English

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Here’s some English I learned on the Yamanote line’s “Learn to Speak English” series. (No joke.) :

“Don’t monkey about him.”

“He was foxed by his girlfriend.”



Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

28 Responses

  1. Jean Says:

    I know, it’s just ridiculous. And stuff like examples you gave is the rule, not the exception.

  2. Jean Says:

    And I should learn to write before I hit send.

  3. porandojin Says:

    i suppose English is the new Lingua Franca- you Anglo-Saxons no longer controll it … It’s a tool to communicate not a way to study or participate in American or British culture /as it was and still is with French/…

  4. porandojin Says:

    ;]

  5. marxy Says:

    It’s a tool to communicate not a way to study or participate in American or British culture

    Yeah, I get this idea and respect it, but in Japan, this English is presented as “official English” and used to make people feel that their English skills are inadequate and then buy language school services. So, these aren’t Japanese expressions the Japanese “made up” naturally – they are dig up from nowhere to make Japanese people buy things.

  6. Michael Smith Says:

    The truth is that the Learn to Speak English “lessons” on the Yamanote-sen are actually a series of coded messages. What you need to do is take the missing and/or “corrected” words for each lesson in the series and assemble them in the right order to create the message.

    Here’s how it would work for the first example you noted.

    Don’t monkey about with him.
    or
    Don’t monkey around with him.

    Yeah, there’s some ambiguity in it.

    Here’s the second:

    He was fucked by his girlfriend.
    or
    He was outfoxed by his girlfriend.

    OK, maybe that first one is a longshot, but keep it in play for now.

    with,out
    around with,out
    with,fucked
    around with,fucked

    hmm, hard to tell just based on these two intances. But, as uninteresting as it may be, seems like with+out=without is most likely.

    Decode previous/subsequent “lessons” in the series to get other words to assemble into the message. Perhaps end up with something like Unable to escape. Proceed without me. or Abort the mission. Disperse without further contact.

    That kind of thing.

  7. r. Says:

    you know, gandhi has a very famous anti-english(language) speech that he delivered in india back in 1913…

  8. Momus Says:

    Here’s some English I learned on the comments thread to Neomarxisme’s entry ridiculing the English taught on the Yamanote line (no joke):

    “…stuff like examples you gave is the rule…”

    “…a tool to communicate not a way to study or participate in American or British culture /as it was and still is with French/…”

    “…they are dig up from nowhere to make Japanese people buy things.”

  9. erikw Says:

    All your base are belong to us.

  10. r. Says:

    base, base, base, base, base….

  11. marxy Says:

    Re: Michael Smith’s post

    I would understand if you had to insert a word. “Outfoxed” makes sense to me. “Monkey around” is a perfectly useful expression – the ones in the ads are not.

    All your base are belong to us.

    Great invented English, BUT you could make the claim that it only became an expression once Americans (or whoever) rediscovered and recontextualized it. The Japanese never realized that it was silly themselves.

    Then Momus chimed in:

    Here’s some English I learned on the comments thread to Neomarxisme’s entry ridiculing the English taught on the Yamanote lin

    You and William Buckley should hang out. And if people start using my unedited blog posting as ofiicial ad copy, they deserve to be made fun of.

  12. Momus Says:

    You’re the one who started complaining about incorrect use of Engrish! I was just being the inevitable meta-goblin, equipped with bullshit detector and pompousness pin, who is compelled by law to jump up at times like this and point out that every comment on the misuse of language must, itself, contain a misuse of language. It’s a law of nature.

  13. marxy Says:

    And again I’m saying, none of us are presenting are comments as “often-used English expressions” to make people buy English language classes. If a “LEARN FRENCH” campaign in America had incorrect French in it, you’d be the first one to say, “How uncouth, these New Worlders!”

  14. Momus Says:

    Well, get your pompousness pin ready!

    Japanese English has become a language in its own right, a “third language”. Now, I’m just as shocked as you are that “incorrect” English is being taught on the Yamanote line as the real McCoy. No, scratch shocked. I’m amused, and rather admiring. You see, I think the Japanese almost do this deliberately. And they’re both cunning and correct to do it.

    Why do the Japanese seem to find English harder to master than the Chinese, and why they can often write it but seldom speak it? Why do they nevertheless integrate English words into Japanese without, often, even acknowledging them as English?

    I actually believe there’s a conscious / unconscious resistance to the use of English in Japan. They’d rather integrate bits of English into Japanese (innovatively) than learn the language “correctly”. Because a way of speaking is a way of thinking, and the Japanese are masters of passive aggression. They have their own way of thinking and they don’t intend to exchange it for another.

    The Japanese integrate things in order to resist and control them. That’s what I mean by “passive aggression”. They domesticate and fragment other cultures in order to control their impact. Rather than import English wholesale, they break it up into a mosaic and paste the bits into a Japanese framework. This robs English of its power to compel alien ways of thinking.

    I don’t know if these English lessons are deliberately designed to be misleading and inadequate, but I think they’re part of an overall strategy of resistance, and it’s that very resistance which makes Japan so special, and always has.

  15. r. Says:

    we wear our pompousness pins so well. hey, here is a crazy idea…imagine if japanese people took all of that time and money and manpower (how much time IS being spent per peron, per day, and how BIG of a racket IS IT anyway?) that is being spent on the ‘english language authority project’ and applied it to some other, more useful kind of humanitarian project (these are numerous)…i:m sure the sky would be the limit. i can think of countless problems that could be sloved…
    all of the effort simply isn’t working here, proof? if a non-japanese who speaks a more ‘lingua franca-esque’ language, like english, actually applies himself to studying the japanese language, he can quickly become a more fluent speaker of japanese than the japanese are of english. in other words, it would be silly of me to study french before i go to france…everyone who is on the ball can already speak english in paris (digiki is a good example), but it would be wise to study japanse before coming to tokyo, since it is a written literacy that the japanese command of english, and not a spoken one.

  16. Momus Says:

    Yes, but why? Why does a people capable of mounting a space project and making the world’s most advanced robots find mastery of English so hard? The answer has to lie in the big M-word: motivation. Anyone who’s worked in education knows that motivation makes all the difference. You have to want to learn something with all your heart and soul. And when it comes to English, the Japanese just don’t want it. I suspect they don’t want it for the same reasons they don’t jerk off to porn featuring blondes with round eyes and tall noses. Excuse my french.

  17. marxy Says:

    To Momus:

    First of all, although you often write that we are trapped as postmodernists because our era is postmodernist, you are clearly a Postmodernist with a capital P – you actively push a political agenda which hopes to make the world follow the tenets of Postmodernism. Consumerism and post-Industrial capitalism may naturally destroy depth and high-art/low-art distinctions, but you’ve crossed into embracing them as political content. So be it.

    Following from this, Japan’s Postmodernism seems to be this great laugh of a tourist attraction without any regard to how these aspects actually feel to the Japanese. As Robert pointed out, the Japanese waste millions and millions of dollars and thousands of hours on learning what they are told is English, when it’s really just a set of codes based on the English language. The French and the Swedes and the Polish all learn English; the Japanese teach English only as a diagnostic tool, but they forget to tell the students this. And when they go out into the real world and find out that they can’t actually speak the language, they develop a deep psychological inferiority complex towards the rest of the world.

    So, then English language schools exploit this complex and make a nice profit. I don’t mind wasei-eigo or Japanized English as long as it’s part of Japanese. I do mind when companies use incorrect English as a way to make the public feel insecure about their own skills. It doesn’t matter how many typos this comment contains – I am not presenting this as “correct English” to which students will judge their own skills.

    Japanese English has become a language in its own right, a “third language”.

    Yes, but the teachers, companies, etc. don’t tell anyone this. They are selling “authentic” English.

    Why do the Japanese seem to find English harder to master than the Chinese, and why they can often write it but seldom speak it

    Chinese as a language is much closer to English than Japanese is, and the Chinese actually teach English instead of the English Diagnostic Code.

    They domesticate and fragment other cultures in order to control their impact. Rather than import English wholesale, they break it up into a mosaic and paste the bits into a Japanese framework. This robs English of its power to compel alien ways of thinking.

    Who is “They”? The authorities, no? It’s not like the average citizen is happy to waste their mind/pocketbook on something that’s worthless in the long run.

    it’s that very resistance which makes Japan so special, and always has.

    Yes, as a tourist, you can have fun looking at the stupid beer-shaped buildings and silly English, but I don’t especially hope for a country’s continuing linguistic isolation when the rest of the world is growing closer together.

    Another thought: the Japanese economic malaise means less kikoku shijo and therefore, less native English speakers. What does this portend? Will Japan get even worse at English?

  18. marxy Says:

    And when it comes to English, the Japanese just don’t want it

    What??? Why do they spend millions of dollars a year on post-educational English conversation classes? If they really didn’t care, wouldn’t they stop trying to learn after formal education ended?

  19. Momus Says:

    Yes, as a tourist, you can have fun looking at the stupid beer-shaped buildings and silly English, but I don’t especially hope for a country’s continuing linguistic isolation when the rest of the world is growing closer together.

    If I can just focus on this one part of your argument for a moment, I think it contains in miniature your whole approach. This blog characteristically rushes to judgement, finding its single recurrent theme (the wrongness of the Japanese way of doing things) in everything it sees, then having to correct itself when (as with the language learning photos) your subjects are shown to mean something quite different than you first assumed. At that point you project onto others the mockery you clearly exhibited yourself, and suddenly claim to be representing the Japanese people against their own government, or a conspiracy of their educators and shady mafia figures. Well, naturally you don’t want to be seen to be saying “It is the way of life and the way of feeling of every Japanese person I am criticizing.”

    Example: the Asahi Beer Hall in Asakusa. You blog it as an example of the “ugly, camp, kitsch”. I then point out that it’s by a Frenchman, Philippe Starck, and that the Japanese often give foreign architects and designers chances they don’t have in their own countries. The Asahi Beer Hall is a popular building which looked good when it was first built and still looks good today. It’s anthologised in every architectural guide to Tokyo. Tokyoites don’t see it as “kitsch” or “camp”. It wasn’t imposed on them by the government, by authoritarian educators, or by sharks, pirates or racketeers.

    You then decide to say that enjoyment of this building is the preserve of tourists and outsiders, implying that Tokyoites are suffering its indisputable ugliness in silent, stoical anguish. Do you see what you’ve done here? You’ve reversed the picture entirely. You started by laughing at the building, and through it at the Japanese. But when you realised that your “rush to judgement” was making you look like a bit of an arrogant outsider, you tried to turn the tables and portray me as the one laughing arrogantly at the building, me as the outsider! You portray yourself as the one with the interests of the Japanese at heart.

    And yet it’s odd that so often in your original (jokey and judgemental) posts the Japanese are shown doing something you disapprove of, something terribly Japanese, and we’re meant to chuckle at their misguided ways. But when your interpretation is challenged, the Japanese are suddenly characterised quite differently. They’re on your side, thinking as you do on the topic, happy to have you championing their suppressed, unexpressed views. The trouble is, “the Japanese” at this point in your argument are made of straw. They all look and feel like… Marxy. At least in your initial observations it’s clear that Marxy and Japan are separate entities. It couldn’t really be otherwise. It would be hard to caption every photo “Here’s another example of how the Japanese are being let down by… the Japanese.”

  20. marxy Says:

    Momus,

    I will admit that was a pretty good critique of my blog’s bad points and also, an excellent way to get yourself out of continuing the discussion at hand.

    I didn’t show these Japanese English examples to laugh at them – I hate the humor of “Engrish.” When it’s ad copy, I find it to be harmless. My problem stems from the official use of misused English as a way to make people feel insecure about themselves.

    A long time ago, we had a discussion here about there being a diversity of Japanese experiences. There are classes, there are distinctions between who holds power and who does not. And while my analysis may overemphasize the Confucian concept of a ruling elite (which does indeed exist more than in the U.S.), your analysis seems to think that every single Japanese person is wildly benefiting from this system.

    The subtext of your post today on the “Friendly Album” approves of all the benefits of Japanese society – good food, good baths, politeness, etc. – without ever considering the social price. Not one day on Earth have you ever lived like a real Japanese worker/student, so you have no idea what kind of bland shitty life is expected of almost everyone.

    I live a relative life of luxury here that is 180 degrees different than your average person. I don’t have to commute 1.5 hours a day, nor sit in the office and do nothing until 10. And as much as I like the benefits accrued from this social framework, I’m not naive enough to think I’m having the “normal” experience. If you really want to put your money where your mouth is, quit being a musician and cultural critic and join a Japanese firm. That’s the real Japanese life. And I personally don’t live it for good reasons.

    So, yes, I probably play both sides of the table unfairly, but I am trying to deal with the real Japan and where it’s going. What you and Alex Kerr actually have in common is that you love an idealized Japan, but he admits that it’s going away. You keep yelling at everyone pointing out the widening cracks that may eventually destroy the baths, the food, and the social politeness.

  21. Momus Says:

    Well, I’d like to set “The Marxy Challenge” here. You say there’s widespread dissatisfaction in Japan, and in fact the very fabric of the country is falling apart. So I challenge you to find a single blog by a Japanese person that complains about the country as much as you do. If almost everyone really is, as you say, having a “bland shitty life” in Japan, that’s sure to be a really easy thing to find, isn’t it? So just post me the URL, and I’ll get my girlfriend to translate the posts. And please don’t tell me that it’s part of the bland shittiness that nobody dares to express their dissatisfaction, or that it’s part of the bland shittiness that they don’t even know how terrible their lives are.

  22. marxy Says:

    That’s not a fair challenge, because Japanese people are not blogging to the same degree as Westerners AND the kind of people blogging are generally those working outside of the system (ie, IT jobs).

    If you expect for me to find a blog from a construction worker in Aichi prefecture, you are crazy.

    I will accept the challenge and see what I can do, but I think Japanese bloggers are way less than a proportional sample of Japan. It’s like trying to poll the American blog population and using that as a gauge for who’s going to win the presidency. I would figure that this is even worse in Japan.

    Also, And please don’t tell me that it’s part of the bland shittiness that nobody dares to express their dissatisfaction — this is closer to the truth than you think. There’s certainly an idea that “shou ga nai” – you can’t help working this shitty job with shitty hours. The Japanese are fully aware of how bad the standard employee life is, but don’t think they can change the system. Friitaa are the passive, silent protest against their parents’ world. So, I agree that Japanese are not going to rant like I do, but they can passively reject the system without barking about it.

    Although Joi Ito’s blog is pretty positive, there does seem to a subtext about changing the system, no?

    I’ll be on the look out.

    I would look on 2-ch if you really want to see people dissing everything in Japan. It’s all anonymous though.

  23. r. Says:

    hey nick, since david is busy playing a show tonight, i’d like to step up to the plate and take…

    “The Marxy Challenge”!!!

    (in case anyone is just joining us, nick wrote the following here recently)

    “You say there’s widespread dissatisfaction in Japan, and in fact the very fabric of the country is falling apart. So I challenge you to find a single blog by a Japanese person that complains about the country as much as you do. ” – nick

    well nick, i’m sure you’ll be happy to know that after the most cursory of searches, i found DOZENS of blogs in japanese by japanese bitching about…wait for it…JAPAN. (they even tackle a few issues that david hasn’t brought up on this page.)

    anyway…i picked a bunch at random and posted the URLs below for you. so just take your pick, ok? happy reading!!!

    http://d.hatena.ne.jp/hira333/20050207

    http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/gakutaro/diary/200501250000/

    http://blog.livedoor.jp/hirox1492/archives/10732223.html

    http://www2.diary.ne.jp/logdisp.cgi?user=119209&log=20050203

    http://my.casty.jp/hayashi/html/daily_2005/d_2_2005-02-23.html

    http://fuum.sub.jp/fblog/

    http://blog.goo.ne.jp/wakainkyo/e/807c34b9000b419c98bbff8dcd1522bc

    http://blog3.fc2.com/taninaka/blog-entry-22.html

    http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/butakobuta/diary/200411080000/

    http://blog.livedoor.jp/kenjiro45/

    http://blog.goo.ne.jp/nancy_9

    (oh, here is the kicker…the one below is by a person bitching about studying english)
    http://blog.livedoor.jp/happily_109/archives/13599649.html

    looking foward to discussing the content of all the blogs that you say don’t exist that are blogging all of the problems that you say don’t exist. (you really DO make this too easy sometimes, nick.)

    btw/i really think that YOU should be the one to get off your toosh, take your OWN “marxy challenge”, and do your own footwork in this area for a change…

    you might be surprised at what you can find out there if you take your own advice and poke around before you “characteristically rush[ing] to judgement”
    kiss,
    r.

  24. Anon Says:

    http://www.masamania.com

  25. der Says:

    Yeah, strange comment by Momus there. Almost every Japanese person my own age I have ever talked to in Japan has complained about working conditions in particular and society in general, and the dreaded “the nail that sticks out” thing, and almost every Japanese person I have talked to abroad has said that they are happy to not be working in Japan.

    You can’t possibly actually really believe all that, Momus, can you? I mean, the whole “uniformity creates pressure” stuff is sociology 101…

  26. r. Says:

    what, no comment from the peanut gallery yet?! that simply can:t be! i:ll just hang around and wait for the other shoe to drop…

  27. r. Says:

    time to get in one more quick shot here…

    nick said:

    >So just post me the URL, and I’ll get my >girlfriend to translate the posts. And please >don’t tell me that it’s part of the bland >shittiness that nobody dares to express their >dissatisfaction, or that it’s part of the bland >shittiness that they don’t even know how >terrible their lives are.

    so based on the replies (mine, and Anon’s, although his URL really does take the cake), obviously nick was way off the mark on this one.

    but now here is the really interesting POINT of contention…

    nick also says (i re-quote)

    >don’t tell me that it’s part of the bland >shittiness that nobody dares to express their >dissatisfaction, or that it’s part of the bland >shittiness that they don’t even know how >terrible their lives are.

    BUT i:m afraid this is also not an untenable statement either!!! i:m willing to bet that the ‘bland shittiness’ (not only here in japan, but everywhere in fact) actually DOES enforce itself by engendering a situation in which people in japan 1) don:t KNOW and/or 2)don:t express (i.e. blog) about their situations.

    naturally from a momusian POV, ignorance –sorry anti-metaphysical ‘enjoyment’ of japan– really DOES appear to be bliss. but like the man himself said in a recent essay, he doesn:t LIVE here like…errr…the REST of japan, so who better NOT to know, than him right?

    “au contraire! these people are happy, because i:ve never seen evidence to make me think otherwise…”

    of course, this is the worst kind of quasi-science.

    and even if he were presented with hard evidence of such a nature (see the copious links above), wouldn:t the momusian -ahem- “SuperIlliteracy” issue (my coinage) by itself still make any subsequent judgements still too “third person” to be substantial? but this isn:t news to anyone who has been paying attention around here.

    i’ve said it once before, i’ll say it once again: who controls the translations of momus, controls his world.

  28. Momus Says:

    BUT i:m afraid this is also not an untenable statement either!!!

    Can I just let this one hang there on the page as “Robertese” (since we’re talking about languages here)? What an interesting language Robertese is, with original constructions like “also – not – either” and a deep fear of tenable statements! Perhaps we can send some anthropologists with bottles of malt, and traders with beads.