Monday, January 16, 2006

Wa Wa

For some reason, one of the biggest challenges a westerner faces when learning the Japanese language is that of postpositions. Many languages (including almost all Western languages) use prepositions.

Prepositions are words that precede a noun (or clause) and indicate it's case. Some languages indicate case by appending (or prepending) syllables to a word. Most modern languages, however, have done away with these case endings and use prepositions instead. An example of this would be using "of" or "'s" to indicate the genitive case.

Japanese, on the other hand, uses postpositions. These particles often serve the same funtion as prepositions. The difference is that postpositions come after the word which they modify.

One would think that simply moving these little words from their position before the noun to a position after the noun wouldn't pose a problem. But, for some reason, it does.

One particle in particular doesn't have a good English equivalent. The particle "wa" is, in my book, the grand champion of Japanese particles. Roughly translated, "wa" might mean "as far as ___ is concerned", but this doesn't show it's true power.

Wa is incredibly useful because it introduces a topic. This is so efficient that I wonder why more languages don't employ this tool. My wife and I use wa as shorthand when sending instant messages or email messages to each other. With two words, the topic is established and can be elaborated.

This post wa I hope you enjoyed it.

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