The Future of Japanese

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The Japanese language has no future.

Literally.

It has got a present tense, a past tense, many inflections for each, but absolutely nothing to accentuate a verb in a way that shows it is taking place in the future.

This is not as inconvenient as one might think at first: present tense is used instead, and, when the lack of context calls for it, precisions such as “tomorrow”, “later”, “after” clear up ambiguities.

Sometimes, though, it gives strange results.

in Japanese, “I will miss you” becomes “I miss you”.

In fact, because the closest equivalent in Japanese is 寂しい (samishii: lonely, desolate), instead of saying “I will miss you” or even “I will be lonely”, you say “I am lonely”…

In other news, arguing all day long while walking aimlessly in a city taken over by muddy snow and icy wind chills is about as fun as it sounds.

5 comments

  1. That s funny you made such a remark. In fact, it s one of the first thing I had hard time to understand when I started learning japanese. How can I express something in the future only and not a thing starting in the “now” moment ? I wonder if the only way is not to use “time words” like “in one month or so”.

    I also wonder if japanese language has any future left ? That s a real question, I guess. Why one has to learn Japanese except if one lives here or want to teach it ? I never thought I would learn japanese before I got married with a japanese… and I finally love to learn japanese but I m not sure there is a real meaning in learning it instead of spanish or english or even chinese.

    For example, I think I should consider learning english 🙂

    Izo

  2. Izo: Indeed, it is rather confusing… and no, most Japanese (the one I know at least) do not really use time markers to lift ambiguities in their sentences… To this day, I still quite often misunderstand these…

    As for the future of Japanese, that’s quite a vague topic, but I’d say that overall, it’s not as bad as a lot of other languages with the same number of speakers. Not only for the best reasons, but…
    Japanese is probably the language with the most speakers that has so few non-native speakers. That and the fact that most Japanese themselves seldom speak any other language, mean there is a strong incentive for anybody to speak that language…

  3. i just had an oppertunity to get to meet a japanese lady who came down to ny to teach a small class about japan, she worked with my mom, who was a teacher. the japanese lady would come over alot and we would spend alot of time together, just today she left to go back to japan, i am heart broken and would love to write her a letter that tells her “i miss her” in japanese so if any one could send me any info on how to write it and if they have any other words they know, that would be usefull, that would help alot

    thanks,
    mindy

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