   

Like many Western men who spend more than a year in Japan, I learned most of my intonation, expressions, and slang – the things not taught in the classroom – by mimicking a Japanese girlfriend….. (continue reading…

(When I saw the title of this article, I somehow knew that the male author would work a Japanese girlfriend into the picture, somewhere …)



September 16, 2007

How does knowing a foreign language affect your reading ability in English?


Good question. Some researchers at Edinburgh University are attempting to find out:


Edinburgh University researchers are testing people who speak English and another language to find out exactly how they process English words.  

It will see if people who learn English as a foreign language store words in their "mental dictionary" differently from native speakers of the language.  

Native Arabic speakers are now being sought to volunteer for the study.  

Tests have already been carried out with Japanese and Spanish speakers. Participants will be asked to complete a series of computer-based tasks which include listening, reading and judging the meanings of English words. (continue reading...)