Lost in Synthesis

In Impossible Things I said that students can do brute force memorization in their spare time. So I’ve been doing that with Japanese, memorizing every kanji and vocabulary word on the recommended list for the JLPT1. But symbols and words don’t make a language…

Yesterday, I cracked The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi (涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱)’s cover. You might recognize the anime by the same name that aired in 2006.

Haruhi Suzumiya anime
Which, incidentally, you can purchase by clicking this picture.

 

You might even recalled the premise:

“What if God was one of us?”
“Okay, so what if?”
“And he was actually a Japanese schoolgirl.”
“Uhm, wow, that would explain a lot actually…”
“But she like, doesn’t know, man.”
“Alright, now you’ve lost me.”

I bought the light novel at Kinokuniya after deciding that I want to read one Japanese-language novel in 2013. So why not the novel series that spawned one of the more interesting anime to come out in the last decade? The fact that it’s pretty light-hearted doesn’t hurt either.

But as soon as I ventured past the full-color teaser illustrations and into the prologue, a wild three-line long sentence appeared! Did I:

  • Attack
  • Defend
  • Item
  • Run

I ran like hell, panic clenching my sphincter so it looked more like I just needed the bathroom bad enough to dash for it.

But after I finished a couple laps of circular diarrhea-waddling in my office, I sat back down and reread it. Just like in the JLPT1 exam, I subvocalized even for the kanji — but the sentence’s meaning might as well have been encoded by the Data Integration Thought Entity. Or for readers who haven’t watched the anime: I had no fucking clue what it meant.

Okay, I thought. But what about the words? Do you get the words? Reading the sentence again, yep, all those words pop up in the flash card library I’d indexed into my mind.

Good. So how do those words come together? I reread the sentence. Then reread it again. And one more. Each time that I reached the sentence’s end, the sentence’s beginning had already dropped from working memory into the Cingulate Sulcus.

Yeah, you’re a naughty Diencephalon, aren’t you? The way you regulate my visceral functions makes me so hot.

I seriously couldn’t hold the entire sentence’s meaning in my head all at once, despite the fact that I understood every word, particle, and conjugation in it. Well, at least at that point. After ten more tries, I did finally get it. The process went like this:

– Make sure I understand all the individual pieces.
– Make sure I understand all the clauses that they make.
– Make sure that I understand how those clauses form the sentence.

Holy crap, Kyon’s talking about Santa Claus! (as if I didn’t know that when I first saw サンタクローズ)

It took way more concentration and effort than it should have, for one measly sentence in a 307-page novel. Hopefully reading long compositions in Japanese gets easier with practice, just like reading manga did, because otherwise I’ll be reading the first novel in the Suzumiya series until the end of 2014…

So symbols and words don’t make a language…

But I think sentences might.

3 thoughts on “Lost in Synthesis

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